How to Manage Successful
Website Projects

February 22 2016

James Hipkin

Running successful website projects is a lofty goal. Everyone wants their project to be successful. But successful website projects don’t happen automagically. Modern websites are application software. They are so much more than HTML and CSS with a little Javascript. They are complicated. Running successful website projects requires a plan.

What you’ll need to be successful:

  • Direction – if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do
  • A leader – lead, follow or get out of the way, a project without a leader fails
  • The right team – don’t ask a plumber to draw up the building plans
  • An ego closet – team members can check their ego on the way into the room
  • Trust – if you trust that your team are experts, they will let you lead
  • Time – allow enough time to do it right
  • Focus – to finish the project, it may take some gettin’ after
  • Budget – don’t bring a knife to a gun fight

Direction – if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do

Any Road Will DoAs a job begins, we like to ask this question,

“What’s the primary goal of the website?”

More often than not, this simple question stops the conversation.

A clear understanding of the website’s singular goal is essential. Don’t ask the site to do more than one thing. It won’t, at least not well, and the project won’t succeed any meaningful way. Yes, you will have a website at the end of the day. But having everyone on the same page means the project will run smoothly. The team has the basis to make decisions about what is and what is not important. And you will have a website that works hard. Managing successful website projects requires a clear understanding of the objective.

Leadership – lead, follow or get out of the way, a project without a leader fails

Unfortunately we’ve seen far too many website development projects run aground for lack of leadership. The client won’t decide and/or direction shifts on the whim of the CEO/CMO/pick your manager. The design agency won’t step up, won’t challenge the client. The developers, and lets face it the developers are the flea on the dog’s tail, aren’t really in a position to lead. When they find themselves leading it rarely goes well. Not their fault. The project owner must take charge, or doom the project to a slow, painful death by indecision.

The Team – don’t ask a plumber to draw up the building plans

Successful website projects need a great teamYou’ve hired the best team you can find, now let them do their jobs. Building a website is complicated. Developers are actually writing software. This means that many skills and capabilities are needed, skills and capabilities that you are unlikely to find in one person. Keep the objective clear and then let your experts do their jobs. If you let them be experts, guess what, they will be.

An Ego Closet – team members can check their ego on the way into the room

Nobody is perfect. Well my wife is but that’s another post. Don’t let ego get in the way of dialogue. 

Ask why, don’t say no. Ask why the experts want to do something a certain way. Chances are, they have a reason.

Step up to mistakes, we all make them, well not my wife, but most of us make them. Don’t let ego force you to cover up something that went amiss.

Don’t strive for agreement. It’s not going to happen. If there’s an issue you need to resolve, let all the stakeholders express their point of view. Then the project leader decides. Once decided, the team comes into alignment behind the decision. It’s important that everyone gets on the bus together. Your opinion is important. But it’s not vital to the successful completion of the project. Sorry. But it’s the truth. Something as complicated as a website does not rest on one person’s opinion.

Finally, listen carefully to what’s said, and not said.

Trust – if you trust that your team are experts, they will let you lead

Nobody comes to work with the intention of doing a bad job.

If your direction is clear, and you’ve hired the right team, then trust that they will do a good job. This doesn’t mean ignore everything and it will be fine. It won’t be. Check in, give feedback, ask questions, but trust the team. Trust that they want the project to be successful as much as you do. If something goes wrong, if some aspect of the build isn’t what you were expecting, then raise the issue, they can fix it. But don’t assume it’s a trust issue. It’s not. It’s a mistake, no more than that, and no less.

Time – allow enough time to do it right

Nine woman can’t have a baby in a month.

Give the team the time they need, both in the budget and on the calendar, to complete the job the way you want it. Rushing means steps will be missed. Rushing means the job won’t be the best it can be. Things will be overlooked.  Running a successful website projects is hard. It takes time. A website is complicate, it’s a giant game of Whack a Mole. What seems simple, and it may well be simple, is built and tested in the context of the entire build. This takes time. Quality takes time.

Focus – to finish the project, it may take some gettin’ after

Did I mention that websites are complicated? There will be distractions. There will be speed bumps, There will be misunderstandings. Keep at it. To manage successful website projects you need to keep your focus. And be sure your client stays focused as well. See Leadership above.

How come we’re late?

Client approvals took twice as much time as planned.

I wish this wasn’t true, and I’m sure it sounds self serving, but delays are almost never the developer’s fault. It’s usually a poor brief, which required rework. Or the requirements weren’t properly understood or documented. Or it was delays getting needed assets. Many times it’s all these things, and more. Everyone needs to stay focused on the end game.

Budget – don’t bring a knife to a gun fight

Teeter totter

Where to start. This topic could be a post or a book. The headlines:

  • Website budgets are like a teeter totter. Functional, technical and design requirements need to be in balance with the work effort (budget) required to build the site. Don’t expect a lot for a little. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. This may seem obvious, but based on the requests we see, this simple application of common sense isn’t all that common.
  • Plan for change orders. They will happen. What looks good on paper/in Photoshop doesn’t always translate as expected into web pages.
  • Don’t assume. More common sense, but the evidence… because it’s common practice doesn’t mean it was in the budget. The production estimate is the Statement of Work. If the functionality isn’t included in the estimate, the work effort required wasn’t either. See change orders above.
  • Don’t ask how much it will cost to build. Seriously. Tell the team what the budget is. They will tell you what they can achieve with the budget. See the budget teeter totter above. Assuming that the team are professionals, shows that you respect them. Assuming that they are trying to rip you off, which is the message delivered by, “Well, just let us know what you think it will cost,” will not get you the best work or the best price.
  • Budget based on the value you expect to create. If you are running a six or seven figure media budget through your website, it’s the hub for your marketing activity, budget accordingly.

Conclusion – successful website projects aren’t an accident

Successful website projects result from a solid process, a clear scope, and a lot of hard work. Clear direction, strong leadership, are vital. Finally, you need a great team, working in an ego free zone, with the time, focus and budget required to do the job. This leads to successful website projects. Guaranteed.

(Teeter totter image provide by Hiroh Satoh The image was cropped.)

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