WorkflowMax (our practice management software) tells me that, since we started using it in 2008, we have completed an incredible 4898 jobs. It’s fair to say in that time that I have definitely learned the hard way how *not* to manage a web project.

When we founded Mogul, web companies had a terrible reputation for not delivering on time. Nearly every enquiry we had in those early days specifically asked whether we could guarantee the agreed delivery date. Of course I said yes. And then I had to work out how to make it happen!

I had no formal project management training, so in the early days I experienced my fair share of unprofitable jobs due to inadequate requirements gathering, ineffective client expectation management, and poor communication.

Getting this stuff wrong meant our team built the wrong thing, the client wasn’t sure what they were paying for (or didn’t want to pay for what we had built), and no-one was quite too sure what was happening or if a project was even finished.

It’s an awful way to manage a project, and it’s a truly awful experience for a customer.

As a company, Mogul always takes the opportunity to learn from our errors, and the ‘bad’ jobs have created heaps of opportunities to refine and hone our approach, systems and processes.

Since those early days I have delivered a whole lot more profitable jobs than the awful alternative. I believe managing a successful web project can be broken into two key areas – internal processes and client management.

Internal Processes

  • Successful web projects don’t happen without team collaboration. Including the right people in the planning process means the difference between a good project, and a great project.
  • We have highly-experienced individuals at Mogul, each with their own strengths and I actively seek their input and ideas.
  • The planning stage requires a disciplined approach to documentation, of the scope of work (in detail), the internal quoting times, the quote that is submitted to the client, and expectations around timelines.
  • Doing a great job at managing a web project requires great tools. We use Trello, Google Drive, Invision, and for timetracking we use WorkflowMax.
  • As an account manager, clear communication with the team is critical, but so is communication between the different people working on the project to ensure “the left hand knows what the right hand is doing”.
  • Successful projects require active management of tasks, budgets and timelines. For me that’s a daily check on my inflight projects – what’s been done, what’s left to do, how long did it take, how long do we have left in budget, any red flags, are we on track with timelines. When you have 2 or 3 people working on a project, they can easily chew through 22 hours in one day, so waiting until the end of the week to check your budget is going to be far too late.
  • Effective scheduling is really important. When you’re managing 23 projects at the same time, what do you prioritise? Who is going to do the work? What competing demands do they have? And how do you make some time for a key client when they have an emergency and your team is at full capacity for the next two weeks?
  • Almost every project presents an opportunity for continuous improvement, so we proactively identify and implement improvements all the time.

Client Management

  • This always starts with taking the time to gain a thorough understanding of the client’s business, what they are selling, to whom, where and how. The website needs to be a business tool for growing brand awareness, generating leads and/or sales, so it needs to be planned effectively to deliver on those objectives.
  • Then it’s critical to get the quoting right to prevent scope and expectation issues at a later date. Stuff this up and the project will head south rapidly. Make sure scope and budgets are documented and shared with the client for signoff.
  • A client wants to feel confident in the process and understand what to expect at every stage in the project, so be very clear about what the stages are, what you require from them at each stage and the consequences of signoff; if there are changes after signoff the changes will be out of scope (i.e. cost more). This ensures there is clarity of expectations, and it also ensures that the client takes the time to review the work carefully and ask lots of questions earlier rather than later, when it’s too late.
  • Clear communication with clients is essential. Proactive, informative, helpful communications will build trust and prevent confusion or perception issues.
    Sometimes there will be changes required that fall outside the original scope of work. That’s OK – you can’t possibly think of everything. But these changes need to be clearly communicated and explained and a robust change management process is required. Document the change, quote for the work and ask the client if it’s a priority for Phase One of the project. If it is, get signoff.
  • Content loading is where the project can really slow down. Not many clients prioritise adding words and images to a website over BAU (business as usual), but our new Content Improvement Plan should make this part of the process much easier for the client – and our team.
  • Client delays are really common – more common than we like – so we position a re-engagement fee at proposal stage. If the project is delayed for more than 2 months we charge a fee for the team to get back up to speed with the project.
  • Once the job is finished, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the relationship. A successful project is often the start of a long and productive partnership, and that means keeping in touch. To ensure regular and consistent contact with our customers, we use an Ongoing Relationship Management plan.

Some projects run like a dream and some can be really tricky. I just try to keep focused on the outcome – helping our clients to succeed online.

Above all, managing a web project is something you can learn to do. And just when you think you finally have it nailed, there is a new lesson to learn and a new opportunity presents itself 🙂