When a web design project goes wrong…

Project Management 6 min read

What to do when things go wrong

Last updated: September 27th, 2018

Congrats, you’ve reached the end of our five part web design process series! If you landed here without going through the whole series, we recommend getting started at the beginning of the web design process.

However, if you have been following along, you’ve likely laid a solid foundation towards successful projects. But unfortunately, sometimes even the best laid plans can unravel along the way. It’s never fun, but it’s better to prepare for the worst than having a bad project or client blindside you.

The dirty secret about some web design projects

Over the years we have noticed that there are certain problem areas that can derail a project if they aren’t addressed in a timely fashion. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of our projects start and end with success.

But if you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you’re likely to notice certain patterns and red flags that pop up along the way. Let’s outline a few of the biggest reasons projects go wrong so that you know what to look for.

A communication breakdown can be poison for web design projects

The biggest issue we see when projects go bad is a breakdown in communication. After all, a project’s success depends on constant and clear communication between your company and your client.

If either party hasn’t set proper expectations, it can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration—on both sides. Which can ultimately impact the outcome of the project.

A project’s success depends on constant and clear communication between your company and your client.

Don’t forget that both you and your client may have a lot more going on than just the project at hand. If they are comfortable with your ability to manage the project on your own, they may feel they can turn their attention to other things. At that point, you may have to make decisions on how to best keep things moving forward.

Showing this type of initiative and trust might be a good thing from time to time. But beware: there is a real danger of misinterpreting the needs of the client. Even worse, by making the wrong decisions, you could leave yourself open to criticism, planting a seed of doubt in to your client’s head about your project leadership skills.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, the first step is to admit that there is a problem

It’s easy to point fingers, but the best thing to do is to forget about who or what caused the breakdown in communication and quickly get everyone back on the same page.

This is easily solved by calling a quick meeting to discuss the client’s concerns and how you propose to get the project back on track. Most of all, you’ll want to take steps to ensure that this breakdown doesn’t happen again.

This could mean giving up some control, setting milestones, or adhering to more structured progress update and/or check-in procedure. No matter what you all agree on, taking the time to nip it in the bud now will save you time in the long run.

Maintaining a schedule within your web design project

As I stated in Part 3 of this series, developing and maintaining a project schedule is the single most important function of a Product Manager’s job.

And since project schedules are based on time estimates for completion, there are many things that can pop up along the way to derail your progress.

Scheduling mishaps have a way of snowballing and if you don’t get out in front of them, you’ll be on the sidelines watching your project collapse.

I wish I could give you the secret to maintaining smooth projects and a way to stop scheduling problems from cropping up. But if I had that solution I would probably never have to work another 16 hour day in my life!

Even though you can’t prevent problems from occurring, you can keep them at bay by tracking your hours and keeping a close watch on project requirements and milestones.

If your client wants to add in a new feature on a given page, make sure you adjust the entire schedule to account for it. If you continue to operate on the original schedule even after the requirements have changed, you can put your team in a bad, bad spot.

Furthermore, a client needs to know that changing their minds can affect both the bottom line and future delivery dates. It’s your job as Product Manager to make sure they fully understand this concept.

In that same vein, you need to learn to be honest with yourself. If you misquoted the number of hours a task is taking your team, let the client know immediately. Work with them to develop a new time line for delivery. Again, in this case (and every case), honesty is the best policy.

What if it just isn’t working?

We learned very early on that in this line of work that design is very subjective. A design direction that you find insightful and unique may leave your client scratching their head (or worse).

There could still be room for compromise and finding a way to give the client exactly what they’re looking for. However, if you keep plugging away despite the signs that you or the client are unhappy, you’ll be wasting your time and the client’s money.

Ultimately they’ll either end up paying for something they don’t want or you’ll eat hours trying to make the web design something that you don’t like. Either way, again—no one’s happy.

It’s better to cut ties than put everyone through a miserable project experience.

If you feel the project isn’t going anywhere, try having a talk with your client and see what, if anything, can be salvaged. Do your best to convey your ideas and interject your professional opinion. At the end, if you can’t reach a resolution, it might be time for both people to agree-to-disagree and walk away.

Don’t worry, this is OK.

Sometimes what seems like a match made in heaven does not end up the way you (or the client) would have hoped. As long as the split is amicable and you’ve gotten paid for the time you put in, you can both walk away knowing that you did your best to make it work. In the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

It’s all a part of the learning process

You can’t win them all as they say. But you can learn to recognize signs of potential problems early on. By doing so you’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments to put your team in a position of success.

Even extraordinary projects rarely go off without a hitch. Be prepared to put in the time and effort needed to keep your client, your team, and the project on the right track.

Remember: Communication is the key to resolving every issue. Be sure to keep those lines open at all times and you’ll be well on way to a successful web design project.

You made it, this is the end!

We hope you learned a little bit more about our web design process. This is by no means the end-all-be-all guide to managing your projects. The nuances of a successful project can be subtle and varied. Running a company, doing great work, and keeping your clients happy all at the same time isn’t an easy job—but we hope this helps make your process just a little easier!

If you found this series useful, please don’t hesitate to share it with a friend on Twitter or Facebook. Until next time, we wish you nothing but success in your future web design projects. Go get ’em!

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