What is Project Design: Canvas & Full Guide

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Implementation & Execution

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What is Project Design?

Project Design is the very first stage of the Project Cycle, In the place in the life cycle of business activities where ideas, processes, resources, and outcomes are planned and initiated. Because this stage can offer an expansive, more general overview, businesses prepare and consider Project Design before creating a formal Project Plan.

Project design provides you with an opportunity to communicate with all stakeholders regarding ideas, processes and desired outcomes. It is an early stage in the project life cycle, often before a project plan or project charter is created, as it focuses primarily on the project overview rather than specific details. In this early phase, visual aids such as flowcharts, Gantt charts, and timelines are popular to provide project stakeholders with an overview of the project.

As an aspect of your overall innovation strategy, Project Design aligns business goals and objectives with the actions you can reasonably complete with the resources you have available. In this article, we discuss Project Design and its place in your innovation plans. Specifically, we advocate using our UNITE Project Design Canvas, which helps focus your Project Design efforts to increase the chances you’ll have advantages over your competitors.

How Does Project Design Work?

In order to be its most effective, Project Design needs to be a distinct phase of innovation and project execution. Project Design as its own separate collection of activities helps ensure you get the best results from your efforts, without expending valuable resources on futile projects.

Differentiating the design process from the rest of your project work is important. It requires articulation and prioritization from management and the project leader, who will guide the project through completion.

The key to successful Project Design is to not skip over it. Do not assume that every project is ready to roll initially. Project Design checks to make sure each initiative is needed, feasible, and within grasp.

Related: Strategy Execution Framework – A Guide to Successful Strategy Execution

The UNITE Project Design Canvas

The experts at Digital Leadership created the UNITE Project Design Canvas as a part of our overall goal of helping businesses succeed through innovation. The UNITE approach to innovation is aimed at guiding businesses to gain new competitive advantages by reviewing their business practices and identifying areas of improvement and potential growth.

Sometimes innovation targets new technologies, but just as often innovation occurs through new approaches, procedures, and mindsets. Additionally, more often than many people think, innovation doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Not when you transform the infrastructure of your company’s business practices.

When you follow the pieces placed within the canvas, you’ll create a plan that includes all the vital elements necessary to help your project succeed. Below, we step through all the different sections of The UNITE Project Canvas.

How Does the Project Design Template Work? – Project Design Phases

To make Project Design easier, we’ve divided the UNITE Project Design Canvas into three different phases. Within each of those phases are other topics of concern that will need your attention.

We suggest creating a large version of the canvas to post in a central location. Complete it by writing in the appropriate sections and filling it out as you go along.

Completing the canvas doesn’t need to be a linear activity. Feel free to return to other sections in each phase, particularly while you’re still working within that phase.

Phase (1): Identify Project Stakeholders

Project Design - Project Stakeholders
Project Design – Project Stakeholders

Here you’ll consider people and groups who have some sort of interest in your project, its process, and its end goal.

1. Stakeholders

Who has some interest in the project, its creation, and its success?

Anyone who touches the project is a stakeholder, as well as anyone downstream of the project’s products. That means that there are often far more stakeholders than we realize. While most of them won’t have a direct impact on the project, it’s likely they’ll appreciate being kept up-to-date if developments are going to affect them.

2. Final User

In whose hands will the project’s end-product land?

Think about the final users’ priorities, as well as how the final users will actually put your product into motion.

It’s a good idea to draw on final users’ opinions early and often. History is littered with failed products that no one used because no one ever asked for them. Draw on your existing customers’ needs and wants so you can retain their business and attract similar new customers.

3. Beneficiaries

Who will get the biggest advantages from your new product? Think of customers as well as members of your team, who could see financial gains and otherwise from the project’s completion.

Understanding who gains from the project is important as a manager because it helps you understand motivations and behavior, as well as recognize marketing opportunities when the project is completed.

Additionally, the right beneficiaries help secure the right funding, which might be necessary depending on your project. If you’re relying on donors, they may be concerned about reaching enough people with their resources. They may be reporting how their money is spent and their story is stronger when they have a greater impact.

Think, too, about direct as well as indirect beneficiaries. A project that helps people enroll in college after incarceration impacts that student directly, but their other family members are indirect beneficiaries who gain a great deal from their loved one’s success.

Phase (2): State The Project Direction

Project Design - Project Direction
Project Design – Project Direction

In Phase Two you begin really thinking about the project’s purpose and your hopes for what you want to accomplish.

We need a balance of realistic and aspirational. Certainly, early in your planning stages you’ll want to aim high and dream big. Reduce your goals and vision as the picture and opportunities become clearer.

1. Problem Statement

Explicitly state what the project is hoping to accomplish in terms of a problem that needs solving.

Your Problem Statement should clearly explain the mechanics of the problem, why it’s a problem to begin with, and how your project can successfully address that problem.

All three elements of your Problem Statement are important because it helps assure that your efforts are necessary and effective. Without them, you’re doing work—and incurring expenses—that is unnecessary.

2. Project Vision

Describe the problem that needs to be solved. The vision describes the reason for the project. The vision statement is a formal document that sets out the potential of the project. It is presented to stakeholders to show the feasibility of the project and its benefits.

Phase (3): Develop Project Strategy

Project Design - Project Strategy
Project Design – Project Strategy

At this phase you begin to formulate how your project will manifest physically. What will it look like, and how will it impact the people you described earlier?

This may feel like repetition or earlier work in the canvas, but it’s an important element of the iteration process as you continue to best understand your goals and opportunities.

1. Desired Outcomes

Define the main project outcomes and divide them into manageable sections and tasks. These should cover all the tasks and activities you will carry out during the project.

2. Projects Goals & Objectives

Define the overall goals of the project on a high level and break them down into more detailed objectives.

The project goals and objectives are visible and measurable. An objective pays towards solving a problem.

3. Approach & Roadmap

At this point, it’s time to start making specific, actionable decisions so you are ready to move forward.

Create a list of functions and a timeline for when duties will be completed. This will give you some idea of how to answer resource questions going forward.

Keep these documents fluid for now. They can change as you realize some resources are no longer available, other resources come to light, or the overall plan encounters a more complicated roadblock.

Phase (4): Begin Project Planning

Project Design - Project Planning
Project Design – Project Planning

Into Phase 4, we look outward now and begin identifying more of the challenges our project may face that go beyond our control. We try to predict pinch points that will prevent the project being successful.

1. Key Assumptions

Take an objective look at your project—its goals and its processes—and list the circumstances you “know” to be true.

How can your team verify these assumptions? Are there certain key assumptions that must be true, and remain true, in order for your project to be successful?

2. Risks & Constraints

Look for anything that might stand in the way of completing the project.

Think about risks and constraints in terms of time, money, and resources that may affect the success of the project.

Engage with the relevant teams and stakeholders to mitigate these issues before the project begins. Consider how you can temporarily ramp up labor or other resources to meet the project’s needs.

3. Milestones, Timeline & Phases

Arrange the project outcomes on a timeline. The milestones give the delivery performance a temporal structure and show possible dependencies. More specific than earlier roadmaps, you are now taking risks and assumptions into account.

Phase (5): Identify Your Resources

Project Design - Project Resources

Identify the resources needed to complete the project. Resources summarize the “who” and “what” and include everything from staff to equipment to facilities needed to successfully complete the project.

Phase 5 is all about assembling the troops so you know what you’re working with, and, more importantly, what you lack.

1. People

Your people will make your project happen!

Who are they? How many are there? More importantly, what can they do? Consider the skills they use at their job every day, but also the hidden, untapped skills they also have.

If someone can deliver value in a new, necessary way, that’s good for them and good for the company.

Do you need new people? More people? Do the people you have need training?

Ultimately, your people are your most valuable resources. Be sure you treat them as such.

2. Equipment & Facilities

Consider the kind of hardware and software you’ll need for your project. Is it already on hand? Do you have the financial resources to pay for it?

You may find it’s a good idea to rent instead of buying, especially when you’re unsure of the project’s long-term needs.

What about storage, physical and digital? Do you have the capacity to handle what your project makes? Again, should you buy or rent?

Entire businesses rely on the smart management of physical resources, moving them around and growing and shrinking capacities, in order to survive.

Phase (6): Institute Project Control

Project Design - Project Control

Finally, there must be someone in charge of the purse strings, someone who will keep the money where it should be and ensure the project doesn’t suffer from “project creep.”

Ideally, the entire team will function as a firewall, but that’s not always the case, especially when team members are afraid to speak up. Make sure all the limits to the investment in the project are clearly defined.

1. Budget

The budget defines the financial resources needed for the implementation of the project. Costs are allocated to each of the project criteria in a budget. Creating a project budget is about formally allocating financial resources to the project. This starts with deciding on a method for estimating costs, identifying impacts and reporting on the evaluation.

2. Monitoring & Controlling

Define the criteria for the success of your project and create a list of standards against which you can assess whether the outputs, deliverables and finished results will be met. Determine who is responsible for approvals and what procedures to follow for successful approval.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 6 Phases of Project Planning?

The 6 Phases of Project Planning are:

  1. Identify Project Stakeholders
  2. State the Project Direction
  3. Develop Project Strategy
  4. Begin Project Planning
  5. Identify Your Resources
  6. Institute Project Control.

What are the 5 Ps in Project Management?

According to many business experts, the 5 Ps in Project Management are: Plan, Process, People, Possessions, and Profits.

Why is Project Design Important?

Project Design is important because it helps ensure that projects are addressing needs in a realistic way that will bring value to their stakeholders.

The UNITE Business Model Framework: A Framework for Innovation Success

Business Model framework
THE UNITE Business Model Framework
Designed By: Digital Leadership AG

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