As a freelance web designer or developer, you typically don't have the luxury of relying on a dedicated project manager--you are your one and only resource.



Project ManagementAs a freelance web designer or developer, you typically don't have the luxury of relying on a dedicated project manager—you are your one and only resource. Because you are your own teammate, it may not seem all that necessary to employ any particular methodology to the way you work. You can just address issues as they come up, right? This approach may work for smaller projects, but as your workload increases, things can get can out of hand pretty quickly if you don't pay attention to your project management processes.You should create a project management structure, even if it is a mix and match system, that will keep you on task, on budget and on your client's good side. For a freelancer, it is best to pull certain principles from the most major project management methodologies.

Let's take a brief look at two of the most common methodologies used in project management, Agile and Waterfall, and assess how these can help clear a pathway for the freelance web designer.

Project Management Titans: Agile and Waterfall

Waterfall is considered the traditional method. The scope is clearly defined at the beginning, and the process works like stepping stones—completing one phase before jumping to the next one. It is a steady and well documented process. The Waterfall method creates a solid road map  for the duration of the project. It doesn't, however, take into account diversions or setbacks that can often arise. This can cause a project to go on much longer than anticipated, with additional costs not expected at the onset.


An Agile project evolves not through phases like the Waterfall method, but through sprints of time called iterations, lasting between one to four weeks. Each iteration works like a mini project. Specific small teams start to work on a certain aspect of the project at the same time, creating a live version of the client's project within one of these iterations. The developers/creatives can then manhandle their work in a functional form and go back to the drawing board if necessary. This method can product a working version very quickly, but can also lead to excessive iterations, leaking more time and money than intended by choosing this route.

Waterfall Pros for the Freelancer

From the get-go, Waterfall may seem like the more natural choice for a freelance project.

  1. Set It Up - Many clients expect projects to be strictly defined in terms of scope, costs, and timeline from the start. This fits with the Waterfall Methodology, which most clients grasp innately. Managing client expectations and educating them on the process may be more difficult within the Agile method.
  2. Plan It Out - Establishing the scope of the project at the beginning helps you create a solid production schedule. This control and understanding at the beginning of a project will help the freelancer plan and adapt while working on additional projects.
  3. Write It Down - Documentation in the Waterfall method can help the freelancer avoid reinventing the wheel when another similar project comes along. Obviously you don't want to copy yourself, but having certain documents to refer back to can cinch the process just the right amount.

Agile Pros for the Freelancer

Agile has been touted and much loved for its ability to deliver a product in a short period of time, but this may or may not be feasible when you are a one-man team.

  1. Practice Makes Perfect - If you have the time to devote to working on the one project, treat this as an opportunity to refine your skills for working quickly but effectively within short iterations.
  2. Smart Billing - When you work on projects incorporating Agile principles, billing and working in iterations can help your business' bottom line, mainly with cash flow, depending on how your billing structure is set up.
  3. Keep Client Focus - When communication and collaboration with your client is a big deal, working within the Agile method allows you to keep your client involved and collaborate every step of the way. This may help if you are working with someone who does not have a clear project scope at the beginning.

Additional Tips to Get Started

Pulling certain aspects from either Agile or Waterfall methodologies can help create a solid working structure for your freelance business, but it is also helpful to have some basic project management components in the bag.

  1. Protect Yourself - This involves properly worded contracts that cover you and your work. It will not only serve as protection if something should go awry, but it's a good place to set up the scene for your client in how the process of working with you will go.
  2. Research - Do your research, on the project and on your clients. You will have more information to back up your project management decisions, as choosing the right method very much depends on the situation.
  3. Stay Organized - Employ the help of a online project management service. There are a multitude of these out there either for free or with a paid subscription that will help you keep track of your time, client information, production schedules, etc. Do some research on several to figure out what might work best for you.
  4. Document, Revise, Repeat  - Especially when you are first starting out, it is helpful to keep good documentation of how you work through your projects. This way, at the end of one process, you can reflect back on your procedures and determine where and when you might benefit from more or different structure. So on your next project, you can hone your behavior to create a better process.

Project management methodologies are helpful tools, even for the freelancer web designer, to put you on the right track to meet the expectations of your clients.

Chris Olberding Chris Olberding

Co-founder and Creative Partner at Station Four

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