Managing Projects
Like A Pro

Designing Your
Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach06 June 2024
Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach06 June 2024

From Contributing Editor, Andrew Mitchell, director of MR. MITCHELL, Interior designer and founder of The Design Coach.

Streamline your documentation using a project management program such as Programa where teams can access relevant, up-to-date information about all projects in one easy to manage location.

Contrary to common belief, managing a project actually starts from the very first interaction with a client (through listening and understanding their needs), and ends well beyond the final hand-over (through actively following up to seek feedback and address any defects). “Management” of a project involves much more than the apparent services required during the construction period. It should be factored in when considering the processes needed to adequately set and meet the ongoing expectations of our clients every step along the way.

This article addresses why managing a budget is necessary (not optional) and provides some tips to implement into your business immediately to help provide this important service to your clients.

Architects are trained to manage contracts on behalf of their clients and can act as the project managers. For designers without a project management qualification, services are limited to supporting the clients by liaising with external contractors and providing top level advice only. In this instance all trade contracts need to be established between the clients directly with the individual trades.

When considering the factors of budget and timeframe, it’s ill-advised to promise to finish a project “on time” and “on budget” as there are many influences (including clients changing their minds) that will ultimately make this almost impossible to achieve. Our responsibility when managing a project is to keep track of changes to the design, budget and timeframe, and communicate the implications of such changes to the clients on a regular basis.

1. Follow A Clearly Defined Process

Whether they know if or not, clients want us to be in control of their project (NOTE: Clients who want to be in control should be avoided). They’ve come to us to perform a professional service to help them achieve specific outcomes, and the best way to do so is to operate with a clearly defined staged process.

Successful outcomes rely on delivering more than just well-executed designs. To effectively meet our clients’ brief, we must also actively assist them to manage budget and timeframe. A well-designed process will also provide key touch points to manage these important aspects.

Don’t have a defined process? You can access the TDC 9 Stage Process summary via this free e-Book.

2. Create a Detailed Scope of Work

A project scope becomes the reference point for all parties involved: clients, collaborating design professionals and trades. The scope helps to define the key responsibilities your practice is committing to delivering.

When paired with a detailed set of Terms and Conditions, the scope of work forms the backbone of your legal contract with the clients.

3. Set Clear Boundaries

Use your Terms and Conditions to communicate important information about responsibilities (designers’ and clients’), inclusions and exclusions, payment terms and potential additional charges.

More than a document to protect you if things go wrong, a well-resolved set of T&C can be used at the start of the project to set clear boundaries, allowing for healthy discussion about what’s acceptable, and what the ramifications are if either party steps outside the agreed terms.

Once the project commences, remember to stick to the rules! There’s no point having T&C’s if you don’t enforce them.

To maximise the power of your T&C and manage expectations effectively, remind the clients of important terms at the appropriate milestones. For example, leading into the construction stage, review your procurement terms before embarking on any invoicing and ordering.

To access our proven terms and conditions, review the TDC Contracts.

4. Document Everything Thoroughly

Whether it’s 2D/3D documentation used to communicate design intent, schedules for accurate quoting and ordering, or meeting notes allocating follow-up tasks and dates to individual stakeholders, documenting everything in detail provides clear records and protects all parties involved.

Streamline your documentation using a project management program such as Programa where teams can access relevant, up-to-date information about all projects in one easy to manage location. Cloud-based record keeping also removes conflicting versions of schedules and streamlines the quote to invoice to purchase order process.

5. Be Clear on the Limit of your Management Services

Architects and Project Managers are trained to deal with contracts and manage the scheduling of multiple trades. Most importantly, they are also required to have insurance that covers this level of risk.

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced designers make is over-committing to the management of external contractors. Our services during construction should be referred to as “Design Management” rather than “Project Management” to provide a clear delineation between our responsibilities and those of a formally qualified project manager.

6. Communicate Regularly

Breakdowns between clients and designers most often happens when changes to design, budget or timeframe are not communicated quickly and clearly. On larger projects, such changes aren’t just possible, they’re inevitable.

When clients feel disconnected from the progress on a project it can erode the all-important trust necessary for a healthy connection with their design team. By establishing a regular and structured path of communication, where information is shared openly and honestly (in a timely manner), clients can better relax into the process and trust that we have everything under control.

7. Action Breakdowns Immediately

Leading into the facilitation stages, remind your clients that it’s unlikely that everything will go exactly to plan. There will most likely be challenges that require a change to designs or external influences that cause delays out of your control, and there will almost always be changes to the budget.

In an ideal world, we can maintain regular communication with the clients to stay abreast of these challenges and engage in discussions to alleviate concerns. In reality, we are often juggling numerous projects, all with many moving parts, and sometimes a breakdown in communication occurs.

When this happens it’s important to get into action immediately to maintain your clients’ trust. Set aside any fears of having potentially uncomfortable conversations in favour of listening to their concerns and making a plan to get things back on track. Ideally meet face to face when you feel that some degree of trust has been lost, but if that’s not feasible, a phone call is always preferable over an email or (heaven forbid) text message to address any client unease.

8. See It Through

To round out a complete management service, it’s important to follow up in the months after handover. This is an opportunity to ensure all defects are addressed and allows designers to check in with the clients to see how they are enjoying the space. How we handle “problems” in this part of the project, no matter how big or small, will define how the clients remember our level of service.

This is also an ideal time to get formal feedback and testimonials, after the dust has settled (literally and metaphorically) from the flurry of work required to get to the finishing line. The care we show when attending to any concerns or requests will strongly influence our ongoing relationship with the clients. Problems become opportunities to strengthen their trust.

To approach the management of a project holistically, designers and architects are advised to consider that the process of management starts from the first conversation with the clients, where hopes and expectations can be recognised and addressed. From this point forward, a combination of consistent communication, clear boundaries and solid processes will enable the nurturing of these important elements, ensuring that we achieve outstanding results that foster strong relationships with everyone involved.

To find out more about Andrew and The Design Coach:


Instagram @thedesigncoach_au


Book a Discovery Call here .

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Mastering Project Management in Your Design Business

By Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach

Contrary to popular belief, effective project management begins long before construction starts and extends far beyond completion. It involves understanding client needs, setting clear expectations, and maintaining communication throughout the entire process. In this article, I'll share insights on why budget management is crucial and offer actionable tips to integrate into your design business immediately.

  1. Follow A Clearly Defined Process

Clients seek professional services to achieve specific outcomes, and a clearly defined staged process is key to meeting their expectations. Download our free e-Book for access to the TDC 9 Stage Process summary.

  1. Create a Detailed Scope of Work

A detailed project scope serves as a reference point for all parties involved, defining key responsibilities and forming the basis of your legal contract with clients.

  1. Set Clear Boundaries

Use Terms and Conditions to communicate responsibilities, inclusions/exclusions, and payment terms clearly. Enforce these rules consistently throughout the project.

  1. Document Everything Thoroughly

Detailed documentation, managed efficiently with tools like Programa, ensures clarity and protects all parties involved. Streamline your documentation process for easy access and version control.

  1. Be Clear on the Limit of Your Management Services

Differentiate between 'Design Management' and 'Project Management' to avoid over-committing to managing external contractors. Focus on your core responsibilities.

  1. Communicate Regularly

Establish structured communication channels to keep clients informed about changes to design, budget, and timeframe. Open, timely communication builds trust and reduces misunderstandings.

  1. Action Breakdowns Immediately

Address challenges and concerns promptly to maintain client trust. Face-to-face meetings or phone calls are preferable for resolving issues effectively.

  1. See It Through

Follow up after project completion to address any defects and gather feedback. This is an opportunity to strengthen client relationships and improve future projects.

Approach project management holistically, starting with the first client conversation. Consistent communication, clear boundaries, and solid processes are essential for achieving outstanding results and fostering strong relationships.