Best Practices for Web Design & Web Development, Project Management

Project Management Best Practices

Website Project Management is Evolving Faster Than Most Professions

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. I thought how hard could it be? 300+  clients later I’m still not 100% confident I have this job down to a science.
 
That said I did want to share some basic but super important tips. These should help someone with 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 want to start finding time for other things. This article outlines the techniques and tools I use to make my project management go smoother. The key priority of project management should be focusing on delivering a quality product.

Website Project Layout

When a prospect turns into the client I have found the very first conversation I have with them as brief as it might be is the most important one. Get as much key information from them as you can. This is vital to being the fuel that starts the project off strong! Getting the (Lay of the Land) so to speak, in the beginning will allow you to get organized. Spending more time getting details in the beginning will allow for extra time to focus on the scope and layout of the project. I have a list of key information I want to get during that first conference call or meeting. By habit I open up a word pad document and get these primary pieces of information down. Then I clean it up and add it to our CRM for employee and future reference.

  • Full name, email and direct contact information of your primary project contact
  • General project focus, outline, direction and purpose
  • List of current available assets available by the client
    • Logos
    • Photography
    • Branding Guidelines
    • Slogans
    • Objective Outlines
    • Company Color Schemes
    • Mission Statements
    • List of Websites or Project References 
    • Basic Sitemap or website outline
Project outline and assets
I know, sounds boilerplate, 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 helps to get the ball rolling quickly. Complex projects that need more feedback and communication with the client should get approached using an IA (Information Architecture) Document.
 
This IA document could take a week + to get together. It ensures that you and your client are on the same page. The IA will outline what the deliverables are as well as how they are going to get executed.

IA Documents Typically Include

  • Project Introduction
  • Software Proposed Implementation
  • Other Services/ Resources
  • API Services
  • Front End Box Diagrams and Descriptions
  • Administrative Options
  • Full Complete Sitemap
  • Initial Front End Concepts
  • Timeline and Milestones
  • Budget Quote Considerations
  • Hosting Options
Once a layout is ready to review, I go over it with my team while it is still fresh in my head. It is best to let the client know that we are on top of the project right off the bat. Additionally we set up a drop box folder and email the client with additional questions. Our agency charges a small fee to put the IA together because a good deal of work goes into it.
 
The IA document includes the Design, Planning and documentation so it is somewhat of a elaborate proposal. At first it is hard to sell a client on the IA method. When I break down the benefits of an IA to prospect most of the time they understand the importance behind it.

Communication + Relationship

This is a huge topic when it comes to getting all the pieces passed out and getting the ball rolling. This industry can be stressful and extremely demanding so staying organized is paramount. I try to be patient with my team. There will many bumps in the road ahead. Bumps are inevitable to take place during the duration of every project. Getting the web designer, web developer and IT teams together between phases can help with identifying where we are as a team on each project. Project managers should always 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 don’t remember ever meeting a loose deadline. Clients will typically throw a wrench into it a third of the way through 99% of the time. I always expect it and try to even prepare for it. Respect and clarification has to be met on both sides for things to go smoothly. When there is a change or modification you have to take a deep breath and make sure you communicate to the client. Let them know when a change can effect timeline and in most 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. If you can even offer alternatives if there are any.

Organization

This is huge! Organization is king when it comes down to getting things done and sharing information and resources. We have used to use CRMs in the past and they worked OK. Now I like to look at projects more organically. There are not just tasks, but a constant information stream that team members can tap into thought the day. Slack, is now our primary tool for keeping the conversation going between our team members.
 
Off the bat at Blue Light Labs we have a SAMBA file server that everyone has access to. We 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
    • Plugins / Software
    • IA – Website Information Architecture Documents
    • Company Logos Branding Elements
    • Fonts
    • Notes / Documents
    • Concepts / PSD
      • company-name-homepage-vs1.psd
      • company-name-homepage-vs2.psd
      • company-name-subpage-vs1.psd
This has worked out to be a good structure for the team to work with. When documents get modified we 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. 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. This is because everyone is working locally. The team don’t get stuck using slow FTP or browser based file managers.
 
As our new pseudo CRM, SLACK has been a godsend. Creating project folders and sharing ongoing project activity streams with the group is so easy now. All the notes, media edits and collaborative objects can be tagged and shared. SLACK is accessible on just about any device so team members can get updates from anywhere. If you are not using SLACK yet, I seriously suggest you do. If you take your time getting to know it’s features and interface. SLACK can become a vital part of your project management toolbox.

Delivery

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 always pick up on the small things his clients had to say. With all his projects he would add some additional embellishments based on small things he picked up from them. He would try to figure out what turned them on and apply it to the project. Pete would almost always have a few Easter eggs to show when reveling the final tree house project. Happy clients turn out to be future clients. It is a good practice to find a way to wrap each project up in a bow so to speak. Be creative, and really try your best to over deliver when possible.
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