Designing Better Projects

Project design is a process that takes years of work to master. From project scoping, planning, design, and implementation there are a lot of areas to master. If you’re interested in creating better projects, that engage more people, increase impact, and are more fundable check out these tips on how to optimize your project.

Focus on your users

Building a product is hard. Getting people to use that product is even harder. And building a product that solves someone’s problem and is easy to use is the hardest part of any product development. But by focusing on your users, you can allow them to influence your design decisions, that will ultimately yield a better product.

Understanding your users is key to creating a product that helps solve their problem, while also is engaging and continually used. When you spend time with your users, you create buy-in and ownership from them as well. Their influence on your planning and design is an key way to get people engaged from the start of your project.

At Glean, we focus our initial project design around a user interview process. (We have a project scoping template, which you can download [here]. The user interview process allows us to identify they key pain points of the users we are building a product for. For example, when we designed a website and social network for Cambodia’s largest transgender community, our first step was to conduct interviews with the members of the community who would be using the website. Our goal was to understand the needs facing that community of users. And the end result was a secure, private, question and answer platform that allowed the members of that community to better understand their health risks.

For most organizations, these interviews should be conducted out in the field. By going out to your potential user’s environment you can really understand the relationship between your users and their problem. You can also get a better understanding of the environment your user works or lives in. This can provide context for your design decisions.

Develop a flexible plan

Proper planning is the key to any successful project, but it’s common to forget to build in time for revisions, bugs, and proper iteration. Designing a product is difficult, it requires a variety of inputs, from donors, users, partners and your project teams. All of these opportunities for feedback can provide significant delays to your project if not planned for appropriately.

Your products are not designed and built in a vacuum. They need outside feedback, testing with users, and refinement. All of these things can add on additional time that wasn’t planned for. By building in flexible time and focusing on these core concepts that need margins you can make sure you’ve properly budgeted the time and resources needed.

One good way to deal with this is to use a Gantt chart. The gantt chart provides a visual way to outline the scope of a project, and if the scope needs to change to one item, the chart can show you the time changes required to all depending areas. When working with client projects, we usually use these charts to help our clients understand impact a change can have on the time and resources of a project.

Collaborate with others early in the process

We can’t all be experts in every area. This was a hard lesson for me after founding Glean. I wanted us to be awesome at every project a client brought to us. And you know what happened? For those projects that we worked on that we weren’t experts in, we failed big time. Not only did we have to execute, we had to learn as we went, which is not a good way to build a product.s

The networks you have and the partnerships you form can help provide the much needed expertise that your organization is lacking. It allows you to be free to focus on the areas that you excel at, and lean on those who have more experience. By collaborating early on, it also allows you to build sustainability into your projects. By partnering with local organizations and companies you can start to build out your strategy for their long-term support of your project.

For us, collaboration is key on all our projects. We work closely with our local partners to be able to successfully take over the projects we work on. This usually includes a local capacity building session, training videos, and a hand-off process on our side. The goal is to build in this local capacity building in everything we do, our local partners will be able to take our work to new levels without us.

Focus on working with partners that can help build your capacity and that of the people you are serving. By building this into your project design you’ll start to attract more donor attention.

Designing your project can be difficult, but thinking through some of the common challenges will help you be more successful and hopefully attract more funding. Focus on people, they are the ones you are serving. Build in flexible time so you can keep your project on track. Finally, collaborate early with groups that are different than you and can help build the local capacity. If you spend some time on these areas, finding funding for your projects shouldn’t be a problem.

The SandboxGlean