Throughout my career, I have had to wear many hats and learn many jobs from the ground up. I always thought that project management would come second nature to me because of my experience with designing and developing projects myself. 50+ clients later I'm still not 100% confident I have this job down to a science.
That being said I did want to share some basic but super important tips that will help toward someone making their job easier as a project manager in this field. Optimizing our jobs is a huge part of what life is all about, being productive and less wasteful with your time is a necessity if you really want to start finding time for other things. This article outlines the techniques and tools I use to make my project management go smoother and aid in delivering a quality product.
Once a prospect turns into the client I have found the very first conversation I have with them as brief as it might be is truly the most important one. Getting as much key information and feedback from them as you can is vital to being the fuel that starts the project off with a strong start. Getting the (Lay of the Land) so to speak, in the beginning will allow you to get organized and focus on the scope and layout of the project. I even have a list of key information I want to get during that first conference call or meeting. I typically by habit just open up a word pad document and get these primary pieces of information down.
- Full name, email and direct contact information of your main project contact
- General project outline direction and purpose
- List of already currently available assets available by the client
- Stock photography
- Objective Outlines
- Company Color Schemes
- Mission Statements
- List of websites or project references they like the specific aspects of
- General basic site map or outline
I know, sounds standard, but I kid you not there have been so many first project planning meetings that I have dropped the ball on by missing these key elements. For smaller projects this really helps to get the ball rolling quickly. Complex projects that require more feedback and communication with the client should be approached using an IA (Information Architecture) Document.
This document could take a week + to get together, but it ensures that you and your client are on the same page as to what the deliverables are going to be and how they are going to be completed.
IA Documents typically include
- Project Introduction
- Software Proposed Implementation
- Front End Box Diagrams and Descriptions
- Administrative Options
- Initial Front End Concepts
- Timeline and Milestones
- Budget Quote Considerations
Once a layout is banged out I go over it with my team while it is still fresh in my head. I like letting the client know that we are on top of it off the bat. We will setup a drop box folder and email additional questions if there are any I get from the team meeting.
Communication / Relationship
Obviously this is a huge topic when it comes to getting all the pieces passed out getting the ball rolling. This industry can be stressful and extremely demanding I try to be patient with my team when it comes to the multiple bumps in the road that are going to take place during the duration of a project. Getting the designer, developer and IT together between phases can really help with identifying where we are as a team on the project. Project managers should make sure that everyone involved has access to the activity stream of each team member.
I am not a huge fan of long meetings that waist time or looking over peoples shoulders, each team member needs their space so they can relax and focus. Deadlines are deadlines and mile stones are milestones but I honestly don't remember ever meeting a loose deadline. The client will typically throw a wrench into it a third of the way through 99% of the time. I just about always expect it and try to even prepare for it. Respect has to be met on both sides for things to go smoothly. If there is a change or modification I just take a deep breath and make sure I communicate to the client that it can effect timeline and in some cases budget. Let's face it some modifications or changes are quick and easy and others can cost us 20+ hours. In most cases the client has no idea of the amount of time it takes to perform a specific task. When these issues come up even though it feels like a waste of time it is a good practice to try to explain the scope change to the client and even offer alternatives if there are any.
This is huge, organization is king when it comes down to getting things done and sharing information and resources. I used to use CRMs in the past and they worked ok but now I like to look at projects more organically where there are not just tasks, but a constant information stream that team members can tap into thought the day.
Off the bat at Blue Light Labs we have a Samba file server that everyone has access to I will typically create a directory structure that will minimize the confusion with locating and sharing work files and assets.
Directory 2015 - Year
- Company / Project Name
- Stock Photography
- Company Logos Branding Elements
- Notes / Documents
- Concepts / PSD
This has worked out to be a good structure for the team to work with. When documents are modified we just add a (vs-1-2-3) to the end letting everyone know what file is the most current. We also have a web development server in house that is open to the outside world, allowing us to work on projects in real time. This has proven to be an excellent tool because we can take a client through the progress of the web design or web application at any time. Having a local /www directory to work with can really speed up development time because everyone is working locally and not stuck using FTP or browser based file managers.
As our new pseudo CRM, Evernote Business has been a godsend creating project folders and sharing the ongoing activity stream with the group. All notes, media edits and collaborative objects can be tagged and shared. Evernote can be accessed on just about all devices so team members can get updates from anywhere. If you are not using Evernote yet, I highly suggest you do. If you take your time getting to know its features and interface, it can become a vital part of your project management toolbox.
I was watching (Tree House Masters) on animal planet when it first came out and I learned a huge lesson from Pete Nelson. He would really listen to the small things his clients had to say and, always added some additional embellishments to the project before reveling the final tree house project. Happy clients turn out to be future clients so when we have the time I like finding a way to wrap each project up in a bow so to speak. I suggest being creative and trying to over deliver when possible.
I hope this article was helpful