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A “system” project manager’s experience of website project management

I have the experience with more than 20 IT projects, mainly implementation and customisation of software. Managing website projects has been surprising for me in many ways. I oversaw implementation of three websites for a customer, and was partly involved in two other projects. Here are my thoughts on them, which should be seen as subjective. I would be glad to hear your opinions in this discussion.

Business benefits

In the implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), such as MS Dynamics Navision or SAP, we usually start with the business case. New software costs millions of crowns, and the client will calculate the savings from lower stocks in warehouse, better management of cash flow and better production processes – which allows more to be produced. And thus, a few years on, the million-crown investment will pay off. 

I tried to apply a similar logic to websites, but it didn’t work entirely successfully. It’s not always possible to justify website investments by the revenue gained as a result from new customers. Our projectman.cz website offers training and project management services to firms. Our idea was that at the beginning our website would pay for itself and become an important sales channel. That wasn’t the case. After two years of effort, the website is generating only a handful of orders a year for us, although the situation in training services sales is a little better. Direct marketing remains the main generator of new business opportunities. Nevertheless, thanks to the website, more people in the sector became aware of us, and over two years we created a well-known brand.

In the projects that I managed, company image, client support and brand played an important role. Good conversions and SEO were important issues, but the main criterion was management satisfaction with the new website, and such satisfaction was often based on subjective impressions.

The marketing people

In most cases I deal with IT directors, CFOs and CEOs, who are rational and systematic. Marketing, though, was a cultural shock – it was all about feelings, colours, and involved a high amount of inpredictability.

So you sit there for 3 hours at a meeting with the marketing people, where it’s about choosing whether it will be “emerald“ or “olive“ green. I don’t have a clue what colour it is; I can get by with six colours, and I start to feel more and more despondent. I sit there thinking whether to overdose on the coffee on the table or feign illness. A week later, the marketing director comes to see you to tell you that the website should be redone, even when the month before she signed an agreement with you on wireframes and a graphics. I leave, heading off to a restaurant for a double rum.

I admire people who are able to deal with these situations.

Quality and SLA

I am interested in how the supplier manages quality, what the testing environment, software versioning management are like, how configuration changes are applied, in accessibility, speed of project delivery, and in security and integration with other systems. An account manager isn’t enough, so I talk to several programmers or engineers, and the answers I got weren’t always what I wanted to hear.

Quality management and best practice aren’t the strongest points of firms in the website line of business. On the other hand this is no surprise, because the customer is putting on the pressure when it comes to price. And ultimately it’s easier to fine tune a more basic error here than make the project more expensive for the customer just because I want to ensure a higher level of quality. Quality costs money and the website isn’t always such a business-critical tool for the client to pay extra. I understand the supplier’s approach of adopting a pragmatic approach and prioritise costs over quality.

Conclusion

Managing website projects is a challenge. Waterfall approach will not work, but being too agile in combination with a demanding customer could result in the budget being exceeded and a failure to meet project deadlines.

Ultimately, I have good memories of these website projects, thanks to which I have a met a range of creative and clever people and have experienced some unusual and enjoyable situations.

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A “system” project manager’s experience of website project management

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