Project Design in Project Management: A Quick Guide


Project design is a major first step toward a successful project. A project design is a strategic organization of ideas, materials and processes for the purpose of achieving a goal. Project managers rely on a good design to avoid pitfalls and provide parameters to maintain crucial aspects of the project, like the schedule and the budget.

Some might rush through the preliminary stages of a project, such as a project design, but that would be a mistake. Any seasoned project manager can tell you from experience that the more you put in the front end of a project, the better your results will be on the backend.

What Is Project Design?

Project design is one of the first responsibilities of the project manager for a given project. In this stage of the project, the decisions about how to manage and govern are made. A project plan is created and centers on the needs of the stakeholders, the organization and the project itself, of course. This document will then be used to manage all further stages of the project.

The thinking that goes on during the project design, however, doesn’t focus on details as much as it works on a higher level in terms of managing the project. Project planning software can help with organizing both the high-level strategy and the specific details of a project design.

ProjectManager, for instance, has Gantt charts for making detailed schedules, but also kanban boards for easy collaboration for the strategic aspect of project design. Manage your strategy, plan, schedule, execution and reporting in one easy-to-use project management software. Try it for free today.

Get access to kanban boards, Gantt charts, task lists, sheets and calendars with ProjectManager

The Details

The project design includes everything from who is responsible for completing the project to a description of the project, its goals, outcomes and objectives. It describes when these goals, outcomes and objectives will be reached, and the major deliverables, products or features that will be completed. The project design also estimates the budget and outlines how to monitor and evaluate progress.

There can be more than one design presented to stakeholders, who can then choose which they think best suits their needs.

The Structure of Project Design

How do you design a product to deliver on its promise? It’s difficult! But project management has a process.

There are steps to take for defining projects and developing an implementation strategy. They are the most important steps in a project. Therefore, you want to involve your team and stakeholders in the process to make sure you’re covering all the bases. Take the time to complete this stage thoroughly.

What’s the Vision?

What’s your vision for the project? This isn’t some pie in the sky hope, but a vision statement, which envisions a problem that needs resolution. That means clarifying the reason for the project. The vision statement is a formal document that states the project’s potential. It’s presented to stakeholders to show the viability of the project and its benefits.

It isn’t a long, detailed document. You can have a short, idealistic vision in terms of the outcome of the project; after all, this is how you sell the project. So, paint a picture of the project’s success, and place it in a larger context.

What’s the Problem?

To support that vision document, you need to identify a problem that needs solving. Therefore, a needs assessment is often required, so you can see the obstacles the business is encountering. This will align the problem you’re addressing with the organization and its strategy. It will also provide you with the necessary data to design an optimal solution for the problem.

To begin, what information are you gathering? What sources are there for that information, and how will you then gather the information? Next, analyze and determine the problems that your project is being created to resolve. Collect those results in a document.

Who and What Resources?

Next, you need to recognize the necessary resources to get the project done. Resources are anything from people to equipment to the facilities necessary to complete the project successfully.

A good way to figure out the resources is the same way journalists approach a news story, with the Five W’s: who, what, where, when and why. Who do you need to execute the project, what resource management tools are required, where will the work be done, when will the project start and end, and why are these resources needed?

What Are the Project Goals?

You can’t achieve your goals if you’ve not first identified them. A goal is something at the end of the project that is both observable and measurable. A goal coincides with the resolution of a problem.

Create a goal statement that explains how the goals are addressed in the project. To do this well, apply the SMART method, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-relevant. Each goal should be defined by these terms.

What’s the Project Strategy?

To achieve the project goals there must be a strategy in place. A strategy is a process to reach the goals of the project within the project constraints, such as its resources, schedule, budget, etc. How can a strategy be created to achieve the project goals?

Consider precedent and look back on similar projects from the past and what they might have shown in terms of the pros and cons of their applied strategies. Best practices for project management is always a good foundation and then build a strategy incrementally, creating a pathway to success.

What’s the Contingency Plan?

Any project manager knows that very few things proceed as planned. There needs to be a backup plan to respond quickly and rightly to issues as they arise in a project. Therefore, this must be included in your project design.

Look for the negative risks inherent in the project. They are embedded in various places, such as teams, which might lack skills, have unavoidable absences, turnover, etc. Schedules can be plagued with delays. The scope might have been poorly defined. Costs are underestimated, or funds dry up. Have a plan to address these risks.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
Have a contingency plan built out on a Gantt chart just in case with ProjectManager. Learn more

What’s the Evaluation Plan?

A project must always be under evaluation. An evaluation plan will help you monitor the project, and maybe even alert you when it starts to veer off track. Use this plan to analyze the components of the project, the outcomes and the impacts.

Outcomes are measurable changes, while impacts are how well the project goals are being achieved. Therefore, the evaluation plan is a detailed document that defines criteria to determine the project’s effectiveness and efficiency by tracking progress on all aspects of the project.

What’s the Budget?

The budget outlines the financial resources that drive the project. A budget will assign a cost to each of the project’s requirements. Creating a project budget means formalizing financial resources that will be allocated to the project. This begins with choosing a way to estimate costs, identify impacts and report on the evaluation.

What’s the Project Proposal?

All of this leads to a project proposal to explain why the project should be executed and what its benefits are. The previous steps are summarized, writing out the vision of the project and a brief description of the problem that it speaks to. Then state the goals of the project and outline the strategy that will be used to achieve those goals.

What ProjectManager Can Do to Help Your Project Design

That’s a lot of work, but by creating an outline that details these various parts of the project, you’re setting up the project for success. In order to keep all of those various documents in order and to make sure that they’ve been done in a timely fashion, you’ll need to manage workflow using ProjectManager.

ProjectManager has a kanban feature that was created to visualize the workflow. Each board is a project, and every board has columns and cards. The columns can be each of the nine steps to project design, and the cards beneath this column can be the individual tasks.

 ProjectManager's kanban board with kanban card popup
With kanban boards from ProjectManager, the project design workflow is clearly visualized.

It’s easy to see how this process can serve you throughout the project design, as you collect more documents to define your project. Then, once you execute the proper project, you have all this data in ProjectManager, which acts as a guide to keep the project progressing as required.

Only robust project management software can handle all the data needed for a good project design. ProjectManager is a cloud-based tool that has features, such as the online Gantt chart, to help schedule, as well as others, to assist with budget and resource allocation. See how it can help you by taking this free 30-day trial.

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