There’s no comprehensive solution to getting productivity from your design team, but certain techniques will benefit managers and designers during the course of a day. Managing a team at all can be tricky. Managing a team of designers can be even more challenging because designers have different strengths, weaknesses and creative eccentricities that often require a unique approach.
1. Manage Your Time
Planning is important, and your time is valuable, so it stands to reason that time management is paramount. Forgetting just how much time you should be spending on a current project is all too easy, because working hours can slip down the drain if not properly allocated at the beginning of the design process and enforced throughout. The better you plan—and often the further in advance you plan—the better equipped you will be to deal with obstacles. Do tomorrow’s planning today. Don’t wait until the middle of the day to figure out what you need to accomplish.
The 80:20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that 80% of unfocused effort generates only 20% of our results. This means that the remaining 80% of results are achieved with only 20% of the effort. By better managing time in the design process, you can optimize the efforts of you and your team so that you concentrate as much of your time and energy as possible on priority tasks, ensuring the best results possible within the limited time available.
2. Use A Detailed Job Sheet
Typically agencies use a job sheet to tally the design hours spent on each job, but the sheet is also useful internally if you manage an in-house design team. Distribute a job sheet to everyone who needs one (your company intranet is a great place to store the document). If it is tailored to your company and team’s requirements and invites the right information, then absolutely everything a designer needs to know about a job will be in one place on one piece of paper.
Not only can you include details such as job start and finish dates, proofing requirements, print sizes and so on, you can also give each job a unique title and job number. This serves as a great tool to quantify your team’s output and design performance, and you could easily copy a summary of these details into a spreadsheet so that you can appraise each designer’s performance and workload at a glance. Periodically share this data with your design team to keep it up to date on its progress. Team members will gradually learn to help each other more during busy periods.
Another way to focus your design output is to ask for feedback from the team members who are using these forms on a daily basis. How could the job sheet better suit their needs? After all, unless the form benefits everyone in the organization, it is more a hindrance than a help. Since we’ve done this, staff in other departments have suggested (and we have implemented) several new form features, including an “express” option to boost urgent jobs to the top of the queue.
Whatever your job sheet looks like, stick to the 4 Cs of form design (clear, concise, clever and co-operative) to make it both useful and time-saving.
- A clear job sheet should use, but not be limited to, language that is familiar to the target user; have a clean and coherent layout; and recommend definitive actions to the user, with no ambiguity.
- A concise job sheet efficiently gathers the necessary information, with minimal confusion for the user. Here is an example of an Australian e-tax form that could certainly be more concise:
More often than not, we equate “concise” with “short” and, therefore, “short” with “successful.” In this case, breaking the question down into its component parts would make the form longer yet easier for the end user.
- Clever job sheets are in their element online. While we can do our best to pre-empt or omit unnecessary questions from a paper form, an online form can expand, contract, calculate and ultimately reduce the number of steps required to be filled in by the user.
- Finally, the job sheet should be co-operative. Don’t frustrate the user. Make it clear what you’re asking for and, if necessary, why you’re asking for it. If you’re just introducing the job sheet into your organization or department, you may want to accompany it with an informative “How to” guide.
3. Put A White Board On The Wall
As the old marketing adage says, “Keep it simple stupid.” White boards are great for at-a-glance planning and are a design team essential. In its simplest form, a white board is a weekly diary for the team. Anyone can see what everyone else is doing, and on bigger projects we can see everyone working towards the same goal. And should anyone dare to be ill and take time off, the workload can be picked up comfortably by the rest of the team with minimal disruption.
As with many things a designer deals with day to day, communication is key, and the white board is a great starting point to improve communication between designers and even between departments. The latest white boards come with an array of magnets in various shapes and sizes, so you can plan to your heart’s content.
4. Organize With Gantt Charts
A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project’s schedule. It is great for planning design projects because it indicates key milestones, individual resources and time schedules. The colored bars on a Gantt chart illustrate the start and finish dates of a project’s core elements, and they can also show dependencies between activities. A schedule’s current status can be shown with “percentage complete” shadings. Once you’ve mastered it, it is a great project planning tool.
The benefits of managing a project with a Gantt Chart are:
- Saves cost and time by eliminating idle periods;
- Accountability for project’s wins and losses;
- Visibility of the whole project and its component parts;
- Captures multiple tasks in a single document.
See “Joe Taylor’s Top Ten Benefits of a Gantt Chart” for more information.
5. Hire The Right People (And Allocate Tasks Accordingly)
This one’s easier said than done. A myriad of human resource skills—such as writing accurate job specifications, advertising in the right places, asking good interview questions and checking references—affect the hiring process. Listening carefully during these stages is key; you can often tell how well an individual will fit the team (see point #7).
When that applicant becomes a team member, you’ll learn their strengths and weaknesses in time. Some designers are technical, some more creative, some meticulous and some better at understanding or communicating a brief. Although you can and will learn this over time, what’s to stop you right now from consciously working out the strengths and weaknesses of your design team. Allocate a job to the designer who will yield the best result: play to their strengths, not their weaknesses.
Last but not least, designers need the right tools for the job. This doesn’t necessarily mean wireless mouses when corded ones would do, but it cannot and should not be used as an excuse for bad workmanship. Giving members the most up to date and relevant hardware and software for their position and role on the team is imperative if you expect the best results.
6. Encourage Training And Development
Training and development not only improves a designer’s ability but is a stimulant and morale builder that keeps the designer focused, growing and motivated. The training and development can take many forms and need not be expensive. Traditional courses often exceed the budgets of small organizations, but job rotation, job shadowing, online and home learning, retail visits and exhibitions and other activities all offer value to the workplace. Ideas, motivation and a new way of thinking can often be achieved simply by getting away from the desk and into a different environment.
Someone who breaks their day-to-day pattern is watching and learning. The InDesign designer at our company is now learning to update our website, which is built on the Joomla content management system; and our Photoshop designer is helping with the rebranding work in Illustrator. There are countless courses, online tutorials, books and other avenues to explore. As a nice refresher course or to try something new, why not consider the Adobe Certified Programs or W3Schools’ Online Certification Program (see links at the end of this article).
7. Listen To Every Participant In The Design Process
Listen to your design team as closely as you listen to clients. We go out of our way as creatives to “think like the customer” and to create customer satisfaction questionnaires. And many bosses will advise to treat colleagues or other departments the way you deal with customers. This process should be mastered by a design team both internally and externally, and by any organisation for that matter.
In any group, there are always those who talk just to hear the sound of their own voice; but for the most part, when someone wants your undivided attention, especially a manager, they have something important and relevant to say. The way you respond to that person is as important as what you yourself communicate. Signal that you understand the person and learn to offer practical advice to solve the problem at hand. As I mentioned earlier, communication is key: it’s the backbone of a good design team, and if you listen you will learn more than you thought possible.
8. Motivate Your Design Team
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
Motivate yourself and those around you to strive for improvement and perfection, and be mindful every day of how you create a culture of self-improvement. Recognize that motivating a team begins with motivating yourself. Motivation is an ongoing process, not a task that can be checked off when done once.
One-on-one meetings, coupled with regular (i.e. bi-annual) performance reviews, allow you to step away from the desk, go to a quiet room and have an open honest chat with each member of your team. Understanding what motivates each member of your team is of utmost importance. And remember, money is not a motivator. A good salary with perks undoubtedly attracts the right people, but continually rewarding with money creates a culture of expectation and the danger that employees will contribute and be proactive only if a financial bonus dangles in front of them. Many better sources of inspiration and motivation are available to designers, and you must learn to take advantage of every one.
9. Don’t Throw The Team Under A Bus
Everyone makes mistakes, but as team leader you are ultimately responsible. One of the worst things you can do as manager is to hang one of your own out to dry for a mistake. Everyone on the team should be accountable, but ultimately you have to go to bat for your team and support them every time.
This reassures them. And reassurance builds trust. And trust… well, trust strengthens the team.
A big hurdle for new managers is feeling secure enough to delegate work. As difficult as that is in the beginning, it’s the first step towards trusting in and building a team. Be confident in your design team. Give it all the necessary information, and trust that it will get the job done.
Good delegation, though, isn’t as simple as passing all work onto members of the team and expecting them to just get on with it. A good delegator will:
- Take time to clearly specify what needs to be accomplished;
- Delegate responsibility and authority to team members, in addition to daily tasks;
- Keep lines of communication open, and encourage feedback throughout the design process;
- If unsatisfied with the results, do not relieve the team member of that task. Think of delegation as a continuous loop. Try a different tact; for example, use visuals instead of a verbal brief to explain what you’re after.
11. Be SMART
Finally, lead by example, and set goals using the SMART system. In life, most people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! One must take action.
Define the who and the what. Be as accurate as possible about what you want to achieve.
Measurable results help you track progress towards the finish line.
This should not be confused with easy. Always set the bar for improvement high.
A relevant goal helps you start focused and stay focused.
Goals must be deadline-driven.
By implementing some of these principles, everyone on the creative team will prosper.
Managing a design team well takes a multitude of skills and strategies. Having a design background or industry experience is usually not enough to squeeze the best out of a design staff. Drawing on the same motivation that designers enjoy fresh out of college, a manager must steer the process, but at a much higher level. Many interpersonal skills and tools of the trade will help you get the best results, and you can’t be afraid to use them. If you know of tips not mentioned in this article, your comments and suggestions are welcome, so that we can all help each other become better.
You may be interested in the following related resources:
- Adobe Certification
- W3Schools’ Online Certification Program
- Managing the Design Process, by The Design Council
- What Makes a Good Form?
- Setting SMART Management Goals
About the Author
Scott Beveridge is the creative manager for six brands within the AMG Group in Scotland and is responsible for the in-house creative design team. Some of his recent work can be seen on his design portfolio website Hello Scott.