10 Tips for project managing your own website development

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TEN EASY STEPS TO MANAGING YOUR WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT

Managing your website development project does not need to cause you sleepless nights or tighten within your chest, provided you learn the basic secrets of successful project management. If you adhere to the best practices in project management you will give your project the best chance of success. While not all projects succeed, many fail from poor management and lack of defined goals.

Note: It is in your best interest as a developer, project manager or customer to ensure these are steps are carried out. For customers, who are not hiring a large agency for a turnkey solution it is up to you ultimately to define and share your predefined goals with your whole team from the outset.

Step one

Ask yourself, am I qualified to run this project? You need to be very honest with yourself. Not understanding tech is not a good way to start a project. Yes, it will cost you more to have a technical expert involved, but it is a must. The project will run faster and smoother for all parties involved.

You do not want to run into troubles and have your excuse be I did not know what that was or what was truly involved it won't be a valid excuse when you have to account financially for your mistake.

Define your Web or app projects finish line/s

Objectives guide everyone on the project to the 'finished' product. They save valuable time, by ensuring everyone doesn't need to be in constant meetings to confer on every task. Whether your objectives to sell your product online, to provide customer support, to promote investor relations Generate sales leads for yourself or team? You need to clearly define these objectives so everyone can understand them, including outside parties. This should be done first and yes it is totally normal for these objectives to sometimes change throughout the course of the build.

Formulate your projects critical goals and miles stones - For example, the things that will define the end of the project and whether you have been successful. Make them measurable so you know if you've achieved them. For example, the website development should result in an increase in online sales of 25% by year end.

What gets measured gets achieved! - Dan Pena

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder is someone with an interest in your project's success (or failure). Confirm who they are and decide how they will support your project. Clearly, define every stackholder's role and the expectations and milestones expected. Additionally, add how motivated they are to help (or block) your project and how influential (low or high) they are to your success.

Highly influential and supportive people are your allies. Gain their support whenever you can and give critical tasks to them first. Aim to reduce the influence of people who are both highly influential and against your project's success, as these people could act to sabotage your project.

During your stakeholder analysis, draw up strategies for dealing with each group of stakeholders. Make sure this is all recorded and becomes part of your founding documents. You must make sure all parties are involved and are aware of the expectations placed on them.

Define Deliverables and the Scope

This is so important if you are a stakeholder, VC or working on the project. If you are a stakeholder it is up to you to make sure you understand what and when deliverables are needed. Often payment is tied to deliverables so you need to know what they are and what constitutes a breach for deliverables. You may have to go to court, break a contract or even send debt collectors if deliverables have been met, but payment is not forthcoming.

Deliverables are tangible things produced during the project. Talk with key stakeholders to help define deliverables. For example will your website design include web page layouts and sitemap for use by the programming team? What is the content for each page? who will provide it, Write it all down. A contract will often define the deliverables.

Key stakeholders must review and agree the deliverables accurately reflect what they expect to be delivered and what is defined in the contract. If you plan to withhold payment for services, you better be very sure that deliverables have not been met as defined or you maybe find yourself on the end of a legal claim.

Project Planning

Define how you will arrive at your objectives. This involves planning how many people, resources and budget are required. If delivering this in house, decide what activities are required to produce each deliverable. Estimate the time for each task and the sequence it needs to be completed.

For example, you might decide a web designer will develop page layouts and navigation diagrams. You might decide the marketing team will supply all product details and photographs. You might decide the finance manager will set up merchant and payment gateway accounts to enable eCommerce transactions via your website. If outsourcing work, specify exactly what the sub-contractor should deliver and when.

Estimate the time and effort required for each activity and decide realistic schedules and budgets. Ensure key stakeholders review and agree the plan and budget. Make sure you allow for overruns on project deadlines, as this can be common in tech especially when creating original projects.

We recommend and use the Agile Scrum method of project development. Additionally, a suitable project management software system should be in use which all stakeholders can access. We recommend Atlassian Jira and Trello. (Update: Atlassian just bought trello https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/09/atlassian-acquires-trello/)

Communication Planning Hold a kick-off meeting with the team and explain the plan. Ensure everyone knows exactly what the schedule is and what is expected of them. If you use the Agile Scrum method of management this would be a great time to create your backlog and define the first sprint.

Share your project communication plan with the team. This should include details of report templates, regularity of reporting and meetings, details of how conflicts between teams and their members will be resolved.

Project Tracking

Constant monitoring of variations between actual and planned cost, schedule and scope is required. Report variations to key stakeholders and take corrective actions if variations occur. To get a project back on track you will need to juggle cost, scope and schedule.

Suppose your programmer hits technical problems which threaten to delay the project. You might recover time by re-organising or shortening remaining tasks. If that's not possible, you might consider increasing the budget to employ an additional programmer or consider reducing the scope in other areas.

Be aware that any adjustments you make to the plan might affect the quality of deliverables. If you need to increase the budget, seek approval from the project sponsor.

Note: For newbies, meetings, emails, etc are not free the time spent on these tasks is allocated and may come directly out of your development/design budget or other budgets. Yes developers charge and account for their time just like a lawyer or accountant might, after all this is how they get paid. Sometimes I am asked why I am reluctant to have many meetings and the answer is simple I would rather spend the hours working on the project to finish and spend those hours on betterment, rather than burning hours listening to people talk about their weekend and life for 50minutes and 10minutes of poorly organised actual productivity...being the typical meeting.

You need to remember this when you insist on meetings with paid parties. You also need to be mindful of other stakeholders time. A busy stackholder will quickly loose interest in a project if they are spending hours in wasteful meetings. Time is money and there are no free lunches, so while you might feel important having many meetings remember it will be costing you somewhere if results aren't forthcoming. Just ask yourself could this be dealth with in an email or could this be dealth with more quicker by another means.

Learn how to have more productive meetings

Change Management

Once started, all projects change. Decide a simple change strategy with key stakeholders. This could be a committee which decides to accept or reject changes which comprises of you and one or more key stakeholders.

Assess the impact of each change on scope, cost and schedule. Decide to accept or reject the change. Be aware that the more changes you accept the less chance you have of completing the project on time and within budget unless you reduce scope in other areas.

For example, suppose the marketing manager wants to add a pop-up window to display full-size photographs of products. Assess the impact of this change. You might need to remove some remaining tasks to include this change and stay within budget or it might be impossible to include the change without increasing the budget or schedule.

Don't blindly accept changes without assessing the impact or your project will overrun. Just because you remove something doesn't necessarily mean it will be cheaper either, as every change means additional work and it ain't free!

Risk Management

Risks are events which can adversely affect the success of the project. Identify risks to a project early. Decide if each risk is likely or unlikely to occur. Decide if its impact on the project is high or low.

Risks that are likely to occur and have high impact are the severest risks. High impact but unlikely risks, or low impact but likely risks pose a medium threat. Unlikely and low impact risks pose the least threat.

Create a mitigation plan of the actions necessary to reduce the impact if the risk occurs. Start with the severest risks first, then deal with the medium risks. Regularly review risks. Add new ones if they occur.

Suppose the marketing manager or client cannot decide what he wants from the website. Without knowing what the marketing manager/client wants, the team cannot deliver a website to meet his expectations. You assess this risk as highly likely to occur and having high impact. Your mitigation plan might be that the web designer develops page layouts to be reviewed by the manager early in the project.

Stakeholders become difficult to deal with

There should always be a plan for this event. More often than not this does happen. If your lively hood depends on agreements and payments from stakeholders you need a solid solution in your contract. Changes in scope, defining what finished is, requirements can appear to get a little ambiguous to some parties. Since your businesses operations may sink or swim on a payment you need a clear plan of action. You should consult with your legal team to make sure this is included in the contract. We operate on a payment upon presentation of draft policy, then revisions. That way there is a legal means payment and satisfaction within the scope of the project which will satisfy all parties fairly.

We have seen companies literally go broke while clients hold payment asking for more and more things to be done, which helps no one ultimately. Also, we have seen clients run into troubles as there was no clear means of resolution for anything that they wanted changed or needing repaired.

While courts and lawyers can be brought in to settle disputes, this ultimately dooms your project and all parties are seldom satisfied. If things are clearly defined from the outset you will be much better off if things get problematic.

Bonus tip

Always seek legal advice before entering into an agreement. Every project goes through a honeymoon stage. The boring legal stuff saves a lot of tears if you need to get 'divorced' from your client/team/stakeholders. Items as simple as where would a court case beheld in the event of needing one can save you a lot of time and money.

Bonus tip 2

For many startups the intellectual property can be the most valuable component of the projects. Ensure who owns or retains the intellectual property if something goes wrong is key. Many agencies retain all intellectual property unless full payment is made. If you overlook this you could get yourself into big trouble.

Remember the Honeymoon stage, where everyone is great and honest. This can quickly go to shit and we have seen some nasty stuff over the years. For example, we signed up a client who had their project usurped by the last developer agency on a technicality regarding the final payment and they lost the whole project to the agency, who then promptly legally launched and sold the project and made a lot of money.

Many agencies and sometimes VC's will have clauses that give them sole ownership of the intellectual property upon certain events, such as; non-payment, failure to meet deadlines, good character/behavior clauses, controlling percentage of ownership. Make sure you are fully aware of what you are getting into

Summary

Performing best practices in project management will give your website development project the best chance of success. Ensure you learn enough before you start to know you don't know enough ;)

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Senior Developer at Mebsites on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Mebsites is an acclaimed Magento and Custom Framework Web Software coding house.
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia Website