UX Project Management – 3 Essential Tips On How To Survive a New UX Project

UX Designers come from many varied backgrounds, strategy, visual design, even developers. However, one discipline that seems to produce far fewer UXers than most is project management. For this reason it is often a baptism of fire for a UX Designer to try and manage many of the intricacies of how a project runs, particularly if they don’t have a dedicated project manager to fall back on. It can be scary, and daunting.

No Project Manager??!

When I got into the UX game I never imagined I would need to use so many non-UX specific skills to do my work effectively. The hardest part of any new UX project is normally the first part, where you have to become acquainted with the ins and outs of the brand you are working with, understand the problem and gather all the information you will need to start delivering your solution. You also need to define the processes and framework for how the project should run going forward, including stakeholder review, feedback and other activities or risk your project being blighted with problems.

This article is intended to give you a few quick tips that I have learnt from my own experience about how to keep things running when you are out there on your own.

1. Find out who to talk to

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can give you. During your initial meetings with the client you will probably be trying to absorb lots of information. You need to keep your ears peeled for things in initial kick off meetings such as:

  • Other work streams going on (e.g. business strategy work, IT/Systems programmes, Marketing initiatives, new websites)

This piece of work is tying into our new Marketing approach

Ask: Who is running this? Are they a stakeholder in this piece of work?

  • Any names casually dropped into conversation which sound like they could be important stakeholders

“Jill was just talking about the new strategy piece the other day”

Ask: Who is Jill? What does she do? Do I need to talk to her?

An element of what we do as UX Designers is detective work, figuring out why users do what they do and trying to predict what they will do if we change certain elements of an experience. We can use these same skills to help us in UX project management.

We must use our UX detective skills from the get go to work out how the client works and who the key players are

Useful people

Useful people to get contact details of within the business are often people at Director or Head level from disciplines such as Marketing, IT, Strategy and Customer Service – although this will of course depend on the nature of the project and the type of business.

2. Create a RACI Matrix of Stakeholders

Now that you have figured out who you need to talk to, you need to figure out what level of input they require and who should be signing things off. A RACI is a project management tool which is perfect for this, and you should aim to get it signed off and agreed by the people who are named within it.

It is split into four categories which form the letters (from wikipedia)

Those who do the work to achieve the task. There is at least one role with a participation type of responsible, although others can be delegated to assist in the work required
Accountable (also approver or final approving authority)
The one ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or task, and the one who delegates the work to those responsible. In other words, an accountable must sign off (approve) on work that responsible provides. There must be only one accountable specified for each task or deliverable.
Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication.
Those who are kept up-to-date on progress, often only on completion of the task or deliverable; and with whom there is just one-way communication.
Example RACI Matrix
Example RACI Matrix for UX Deliverables

This may seem like a lot of bureaucracy, and it is probably overkill in some situations. However in projects with many different stakeholders this can be a life saver and a good way to track feedback.

3. Capturing Feedback

In projects with lots of people to get feedback from this is where you have to think on your feet a little. The RACI can certainly help in this but getting lots of people in the same room at the same time can be hard.

I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to have a regularly scheduled feedback meeting in which stakeholders are encouraged to attend and view progress. It is inevitable that some people won’t be able to come, so be flexible in how you capture your feedback. Offer to get it via email or phone before the meeting, and then discuss what was said with the people in the room.

After your meeting send around the consolidated feedback. Problems with project management arise when stakeholders feel they haven’t been listened to, so if you aren’t taking their feedback on board make sure to explain why.

Do some UX!

Jakob Nielsen ApprovesI’m sure most of us would rather be talking to users or crafting awesome wireframes then dealing with the additional overhead project management can sometimes bring. However, with the quick tips above you can hopefully mitigate this and get more time to do what you do best.

Do you have any other tips for running a UX project with no project manager on board? Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy CaioSchiavo