We are a software agency that adapts product approach because some of our clients need a discovery process before we actually dive into coding. This is a typical situation when a client comes to us with a pure idea for a software product and expects us to provide an exact price and deadline for delivery.
We take one step back and provide a service where we define the product first. This however includes some design works, where we create a visual prototype.
As a product trio, we start with user-story mapping, core user flow, and outlining the necessary screens. The output of this stage is a list of screens (incl. the user stories), which serves the designer as the scope of work (a design backlog), which you can imagine somehow like this:
- Wireframe of the Homepage (+ some user stories)
- High-fidelity of the Homepage
- High-fidelity of "My Account" (+ some user stories)
After this, the designer estimates the effort needed to deliver these screens, so we can forecast the deadline if no change requests will be needed.
Now here comes the struggle:
The velocity of burning down the design backlog is not exactly linear - it increases as more components are recycled and the design system is clearer. Also, the design works don't actually progress sequentially - sometimes the designer has to go back and forth between screens or go parallel.
When we ask the designer about the progress, we usually hear something along the lines of "I think we are on track and the deadlines are achievable." Even when 80 % of the time is gone and only a small fraction of screens is completely finished. And then, 3 days before the deadline: "I think I would need some extra time." The budget was being burnt accordingly, but when the deadline is about to come, we are not finished.
I tried another approach when I divide the number of screens by the number of working days and get the "number of screens per day". Then I set up some milestones, what should be done. I feel it's kinda toxic and it also doesn't work, because the designer typically claims that he has some work in progress and the next milestone will be fine.
When the designer is asked, what should we use to identify that we are off track, we usually get a response like "I don't know, it's very hard to estimate the design work as it's very creative, sometimes it's harder than else, the first screens are harder than the late ones..." - no solution.
TL;DR: What system of tracking progress is healthy for a graphic designer and also sustainable for the company? Is our situation typical in other organizations or do you see the potential problem?