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.