As Atomic’s project manager, my job is to plan our projects and keep them on track. Sounds easy enough … maybe even boring. But there’s one little thing that keeps my job challenging.

Changes.

Scope changes. Schedule changes. Software changes. You name it, I’ve seen it. In fact, it seems to me that no matter how carefully a project is planned, some level of changes are inevitable. That’s just what happens when a creative concept evolves into a reality.

So instead of closing my eyes and hoping that changes won’t happen, I’m always ready for them. Here are some of the strategies I use to keep our projects on track in the face of the unexpected.

  • Talk openly about the impact of changes. Sometimes a client thinks of a new requirement or new idea partway through a project. We can always accommodate these requests, but it’s my job to make sure the client understands exactly how those changes would affect schedule and budget. That way the client can make an informed decision on whether to implement the changes or stick with the original plan.
  • Be honest about delays. Every now and then, it takes us longer to execute a task than we thought it would. (Yes, it’s true – we do make mistakes!) In those situations, I always let our clients know right away that we need to bump our schedule back a couple of days. Clients appreciate this honesty, and it helps them to better plan their review cycles accordingly.
  • Constantly monitor and adjust milestones. If we miss a milestone in our project schedule, we don’t just throw up our hands and say, “well, we’re sunk now.” Instead, I constantly readjust project milestones as needed. If we get behind on a deadline, I find out if we can expedite subsequent ones. And, if needed, I crack the whip and get our team really cranking to help us meet a deadline.

Of course, in my fondest dreams, all projects tick along perfectly, with every milestone met to the minute. I’ll keep hoping for that … but in the meantime, when changes come along, I’ll be ready for them.

We mentioned in our previous blog entry that we’re a little bit obsessive about project planning. And we admit it—we are. But that’s because we’ve seen too many web projects derailed because of poor planning, or no planning. And that’s not what we want for our customers.

So we take planning and project management seriously. One critical step in those efforts is creating a wireframe for any new website.

What’s a wireframe? A wireframe is very simple design that lays out the essential elements that go on each of your web pages. A wireframe for a common webpage, for example, might include placeholders for a header, navigation, body copy, an image, a search function, a “call to action” box, and “contact us” information.

It would look something like this:

Why are wireframes so important?

  • Wireframes save time because they give web designers clear direction on what needs to go on each page of the site. With a creative brief in one hand and an approved wireframe in the other, a designer  begin developing a great visual image for your site – without having to worry that he might be leaving a critical functionality off of one of the pages. Too many web projects jump straight from creating a sitemap to beginning design, without creating a wireframe in between—and too much information falls in the gap in between.
  • Wireframes also save money because the basic elements of the site have been determined and approved before the creative design process ever begins. So there’s much less chance that a design will have to be torn apart and done over—which can drive costs up quickly.

Even though we’re a newfangled interactive firm, I guess we believe in the old-fashioned principle of “doing things right the first time.” We know that’s the right thing for our customers.

Want to learn more about wireframes and Atomic’s project management strategy? Contact us anytime.

1. Will it have a content management system (CMS) in the back end? A CMS will allow you to make changes to your web pages easily, at any time, just as easily as making changes to a Microsoft Word document. A CMS helps you to:

  • Save time. You can make changes instantly yourself — there is no need to send changes off to someone else, wait around for them to make them, check behind them to make sure they were done correctly, etc., etc.
  • Save money. If you can make changes yourself, there is no need to pay a web designer $75 to $100 per hour to make changes to your site indefinitely into the future.

2. Will it be built using current Web content standards (as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium – /www.w3.org/)? Using W3C standards helps to ensure that:

  • Your site will work in multiple browsers (Explorer, Firefox, etc.) and on mulitple devices (PC, Blackberry, tablet computer, etc.)
  • Search engines will be able to most easily find your content. (This has to do with whether the text of your site is coded properly — search engine “spiders” look for certain codes and if they are not there, they cannot easily find your keywords.)
  • Your site is “forward compatible.” That means that any design changes you want to make to the site can be done very easily. In other words, you can make one coding change and quickly change the look of your entire site, without having to re-do the coding on every single page. This also will save significant $$ and headache in the future.

3. Can you create a professional design that will …

  • Put us on par with our competitors?
  • Help us capture a larger share of the marketplace?
  • Showcase us as a 21st-century company commited to progress and quality?

4. What is your work style?

  • Can you advise us of best practices in web design and development?
  • Will you develop a schedule and project plan for my site development, or will I have to?
  • Can you advise me on a web strategy for my company, or will you just “take orders and build what we tell you?”
  • Can you give me a reasonable cost estimate up front, or will I have to guess what my costs will be at the end of the project?