Managing Web Projects

Linoit Cork Board System The Human Business Works team is spread out across several locations. This means that we rely on a lot of online tools to help us manage our workshifting as well as a few new methods for managing projects. On top of this, I’m not a fan of most of the current online tools for project management (partly because I used to be a professional project manager, and partly because the tools are too rigid in their insistence on date being the key driver of a project). I thought I’d write out the methods (and some of the tools) I’m using to manage projects.

Managing Web Projects

First, before anything else, to use these methods to manage web projects, you have to have a decent team in place that’s very communicative. I’m lucky to have hired Liz Stewart to run my projects for me, as we worked together back in the wireless telecom days. My development team, 9seeds are very very communicative, as is my designer, Josh Fisher.

Two Types of Project Data

There are typically two types of project data: static and update. Static data is anything that describes the project and fleshes out the design and the plans. So, for instance, the URL of a new site, the logo, the order of operations, etc, is all static data. The “update” data is fluid and shows the current state of things. Knowing the difference between these two things is a really useful start to understanding how to manage projects using diverse teams.

Static data should be kept in a way that lets people see the tasks in some kind of order, the owners of the tasks, the due date (if that matters), and the current status (just simply red, yellow, green).

Update data should be sent out in a way that lets the team know the current status of a project.

Systems for Keeping Both Types of Data

Lots of people use specific project management software. Currently, I’m using something really bizarre. I’m using Linoit, which is a virtual cork board with sticky notes on it (hat tip Web Worker Daily for finding it). It’s not perfect, but it’s a way to keep things simple, bulleted, brief. (Yes, I’ve seen all the other project management software. I don’t like it much.)

An alternative to that would be using Google Docs and using a spreadsheet where you can dump more detail, and/or you could sort by status.

The “update” data can be sent in simple emails once a week, or it can be posted on the cork board, with a summary sent in the emails. This way, the team gets the “interrupt” communication of an email, but then can swing by the cork board to remember where we are in the dance card.

Simple Definitive Communication

I tend to have as few meetings as possible while doing projects.

A lot of the lessons I got from project management came from two bosses, Dan Carney, and Debbie Millin, each who had their own methods of managing projects, and neither of whom would be PMI (the body who oversees project management as a profession) friendly. For instance, Dan told me to do all the running around and question-and-answer stuff before any status meeting, so that the status meeting could be kept crisp and report-focused in nature. Our meetings were never more than 10 minutes long, even when working on huge data center buildouts.

Debbie taught me to get decisions out of the way quickly. She never liked leaving something up in the air, so we’d decide, and if the decision was a bad one, we’d fix it later.

Neither liked flowery language. Both loved brevity. Both loved calling it the way it was.

Escalation and All That

I like flat organizations and I loathe butt-covering. The project lead is the project lead. There’s no going over anyone’s head. If Liz is in charge, she’s in charge. Rob and I are here as resources, but she has the ball. It works especially well in this way. John and the guys at 9seeds know what’s what. Josh and any other partners we’re working with know what’s what. It’s clean and simple.

Support your project manager and give them real power. Anything else is a mistake.

External Clients Changes This All Up

The moment you work with external clients, your project management style must match that organization’s needs. When I work on projects with New Marketing Labs and our client partners, we work towards having more information, and/or we sometimes even resort to using old fashioned project management software (although that’s like wearing a tie these days). But, if the project is your own, and Human Business Works is mine, then you can lead your projects your own way.

Simplicity. Brevity. No Overplanning

One note of caution: I’m forever seeing someone’s project plan with its myriad levels of contingency planning and the like. Though it’s great to factor in potential risks, it’s overworking things if you’ve got every little I and T dotted and crossed. Sorry, but that’s my stance. I’d rather have a little room for artistry. We’re not designing rockets over here. Sure we have to apologize sometimes, and we have to pay for rework on occasion, but I’ll trade the extra wasted hours slaving over plan documents and make that up in the occasional whoopsie.

Thoughts? Questions?

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  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I’m with you Chris, on the simplicity part, I use a daily planner that has six boxes at the top for my top priority activities. I just jot them down at the beginning of the day and check them off as they are completed. Certainly not rocket science. I also use a focused project planner for longer term projects. I schedule a time block in advance to work on the project, and try and single task on one thing at a time. I find that 48 minute time blocks work best for me. This has been an amazing tool to get things done like writing a book, fitness training, and blogging. The big thing here is scheduling a consistent time block and sticking with it. The planner has twelve weeks listed and gives me a place to mark down a daily result. It’s simple and helps me keep on track. (Both of these are free downloads on my site for anyone who wants to give them a try)

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I’m with you Chris, on the simplicity part, I use a daily planner that has six boxes at the top for my top priority activities. I just jot them down at the beginning of the day and check them off as they are completed. Certainly not rocket science. I also use a focused project planner for longer term projects. I schedule a time block in advance to work on the project, and try and single task on one thing at a time. I find that 48 minute time blocks work best for me. This has been an amazing tool to get things done like writing a book, fitness training, and blogging. The big thing here is scheduling a consistent time block and sticking with it. The planner has twelve weeks listed and gives me a place to mark down a daily result. It’s simple and helps me keep on track. (Both of these are free downloads on my site for anyone who wants to give them a try)

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    Boy, I feel old-fashioned.

    I use paper v. 7000.1, pen v.20000000.3, and sometimes Excel. Most of the time.

    I do have a bulletin board though! And white boards!

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    Boy, I feel old-fashioned.

    I use paper v. 7000.1, pen v.20000000.3, and sometimes Excel. Most of the time.

    I do have a bulletin board though! And white boards!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Me too. Lots of them. I love paper, pens, pads, etc.

      • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

        Yeah…I used to long for the day when I could play with the multi-colored sticky notes at the office.

        I miss being a kid :)

  • Aaron

    Great post! I love your way of thinking.

  • http://twitter.com/_beInteractive Kris

    In your post you pinpointed the issues that we quite often encounter, although a MS Project for larger projects can be a life saver. I’ll be using Linot for little projects cause I think it’s indeed exactly what we need. Great post, thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/ThingsBright Elizabeth Drouillard

    Thanks for the link to Linoit. That looks sweet.

    Also, can I say that I love the fact that you take your work passionately but still distinguish it from rocket-making? So many don’t and I find this really refreshing.

  • http://www.thedesktopanalyst.com The Desktop Analyst

    I think you & Seth are drinking the same water today with the whole leaving room to improvise & not having to be perfect vibe. There’s definitely a sweet spot in there somewhere. I’ve been playing around with the editorial calendar that you recommended & it seems to be a very useful tool , especially for a one man operation such as TDA.

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    I MUST find a reason to use that corkboard! Been meaning to put one up in my office. Now, no need. Take that, IKEA!

  • http://twitter.com/RickBjarnason Rick Bjarnason

    Have you tried Basecamp? It was made by a professional web development company, 37signals, for their projects. I use it for all my larger projects and i think it is amazing

  • http://twitter.com/jdeixler Joshua Deixler

    We use basecamp and it is helpful to keep track of major deliverables. I am a recovering PMP. This post shows that new model in project management follows the agile way of thinking. You need to hire the right people, empower them, and keep a couple of sticky notes to remember what everyone is doing.

  • http://twitter.com/jdeixler Joshua Deixler

    We use basecamp and it is helpful to keep track of major deliverables. I am a recovering PMP. This post shows that new model in project management follows the agile way of thinking. You need to hire the right people, empower them, and keep a couple of sticky notes to remember what everyone is doing.

  • http://twitter.com/rustyspeidel rustyspeidel

    Thanks for the Linoit recommendation. It’s perfect, as is the associated management style.

  • Dave Wellman

    I am a horrid project manager. I make things way too complicated or completely loose focus. Thanks for the great tips.

  • http://www.devinelder.com Devin Elder

    I completely agree that simplicity is Rule #1. More bullets ≠ better.

    I’m a huge fan of Google docs, and take it a step further by not even storing any working documents on my laptop – it all lives in the Cloud, accessible via a mapped drive.

    I’m ready to throw my laptop in the lake at any given moment… and sometimes tempted to.

  • http://ajleon.me/ ajleon

    Great suggestions. And you are right. No PM software out there works. Basecamp sucks. We’ve been using a hybrid of Remember the Milk and Google Docs.

  • http://techbasedmarketing.com Lynette Chandler

    I thought I was the only one who does not like date driven tools. Don’t get me wrong. There are things that need hard deadlines and definitive milestones but there are also a bunch of things that don’t.

  • http://techbasedmarketing.com Lynette Chandler

    I thought I was the only one who does not like date driven tools. Don’t get me wrong. There are things that need hard deadlines and definitive milestones but there are also a bunch of things that don’t.

  • http://techbasedmarketing.com Lynette Chandler

    I thought I was the only one who does not like date driven tools. Don’t get me wrong. There are things that need hard deadlines and definitive milestones but there are also a bunch of things that don’t.

  • http://techbasedmarketing.com Lynette Chandler

    I thought I was the only one who does not like date driven tools. Don’t get me wrong. There are things that need hard deadlines and definitive milestones but there are also a bunch of things that don’t.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    It’s a kind of mess bastardization of agile/scrum. I’m not officially trained in it.

  • http://twitter.com/abstanfield Alyson B. Stanfield

    I love this idea. I signed up immediately. Not sure how I’m going to use it, but I’ll invent a project with my team if necessary. Thanks, Chris.

  • http://www.soccerbox.com/manchesterunitedshop Man Utd Shirt

    I have the same problem with all current Project Management apps, especially with the date being one of the primary components which is not always the mist important aspect of the project.

  • Linxiuli80

    Comments will appear right here for viewing and moderation. In the meantime, how about tweaking or customizing your comment system

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  • Wayne Pope

    Interesting read this. When we created Glasscubes it was always aimed at a much more loose, less date driven, form of collaboration/get things done – glad we’re not the only ones thinking this.

  • Wayne Pope

    Interesting read this. When we created Glasscubes it was always aimed at a much more loose, less date driven, form of collaboration/get things done – glad we’re not the only ones thinking this.

  • Wayne Pope

    Interesting read this. When we created Glasscubes it was always aimed at a much more loose, less date driven, form of collaboration/get things done – glad we’re not the only ones thinking this.

  • Anonymous

    Chris, you’ve summarized the issues well regarding “old-fashioned” project management systems and “date” being the focal point of these systems. Managing the relationships/expectations, the conversations, and the project output (documents, implementation) are more central to successful outcomes than the due date on a task. The speed at which business is done online, requires more agility than traditional methods have provided, i.e., old Gantt Chart stuff.

    We’ve done our best to accommodate many of these ideas you talk about in Mavenlink; a modern approach for businesses and service providers to work together.

    Let’s keep the dialog going and change the way business gets done.

  • Mrswirelessnc

    Love your thoughts. My background is in marketing and business development, however the whole www is a new path for me. I ofcourse use it for email and such but marketing this way is a whole new thing. I am used to the face to face method — so I am learning how to make the best of this tool and finding ways to sound informative and genuine.

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  • http://www.blackfridayplanet.com/ William Hushburn

    I actually didn’t get this one.

  • Andres Sanchez Cuevas

    Simply awesome, part of my job is to manage TI projects and some times keep the team focused all over the process is so difficult

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  • Tatiana Lozano

    Thank you for writing this. I’m interested in learning more about managing web projects. I am not an IT person and my experience in PM is mainly assisting project manager with little tasks. I really want to become a great web PM some day..