Join me in the Lemonly Team Time Machine. [Insert whatever sound a time machine usually makes.]

A few years ago, the Lemonly project management team began discussing changes to our structure. At the time, each project manager (PM) had projects with up to eight separate designers at a time, and some designers had three assignments vying for their attention — each with a different PM.

As the number of client projects each month grew, we were finding it more difficult to manage what was on whose plate, and designers were having a hard time determining which PM’s request took priority. Project management meetings started to get longer as we spent hours discussing who might have availability for incoming projects. As we added designers and expanded our project types, it became nearly impossible to know how swamped each designer was and how quickly projects were moving along.

The PMs started to discuss solutions for this dizzying logistical kerfuffle. Enter the idea of design teams.

Starting design teams at Lemonly

When the design team concept first came up, a few concerns came with it. Would design teams stifle creativity? Would our team members get sick of us? Would some people get burnt out working on the same clients’ projects over time?

We tabled the idea a few times, but after a particularly busy September, we finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot. We could always go back to the “old way” if the team wasn’t happy, right?

Tess and I then conducted hours of scouting, hosted a design combine involving several tests of our coworkers’ Illustrator acumen, and rented out the Orpheum Theater to hold the inaugural Lemonly Draft. Just kidding. We actually just split the designers in half. These formed our primary teams, but we figured we could still “borrow” team members when we needed a little extra help or if we had a project type in our queue that suited a specific designer.

Within a few months, we’d seen a lot more positives than negatives. And that trend has continued to today with our current design team structure:

Lemonly Design Teams Diagram
Our project managers, Allison and Kelsea, each manage a team of designers. Our copywriters, multimedia designer, and creative director float between both teams.

So, what makes our design teams successful? Why have we stuck with this structure?

It’s better for clients

We’ve found that our creatives can get to know you, the client, better! Our teams learn your needs, they understand your brand, and they’re able to approach every project with a very clear understanding of what you want. When they already know your preferences, they can really hone in on collaboration, helping develop new ideas and styles for your content. This builds trust on both ends — our team feels comfortable pushing your brand and proposing new types of content when they see an opportunity, and you also get the best possible product from Lemonly.

Plus, when we do loop in another designer, we’ve already got an in-house expert who can help get them up to speed!

It’s better for designers

There are a few ways that the structure has improved our designers’ quality of life here at Lemonly. First of all, they have only one point of contact to worry about. If a designer suddenly has availability, they know exactly who to reach out to for more work.

It also helps with prioritization. Previously, each PM might have plopped work onto a designer’s plate at the same time, leaving them to guess what took priority. Now, it’s very clear, because one person is managing those timelines instead of three. PMs are aware if a designer has six projects with the same deadline, allowing us to adjust accordingly, leaving the designer to do what they do best.

The relationship factor that benefits you, our clients, benefits our designers, too. They love getting to know you and your brand, all while developing a breadth of work with you and your team. All this helps with efficiency as well and builds trust on both sides.

It’s better for project managers

Let’s be real: Project managers get downright giddy about efficiency. This move made our process so much more efficient for us in so many ways.

To start, handling only three designers’ queues frees us from worrying about three more designers’ queues. If I have a question about Dafne’s docket, my fellow PM, Allison, can definitely tell me what Daf is currently working on in a jiffy — because, being on the same team, they’re in constant contact.

Our teams also help us create timelines more quickly and confidently. We’re better able to tell our clients when they can expect the next draft to be ready based on what else that designer is working on — and we don’t have to check in with two other PMs to be sure! When a new project rolls in or we need a designer for an internal project, we know who has availability right away.

This change has also helped us gain a good understanding of our designers’ work preferences. For example, I know that Brett loves to concept logos, while Ashton enjoys working on ebooks with complicated layouts. This is super helpful when trying to determine who will take a project if multiple people have availability, and it helps our clients get the best possible final project!

Tess summed up the benefit of this structure for our project managers well:

As a project manager, I’m already managing many different pieces on the client side, and to also do that internally was just like drinking from a firehose. With design teams, we have a better funnel on the internal side, making it easier to manage multiple things simultaneously.

Checking in on our progress

We recently surveyed each design team and discovered we’re all happier in several ways! Our clients enjoy getting to know our team and being thoroughly understood. Designers have a clear point of contact and get to work on more projects they have real interest in, and project managers have fewer people to coordinate overall. Win-win-win!

As thrilled as we are at the progress we’ve made, we know processes can always get better, and we’re excited to see how this structure evolves to serve our clients and our coworkers.