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Ways to Improve Your Project Management Skills

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Creative Processes to Follow & Client Expectations

There are two sides to the designing and landscaping business. The creative aesthetic side that involves colors, patterns, and how materials are used in a space. Then there is the logistics aspect of the design process. Budgeting, time frames, as well as how you’re planning on executing the project are typically less fun and more important aspects of these projects.

Many designers and landscaping pros are naturally good at the “decorating” aspect. However, in this post we will discuss how you can improve your management skills to assure the second stage of this process runs smoothly.

Below are some tips on successful project management given by pros as well as how they improve they improve their skills.

Be Transparent with your Client

You absolutely have to explain to your clients how the project will run. One must-do for smooth project management is setting appropriate expectations with the customer. If you don’t, it can cause all kind of problems later. “Being able to establish expectations with a customer about how the project is going to unfold — that comes with foresight based on past experience,” says Tim Glass of Alderwood Landscape Architecture and Construction in Bellevue, Washington. 

For Glass, it’s key to share with clients details about construction sequencing, which homeowners may not be familiar with, especially if they’ve never done an outdoor project. He explains early on that the crew may need to create an access road to bring materials into the backyard, and that they’ll set up a staging area where they place materials and equipment. He tells clients a project will get messy and involve dirt and mud, and that things will look worse before they look good. He also lays out the project timeline and mentions factors such as bad weather that could slow that timeline down.

Invest in Coaching to boost your Skills

Working with a coach or hiring a business consultant to help designers get better at project management has proven to run a more efficient business.  “Five or six years ago I was getting really frustrated with the project management side of [the business],” says Charli Junker of Your Space Our Design in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Labrador, Canada. 

Then Junker attended a talk by Kimberley Seldon, who offers business coaching for interior designers. Implementing tactics from Seldon’s books helped Junker reduce some of the emotional stress and interpersonal challenges of running a design business. The most important technique she learned was to “follow policies and procedures whether or not you’re the only person that works there,” Junker says.

For instance, one of Junker’s policies is working only with certain vendors. “If the client wants to go to other vendors, they are responsible for [selecting the products], payments, installs and budget,” Junker says. She also works only with her own contractor. “This ensures quality control and that the plans are executed properly. If the client wants to work with their own contractor, all info is relayed through a client.”

As another example, if your policy is not answering client texts after 6 p.m. or on weekends, make the client aware of that policy and then stick with it. Otherwise, it’s too easy to make exceptions for various clients that can end up leaving you feeling exhausted. “I think a lot of entrepreneurs suffer from it. You’re emotionally invested in the business,” Junker says. “I’ve learned to people-please less and follow the steps.

“It’s just easier if you’re following a set of standards for each project, and treat every project the same.”

Find a Process that Works

As lead designer at design-build firm Copper Sky Renovations in Atlanta, Micaela Quinton  has developed strategies to help her manage the collection of tasks that she does to contribute to a project’s completion. Some techniques are simply good time-management practices that reflect the specific demands of her job. 

“I keep a lot of lists,” Quinton says. “I use my calendar a lot. I look ahead at my week and what are my deadlines. I slot time periods between meetings to get things done.”

For design work, Quinton needs more than a couple of 30-minute or hourlong chunks to get into the flow. “I really need to work in long periods of time. I need enough time to get into the project and develop it,” she says. So she protects chunks of time on her calendar for that deep kind of work. 

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