Officially, our title is “strategist.”

But we do a little bit of everything: digital strategy, account management, project management.

Last month, we hopped on a train up to Philadelphia to attend Digital Project Manager Summit 2015.

We learned a lot in three days – enough to fill a book, never mind a blog post.

But one month later, a few things have really stuck.

Katie:

1. Designers hate us

“This is ugly.”
“I’m just not feeling it.”
“That won’t work, let’s do it this way.”
“Make it red.”

Design feedback can be pretty frustrating at times.

Often, we get one of two things:

  1. An emotional response
  2. A specific design change

But neither of these are particularly useful.

It’s important to take a big step back and instead of just responding, asking yourself questions like “how does this affect my users” or “how does this help me achieve my goals” and use that to govern your feedback.

2. Don’t shoot the messenger

Sometimes I have to deliver bad news.
Sometimes I’m on the receiving end.

The key to making it more palatable?
Explain why.

3. Content: more rules

So you want to build out a reports section of your website.
Great.
But often, we’ll only have one or two content samples to work off of.

This can be problematic. Based off the samples, we planned for a headline with about 50 characters. But you want a 500 character headline, and our design didn’t plan for that. So you end up with a weird looking report.

One thing we can do, as strategists, is provide our clients with content guides. We’re already providing style guides that explain colors, fonts, etc. This is just an extension of that.

Your content guide might say:

  • Headlines should be under 50 characters
  • Blog posts should always have an author and need one of ten tags
  • The first paragraph of your news article will be the preview on your homepage

4. Content: everyone has goals

The often underappreciated content hierarchy is one of the most important parts of your redesign. In it, you go through all the content that will be on a page and list it in order of prominence and importance. It’s the foundation of your layout.

But often people don’t consider all stakeholders when putting together a hierarchy.

What are your user’s goals?
Rank them in order of importance.

What are your business goals?
Same thing. Rank them in order of importance.

Now see where those rankings match up. Where does your content fits in with those two different sets of goals?

5. Projects managers are real good at Karaoke

Seriously.

We heard everything from Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” to “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls.
And everyone rocked it.

We may have even participated.
But as far as I know, all video and photo evidence has been deleted.

Karaoke

…thanks, Josh.

(Who still films in portrait?)

Josh:

6. Never sleepwalk

It’s easy to fall victim to the status quo. But every day is an opportunity to take risks, solve problems and grow your business.

  • Take initiative. Be proactive and don’t let barriers stand in the way of good thinking
  • Take ownership. Take your business’ future as your own. If you know what’s broken, fix it!
  • Let go of ego. Find that balancing point between commitment to your ideas and open-mindedness.
  • Think strategically. Find that golden ticket and focus your resources on making meaningful change.

7. How many cooks in the kitchen

Nothing complicates a project more than not knowing who’s responsible for what, when and how during a redesign. From the moment the project has been approved, work to:

Define the key players throughout the process. Who’s the core project owner? Who is the final decision maker? Defining this early can mean the difference between getting approval on schedule or waiting three weeks for the board of directors to return feedback.

Define your feedback plan. Will we have weekly meetings? Will we communicate primarily via email or another tool?

Have everyone on the same page. Does everyone understand the redesign process? Does everyone know the project phases? Does everyone know what is the purpose of a wireframe or content hierarchy?

8. Keeping a project in scope is possible (maybe)

When you’re knee deep in a six month redesign and it might seem like any hope you had for staying on schedule and in budget are long gone. But take a deep breathe and these tips might just help save the day.

  • Documentation is your friend. Always have the original scope of work and any supporting resources on hand when discussing changes to the scope. Some changes may be entirely new features that are outside the scope of work.
  • Determine the Impact. If we include this new feature, how exactly will it impact budget and timeline? Make sure all stakeholders understand the effort involved.
  • User-Centered Design. Will this new feature really benefit the end user? Does it conflict with our user experience research?
  • Keep your end-goal in mind. Can we meet our goal without this new feature? Is this something that can be handled following launch or it is a must have?

9. Manage your meetings

Everyone has the potential to derail a meeting with the feedback they give. But a well organized, feedback plan can make all the difference in turning an unproductive witch hunt into the building blocks for the final deliverable. So what can you do?

  • Set ground rules upfront on how you deliver and accept feedback. Leave nothing to chance.
  • Avoid problem solving. These meetings are about information gathering. If you present the problem, we’ll help you find the best solution.
  • Frame everything with your goal in mind.
  • Listen. Take everyone’s feedback into consideration.

10. Goats

Goat GIFs can make or break a presentation.