How to make website management work
Right people. Right process.
Making website management work is about choosing the right people and using the right processes.
Getting the right people
Whenever we want to have a successful relationship with people - whether it's personal or business, with a company or an individual, or with a webmaster - we need to look for several characteristics which need to be present on both sides; you and your webmaster:
- Trust - You have to trust your webmaster. You appointed them as the expert, so trust them to lead in expertise. At the same time, make sure you appoint a webmaster who trusts you too: they must accept you have an opinion and that you're the expert in your business, organisation etc. Your webmaster may be part of a team of people, so this trust must be a mutual respect between individuals and teams on both sides. Openness and honesty, trust and mutual respect are the keys to guaranteed successful relationships.
- Compatibility - You need to be compatible, able to build a good working relationship with the webmaster you appoint. There needs to be a rapport, an understanding between both sides that enables greater and easier communication. Rapport is about getting on well with another person, or group of people, by having things in common (your development project) and developing a bond, an empathy.
- Third parties - You both have to have an agreement about how you'll deal with third parties, e.g., stakeholders; hosting companies; service providers. When someone outside of the relationship gets involved, you need to agree which party is responsible for managing the issue. Don't have grey areas, where neither side knows who's doing what. You could end up with a bill for additional work that you weren't expecting.
- Communication - You obviously need to communicate well, but make sure that you agree how you're going to communicate. For example:
- Status updates - How often: Daily? Weekly? Monthly? How do you want to communicate it: Face to face? Skype? Email? Telephone?
- Project management - For the day to day management of the project, how will this be communicated? Email? An online project management system?
- Protocol - One of the biggest causes of irritation is continued interruption when you're busy. So agree up front how you'd like to be communicated with on a daily basis e.g., the best time to call in the day; times to avoid; differentiate the various communication channels for different types of message e.g., project updates online; meetings by Skype; urgent matters by phone.
- Conflict - Identify the ground rules for areas of conflict. Key times when relationships breakdown are when processes are broken, timings are not adhered to, communication has broken down, etc. So we try to eliminate these by agreeing up front what will happen. For example:
- Feature creep - This is where you will want to add in things that weren't included in the original work schedule. Agree up front what will happen e.g., if the time required to implement the additional amend or total time of the combined additional amends exceed half an hour, then the costs will be £x per hour.
- Stages of amendments - Agree where you need to give/receive feedback and agree stages of amends. Don't just have a never ending period for amends, because if you do, guess what - it will never end! Instead, agree that there will be a set period for amends. Anything that arises after that falls into the next stage of amends. That soon concentrates everyone's mind and feedback and amendments become manageable and achievable.
- Critical path analysis - Always have a critical path in mind, so that when timings slip (as they inevitably will with any project) you know the implications straight away.
- External adversity and crisis - Linked to third parties, conflict often arises when one of those third parties 'stirs the waters.' This conflict needs to be dealt with in a fashion that's agreeable to both you and your webmaster. It includes things like hosting partners having issues with changes or development of your site; your site isn't working well on a particular browser; your existing web developer won't hand over details your webmaster needs.
Financial - In everyday human interactions, relationships often fail when finances are under pressure. Agree up front what payments will be made and when, e.g., when a certain stage has been agreed and signed off; on the 3rd of each month; 70% of the total project at the beginning and then the remaining 30% after the site is completed to your satisfaction but before the site goes live are all commonplace arrangements in the web industry.
Getting the right process
Whether it was Sir Winston Churchill in World War II or the self help writer Alan Lakein doesn't really matter, but the phrase "failing to plan is planning to fail" is a very wise modern proverb.
Being the positive people that we are, we've created our own: Successful planning is planning to succeed,
The process we find best:
- Analysis - Collecting and understanding the needs of the website development in terms of functionality, usage, objectives, etc. which leads to a project specification.
- Planning - How will you deliver the development in terms of systems, design, coding, timing, costs, etc. which leads to a project plan.
- Implementation - How will you deliver the project plan in terms of resources (human and otherwise)
- Maintenance - Once the development has been completed, regular maintenance is essential, checking that everything is working ok and if not, then arranging immediate remedial activity, etc.
- Review - It's always good to review any project work to learn lessons for future activity: Was the project delivered, on time, to plan? What went well, what didn't? What could be done better or differently? To get a true review, make sure that the review has open, honest feedback from both sides of the fence - your's and your webmaster's.