There are a lot of questions that come up when we talk about working with a developer on your design projects. One of the more common ones we hear is how the project management process works and who is in charge when.
This is a great question and definitely something you want to be aware of before jumping into a project. Today we’ll talk about how you want to be the one serving as the project manager and creative director within your projects with a developer and how to get started.
You are the project manager
In your collaborative projects that involve a developer, view yourself as the project manager.
With that, don’t think of the developer’s job as completely separate from yours. You could create a gorgeous design, hand it off, and it could turn out not at all how you’d imagined it if you don’t have a hand in the final product.
Trying to keep your role separate from the developer’s also complicates things for your clients:
- They don’t understand the difference between design and development so trying to have them manage both pieces separately won’t make sense to them.
- They don’t understand why you can’t just do it all.
- It’s much easier for them to have just one person (you) to communicate with about their website as a whole, rather than managing something they don’t fully understand.
Your job as the project manager is to work with your client to complete the design, work with your developer to bring the design to life, and make sure the project launches and looks just like you’d planned.
This sounds like a lot of pressure and extra work, but it’s not once you have a good system in place (and a reliable developer to work with).
Krista here! I’ve been a part of projects where both the designer and I are going back and forth with clients and a part of projects where the designer talks with the client and I talk with the designer.
It might sound like the first option is easier, but it gets messy fast. The client goes between both people asking questions and for added features, but that information doesn’t get passed between parties because there’s no organization.
It’s much more effective for you, as the designer, to manage all communication.
Making project communication easy
To make being in charge of communication easy, have a dedicated spot to talk with both parties – whether it’s email, Asana, Trello, or something else. Keeping conversations in one place makes it much easier to manage.
To keep information from getting lost, when your client says something about the website, add it somewhere for your developer to see. Even if it seems unimportant.
As far as your communication with the developer goes, if you’ve found a good one you won’t have much to worry about. If your developer has what they need and your design is within the scope you agreed upon, you may not even hear from your developer a whole lot. They’ll do their thing and let you know when it’s time for revisions.
As the project manager, you’re also responsible for finalizing the project schedule. When you’re working with a developer, it’s important that you get this right.
In the booking phase of the project, be sure that your timeline includes everything – your process, a little buffer room, and your developer’s process.
Be realistic with these timelines. Don’t let the client pressure you into shortening anything. Give yourself up to a couple extra weeks to finish design and don’t be afraid to add a little buffer to the timeline your developer gives as well.
The overall workflow you define for the project will be a combined effort between you and your developer. You definitely want your own steps and the overarching development steps outlined somewhere like Asana or Trello.
However, if you’re working with an experienced developer, they’ll have their own workflow and won’t want you to try to adjust it. Instead, include bigger-picture tasks like “Project Hand-Off”, “Development”, “Development Revisions”, and “Installation. Let them go in and fill in the rest.
Project payments can be tricky when working with a developer. With this, you want to make sure your developer is covered if a client goes missing, but you also need to protect yourself.
All-in-all, it’s up to each of you to make sure you’re covered at all times.
Most developers will work with deposits. Something like:
- One deposit to save a spot in their schedule
- Another a week before they’re scheduled to start
- The last one before the final installation is completed
Doing things this way ensures that if a client goes missing, they haven’t handed over any work without being paid for it.
To protect yourself, you’ll want to coordinate your own payment schedule with theirs. Don’t schedule payments from your clients after you’ve already had to pay your developer, which could leave you in a sticky situation if you’ve sent a payment and your client goes missing.
What happens after the launch
Your part in managing the project doesn’t end once the website is launched. You also want to consider what will happen if the client comes back with some changes they’d like made.
This one is totally up to you and your developer.
If you’ve served as the project manager up to this point, it makes the most sense for the client to continue coming to you and for you to coordinate with your developer. This is where having a developer on retainer to take care of smaller tasks can be really helpful.
However, if you don’t want to worry about anything like that after a project is complete you can have the clients go directly to the developer after the project is launched.
Biggest things to keep in mind
This episode was jam-packed with information, but the biggest things to keep in mind when managing a project are to:
- Make the scope of the project clear from the beginning and don’t agree to adding new features before talking with your developer
- Make sure all important information gets relayed to your developer
- Keep everyone up to date about progress, whether it’s good news or bad
- Decide where you’ll organize communication between you and your client and then you and your developer
- Decide what a realistic timeline is for your design packages that involve a developer
- Determine the best payment plan options to keep both you and your developer covered during a project
- Episode 013: How to work with a developer
- Episode 028: Make sure your developer collaboration goes smoothly
- Episode 041: Questions to ask before getting a quote from your developer
- Blog post: 4 things to look for in a good developer for your design projects
- From Mockup To Code Toolkit