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Written by Benten Woodring

Having a clear process in place will allow you to work more efficiently, ship better work, and scale your team more sustainably. Here are the 5 steps you can use to create your own system for getting things done.

A newly minted team

In July of 2021, I joined the web team at Unfold. In just a few week’s time, our small department grew from a single designer — now our Creative Director — to four full-time web designers and a contract designer. While we were all excited to be part of a freshly minted team, we found ourselves encountering hurdles that hindered our ability to work efficiently as a team.

As any new team could relate, we needed to figure out how our team would operate on a day-to-day basis — when certain steps would happen within a web project, who would be responsible for which tasks, and so on.

It required some effort and a lot of collaboration, but within a few weeks, our team went from using the slap-dash combination of systems we borrowed from our previous jobs, to creating a clean, repeatable, organized and easily accessible process. This has allowed our team to work more efficiently, deliver quality work on schedule, and better communicate how our team operated, both to our clients and to other departments at Unfold.

Here are the 5 steps we took to create a smooth, easy-to-follow process for our web team, and how you can create your own bulletproof system for getting things done.

The problem

Each time we had a new project come down the pipeline, we found ourselves asking the same questions over and over. What screen sizes should we design for? Do we use a Bootstrap or Material grid? Do we typically complete stylescapes before or after the client kickoff call? Which questions should we make sure we cover during the client kickoff call?

Each person on our team had a slightly different way of working, and while these approaches weren’t necessarily wrong, there was little consistency from project to project. We continued to uncover gaps in our workflows and noticed ourselves making the same mistakes or missing certain steps with each new project, nearly all of which were avoidable.

Not having a single source of truth to refer to for best practices, specs, templates, and questionnaires forced us to rely on our Creative Director for continual clarification. Aside from a questionnaire and some old project references, we didn’t have much to guide our project decisions moving forward. In order to prevent these mistakes in the future, we needed a single, standardized system for our team to use that was documented and easy to access — or in other words, a clear process for our team to follow.

Effective processes

Put simply, a process is a series of steps taken in order to achieve a certain goal. In this case, our goal was to deliver high quality work, consistently and on schedule. In order to do that, we needed a way to track our progress and integrate regular checkpoints for both our team and the client. We also needed a system to define what it was we were actually building and find ways to avoid any confusion along the way.

A well-honed process can bring the effectiveness of your team to the next level.

An effective process:
  • Allows a team to scale
  • Saves time
  • Streamlines production
  • Ensures consistent quality of work
  • Prevents steps from being missed
  • Makes for satisfied clients
  • Is a tool that can be leveraged with clients

How we created our process

Using Notion to document everything, our team met at least once a week for the first couple of months as we worked to define our roles and establish a standardized workflow. Each of us had previous experience (and processes) to draw upon from our previous agency and in-house positions, which we used to inform our decisions. It’s important to note that we have a lot of autonomy at Unfold — we are all encouraged to take initiative on new ideas we have or improvements we’d like to implement. We had full support from our Creative Director and leadership to run with process updates, which allowed us to move quickly and stress test our system as we went.

1. Gather information

We started by identifying every possible gap that needed to be filled and accounted for in our existing project flow — from the overarching master process, to templates and best practices specific to our team. We broke each item into one of four categories: Design Resources, Client Management, Project Management, and Internal Resources.

Quick tips:
  • Identify why there is a need for change in the first place
  • Get buy-in from leadership and stakeholders, especially those who will be implementing the new process
  • What do you want this new process to allow your team to accomplish? Have this end result in mind.
2. Prioritize

After identifying everything that needed to be created or updated, we used a table within Notion to prioritize and assign tasks (23 of them!), starting with the highest priority items.

For example, we needed a standardized project template that included everything we needed to accomplish our jobs as web designers, including project management components, individual pages for design exploration, team pushes, final files and a style guide. Up to this point, everyone was using a slightly different approach for projects, which made it difficult to find what was needed when sifting through Figma files. This also made it difficult to know which deliverables were expected for a typical engagement.

Quick tips:
  • Anticipate roadblocks, both when creating the process, and when implementing it
  • Document everything and make it easy to access and share
  • Provide the team with the tools and resources they need to follow the process
3. Reassess

As each member of the team worked on their own tasks, we made sure to continually reassess which items were impactful and which items could be scrapped or deprioritized. We also pulled in leadership from different departments for their feedback to catch any gaps in our process at regular intervals.

After working in Notion for a while — even building out entire process flows and other documentation — we realized the best use of our time would be to recreate these same flows directly in Figma, in a visual and easily digestible way that could also be used as a task manager for each project. Since we rarely used Notion outside of general documentation (team handbook, post-mortem templates, etc.), we were confident making this adjustment would save us a lot of time in the future.

Quick tips:
  • Assess your process and schedule time to make updates
  • Always allow room for improvement. Your process will change as you find faster and better ways to do your work.
4. Ship it

After many hours of revisions and team regroups, we were able to condense nearly every single step of our process — including links to templates, scripts, checklists, questionnaires and more — into a single visual guide.

Our web process is broken into six sections:

  • Pre-Kickoff
  • Kickoff
  • Weekly
  • Production
  • Hand-off
  • Wrap-up

Now that our process lives within our project template, we are able to bring it with us and use it to manage our projects each time we start a new project. 

5. Stay flexible

Despite producing a “final” process that we shipped internally and have been using for several months, we have already made adjustments to further improve our workflows, and the process is sure to continue changing. Allowing your process flex and grow with you as you find more efficient ways to push your projects forward will allow your team to become more effective in the long run.

Quick tips:
  • Make it easy for others to share feedback on the process – what’s working, and what’s not
  • Allow for flexibility for people to make the process their own. Rigid systems are less likely to be adopted.

Developing your own process

There were several guiding factors in the success of implementing our new process — from having the full support of leadership, to gathering feedback from everyone who would be using or interacting with the process.

Use this as a guide when creating your own process:

  • Identify why there is a need for change
  • Get buy-in from leadership and stakeholders, especially those who will be implementing the new process
  • Have a clear end result in mind
  • Anticipate roadblocks
  • Document everything and make it easy to access and share
  • Provide the tools and resources needed
  • Assess and update regularly
  • Always allow room for improvement
  • Make it easy for others to share feedback
  • Allow for flexibility for people to make the process their own

While it requires resources up front, having a clear process in place will allow your team to deliver consistent results and scale sustainably. By keeping workflows easy to access and developing them in a way that is clear, organized, and repeatable, your team will be able to work more efficiently than ever, and might even delight a few clients along the way.