As a design studio manager, your top priority is to provide high-quality work to your clients — work that you’re proud to put your name on.
But in order to pull that off time and time again, your internal operations need to be in tip-top shape. Refining and streamlining your own processes makes it easier to consistently deliver your best work. Yet making this happen can be a challenge.
If you’re being honest, you’re more interested in the creative design work than the logistics of running a team or the ins and outs of design agency software. While the creative work is getting done, you’re running into the same roadblocks with each and every design project you crank out.
Well, we’re here to help. We break down 3 common design studio management challenges and offer creative solutions you can use to overcome them.
Challenge #1: Facilitating successful internal and external collaboration
Part of what makes project management in design so challenging is that there’s a lot of collaboration happening on each and every project.
Not only is your internal team of designers working together and leaning on each other’s unique skills and expertise, but you also need to interact with your clients for direction, revisions, and approvals.
If that wasn’t enough to make your head spin, many creative agencies — from graphic design and web design agencies to photography studios, music studios, and art studios — also work with a number of subcontractors to get work done, which adds an entirely new layer of complexity to collaboration.
But despite these hurdles, figuring out how to facilitate successful internal and external collaboration is important, especially when you consider that one survey found that 86% of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
Overcome this challenge
If you haven’t already explored design studio management software for overcoming this common challenge, it’s time to look into it.
This type of work management platform helps keep all of your files, conversations, and important information centralized so nobody’s wasting time digging for what they need. It also removes the barrier that can crop up between internal and external collaborators so everybody has visibility into project progress.
When evaluating the different design project management tools available, look for one that allows you to set up user types for the various types of people who are involved in your projects.
Wrike, for example, makes it easy to set up various license types that limit what people can do and access. That way, your internal team members can have full access, while your clients and customers can only see what you need them to.
Challenge #2: Combatting scope creep
Ask any creative — from a writer to a graphic designer — what two words immediately send shivers down their spine, and they are bound to mention “scope creep.”
It can be a real problem in your design studio where seemingly small revisions and requests significantly expand projects. Before you realize what’s happening, you’ve invested almost twice as many hours in that design work than you had originally intended yet you’re unable to bill for it.
But, why does that happen? Well, from problem clients to changing preferences, there are tons of potential causes for scope creep.
This concept can be confused with gold plating. However, gold plating and scope creep in project management can both significantly impact a project's performance and delivery.
However, a total lack of clarity about initial requirements is definitely toward the top of the list. Not being on the same page about the project’s details right from the outset can lead to a lot of unnecessary back and forth.
Overcome this challenge
Believe it or not, preventing scope creep starts at the very beginning of the project. It’s not something you should do after you’ve already rolled up your sleeves and made significant progress.
The first step is to host a successful project kickoff meeting to ensure that everyone is aligned on the expectations and goals of the project before any work actually begins.
Finally, it’s important to clarify how you’ll respond when revisions or requests are out of scope. Will you complete them but charge additional? Will they delay the project schedule by a certain amount? Will you treat them as an entirely separate project?
Make that painfully obvious so that everyone (including your design clients!) knows what will happen when the project starts to balloon beyond recognition.
Challenge #3: Keeping an eye on the end goal
You tweak the layout. Change the font. Add a custom illustration. You’re up to your eyeballs in the creative details of that particular design project.
It’s great to be in the zone. But especially when you’re managing or working with a team of designers and other creatives who are so passionate about the work, it’s way too easy to get caught up in the individual pieces at the expense of the end game.
What’s the point of this design project again? What larger business goal does it tie back to? Do these additional changes really help push you toward it?
If you’re drawing a blank on the answers to those questions, you aren’t alone. According to PMI, only 64% of projects actually meet their end goals. While it certainly isn’t the only factor contributing to this failure, lack of visibility into the project’s vision or objective can really throw your projects off track.
Overcome this challenge
A project goal isn’t something that should be established once. It should continue to be reiterated in meetings, status updates, and other project-related conversations.
This keeps that objective top of mind for everybody on the project team and also helps ensure that every activity is in service of that end goal — and isn’t just an unnecessary distraction.
You may have heard of objectives and key results (OKRs) as a method for tracking these goals. Set these up for all of your design projects so everybody has constant visibility into your progress on these larger objectives.
As you’re evaluating different project management software for designers, look for one that allows you to set up your OKRs directly within the platform. For example, you can set your OKRs within Wrike (here’s a guide for doing that!) so that those objectives remain a core piece of the project rather than an afterthought.
Design studio management can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be
Unfortunately, running a successful design studio isn’t all about doing the work you love. There are plenty of logistics that you need to coordinate and oversee.
That’s exactly why design studio management presents a lot of challenges, including the ones we covered here. To recap, those common hurdles were:
- Poor internal and external collaboration
- Excessive amounts of scope creep in your design studio management
- Lack of visibility into the end goal
The good news is that you can overcome these frequent challenges in your own design studio by finding the right design project management software and implementing the advice above. Do that, and you’ll actually have more time to do what you love: the creative design work.