Guidelines before starting on a project

Hi everyone,

I’m working for a company that’s doing a lot of projects in web design, graphic design, front and back-end web development and also WordPress, I’m currently focusing on the web design and WordPress part. The problem within this company is that there is little to no structure or guidelines for us to help guide us through a project, many clients just send an e-mail and want it to be completed within a matter of days… Quite annoying most of the time, but that’s not what I’m here for.

Luckily I’m working on the bigger more long term projects now, but I want to introduce some type of guidelines and structure to the company so we can better ourselves and help is guide through projects. I hear many success stories from others working at companies that follow certain types of guidelines. Now I quite new to this and can use all the tips, from folder structures to documentations and workflows.

I have read a couple articles were people explain how they work, showing their workflows and folder structures and some of them look like rocket science and others look quite simple. What I’m trying to say is that there is so much difference in, I guess it’s something that has to work for the person who’s working with it, if that makes any sense… But there has to be some kind of guideline that makes the basis right? I guess I’m just curious how you guys work and if you use any tools to help you through a project?

Sorry for the long post, I can get a little carried away when I’m writing about these subjects. It is just a really interesting subject and also quite interesting how other people work on their projects.

Thanks in advance for your tips!

Kind regards.

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I am self-employed with no employees. So my system has to work for me and me only. My documents folder is organized by client first and project within the client folder. Within the project folder are multiple folders, arranged chronologically, for each step of the project. I always start with a site map, so the first folder is “01 site map” and then working my way down the steps with “04 website” being a local copy before the site gets moved to the client’s server. Depending on the project, there may be more folders or folders within the numbered folders. The last folder is always the emails that I store with the project. They are also numbered in the order received, and I’ll label them once they’ve been dealt with.

Two caveats. First, as I said, I work alone. This system is not going to be effective if you have a team working on the websites. Two, the directory structure looks different for print projects.

Anyway, I hope there is something there that will help you.

There could be volumes to write and discuss when it comes to things like project management and workflow invention. When you’re not on an already-structured team, it can feel like you’re sort of “out in space” looking for the right direction to turn, or even just look.

One fundamental exercise I’ve developed that helps me, as a solo practitioner, make a project start and keep moving is what I call my “journal of justification” (JoJ). When a project begins, I start a new spreadsheet file and start typing in everything I know and think about it. This usually starts with an “Objective,” and moves through all the relevant information and pre-existing material I’ve been given. After that, it becomes the first and most important brainstorm of the project, with the premise: To work toward the Objective, what questions will I need answered?

So down the left column of the sheet goes a series of questions; about everything from research targets to materials cost and considerations, modes of delivery, client info, timing projections—pretty much a full brain dump on the subject. As answers materialize and/or subsequent questions are begotten, the exercise grows into columns toward the right, essentially becoming a horizontal-outline-record of the project’s evolution and progression. Dated links to sketchs, mockups, and drafts go in, reflecting the results of decisions based on the answers to the original questions. In bigger, more complex projects, stuff like color coding and conditional formatting creep in and help keep the meaning of items from getting buried in a monotone field of words. The detailed trail of breadcrumbs this makes is very useful throughout the project, but even more so after a project has come and gone, and the client returns for additional work. And, it’s just a good exercise in self-discipline.

@Steve_O thank you for your reply, very interesting, I first want to “master” project management for myself before I’m introducing it to the company, most of the time I’m working on a project on my own so then this folder structure would be really helpful. The last folder being the storage for all the emails between you and the client is very helpful, I might be using that too! It is sometimes really confusing as of what I’ve done and what email comes first etc…

@HotButton also thanks for your reply, you described it really well! It really does feel like I’m “out in space” no idea what direction to turn or look. Thank you for the tips, I will try this out a couple times and see how it goes from there. I think creating a document like this will really help me focus more on the direction and also the progress I make with a client. Also keeps a more overview of things that can be worked with.

I have a designer who has been working with me for two years, but I still am the one organizing all the files. Here’s what I’ve done over the past 20+ years.

I use a numbering system to identify each unique project. Also, I often have to go look up a past job to update it, and I give the new one a new number when I do.

The admin folder contains a subfolder for all emails plus invoices, proposals, estimates, etc.

All proofs go in a folder and get numbered for each round.

I put all final files (print and web PDFs, for example) in a folder.

When my designer and I chat about a project, we have a separate channel for each project that uses the corresponding job number.

Then, in my project management software, the project title is the same there too.

This is similar to how things worked at a design firm and a publishing company I worked at (the publishing company actually had me implement this system for them).

For websites, I have done something very similar to what @Steve_O shared.

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Thank you for sharing your system, very helpful and interesting. I’m currently also numbering the files, really helps with following the steps in a project. Going to try out a few of these tips in the upcoming week and put something together that might work for me and maybe introduce it to a few of my colleagues.

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Another quick question I have…

When or if you are doing research for a project either for web design or graphic design, what steps are you following or focus on? I just look up any other similar subjects and check what they did with their work and then try to figure out what the pros and cons are, try to get as many inspiration.

I just feel like I’m doing research completely random and don’t really know what to focus on or what to look for specifically. Beside that I’m not entirely sure when I have done too little research, too much or when I did enough research to start the next step.

Before any design work, I always ask the client a lot of questions and I ask “why” a lot. These are some of the questions I ask. (It’s a PDF.)

I also research competitors as well.

It all goes back to what the client is trying to accomplish, so just because their competitors or others in their industry are doing something doesn’t mean it’s right for that client.

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Hi @creativeboost, your project naming style looks almost identical to mine…

6 digit date, client name, brief description (keywords), example…

042720 Joes Crab Shack Menu Design

File Structure:

  • Working Files > Assets
  • Client Docs
  • Print Files

042720 Joes Crab Shack Website Design

File Structure:

  • Working Files > Assets
  • Web Ready
  • Client Docs

I like using the six digit date as it’s easy to keep up with and it makes it easy to find the most “current version” of a repeat order that may have had changes. It’s very convenient for printed products…

I also use teamwork as my project managment system… I include the “Project ID”… 042720 Joes Crab Shack Menu Design within the description of my invoice/estimates, so it’s easy to find the project in my accounting system by searching for the Project ID.

John David

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Hi, John. Yes, very similar. I do the same with the project code in my project management software too.

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Great minds think alike!

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I want to thank everyone for replying and helping out, it is really appreciated and it helps so much. Thanks for that!

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