Across The Board

Updates, inspiration, and musings from the folks behind Trello.

How Design Teams Can Calm The Incoming Request Chaos

Manage design requests in Trello

Peek into the inner workings of any company and you will undoubtedly see these common scenarios:

  1. Deadlines are softer than they initially seem.
  2. No one eats the hard, brittle granola bars in the kitchen.
  3. There are never enough designers for the amount of work that needs to get done.

Designers are some of the most undervalued, over-indexed members of the team. Their work can make or break your product, but they are often given massive initiatives with unbelievably tight deadlines. Their team sizes are notoriously small. Burnout is high.

Real talk: Trello is no exception. But our marketing designers have started utilizing a clever Trello board that helps them prioritize, get context, and stay on top of their myriad requests. It also helps the rest of the team understand that this “quick thing” isn’t going to be so quick when it is buried under 15 other similar asks. Let’s dig into their design request workflow:

Set Expectations For The Rest Of Team

design_requests_board.gif

The board is set up to house both repositories of general information as well as cards that move through a traditional workflow.

For anyone entering the board for the first time, there is a noticeable card (thanks to the attached GIF) called “How To Use This Board” at the top of the leftmost list. It provides instructions for how to submit a request, which channels are best to communicate with designers, and a handy chart for how to categorize a request’s urgency.

how_to_use.png

When evaluating which projects to tackle first, designers factor in the project deadline, whether it is OKR dependent, and what the goal is for this request. Designers often stress that the further out a request can be planned, the more likely it can be completed on time. Last minute, “urgent” fire drill requests should be avoided at all costs

Design projects require plans, sketches, iterations, feedback, and heads-down focus from the artists. The whole point of this process is to make it easier for designers to plan, prioritize, and deliver a better quality of work. Design materials are not built in a day, after all.

Transparent “Incoming” List

incoming.pngAnyone submitting a request can head to the “Incoming” list and create a card. They assign themselves (and other relevant people) to the project and add a description and due date.

The Incoming list has a few benefits. For the person making the request, they can see how many other cards are ahead in the queue. This helps to manage expectations about how soon their request can be prioritized, especially if it is not mission critical.

The initial request card moves through the workflow process from “Incoming” all the way to “Complete.” Along the way all communication, feedback, and mockups are kept on the card. Keeping all documentation in the same place means nothing gets lost. 

 

Status Update Syncs

The next lists are called “This Week” and “Up Next.” Every Monday morning the designers sync up and discuss which cards from “Incoming” and “Up Next” are going to be worked on for the week, and which will be placed in the Up Next list.

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The “This Week” list also has divider cards to separate meeting agenda items and actual tasks. Cards in the meeting agenda section are discussed in a Monday afternoon standup that is open to anyone. The time slot is essentially “office hours” for other people to connect with the design team to either discuss progress on their cards, or to see what’s on the design docket for the week.

Because designers require a fair amount of heads down solitary time to finish work, the stand up is a great way to get in touch with them early in the week without interrupting their flow.

Understanding the designers’ queue, seeing what they have on their plate, and where a project fits in their timeline, are results of the standup that have significantly reduced the random chat messages from people asking, “What’s the status of [X] project?” Designers love when you do that, by the way.

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Long-Term Priorities

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The other lists on the board are “In Development,” “Ongoing,” and “Backburner.”

In Development is for projects that need to be passed on to an engineer for coding. These are usually website mockups or product updates. They aren’t always moved to Done yet because changes are sometimes needed once a mockup is coded.

Ongoing includes longer term projects that don’t really have an end date, like refreshing screenshots that show old branding or developing a new design guide for the company to follow.

Backburner contains things that are considered “nice to have” but aren’t a priority at the moment. (shrug) It happens.

The Big Picture

Overall this workflow has helped tremendously in a few key areas:

  • Designers have a better understanding of what is on their plate and realize they can’t say “yes” to every deadline.
  • The rest of the team can manage expectations about when their request can be completed.
  • Planning around longer term strategies is much easier and more realistic.
  • Projects are not blocked last-minute because there are no designers available.
  • Managers understand how much the designers are taking on, and can easily understand when it’s time to expand the team.

Designers are special members of your team, and their work is the most visible element of what you put out in the world. Giving them the proper room to plan and manage their tasks ultimately leads to a more polished end result that everyone can celebrate.

Next: How To Launch Delight With A Go-To-Market Strategy In Trello

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