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It takes a village…

, Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

As web sites get bigger and more sophisticated, it seems like more and more of our build work involves working and collaborating with multiple parties, rather than just working directly with a few folks on the client team. Now projects frequently require bringing other vendors and stakeholders to the table – design firms, brand agencies, technology vendors, you name it. From a project management perspective, this adds a layer of complexity to the project, and requires adapting some of our standard practices and tactics.

Communications. This is the Project Management equivalent of “location, location, location” to real estate. In successful project management, too much communication is rarely the problem (ok, so maybe it’s possible). When partnering with multiple parties, this is absolutely critical for success. At Beaconfire this means:

  • Clearly identifying and understanding the makeup of each of the project teams. Who are your peer PMs? Who are the decision makers that need to signoff for approval? If possible, gather all the key players around a table for a real meet and greet. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, and it’s great to put names with faces, especially in today’s virtual world.
  • Out of the gate everyone is invited to our project extranet. We use a tool called Central Desktop , but Basecamp or other collaboration tools will work. The bottom line is that using only email to communicate just won’t cut it. By having all documents and exchanges in one place, people can more easily map in and out of the project.
  • Create a clear project schedule and definition of tasks. Sometimes we find it worthwhile to create a separate Roles and Responsibilities matrix. This lists the major project tasks, and identifies the specific person responsible for the task as well as those who also need to weigh in.
  • Schedule meetings and calls in advance. Scheduling is always a challenge, but can be nightmare as teams get bigger and more diverse. Creating a Workshop Guide at the onset, listing all the upcoming meetings, a brief description and required attendees can go a long way to help with this.
  • Extra meetings. I know, I know. No more meetings. As a PM, sometimes I avoid having a team meeting by sending a detailed Project Update / Recap email to everyone. However, it is really important to meet frequently as a group to talk through the latest issues and make sure everyone is on the same page. To respect people’s time, I do try to make sure only the necessary people are invited to the meeting. Or, I start the meeting with a topic relevant to a person, and then let them go while we continue the rest of the meeting.
  • For team meetings, it is critical that the PM prepares an agenda IN ADVANCE. Meeting notes are also important to make sure there is a record of decisions and next steps. As a time saver, I’ve also learned to take rough meeting notes right into our project extranet. They may not be pretty, but they do the trick.
  • Finally, it is worth taking extra time to document the basics. This includes developing a Project Charter that contains all the key information about the project, creating high-level systems diagrams, API documentation, etc. Taking a few extra hours to define key information will save hours of miscommunication and frustration in the end.

This isn’t rocket science, but taking the time to follow some of these steps will go a long way in ensuring a happy project team and successful project delivery.

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