Conventional project management methodologies adapted to web projects
Have you ever observed a Project Manager approach managing a Web project with a very high level of concern, as if they were traveling to a new galaxy where everything would be different? Do you personally know one of these managers? If so, I am here to tell you—as someone with six years of experience managing successful Web projects—that traditional Information Systems (IS) project management processes can be adapted to Web projects with success. The key to achieving the results that you and your sponsor want is based on how well you adapt traditional project management methodologies to the new media.
First let me say that when I use the term “Web” I am referring to all projects that use a web browser as the medium to deliver a business solution. E-Media departments are forming in many corporations to meet the demand for Web projects. Simultaneously when conventional project management methodologies are adapted and applied the Project Manager will be equipped to meet the challenges that Web projects bring and, as a result, will be successful.
A methodology alone will not make a project successful. Given that you have a solid methodology, then the next hurdle is to adapt and apply the methodology in real life situations. New technology and development tools, combined with old project management methodologies, can be used to manage through a Web project life cycle if you recognize what differentiates the new media from the traditional IS projects. With this knowledge you will know how to adapt and apply the methodology throughout the project life cycle.
Example of project life cycle phases
* Request Management Phase
* Project Definition Phase
* Project Planning Phase
* Implementation Phase
* Deployment Phase
* Project Completion Phase
* Operational Support Phase
“Conventional Project Management Methodologies Adapted to Web Projects” does not mean that there are no differences between traditional IS projects and Web projects, of course there are! However, through the use of a conventional project management methodology, and the recognition of the distinctions between a Web and a non-Web project, you will find that you have the foundation that you need to succeed.
The way for you to excel as a Web Project Manager is to recognize and understand the differences between Web projects and traditional IS projects. This paper looks at what will enable Project Managers to appropriately adapt and apply conventional project management processes to Web projects. It will explore perceived and actual differences between Web and traditional IS projects, and will explain how these differences can be managed.
Issues and Concerns
Let's consider what your thoughts are about the following questions:
• Do you have experience managing Web projects?
• Are you managing a Web project right now?
• Do you plan to manage a Web project in the future?
• Whether or not you have Web experience, do you think that Web projects are completed faster than traditional IS projects?
• Do your business sponsors have the perception that Web projects are completed faster than traditional IS projects?
• What expectations or preconceived perceptions do your business sponsors maintain about Web projects?
Awareness of what you think about a Web project, combined with the knowledge of what your business sponsors and team members think, will reduce risks. Knowledge will allow you to be proactive and not a victim of circumstances. As a result you will be in a position to prevent negative issues and incorrect assumptions from affecting your project.
Let's consider what some of the differences are between Web and traditional IS projects. Exhibit 1 displays a few of the differences.
What other differences exist?
As more E-Media departments appear in corporations across the world, and more businesses recognize the need to organize and manage the Web projects by adapting methodologies that are currently being used in traditional IS shops, then an important question arises. What skills does a Web Project Manager need? Below is a short list of some of the skills needed.
What other skills are needed?
Five Areas of Focus
When I think about conventional project management methodologies adapted to Web projects, I see that there are many details that we could discuss. Nevertheless, this paper will address five areas where the differences between Web projects and traditional IS projects are more pronounced. These areas include Speed of Delivery, Internal Press, Cultural Differences, User Centric, and Vendor Management.
Speed of Delivery
The first area of focus is the perception that Web projects can be completed faster. You may have seen that is takes only a few minutes to run notepad and write simple HTML code that can be viewed in any web browser. There are several drag-and-drop programming tools that add to the illusion that applications development is quick and easy. Too often sales representatives’ conduct demos using predeveloped components that give the audience the impression that the development process is rapid. While your project team, which includes the business spon-sor(s), upper management, and end users, often expect that a Web projects to be delivered sooner than traditional IS projects, the use of new technology may actually increase the risk of schedule delays.
Ways to Manage the Expectation of Rapid Delivery
• The Project Manager must be proactive and set expectations. If the team is working toward a delivery date, then the Project Manager must communicate the actual delivery date as soon as it is known. Modifications in the functionality of the product to be delivered can be made if it is necessary to meet a fixed delivery date.
• It is necessary to be proactive and listen to what is being said by project team members about the content and delivery date. In many cases the actual steps involved in delivering a final product may not known or understood.
• It is not necessary to provide all project team members with low-level details on how tasks will be executed; however, when team members have a clear picture of what is involved then they will be more receptive to a realistic delivery date. If delivering a product on time is an issue you can reduce the amount of functionality that you have planed to so that you can meet your fixed delivery date.
• Once a delivery date has been set, be aware that developers can spend a considerable amount of time conducting experiments. Since there are many new development tools, add-ons, and coding techniques, Web development projects need to be vigilant on the amount of time allocated for development research. It is important to closely manage the design and development schedule, and limit the amount of experimentation that may occur. This is not to say that you should remove experimentation from your project schedule. Sometimes it is in your best interest to spend some time experimenting so that you are able to find the best long-term solution, but be aware of how this can affect your timeline.
• Development schedules cannot be completely based on the old paradigms. Activities such as graphic design take more time to complete depending on their complexity. Web graphic design requires a lot of detail to be addressed, which traditional IS graphical user interface (GUI) design does not require. In the Windows development world, the same level of focus to detail that a Web graphics designer needs is not required. For example, on a Web project a clear marketing campaign is usually necessary in order for the graphic artist to capture the look and feel of the business. When users look at your web site they need to be able to understand what your products and services are within 15 seconds of seeing your web page. When details are quickly and clearly explained the graphic artist can ascertain the visual image(s) that best represent what you are communicating.
• If you have brief to the point statements or slogans then the designer can graphically capture their meaning and create an image that works well. In many cases a storyboard will need to be created that will allow you to focus on all the details required. The schematic that the graphic artist designs will vary based on what she ascertains from the information that you provide. If you provide existing ad copy, and clear direction, the artist will be able to save time in the long run. When you provide the graphic artist these details it assists her to understand what your story is so that it can be captured graphically. Without this level of detail the artist would have to spend some time guessing, and the design, review, and revise process would be quite lengthy. To expedite this process you may consider developing a web site mission statement that consists of one or two sentences, and include any marketing slogans you want used, as well as your own ideas about how you want to be represented. Companies can spend a lot of time and money trying to come up with their graphical front end. You must put some time and energy into the design so that the end result will reflect how you want to be represented. Try not to be vague or vast in the definitions that you provide the graphic artist. Graphic design is a new element in application design shops that needs to be managed to prevent schedule delays.
If realistic perceptions are set in the beginning, the situation monitored, and required details provided, then underestimated timelines are less likely to occur and the speed of delivery will be correctly perceived.
The second area of focus is the fact that Web projects often get more press within the company particularly if it is the first or if it is implementing new technology. As a result of the increased press there is more pressure on the project team.
A Way to Manage Internal Press
• Listen to what is being said in the internal press. Does what is being said reflect what you are planning to deliver? If not provide some form of communication to educate your audience. Periodic status reports sent via e-mail work well, or set up an intranet site where the progress of the project is publicly communicated. In general some form of controlled communication will ease the additional pressure that internal press generates.
• Organize your project so that you are using a methodology that provides you with a structure but not a straight jacket, flexibility without chaos. You will find that if you are able to adapt to your situation then you will accomplish your goals and successfully deliver a Web product.
There is a much greater chance of experiencing cultural differences on Web projects than on traditional IS projects, however if a Project Manager is aware of the differences he or she can more effectively manage the issues that will arise.
• Web projects tend to have a lot of very young programmers who are inexperienced in business etiquette.
• Web projects often require working with additional departments other than IS projects, i.e., Marketing and the Art departments. These departments may have no experience in Web projects, and they may also have different work procedures and methodologies.
Exhibit 3 is a quick list of some examples of cultural differences that exist.
Ways to Manage Around Cultural Differences
• A young college intern may code brilliantly but may not be familiar with working in a business environment and may lack business or professional etiquette. Details such as how long to talk on the Web chat line with friends during work hours, what the expected work hours are supposed to be, and when to play games may need to be brought to their attention. Clear guidelines on work expectations “do's and don'ts” may need to be provided. You will find that when assumptions are not made then there is a clear understanding of expectations and this has a direct effect on behavior.
• Many young programmers learn by doing or hacking existing code, and may not have a formal education in structured programming techniques. These programmers may not have experience in creating and or using a test plan. Details such as commenting code may be foreign. You will have to plan for enough quality assurance time to ensure that the products meet your level of expectation and follow development standards.
• On Web projects it is very common to use resources that have different work procedures. For example, in the programming world something is developed, tested, reviewed and revised, re-tested in an iterative process until it is rolled out into production. For the graphic artist “completed work” cannot be measured in a set time frame (i.e., two days to complete). Done for the artist may mean when they have visualized the complete graphic and created it in the selected media (“Paintshop,” “Photoshop,” or some other tool). It takes time to polish the graphic! The work must meet the artist's perspective of complete. The time frame for the expected completion of work is different, and it can be more challenging to wrap a specific time frame for delivery around it. There are many details that an artist requires in order to design graphic images, which make defining a time frame more challenging.
• Another example of cultural differences is found in the vocabulary and understanding that the IS culture maintains. The IS culture uses terms such as “war room,”“battle plan,”“dead-line,” or “drop dead date.” These terms may be very offensive to non-IS team members. As a manager you need to be aware that the terminology that you are comfortable using may need to be adjusted. For example “War Room” may be called “Team Room,” “Battle Plan” may be called “Project Plan,” and “Drop dead date” or “Deadline” may be called “Completion Date.”
• On Web projects it is not uncommon to have to manage several resources from other departments such as Marketing or Advertising. These other departments may not have experience on an IS project. As a manager you will need to communicate and explain what is planned and what is expected of them.
The fourth area of focus is that web projects are more user centric than traditional IS projects. This means that the Project Manager should:
• Plan to spend some time getting to know your audience. Find out what their needs and desires are so that when you design the interface you create something that users need, like, and will use.
For example, a very popular Web books reseller has a feature on their web site called “purchase circles” where you can look up what others are purchasing. The reseller found out that their customers desired to know what people are reading. The reseller satisfied their customer's desire and, as a result, made their web site more attractive. The same web site found that some customers start shopping and then stop shopping before they go to the checkout counter to purchase what they have selected. They found that customers needed the ability to continue shopping at a different time or even on another day. The reseller added e-commerce functions that track what a customer has selected to buy and allows the customer to keep the contents of her shopping cart for several days. The customer is now able to continue shopping where she left off without having to start all over again. This functionality addresses the customer's desires.
These are a few of the details that make this particular web site successful. The reseller has a high level of understanding of their user's needs and desires, and they know how to creatively implement the functionality in a “user friendly” way.
• Understand the characteristics of the users so that the interface provides features that work well for them. For example, are the users over 40 years old? If so, the size of the font used may be an issue. You would want to use point 10 or higher. As a manager you will need to plan to get to know your users. In this process you will need to be creative and open.
The fifth area of focus is vendor management. Typically, there are more vendors to deal with on Web projects since there are so many components used. For example, you may have graphics tool vendors, object database vendors, HTML, ASP, JAVA and other development or editing tool vendors. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may also have vendors for e-commerce products and services, web streaming, audio/video components, and content management. The list could be long depending on the complexity of the web project that you are working. Consider the following details:
• Allocate more time for managing to manage vendor relationships. Use a combination of vendor agreements and contracts, joint planning, joint communication plans, issues tracking and resolution procedures.
• Most vendors have a defined set of procedures that may differ from your companies. This may affect the amount of time needed for setting up contracts. For example, you may need to spend time to ensure that you and the vendor understand and agree on the assignment of work and all the details needed to process an invoice. The methodology that you use will guide you through this process.
Current or future Web Project Managers should apply their existing project management skills to Web projects. At the same time you must gain an understanding of the difference between Web and traditional IS projects. Listen to your team and have understanding of the perceptions they maintain. Then manage the project with a methodology that has been adapted to your business’ needs.
After working on multiple Web projects, I have seen that a successful Web project, just like any other project, requires solid project management skills. If you have project management skills and apply conventional project management methodologies to your Web, intranet, or any other web-based project, and you address the issues unique to web-based projects, then you will have more than what it takes to be successful.
www.webreference.com – Contains information about the Web and Web Mastery, from browsing to authoring and from HTML to advanced site design. This site also has helpful tutorials.
http://wdvl.internet.com/WDVL or www.stars.com/WDVL – “WDVL” stands for Web Development Virtual Library. This site is the oldest commercial web developer's resource, and is a combination of encyclopedia and e-zine (an online magazine). Best of all, this site contains a “Webopedia” where you can search on any web-related word and acronym and find out what it means.
www.internetworldnews.com – “Internet World” online. Also available at newsstands
www.internet.com – An eBusiness and Internet technology network site.
www.business2.com – Contains information on the “New Economy,” “New Rules,” and “New Leaders.” Also available at newsstands.
“Real Time: Preparing for the Age of the Never Satisfied Customer,” by Regis McKenna.
“New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World,” by Kevin Kelly.
“Customers.com: How to Create a Profitable Business Strategy for the Internet and Beyond,” by Patricia B. Seybold, R.T. Marshak and Ronni Marshak.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA