Projects often involve numerous steps, complex tasks, multiple collaborators, and possibilities of risks arising at any stage. A project design is the glue that holds a project’s moving parts together.
Is it another term for a project plan? Well, no. Even before the detailed project plan comes to life, a project design sets the stage by focusing on the big picture: The outcome. It serves as a driving force that brings the stakeholders on the same page regarding ideas, objectives, and timelines.
If you’re an aspiring project manager, using project design methods and visual aids like flowcharts, Gantt charts, and graphs is an important skill.
In this article, we cover everything you want to know about project design – the essential steps in a project design, expert tips to create effective ones, and examples. We will also touch upon getting a project management certification if you’re serious about building a career in this field.
Understanding Project Design: What is It?
Project design represents the initial stage of a project. This is where essential elements are outlined. This includes key features, structural framework, success benchmarks, and major deliverables.
Project managers often formulate multiple project design options to realize the project’s objectives. Then, the stakeholders select the most suitable design for executing the project.
Diverse outputs may emerge throughout the project design process, including sketches, flowcharts, site maps, HTML screen designs, prototypes, visual representations, etc.
In short, a project design is the bedrock on which a successful project is executed, meeting the stakeholder’s expectations and project goals.
How Project Design Works
Project design is one of the early stages of the project lifecycle. It focuses on conceiving ideas, shaping processes, allocating resources, and defining deliverables.
However, it comes before the detailed project plan, serving as a high-level overview.
A project design is made up of many steps, which include everything from goal definition to the use of visual aids, etc. Tools like the Gantt charts and Kanban boards are used to make the ideas clearer to the stakeholders. It breaks down complex ideas into simpler ones for better communication.
Ultimately, it enhances understanding of the project’s overall viability and direction. This visual clarity helps bring together different participants in the team and enables informed decision-making.
Why is the Project Design Phase Important?
The project design phase is crucial to project management for many reasons. First, it helps lay out the finer details of the project and its success. It lays a framework for identifying, delineating, and accomplishing project objectives.
Carrying out a project in today’s business world is no easy feat. With the help of design thinking, the organization has better collaboration, innovation, and acceleration, leading to effective work and better chances of success.
The project design phase lays the groundwork for the project by covering crucial elements like:
- Budget estimates
- Project description, articulating the project’s essence and scope
- Responsibility assignment, which identifies the individuals or entities responsible for project completion
- Determining the milestones and their timelines
- Benchmarks that specify the major deliverables, success standards, and evaluation guidelines
- Outcomes or tangible results of the project
What is Project Design in Project Management? An Example
Before we go into the intricacies of project design, let us understand what a project design is through an example.
Project design often relies on essential project management tools like Gantt charts to provide a structured framework. Here’s a project design example that illustrates how concepts are incorporated into the project planning tool, specifically Gantt charts.
What is a Gantt Chart?
Henry Gantt invented a Gantt chart in the early 20th century, and it has since become a widely used tool in project management.
Technically, a Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that visually shows a project’s tasks and timeline. It helps project managers and teams to plan, monitor, and control the project activities and progress.
A Gantt chart has two main parts: a list of tasks on the left and a horizontal bar chart on the right. The bars represent each task’s duration, start, and end dates. The bars can also show the tasks’ dependencies, milestones, and status.
A Gantt chart can communicate the project scope, schedule, and deliverables to the stakeholders and team members. It can also help to identify potential risks, issues, or delays in the project execution.
Ultimately, Gantt charts are a project design tool and a versatile template that enhances project outcomes.
What is the purpose of the project design process?
The project design process serves as a crucial element in project management. Here are some reasons it has become very popular with project managers and businesses.
1. Comprehensive Overview
It creates a comprehensive project overview, covering its goals, objectives, deliverables, resources, risks, and success criteria.
Project design is crucial in aligning project teams and stakeholders, ensuring everyone shares a common understanding.
3. Preceding Detailed Planning
Since it comes before the detailed project planning and execution phases, it is a foundational step. It shapes what comes after, providing a strategic framework for project implementation.
4. Identification of Challenges and Opportunities
The project design process is instrumental in identifying potential challenges and opportunities in the project. It helps refine the project methodology and strategy.
5. Effective Communication
Project design harnesses visual aids like Gantt charts, Kanban boards, or flowcharts to enhance communication. These help break down complex info into simple terms, bringing everyone on board.
Steps of the Project Design Process
As an integral part of project management, it is essential to go with project design in a detailed and structured manner. Let’s explore each of the nine vital steps within this process, which collectively pave the way for project success.
1. Define your project vision
Begin with a clear project vision. A concise vision statement should cover it. This statement portrays your project’s aspirations and underscores the problem it intends to address.
2. State the problem your project will solve
Identify the problem in need of resolution. Conduct a needs assessment to gain insight into the obstacles faced by the organization.
3. Estimate the required resources
Recognize the requisite resources, from personnel to equipment and facilities, essential for successful project completion. Employ the “Five W’s” (who, what, where, when, and why) to guide your resource assessment.
4. Outline your project goals
Define observable and measurable project goals that align with problem resolution. Utilize the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-relevant) criteria to craft goal statements that provide clarity and direction.
5. Structure your project strategy
Develop a strategic approach to actualize project goals within resource, schedule, and budget constraints. Draw insights from past projects and industry best practices to construct a comprehensive strategy.
6. Prepare a contingency plan
It is essential to understand that projects rarely unfold precisely as planned. Thus, a contingency plan is crucial for addressing unexpected issues promptly and effectively. Identify potential risks, from skill gaps to schedule delays, and formulate a plan to manage them when needed.
7. Establish an evaluation plan
Implement continuous project evaluation to monitor progress and detect deviations from the plan. The evaluation plan should monitor the project components, outcomes, and impacts, ensuring effectiveness and efficiency.
8. Estimate costs and create a project budget
Formulate a project budget outlining the financial resources required. Begin by estimating costs, identifying impacts, and establishing mechanisms for ongoing financial reporting.
9. Create a project proposal
Finish the project design process with a comprehensive project proposal. Summarize the vision, problem, goals, and strategy, highlighting the project’s potential benefits.
Making a project design with these nine steps creates a solid foundation and a clear path forward.
Also Read: What are PDUs in PMI? An Explainer
Tips to Build the Best Project Design
While the nine steps detailed above cover the entirety of the project design process, here are some expert tips you can keep in mind when creating a project design.
- Align your deliverables with your goal: Start with the desired outcome and work backward to identify the deliverables that will help you achieve it.
- Communicate with all stakeholders: Invite your team members and stakeholders to participate in the project design process. This will help you get their input, feedback, and buy-in for the project’s purpose and scope.
- Update and revise as needed: Project design is not a static process. You may need to change and improve your design document as you learn new information and the project progresses.
Ensuring Business Success with Better Project Designs
The success of project management is tied closely to an efficient project design. You can steer your projects to success with a good understanding of project objectives and a goal-centric approach. With effective communication and flexibility to adapt to the project’s changing needs, you can bring the odds in your favor.
If you’re eager to delve deeper into project management and enhance your project design skills, consider enrolling in our project management course. This program will equip you with the knowledge and tools to excel in project management.
Delivered by Simplilearn, in collaboration with the University of Massachusets,, this program offers authorized training aligned with PMI-PMP® and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma. What sets this program apart is the opportunity to learn from world-class faculty through live classes. You also get to work on a capstone project, which will help you gain first-hand experience and valuable knowledge of this field.
If you want to carve a successful project management career, this is a great course to get the ball rolling. Enroll today to get started!