When building websites, whether it be as a freelancer, an agency, or an employee, it’s important to have an effective project management strategy in place. This is important for two reasons.
- Having an effective strategy in place can help scale you, your team, and your resources to work on multiple projects concurrently without having to spend time catching up on a project when you change between them. A good project management strategy helps you stay organized with each project and lets you focus on the work, rather than remembering the current status.
- Even if you’re just working on a single project at a time, a good strategy helps to keep you and your team focused and aligned on the final product being delivered. When working cohesively with a strategy, there’s no more debating and worrying about what needs to be done next or questioning priorities; everyone is clear about what their roles are and how they’re contributing.
So, in this post, we’re going to be breaking down an effective project management strategy for building websites, seeing what steps are included for delivering a great website, and looking at some project management methodologies.
But before diving into the steps required for delivering a great website, I just want to briefly mention that throughout the entirety of a project, whether for a website or something else, it’s important to keep in mind two concepts: learning and iteration. Both before, after, and during a project, we should be learning from our mistakes and improving our processes as needed. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it up and improve your processes based on the lessons you’ve learned.
Investigation and due diligence
The first stage of any project is to investigate its requirements and do your due diligence on it. You need to research what the problem(s) are, what pain points are being experienced by the stakeholders, and finally, understand what they want to achieve in the scope of the project. To do this, you need to ask questions, but not just any questions — the right questions. So, if you’d like some help with knowing what questions to ask, you can check out our blog post, “12 Discovery Questions to Ask Freelance Web Development Clients.”
Another important part of the project that is easy to overlook is fully understanding the stakeholders and deliverables within the project. Not only do we want to identify the stakeholders in the project, but we also want to know who will be providing us with deliverables such as
- Design assets
- Product/project information
- Any other information critical to the project
But most importantly, we also want to know when they will be delivered to us. It’s hard to build a robust delivery plan when you don’t know when you’ll receive half of the required assets.
Finally, make sure to ask how the sign-off procedure works for the project. Do individual parts of the project or milestones need to be signed off by different people before work can commence or continue toward another milestone? Knowing in advance who needs to give their stamp of approval on a piece of work before a project begins can save a lot of headaches later on when the delivery clock is ticking.
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Once the investigation stage is complete, you can take the results from it and create a solution for the website project that caters to your findings.
Assess the project scope early on
When building out your plan for the solution you want to build, make sure to consider any limitations that could be placed upon you by the project’s scope. Do the available time, resources, and finances allow for the ideal solution the stakeholders want delivered? If not, do some features need to be scaled back to facilitate these restrictions? It may be a difficult conversation with the stakeholders now, but it’s better to do it upfront than get two weeks from delivery and find out there isn’t enough time.
If some features do get scaled back to facilitate the scope of the project, make sure everyone on the team from the project manager down to the individual developers and designers are aware of scope creep. The project was dialed down from the original plan to facilitate the scope given, so it’s important to make sure we stay within that scope and not let it grow back to its original plan.
Choose technologies carefully
When choosing your technology, platform, or service for the project, make sure to spend the required time to research each option diligently to make the best choice for the project. This is important to get right at the start because changing core technologies (databases, for example) or services later on may not be possible or add a significant delay to the project. Ultimately, the choice you make is likely to be with the project and the stakeholders for the long term, so it’s important to give a solution that can grow and adapt with them.
A good practice for this stage of the project (and in general) is to document each decision made and, most importantly, why it was made. This has two benefits: first of all, you can easily look back and understand why something was done. And secondly, when it comes to the end of the project, you can hand over all the decisions, thinking, meeting notes, and documentation to whatever team will be supporting the project so they’re not left wondering why you did something.
If we’ve investigated the needs and requirements of the project and planned our solution correctly, we should now have a solid understanding of the project, the problem(s) to be solved, and ultimately how we’re going to solve them. Once we have all of that, it’s time to build the solution.
Communication is critical
It’s most likely that this is the section of the project where we’re going to spend most of our time, so communication is key. By this point of the project, we should know all the stakeholders and people of interest to the project. We need to keep them all updated with the progress of the build and anything else of relevance, bearing in mind their role in the project.
For example, a director might just want a high-level progress report, if the project is on track, and if you need anything from them to remove issues blocking you. But a supervisor on the project might want all of the above and also more in-depth technical explanations and information so they can keep tabs on everything more closely.
Either way, regardless of whom you are updating, it’s important to be transparent and actively work to remove barriers to communication. By doing this, you’ll not only help build and establish a layer of trust between everyone involved in the project, but you’ll also be more likely to build a successful, high-quality product.
A key part of being transparent and removing barriers is to provide plenty of opportunities for people to ask questions and feedback on the work being done. The last thing anyone wants is to get to the final week of the project and find out it doesn’t fulfill the wants or needs of the stakeholders or it isn’t what they expected. Both of these issues can easily be avoided by giving them ample opportunity to provide feedback on the project in its current state.
Stick to the plan
Finally, when building out the solution, it’s important to not get too carried away with building out features and ideas that go beyond the original plan of the project. Make sure you stick to the plan by constantly cross-referencing your plan, ideas, and investigation to make sure you’re not only staying on plan, but you’re also addressing all of the pain points and goals for the project and not missing anything.
Review and deliver
With the production of the project complete and all the hard work done, we enter the final stage of the project: the review and delivery stage. Here we want to review everything and cross-reference it with our plan and investigation a final time to make sure any bugs are resolved and the project goals have been met.
Once the project team is happy with the final product, it’s time to do a final review with the stakeholders to ensure they’re happy with the project and to see if they have any concerns that need to be addressed prior to the product launching. If everyone is happy with the product to go ahead, it’s time to plan its launch. To do this, we need to address a few questions:
- What date/time will it go live?
- Who in the wider community and interested parties needs to be informed so they can plan activities around the launch?
- How will the launch be communicated with potential users?
This final stage is also a good time to discuss with the stakeholder if a period of maintenance and support is required for the project. If it is, then the length of the support period will need to be agreed upon as well as a process for reporting, triaging, and resolving any bugs or issues that arise in the maintenance period.
During this stage, it’s also worth putting together documentation for the project so any future users of the product have a point of reference for the work you’ve completed and the system(s) it uses. In this documentation, you could cover how to complete basic actions like adding and removing content as well as how to deal with any common issues that might crop up.
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Project Management Methodologies and Tools
In this section of the post, we’re going to take a look at three popular project management methodologies: Waterfall, Agile, and Lean. We’ll look at the key characteristics of each one as well as when it could be a good fit for your project and a bad one to help you find the perfect one for your next project.
The Waterfall methodology is one of the oldest project management methods. In it, tasks are completed in a linear fashion, where each stage must be completed prior to the start of the next. While this sounds very organized and efficient, there is a danger to it. Because everything is planned out at the beginning, there is a lot of room for error if the expectations at the start don’t align with reality later on in the project as there’s no going back to a previous stage once it’s complete.
When to use the Waterfall method
Try this method if your project is very clearly defined and your stakeholders know exactly what they want and neither of these things will change during the course of the project. However, if the opposite is true and the project or its requirements might change during the lifetime of the project, then maybe steer clear of this methodology and opt for another.
Tools for the Waterfall method
When looking for tools to use with the Waterfall methodology, look for tools that make it easy to visualize the various stages of a project and the relevant dependencies within them. For example, some good tools would be Monday.com, Notion, or ClickUp.
Agile methodology was born from frustration with traditional Waterfall-like methodologies. People wanted a methodology that could adapt to a project as it progressed and needed to change; this led to a shift to a more iterative model that gave teams the freedom to revise their projects as needed. Agile quickly grew in popularity and in turn has led to the creation of several popular sub-frameworks such as “Scrum” and “Kanban.” But all of these Agile methodologies share the same key attributes: they’re quick, collaborative, and open to change during the project.
When to use Agile
You should try this method if your project is liable to change during its lifetime and if at the beginning of the project the solution isn’t clearly defined. This is also an excellent methodology if your stakeholders want to be included at each stage of the project. However, Agile might not be for you if you can’t afford for the project to change during its lifetime and if you need a guaranteed deliverable with a high degree of accuracy right at the start of the project.
Tools to use with Agile
For tools to use with the Agile methodology, you want to make sure you can easily track tasks and sub-items through the various stages of the project and the development lifecycle. Some great tools to consider for the Agile methodology would be Notion, Trello, Jira, or ClickUp.
With its foundations coming from Toyota in the mid-20th century motoring industry, Lean methodology centralizes around the concept of maximizing value and minimizing waste by identifying processes that don’t add value to the end product and removing them. Since its inception, it has been adapted and grown to focus on project management as a whole; it focuses on three wasteful practices that we should aim to reduce in our project. These are known as the 3Ms: muda (wastefulness), muri (overburden), and mura (unevenness).
- Muda (wastefulness): If you’re consuming more resources than the value you’re adding or if you’re consuming resources without adding any value.
- Muri (overburden): If there is too much stress or work placed on an individual resource, be that a person or a machine, it could lead to a breakdown and disruption to the project.
- Mura (unevenness): If you’re creating too much of something in one area that causes there to be an imbalance with the other areas of your processes, it can lead to being wasteful with your resources.
When to use Lean methodology
Ultimately, the Lean methodology could be for you if you’re looking to decrease running costs and want to place an emphasis on always improving and innovating to add value to the customer while also optimizing your delivery by removing unnecessary parts. But this methodology may not be for you if you don’t have the upfront time and resources to set up a Lean methodology as it can be resource-intensive to get off the ground.
Tools to use with Lean
Unlike the other two methodologies, there aren’t any specific requirements for a great tool to use with the Lean methodology. But I would say you want a tool that exudes the qualities of the Lean methodology itself — for example, a tool that isn’t wasteful and can be configured to let you focus on providing value and that’s all. Some tools to bear in mind for this would be Notion or Trello.
Final thoughts on managing website projects
Throughout this post, we’ve covered the various stages of managing a web development project from investigation and planning to production and delivery. We’ve also covered why it’s important to have an effective project management strategy to help teams with a variety of things like:
- Avoid wasting time and resources on project switching
- Avoid wondering what comes next at the end of a task
- Keep a unified focus on the end goal
We also looked at the importance of doing things like:
- Frequent communication with stakeholders and people of interest
- Creating documentation for future users and maintainers
- Planning the handover and launch of the finished project
We also covered three project management methodologies you could implement on your next project: Waterfall, Agile, and Lean. Finally, a key thing to remember: we don’t need to get everything perfect on the first iteration, but rather we need to ensure we learn from our mistakes and over time build the best tools, processes, and methods by experimenting and finding out what works for our teams and us.