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3 mistakes to avoid when managing a web development project

During my time managing web development projects, I have made mistakes. Lots of them. Most mistakes are very minor and get caught in the quality assurance process before a website goes live. A broken link here or a misspelling there. These types of mistakes are unavoidable, but very easy to fix. The bigger mistakes, however, can have project damaging consequences and are entirely preventable.

1) Don’t present a bad idea to the client!

managing web development projects

In a recent lecture I attended, the graphic designer speaking said, “Don’t you hate it when your client picks the shitty design? Well, why’d you show them a shitty one!?” This goes not only for designs, but for functionality and concepts as well. No one ever wants to share a bad idea or a bad design, but sometimes it can be forced upon us. A client can keep asking for something that you know is a bad idea, and you need to make sure that you tell them it’s a bad idea before moving forward with it. The thought that might run through you head goes something like, “It’s going to look stupid if we make it three times as big and turn it purple, but I know once they see it they’ll realize how bad it looks and go with my good idea.” Chances are if the client thought the giant purple design was a good idea, they’ll still think its a good idea when they see it, and you will have shot yourself in the foot by humoring them. One of our owners likes to tell clients, “I’ll tell you a bad idea is a bad idea three times. If you still want to do it after that, we’ll do it.” In addition to saying a bad idea is a bad idea, you have to explain why it is a bad idea, provide support for that if possible, and present a better idea (preferably a great idea).

2) Avoid design-by-committee at all costs!

Using a committee or group of people to brainstorm ideas or get feedback on a new website can be helpful in some situations. Groups of people can naturally come up with more ideas and build on each others’ ideas. When there is no one to make the final decision and take charge of the group, things can get out of hand. Five people sending a list of 25 ideas without attaching any weight to each idea can turn into a mess if each idea is considered equally as important. It is much more efficient to narrow a large list of committee-generated ideas down to the few best ideas. When a client is reviewing designs or a beta site, only one or two people should have the final say. If 10 people are all sending their ideas for updates and changes, you could end up with a Frankenstein-like site that has a little bit of everyone’s vision in it. It is much easier to work with a unified vision to create a unique online solution that has one master plan instead of many.

3) Start organizing content well before you are ready for content!

Collecting content can be the most arduous part of building a new website. Even if the content already exists on a current site, it most likely needs to be reorganized and updated. If your client already has an up-to-date, well-organized website, they probably aren’t asking you to build a new one for them. A great tool that I use to help clients and myself keep content generation organized is Jumpchart. Making sure that all parties involved (web dev, client, content writer) can see the current state of the content is very important. Everyone should know the status at all times so that the process keeps moving forward. It is important to closely monitor content generation to make sure that nothing is being overlooked. One thing that can commonly be overlooked is that content is not just text on a page, but also includes images and documents. All images and documents should be collected and organized alongside the textual content so that you aren’t scrambling to organize them at the last minute. The bottom line is that the content will always take longer than anyone thinks it will. Get started on it as soon as you possibly can.


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Comments

There are currenty 6 responses.

Audra Harisson
February 27, 2017

Thanks for the info! Managing your time and tasks is very important to ensure your productivity especially when your working on web development projects. Using web-based time tracking tools is an effective way to make sure that you are handling your time well.

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John Trent
October 3, 2014

Thanks for sharing. I may be selected for PM of a web dev project and they are using SharePoint and not Google Drive/Docs. Has anyone comments on how SharePoint works and ties in Email?

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    Nick Castelli
    October 3, 2014

    Hi John, that’s a very good question. Both systems have their pros and cons. Google Drive/Docs tends to have less of a learning curve, it’s free at a personal level, and cheap at a business level. It is generally better for collaborating on documents as well. It also integrates very well with Outlook. One significant drawback to Google Drive is that is uses it’s own file formats instead of .docx, .xlsx, etc. Sharepoint allows you to use files in the Microsoft Office formats, but is not as good for simultaneous collaboration. If you actually use a lot of the core features, Sharepoint is a more advanced system that will usually work better for large teams. If you only need document sharing and collaboration among a small group, Google Drive will be easier to pick up and use. To make a long story short, both systems are quite good at what they do and integrate well with email.

    Reply
Dave
August 14, 2013

Great information. I started out doing sales for a smaller web development shop a couple years ago (I had 0 web development knowledge before starting) and have been moved into a project management position. I am not a web developer or designer. I occasionally feel like not having a backround in dev or design keeps me from doing the best job possible. If you know of any other places to find helpful information about being a project manager in web development, I would really appreciate your guidance. Thanks again!

Reply
    Nick Castelli
    August 30, 2013

    Hi Dave! I’m right there with you. My web design background is nearly non-existent too! There are some really great resources out there, but I can’t really give you one source for everything. The real key is being able to adapt and see curve balls coming. Someone has had the same problem as you before you had it, and it has been shared somewhere on the internet. Google is your best friend for finding the solutions to any problem. Some things that I use to help me stay organized are:
    Jumpchart for design and content organization
    Toggl for keeping track of time
    I’ve also found it very helpful to minimize the number of emails sent. Things get lost in email conversations, so managing all communications through Google Docs can be very helpful. The power of Google Spreadsheets is impressive.

    Finally, the thing that may have helped me most was building websites on my own. Build yourself a website or build one for a friend with a business. Build the website by yourself from the ground up. Feel free to ask your coworkers for help because that’s how you can learn new things, but make sure you understand what they are doing and can do it yourself the next time.

    Best of luck!

    Reply
Ford Prefect
July 15, 2013

Good article, Nick. But you forgot the biggest mistake a web development project manager can make… Not forcing the website development SALES manager to go with you to your first meeting. 😉

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