Project management for Design Teams. Creating project workflow breakdowns

Written by Wendy Millard RGD

The volume of work and the speed at which your creative team works are both ever- increasing in today's in-house design departments and you need a system that allows you to effectively manage the chaos and keep all those balls in the air. If you, as a Design Manager or even a solo designer within a corporation don't know, or haven't recorded, the work effort and steps needed to complete any given creative project request – you need to do this. Like yesterday...


More than 83% of In-house design teams are now using a dedicated or hybrid project management system so if you are still using Excel or a white board to manage the work you are getting left behind. Project Management systems allow you to automate your workflow and gain insight into the true work effort for any given project.


More than 83% of In-house design teams are now
using a dedicated or hybrid project management system

4 benefits to Project Workflow Breakdowns for Design Teams:

1. Ability to set expectations. Do your internal partners know how much time and work effort it takes to create a brochure, a landing page or a motion graphic video? Do you? Taking time to break down each project into tasks, estimated duration and the hours it takes allows you to give your internal partners a better idea of how long a project really takes. It also gives your team room to be creative and do the work! Being constantly bombarded by new work without sufficient time to complete what they already have on their plates will lead to creative burnout and staff turnover. Set expectations and accountability for your business partners tasks too by defining the timing for feedback and approvals. If you agree to a 2 day turnaround for approvals and they take 5 then it's easy to see where the delay is.

2. Transparency. Your internal business partners have many demands being placed on them by sales, customers, and their bosses. They've put in their request to your team... and now they're patiently awaiting your design concepts... not! By having your Project Workflows in a system that allows for transparency, you can allow them to see how their project is progressing against the requested deadline, what stage is the work at, who it’s with, etc.

3. Knowing your team's capacity. Having a handle on what time and effort each project type takes allows you to see how your team is currently allocated and whether or not your internal team can accommodate that next big campaign that's just come into the request queue.

4. Judge complexity and assign accordingly. Not only do you need to break down projects into tasks/duration/hours of work, you need to consider what level of complexity this type of request is and what Tier it belongs to in order to assign it to the right team member. Tier 1 projects are your New Concept Creative, Tier 2 is New but based on an existing template or design, Tier 3 is Production, more or less straightforward work. Many factors contribute to the complexity of the work. Check out this blog post from Andy Epstein on Complexity. Your most senior designers should be working on your top tier projects or, based on what you already have in the queue, you might decide that the work needs to be outsourced.

There are many project management tools for in-house design departments to get a handle on their project workflows and these tools will make it way easier for you to keep track of the work and the ensure you have the right capacity to do the work than any manual process. In the past I have used Google Forms & Sheets, Base Camp and now use Workfront because it's an all-in-one tool that includes project intake, project workflow, proof approvals, resource capacity planning as well as reporting and metrics.


Taking the time to break down a project in Excel or Google Sheets is a good first step. You'll need this breakdown to load into a project management tool. Take note of the stakeholders, tasks, time and duration it takes to complete your most common projects that your team works on.


Looking for another great resource on the business side of graphic design? Check out The Business of Graphic Design. The RGD Professional Handbook.


Project workflow breakdowns are only one of many in-house design must-haves in order to function well, but having them as part of your design tools to manage the work is a great start to managing design in-house.


Published February 2019