Applying Project Management Principles For Successful Web Development
Web development projects — like any large and complex project — have multiple moving parts and dependencies. Scope creep may occur after the design document is agreed upon. Human resource management is always a tricky affair in a complex project involving dozens of different domain experts. All this can make a web design or development project appear like a juggling act where the juggler is trying to keep four spinning plates up in the air simultaneously.
Using principles of project management ensures that web design and development projects reach a satisfactory finish line.
Contingencies And Resource Planning
Professional web development companies ensure web development projects stay on course by having plans in place to take care of various possible contingencies. Professional web design companies ensure sufficient resources are assigned to web development projects so that projects are not derailed in case of some of the staff becoming unavailable during the course of the project.
Documentation and client communication
Seamless and smooth project progress is ensured by having proper documentation which is generated concurrently as the project progresses. Various project management tools such as Jira, Trello, Basecamp and others help do this.
Client communication — as well as internal staff communication — is always important so that clients have a thorough and sufficiently detailed idea about the complexities and state of execution of their project.
“Uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” — as the diplomats might put it — between the project principals (or those in charge of the project at the web development company) and the client or the client’s representatives ensures both parties are on the same page all the time.
This ensures that any changes to project scope are deftly and smoothly managed. while the aim should be to avoid any scope creep, they are probably unavoidable. For example, a client may decide that instead of three product images on the ecommerce website, some of the products should have the option for five images.
It should be possible for a professional web design company to incorporate these sort of minor changes to the project. Any such additional work of course requires additional time and investment of resources. Adding a web page, for example, also means changing the Sitemap to reflect this new addition. So, dependencies need to be taken care of as well.
Clearly, a project management approach is both necessary and beneficial for a web development project.
(Philippe Petit during his famous walk across the towers of the WTC on August 07, 2016. Projects, including web development projects, can appear to be high-wire balancing acts)
Here’s how to apply a project management approach to various aspects of a web design project during various stages of the project — from conceptualization to completion.
Transparent Project Pricing
It’s important to have clarity regarding how a web development company charges clients. Having clarity will ensure there is neither any confusion nor conflict about project costs and payments.
A payment schedule should be agreed upon between the web design company and the client. Different web design companies have different pricing policies. Some may quote a single fixed price for the entire web development project while others may prefer hourly pricing. Whichever it is, the client and the web development company should agree upon a payment schedule.
The payment can be made in two equal installments — 50 percent once the agreement is signed and the remaining half once the finished project goes live and client has delivery of a running CMS website or a functioning ecommerce site.
While this is the simplest payment schedule possible, the client is being asked to bear an inordinate amount of risk in this scenario. Hence, an alternative is: the total payment may be made in four equal installments to ensure the client’s peace of mind.
A 25 percent initial payment when the detailed agreement with deliverables and timelines is signed between the web development company and the client is reasonable. The next 25 percent payment can be made when the wireframes and the design is ready and the client gives the sign off to proceed ahead. The third installment of 25 percent can be paid when the website coding is finished and the site is up and running in a dev environment. The final installment can be paid when the website is live and running smoothly.
The web development company needs to agree upon how to price website support and maintenance. Some web development companies may offer one month’s free support and maintenance. However, this cannot be an endless or open-ended offer.
Ultimately, a client’s website is the client’s property. Ensuring the website host is meeting the SLAs or ensuring the website’s software is updated is the site owner’s task and the client will need to have technical staff on hand to take care of this.
Of course all this and more including updating ecommerce sites with new products or creating content for the website’s blog can be outsourced.
web development companies such as Mind Digital will charge an appropriate and reasonable fee for website maintenance and support as well as for other services such as digital marketing and content marketing.
Defining project goals and deliverables
Having clearly defined goals before going to war is important. Similarly, having clearly defined goals and deliverables is equally important in web development projects. Be as granular and specific as possible. Avoid generalities which may be open to different interpretations by the web development company and the client.
(Felix Baumgarter’s supersonic jump from 120,000 feet was a success. Difficult seeming projects can be completed successfully with clarity of goals and approach)
The specific goals and deliverables — and these will clearly be mentioned in writing in the project contract document — will include:
✓ The Website Technology. All aspects of the technologies to be used — both on the front-end and the back-end — on the website should be specified and agreed upon. Which of those software and technologies are open source and free and which ones are proprietary and need to be paid for?
Does the client want a php-based website or a .NET website? Does the client want to use Oracle, MySQL, or some other database? Is it going to be a WordPress-based CMS website like so many of the world’s most recognized and respected content websites — including the New Yorker — are? Is the client looking to use Magento, Shopify, Joomla, or Drupal for the ecommerce website?
✓ Website Domain Name Registration. For a new website development project and neophyte clients, the basics such as domain name registration need to be thrashed out in a transparent manner at the very beginning to avoid possible embarrassment or conflicts later. Has the client acquired and registered the domain or expects the web development company to do it on her behalf? Is the registration valid for one, three, or five years? How are the domain registration and web hosting charges going to be billed?
✓ What Is The Project’s Timeframe? What is going to be the project’s start date or project commencement date and by which date is the client supposed to have delivery of a working and live website?
Is there going to be any penalty if the web design company fails to finish the project on time? How to take on board the time taken to complete any additional website work that the client wants? Is the client going to be willing to extend the deadline for project completion when there is some justifiable reason for such a delay?
✓What Are The Project Milestones? The dates for reaching the various interim project milestones should be agreed upon. These interim milestone dates may include a design freeze date, a site architecture freeze date, a site functionality freeze date, and a site content delivery date.
✓ Who provides the site content? The website will have text and multimedia content. Whose responsibility is it to come up with the website copy? Where do you source the images to be used on the website’s different pages from? If the web development company is tasked with generating all the website content, it should be clearly mentioned in the contract. The website content is a key part of any website much as website functionality is and hence will require client sign-off.
✓ Responsive Themes, Layouts, And Site Plugins. Since having a responsive website is a sine qua non these days, the web design company and the client should be clear and on the same page about this. What/which responsive theme and layout to use? For purchasing premium themes, the billing methodology should be agreed upon.
For a WordPress CMS website, themes and plugins are a significant part of the website that give the site its desired functionality. Hence, the desired functionality should be agreed upon and the appropriate plugins to implement the functionality should be purchased and installed. For example, does the client want to restrict access to the content website via a paywall? Then, there needs to be the right plugin installation to implement this site feature.
Or, the client may wish to have a Donate button on the WordPress CMS-based content website. There is a plugin for that!
Once the project deliverables are agreed upon, the execution phase begins and this is where the skills, experience and professionalism of the web design company shines through.
Project Tracking, Change, And Risk Management
Once the web development project’s contours are set, it is time to get down in the trenches. Project execution is where the mettle of a web development company shows. It is during the execution of the web development project that promises are translated to a real website.
There is no point in setting unrealistic expectations, however. So, hopefully the detailed contract you have signed with the client sets aside enough time to come up with a wireframe for the website and convert that into Photoshop designs.
As the website design proceeds, client feedback should be taken on board. Hence, a process should be put in place to stay in regular touch with the client. Communication should be constant to avoid disappointments and crossed lines.
Communication internally among the web development company’s staff is as important. Tools such as Slack help in this.
As the web development project proceeds, using a project tracking software helps keep the project on track. There are numerous such project management and tracking tools available such as Basecamp, Asana, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Project, Trello and so on.
Depending on the client’s inclination, it may be advisable to give the client access to the project management software being used by the web development company. This shows transparency on the part of the company and builds trust between the company and the client.
In a long web development project, there will likely be unexpected events. If there is a sudden and unexpected staff departure and a key project leader suddenly becomes unavailable, proper prior planning will ensure the project proceeds smoothly regardless of the departure.
Use of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for decomposing the project into smaller components or Gantt Charts where timelines are kept track of keeps the overall project on track. The project tracking software dashboard will make clear if any of the project parts are running egregiously behind schedule. If there is some problem or the likelihood of a problem arising becomes imminent, suitable steps may be taken to mitigate and remedy it.
More designers or programmers may need to be assigned to a web development project that is running behind schedule. Having adequate bench strength helps in this scenario.
The web development company may need to hire domain experts if an expert leaves the company. It will take a few days time to bring a new hire up to speed on the current state of an ongoing project. Onboarding will need to happen in a hurry.
Outsourcing web development work to professional web development companies such as Mind Digital helps in these scenarios since there are enough professionals who can be hired swiftly to finish a job on time and keep the project on track.
With experience of executing dozens and hundreds of web development project, experienced project leaders and project managers are often able to anticipate problems and changes. However, clients might ask for new features on the website while the project is underway.
Managing such change requests is key to ensuring the project meets its deadlines. Clearly, no web development company will blindly agree to a client request for additional functionality.
In fact, any changes that are required after the design and functionality of the website has been frozen need careful consideration. Proper evaluation must be made of any dependencies as well as the impact on the promised timelines and whether the client is willing to allow an extension on the project completion date. If both parties agree, then the proposed additional work may be undertaken; else, any additional functionality may be deferred to a Phase 2 of the project which will only commence after the initial project is complete in every sense.
Skillful change management will ensure that the project has a successful outcome and doesn’t cause heartburn or misery for anyone.
Just like change management, risk management is crucial and the web development company needs to plan for this.
Risk management entails varying levels of commitment by companies in different business domains. Banks must make sure their customer financial data is backed up in multiple locations and in multiple data centers.
For a business like Netflix, it means developing special software techniques known as “chaos engineering” which helps Netflix weather service disruption because of failure at Amazon Web Services (AWS). This engineering approach involves Netflix deploying its Simian Army which includes the Chaos Monkey, the Latency Monkey, and the Chaos Gorilla.
For web design companies, risk management includes taking back-ups of their work so that a hard-disk crash or a hacking of their servers doesn’t lead to loss of web development work spanning weeks or months.
Also, risk management for web design companies includes intelligent resource management so that they are not short of experts at a crucial phase of a project. It includes having designated back-ups — just like the Apollo moon landing missions had a prime crew and a back-up crew in case someone got ill or got measles as happened during Apollo 13.
(After you finish your challenging project, you have the right to feel like being over the Moon just like Buzz Aldrin above photographed by Neil Armstrong)
Intelligent project planning and scheduling will also minimize the risk of project disruption. For example, the final delivery date of too many projects should not be bunched together or fall in the same week. The deadline will be a time of hectic activity and it will be wise to stagger them over different weeks so that the project having a deadline this week may borrow some additional personnel from a different project and the project having a deadline next week will have access to personnel from the project already completed this week. This is just smart scheduling and project planning.
Outsourcing web development work makes sense because of some of the complexities in web development projects outlined above. There are known unknowns and sometimes unknown unknowns.
Professional web design and development companies such as Mind Digital have the resources, skills and project management experience and expertise to pilot your web development project through turbulent skies and ensure a safe landing at the right airport.
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