A Project Manager’s Top 10 to a Successful Redesign
After nearly four years at mStoner I’ve worked on more than 70 projects. And that got me thinking about what makes some projects successful and others, well, not so much. So, I came up with my top 10 list of things that clients can do from a project manager’s point of view to make a project go smoothly.
- Schedule, schedule, schedule. As a project manager, how could I not start with this one? Our schedules are detailed so that you can be well informed and prepare for what’s coming next. We will send you lots of reminders to help you along the way, but you’ll need to identify any conflicts, such as upcoming vacations, school closings, key points in your admission cycle, a big event like a president’s retirement, or other competing internal projects. Nothing derails a project more quickly than a surprise conflict, which can be avoided by vetting the schedule carefully.
- Be ready for reviews and approvals. We typically need approvals in order to move forward to the next task. You may think you know who should review and approve documents and design, but sometimes internal politics can derail your best laid plans and intentions. These extra rounds of internal review and approval typically cause major delays in the schedule. Which brings me to the next item…
- Designate a core team and a project manager. The most successful projects have a core team that is given authority to review and approve deliverables. This team must often report to larger boards and committees, but should remain in control during the entire project.
- Test your design, it’s money well spent. Getting feedback from focus groups, online surveys, or remote user testing provides good data and helps you choose, refine, and defend the best design for your institution.
- Involve your technical team early. And by early I mean talk to them before you call us. Website redesign projects require both creative and technical components. Most clients are prepared for the design phase, but not many are as well prepared for the execution. Involving the technical team too late can result in less buy-in and more tension between teams. In addition, if other technical projects are not accounted for, you risk straining internal resources, which can cause delays and additional costs. For example, if your technical team’s top priority for the quarter is to upgrade all the servers, they might not have the available resources or time to help with additional web projects (like the installation of a new content management system).
- Know your content and content owners. Do you know how many pages are in your site? Do you know who owns the content? Will you keep all of the content? Do you need to consolidate pages? If so, who is going to do that? Wrangling content is the most time-consuming activity for clients. mStoner will develop an information architecture, but it is typically the client’s responsibility to navigate through their existing site and know how the old pages will map to the new pages. The client is also responsible for getting old pages into the new site structure. It’s a lot of copying and pasting, and you should estimate 2-3 pages an hour. For example, 500 pages typically takes 1 person 6 weeks to complete, working 40 hours per week. Not very realistic for one person to commit that kind of time, but you get the idea.
- Insist on and carefully review a functional specification document. We provide a document that outlines exactly how every piece of your site will work. It is much easier to change things before coding starts. Asking for things to be changed once coding has started will cause schedule delays and cost more money, two things we don’t want when we are in the home stretch. Think of this like building a house: After the walls go up and the roof is on, it’s harder and more costly to change the foundational structure in order to make the living room bigger.
- Know your history. Document what you love and hate about your current site. Research how your site got to be what it is today, and familiarize yourself with the back-end technology. Knowing where you have been will make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes, and that you build on the good work already done.
- Communicate the scope of your project to all team members. It can be deflating to a team to find out that its understanding of the scope of work is not what they signed up for.
- Choose a partner, not a vendor. A good partner should help you strategically, creatively, and technically. They should not be married to one type of technology, as there is not always a one-size-fits-all solution. Lastly, your partner should understand the industry. Look at their past experience and talk to their references to see if they will be a good fit for your needs.
One final note: Don’t just focus on the end goal. There are many small achievements that can happen along the way, so make sure to celebrate them!