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5 Project Management Dos and Don’ts

Last year, I talked about a few must-have skills of great project managers. They should maintain focus and build trust among clients and those whom they manage. They should communicate well and empathize with others.

But how exactly do you do that? This month, I want to share a few project management ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’—specific actions to stick to (or avoid) if you want to win your charges’ respect. Here they are:

Do share progress with your team.

You might think it’s better if your team can just work without interruption. Or that designers don’t really need to know what coders are up to. Think again—being up-to-date on all aspects of a project can help teams really understand their roles and work toward a common goal. Don’t have time for a sit-down meeting? Try an email recap every few days, or keep everyone in the loop using an online project management tool.

Don’t shy away from sharing bad news either, like negative client feedback or a tightened budget. You can’t expect your team members to give you the results you need if they don’t know what’s going on. And who knows? Someone might come up with just the solution to get you out of a bind.

But don’t ask for updates nonstop.

While you want your project to be completed correctly and on time, you don’t want your team rushing to you with every little issue. One part of being a good manager is helping people learn to solve problems on their own. And you can do that is by not peering over their shoulders, watching their every move.

Set up a timetable for checking in with your team—say, twice a week, or as soon as a task is completed. In between check-ins, give everybody some breathing room. (If you really do need up-to-the-minute updates, a project management tool can help out here, too.)

Do involve others in decisions.

It’s tempting to keep decision-making responsibilities to yourself. You might think this will make others see you as a leader or make things easier for your team. But like sharing progress, it’s important to loop others in to project-related decisions, big and small.

Sharing decisions is a great way to earn trust among your colleagues—after all, they’re much more likely to buy in to a new idea if it’s one they helped come up with themselves. They may also have important knowledge that could help inform a choice. You’ll never know until you ask.

Don’t pass off all of the grunt work.

In any project, there’s always a task (or a few) that nobody wants. Whether it’s taking notes at meetings, photocopying files, or preparing invoices, it’s snooze-worthy work, but somebody’s gotta do it.

I’ve found the best approach is to trade off who’s responsible for these less-exciting tasks. And don’t you’re in the clear, Project Manager—show a little empathy for your team and do invoice duty yourself every now and then.

Do clearly define project objectives.

Have you ever worked on a project where no one really seemed to know what was expected of them? When people don’t know whether they’re on track or what their manager is hoping for, things don’t tend to end well.

It’s okay to give creative teams some freedom of expression. But be clear about what success looks like—before starting a project. And be prepared to repeat yourself if a new team member comes aboard. Especially when it comes to client work, project expectations can never be too clear.

Following these steps doesn’t have to mean making big changes to your project management style. But it does require commitment. Give these tips a try, and watch your team’s responsiveness improve.

Got project management dos and don’ts of your own? Let us know what you’d add to the list.

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Web Design Matters—But So Does What’s Inside It

Clients often come to us for a fresh, new look. Maybe their current website is out of date. Or maybe they’re launching a web presence for the first time. Either way, they’ve come to the right place.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret. A well-designed website alone won’t change anyone’s impression of you.

Here’s the truth about selling yourself on the web (or anywhere else, for that matter): image matters. You wouldn’t show up for a job interview in a stained t-shirt and cutoffs. Or greet your interviewer with a “sup, bro?”—right? The same goes for your presence online. The way you speak—and look—matters.

That’s why all the modern web design in the world is worthless if your content—everything that goes inside the design—is crap. I’m talking about things like:

• Super-dense, jargon-filled, corporate-speak. Nobody talks about “best-in-breed enterprise turnkey process workflow management solutions” when they speak. So why write that way? Explain what you’re selling in plain English, and readers will respond.

• Text wtih speling and grammer erorrs. If you’re looking to build credibility, this is a big one to watch out for. Writing blunders reflect majorly on your business. If you can’t be bothered to spell-check, what else will you overlook?

• COPY THAT’S WAY TOO SALESY!!! Visitors know you have something to offer. So you don’t need to beat them over the head with it. If your writing reeks like a sleazy used-car salesman, readers will bolt before you can say “BUY NOW!!!!”

• Low-res, grainy, out-of-focus images. Know that saying about what a picture’s worth? The same goes for your website. Photos that look like they were taken with a cellphone say “shoddy” and “unprofessional.” And if you’re trying to sell, compelling images are worth more than just words—they can make or break sales.

Looking and sounding your best online isn’t easy. And there’s no perfect way to do it—the style you choose should reflect your business’ values and culture.

Up to the challenge? Many companies (especially those with dedicated marketing/communications teams) take the task of producing high-quality images and content upon themselves—and they excel.

Others prefer to enlist the services of a professional copywriter. They may invest in stock photos, or hire a photographer to capture the ins and outs of office life. (Oftentimes, an outsider’s perspective is exactly what you need.)

Whatever you choose, Atomic can help. We can connect you with Web writers and photographers that will take your site from good to great.

You’re investing time and money in your image, so we know you want to look your best. Think of us as the friend you can always count on to tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. We won’t steer you wrong.

Want to be sure every piece of your image is on point? Call Atomic, and we’ll make sure you’re ready to impress.

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6 Qualities of Highly Effective Project Managers

I’m in my second month here at Atomic, and I’m really starting to learn the ropes. Before joining the team, I worked for one of the largest liquidation companies in the U.S. There, I served as the client contact for questions on everything from thermostats to waffle makers.

Since I’ve had to communicate about so many different products and industries, jumping into the web design world wasn’t too much of a stretch. (I’m even starting to learn some code!)

My experience has taught me that no matter what type of project you’re trying to manage, the qualities that separate the so-so project managers from the truly awesome ones are the same. Here they are:

• Foresight. I don’t mean looking into a crystal ball—I’m talking about anticipating clients’ needs. That means doing research before your initial meeting to understand their industry, pulling design inspiration from similar sites, and suggesting ways to make their end product as great as possible—before they even have to ask.

• Leadership. This is an obvious one, but I can’t stress it enough. Research shows that we form first impressions in about 7 seconds. So make it clear from the start that you’re in charge. Projecting leadership puts clients at ease, and helps lay the foundation for a great relationship going forward.

• Organization. When you juggle as many projects as we do, you need a system. I maintain careful records of all client information in email, in folders on my computer, and in hard copy on my desk. That way, I’m never without the stuff I need.

• Communication. Being a PM is more than just making sure people meet their deadlines. I also serve as a kind of translator: explaining web developer jargon in plain English to clients, then conveying client requests back to our team. You’ve got to speak everyone’s language, and speak it well.

• Pragmatism. When you work with a team as creative as Atomic, ideas can occasionally get carried away. It’s my job to bring people back down to earth. That means keeping everyone focused on achieving milestones, meeting deadlines, and exceeding customers’ expectations.

• Empathy. Sometimes clients come to us unsure of exactly what they need. And that’s totally okay. Good PMs help clients understand their options—and don’t lose it when clients change their minds. That builds trust. And it makes communication easier when issues come up.

In fact, if I had to boil down these skills even further, I’d say they could be expressed in just two words: focus and trust. Cultivate these traits, and you’ll pull off projects with ease, whether you’re dealing with Beanie Babies, spy cameras, or golf clubs. (Trust me, I know.)

Need a web project taken off your hands? Leave it to Atomic to get the job done.

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7 Steps to Building a Top Online Business

So, you want to start an online business? It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling lava lamps, tuba lessons, or web design services: you need a plan of attack. It’s easier than ever to toss up a website and set up shop—which means that for every bona fide brand out there, there’s an impostor who’s all talk and no follow-through.

Here’s how you can make your business stand out:

1. Do your research. Chances are there’s already a business out there similar to yours. Size up the competition, and see if there’s something unique you can offer. Learn what problems people are having with related products and services. Then, build your business to meet a real consumer need.

2. Define your products or services in detail. An awesome business idea is no good if no one understands what you’re selling. That’s why you need to write unique, compelling descriptions that speak to visitors’ needs. Check out Copyblogger for tips on writing must-read sales copy.

3. Create a plan for online sales. There are different factors to consider in building an online shop vs. a physical storefront. For example, how will you manage leads, sales, and fulfillment? How will you follow up with buyers post-sale? How will you handle unhappy customers?

You can always modify protocol over time, of course—but planning for problems will save stress as your business grows.

4. Build an awesome website focused on your customers’ needs. Create informative, entertaining content (including text, photos, and video) that shows visitors how your product will improve their lives. Explain services clearly, and offer a call to action to convert visitor traffic into sales.

Create an easy way for customers to reach you, like a contact form. You can use a ticketing system to organize and answer questions, or a CRM to manage communications across your business.

5. Decide how you’ll find your customers. Selling online is a combination of getting your name in the right places (through SEO, pay-per-click marketing, and social media) and in front of the right people (through thought leadership and email marketing to existing clients). Figure out what channels are best for your business, and put yourself out there.

Don’t know where to start? Try out different strategies, measure your results, and see what works.

6. Grow—and maintain—your reputation. Show potential clients that you’re the real thing. Maintain a regular blog and try guest posting on industry-relevant sites. Build a social media presence. Sign up for programs like Yelp and Google+ to enhance credibility.

7. Whatever you do, don’t set it and forget it. Building an online business takes time and effort. And these days, it also requires significant upkeep. Continually improving your business isn’t just good for SEO—it also forces you to keep up with changes in the marketplace. And it shows your clients that you care.

Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to a budding online business. Now, all you have to do is sell.

Need help getting your business off the ground? Atomic can help you build a web presence that rocks.

 

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Why It Pays To Be A PMP

Hey, project managers! Now that you’ve got a degree and landed a job, you thought you were done studying for exams, right? Well, if you want to stay competitive, it might be time to hit the books.

Becoming a certified project manager can give you a serious leg up. It’s good for businesses, because it shows clients that their PMs really know their stuff. And it’s good for individuals, because it can mean the difference between getting a job offer…and getting passed over for someone who did get certified.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the proverbial gatekeeper of this coveted resume-booster. There are a few different levels of qualification, though the distinction of Project Management Professional (PMP) is the most common and most respected in the field.

PMPin’ ain’t easy

So what does it take to become a bona fide PMP? It’s not for the faint of heart (or of wallet). Before you can even think about taking the test, you’ll need a four-year bachelor’s degree, at least 4500 hours spent leading projects, and a minimum of 35 hours of professional education outside of work.

Between registration and testing, you can plan to drop about $1500—and that doesn’t include travel to seminars, extra test-prep help—or the coffee runs you’ll make while studying for the exam. When you pass the exam (or, should I say, if you pass—less than three-quarters of applicants do), you’ll have to keep your certification fresh by logging professional education hours every three years.

Working your way to the top

It’s a tall order—but the rewards are pretty sweet. On average, project managers with PMP certification make between $15,000 and $20,000 more than those without. Certification also means membership in the PMI—which gives you access to the latest industry insights, networking opportunities, and leadership positions in local PMI chapters. It’s more than just another line to put on your resume. PMP certification shows you’re serious about your work. (Would you spend years working towards the title if you weren’t?)

I, for one, hope the PMP is worth the hype. I’m still racking up hours, and then it’s exam time for me. For a small company like Atomic, having a PMP around is especially handy, because it shows we’ve got the credentials to compete with big-name firms.

If you’re a project manager and want to get noticed, go for the PMP. It’s hard work, but the payoff is worth it. My advice: pay attention to everything. You never know what could end up on the exam.

How does an (almost) certified PMP get things done? Give Atomic a ring, and witness project management panache.

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Cracking The Code

You could say I’m a newbie when it comes to web development.

My background is in graphic design, but as Atomic’s newest designer, I’ve been doing some web work, too. Learning the programming ropes has been easier than I expected, though, thanks to my secret weapon: Codecademy. One of my fellow Atomic developers showed me the site, and it’s a novice coder’s dream.

Codecademy is an easy (and free!) way to learn jQuery, JavaScript, and the fundamentals of web development. Information is organized into step-by-step lessons, starting with the basics, like entering commands or performing simple math problems. And it’s fun—seriously. Each course wraps up with a project that requires you to put the skills you’ve just learned to work (I’ve built a virtual blackjack game, address book, and cash register on past levels). Codecademy teaches you to problem-solve with code.

In contrast to the Google-one-command-because-you-can’t-remember-how-to-use-it strategy that’s the tendency of many a developer, Codecademy shows you how commands work together. Each coding lesson draws on skills learned previously, making knowledge more likely to stick.

And it’s not just for beginners. Codecademy has tutorials all the way up to high-level programming. Even if you think you know it all, there are always cool shortcuts to learn. (I’ve learned tricks that shorten ten lines of code to just two or three.)

In case coding savvy isn’t enough, the site lets you create an account to track your progress, earn badges for successfully completing projects, and share your achievements with friends. There are also helpful hints and glossaries for each section, and a Q&A forum to share tips with other coders. I’m about halfway through the program, and am amazed by how far I’ve come. Code that used to look like gibberish suddenly makes sense—now I’m writing gibberish of my own.

Who’s callin’ me a newbie?

Want to see our developers’ coding expertise in action? Give Atomic a ring and we’ll show you what we can do.

Professional Development: A Gift For Everyone On Your List

At this time of year, lots of folks stress over choosing holiday gifts for their staff. Chocolates? Too generic. A gift certificate? Way too generic.

We’ve got a different concept. We’re giving our folks the gift of a stronger career.

In the past few months, we’ve invited some of our key staff to attend professional development sessions focused on interactive design and development.

In November, two of us attended the Future of Web Design conference in New York. This was an amazing opportunity to meet thought leaders in our field and explore developing technologies and trends – everything from code management and CSS3 to mobile UX and HTML5.

And in November, two more of us attended the WebVisions Web Usability Conference in Atlanta. Again, we got to socialize and share with the developers who are creating the cutting edge in UX. A huge focus of the conference was on responsive design, a paradigm that we’ve already brought back to Atomic and are applying to our work.

Spending time and money on this kind of training is valuable in so many ways. Not only does it teach us how to implement specific new technologies, it helps us think about problems differently. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and keep solving the same challenge in the same way. Being exposed to so many new ideas has helped everyone on our team break out of our creative patterns and come up with new solutions for our clients.

It’s also reinforced our commitment to each other – to building a team, together, that’s as strong as it can possibly be. Lots of people think that developers are closed-off computer nerds, but we know differently. Developers share a unique passion: to be awesome at what they do. And it’s a great feeling to know that we’re helping everyone at Atomic do that.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.