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Managing a web development project – A Brief Overview

Last year I did a guest post on a web development/tech blog, pureelite.co.uk. Their blog and my post has been taken down as they’re focusing their efforts in a new direction so I thought I’d post my original post here as it has a lot of interesting information in it.

Managing a web development project

If (like me) you’re “into” web development, it is essential you understand the processes involved in managing a web development project successfully. Many new ideas and projects fail to get off the ground simply because they’re poorly managed. There could literally be thousands of unique and potentially industry changing concepts out there in the minds of genius’s, but if the idea is poorly executed or bad decisions are made from the outset, the only place you’re going is down, deep down.

I’m going to break down each individual process and milestone into bite sized pieces so that they’re easy to understand. From time-to-time I’ll drop in some examples of where I have achieved each goal and indeed the problems I faced when doing them.

In the beginning…

Through the years of running various web development projects I have been on both sides of the fence, both as a coder and a project manager. The most important aspect of any project or venture is identifying the goals. Many people sometimes incorrectly assume that “goal setting” is only for the positives of the project; however this is not entirely true. It is important to set goals for things your project will NOT do. This allows you keep on the straight and narrow throughout your project, as it can be tempting to get side-tracked.
When you have you idea for a venture be careful not to assume everyone will like it. Just because you’d find a particular service useful does not mean everyone in the world will share the same views. It is important that you get feedback about the basis of your project. Try not to get the feedback from close friends because they’re most likely to say what you want to hear. In essence, if you have an idea, just make sure you’re not trying to re-invent the wheel, there’s just no point.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to outline your project is to go back to basics and write a list. Divide your list into two sections, a section of “To do” goals, and “Do not do” goals.
For example, I ran http://www.fetchmp3.com and at the beginning of the project I did this process, one of the “do not do” goals was to avoid making revenue streams (such as adverts) cloud the vision of the user because in the past I have owned websites which become obsessed with making money to the detriment of the general users – the very foundation of any website’s success. Small things like that have allowed me to keep focused on the thoughts I had right at the beginning of the project, as it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and chuck advertisements in every location on the website.

Additionally it is important to identify your target audience, there’s little point in marketing a new brand of sugary sweets to health conscious adults. Knowing your audience and how you can manipulate them into using your service is one of the keys to the success of any project. Additionally you may want to think about how will they use the service? What advantages/disadvantages does my service have over a competitor (if there are any)?

All these kinds of questions will serve you well in your project moving forward. Just imagine yourself going to your website in a few months time, what would you expect? Would you re-visit the site? Is the service offered more a hindrance than a convenience? If you think of the answers to these kinds of questions BEFORE you start your project, you’re already one step ahead of the views of your audience who will ultimately be visiting the website in the future.

Starting your project

Once you have your project idea in mind and you’ve planned it as I mentioned beforehand, I find the best next thing to do is think of a name for the website you’re creating to give it an identity. There are many great tools out on the internet to help you think of that great name, one of my favourites is http://domai.nr – this amazing website shows you TLDs that are available for any given phrase, there are some really quirky names out there ready for you to register. Another great resource is http://www.domainsbot.com this is a domain name suggestion service. Just input a couple of key phrases for your website, and this amazing service will return relevant, targeted domain name suggestions for a variety of extensions.

Next you need to find someone to do the work involved in bringing your project to life, in code form. Unless you can do this yourself you are going to need someone reliable, professional, affordable and knowledgeable in all aspects of the required skills to realize your ideas. I have worked with MANY great programmers who have really added masses of value to my own creations, it is important to build up a trusting relationship between yourself and the programmer, they need to know your ideas inside out, presenting them with a detailed plan of your project and the features it will include will vastly increase both efficiency and enhance the service provided as they’ll know exactly what you’re after. Never produce a lax project plan to a programmer, because you’ll get a lot of what you don’t like in the end product. In addition to this, don’t be afraid to tell your programmer what to do. So long as you’re not rude or offensive there is no reason why your programmer won’t cooperate. It is important they know who is boss, and 9/10 most won’t any problems with this as they’ll want your project to succeed to the best of its ability, and ultimately, you, as the customer is ALWAYS right. One of the best ways to get contact details for a programmer is on forums like http://forums.digitalpoint.com and http://www.namepros.com – although both communities get a lot of flack, you’d be hard pushed to find a programmer without the aforementioned skills on either of those sites.

Keeping up the pace

It is important that you do not let your project drag. Always have a weekly plan and stick to it. Some projects I have worked on have dragged, and this ultimately creates resentment for the project as a whole. If you keep on top of the work in progress you can recognize any potential issues and resolve them in a timely manner, rather than deep seated problems appearing due to poor project awareness and a lack of good solid deadlines.
Although this may seem obvious, a lot of people tend to let planning and organization take a back seat once their project has started, I can’t stress enough the importance of those two vital aspects of any project. Unless you think cities are built automatically as soon as the planning stage has been done, this is one skill which will serve you well in the future if you can master.

Changing the goal posts

When a project is in development it is important to understand that adding new features may have a knock on affect to your project as a whole. Generally additional features/goals in a project will directly affect the cost and timescale of any given project. Both of these aspects should be investigated as in some cases, it is better to fulfill the original plan and then invest in any additions at a later stage. For this reason I request that all my websites are coded in a modular fashion. With http://www.fetchmp3.com ANY additional feature I asked to be created literally plugs into the website and starts working. There is no need for my programmer to skim through the 14,000 lines of code to manually add any given feature. It quite simply works, with minimal integration code required. Of course this is not suitable for all projects which is why I ask you consider this in depth. The last thing you want is your costs escalating for that killer feature.

Post Developmental/Pre-Launch Stage

It is a great feeling when your programmer advises you that everything is done, and that project which was once a figure of your imagination is now visible for all to see. Of course this is not entirely the end of the development stage. It is important that tests are done on the website, to check for broken links, bugs, error messages, bad spelling and grammar so on and so forth. All these small checks will make a difference to the end product. There is nothing more annoying than visiting a website only to find the features don’t work as intended due to a lack of testing at the development stage. If necessary employ someone for a brief period to give your site the once over, or better still ask on various web development forums for them to review your website and its features. 9/10 you’ll find people will report bugs and issues with the website which will allow you too greatly enhance the performance and accessibility of your website as a whole.

Launching your project

So this is the time you’ve been waiting for, the time to show the world your creation. Launching a website can be a nerve wracking event because essentially everything you’ve done previously has been in preparation for this event.
Once launched it is important to listen to feedback. It may be wise to have a contact us page on your website to allow users to contact you directly, to relay concerns of issues with the service you’re offering, but its not all doom and gloom, it is also a place for people to praise your site and offer ways to make your website better.
You should always listen to this kind of feedback, it is rarely biased and always valuable as your visitors are essentially what keeps your site online. Without them your site would be pointless.

Marketing and Promotion

Remember, unless you advertise your website no one will know its there. It always amazes me how many “web developers” just expect traffic to flood into their server as soon as they open the gates. Marketing and promotion takes time and usually a bit of money. It is important to be patient in this vital stage. I recommend a good search engine optimizer to enhance your search engine rankings. The better ranked you are in Google for a given search term, the more visitors that will be driven organically to your website. Organic traffic is always best – these are users which visit a website of their own free will, not through paid to visit/click programmes which only send you uninterested, fake traffic, and really? Who wants that?
Don’t be under any illusions, marketing and advertising is usually a long process. In addition it can take months to be indexed by Google and other search engines for specific key terms. Regardless of this, stick with it. I have been unlucky in the past and I have sold websites because I didn’t think they had a hope in hell of being successful, only to find a couple of months later it was earning $13,000 per month.

So yeah, that’s my roundup of how to manage a project. It’s fairly brief (yes! This is brief) but I feel I’ve given some useful tips on starting a new project and moving it from an idea into a workable, successful project.
If you have Twitter you can follow me http://www.twitter.com/papa_face I’ll be happy follow you back if you look interesting 😉

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