How to Know When a Project is Managing You

| June 4th, 2013 | , , , ,

How to Know When a Project is Managing You

Managing web design and development projects is standard practice at any creative agency. However, even the best project manager will encounter a project that gets away from them. When projects get out of control, they take on a life of their own and start managing you. There are any number of reasons a project may become difficult to manage. Here are a few of the most common signs that a project is starting to slip away from you.

Too many changes

Changes are necessary for any web-based project to succeed, but too many changes can hold back the project, or kill it altogether. Designing and developing for the web require you to be open to change within reason . It may be difficult to tell when changes go from acceptable to questionable, but there are some early warnings.

Redundancy. Redundant changes are a sure sign that too many changes are being made. If the change is a rehash from an earlier iteration, we may be second guessing ourselves. Unless it is absolutely necessary to revisit a change, be confident in the decisions you have already made.

Changes without reason. If you start to see a lot of changes based on the whim of a HiPPO or the hunch of a team member, reign them in. Too many unfounded changes will only keep people busy doing irrelevant work. Only allow changes that have a meaningful impact on the project.

Too many tasks

Good task management skills are necessary to successfully manage a project.  Breaking down a project into smaller tasks is a talent and a discipline. Web design and development projects require you to manage a lot of creative and technical details at the task level. But, some projects suffer from being managed with too many tasks. There are a few signs that we’ve gone too far with our tasks.

First, your team will struggle to prioritize. Even if you are using task management software to help set priority, status, and due date on tasks, the team will simply become overwhelmed by the number of tasks. This sort of piling on of tasks causes something we call analysis paralysis, an inability to act due to an inundation of details.

Second, your team will start replicating their work due to unintentional overlap of task requirements. Too many tasks typically means less details and less boundaries on each task. If the team is not in constant communication they may end up doing the same work twice.

If a large number of tasks is unavoidable, try grouping them into milestones or sprints, or wait until they start to assign them. There are plenty of online task management software options available to help you with this process. Use one.

Too few tasks

On the flip side, too few tasks are also a sign that a project may get out of control and become  difficult to manage. It signals that the project scope may not have been defined clearly enough for the team.

Without a clearly defined scope the project will go off on it’s own trajectory, because the team will misinterpret the requirements. Scope is best represented and interpreted using tasks with clear requirements. Don’t make the team guess. Give them enough tasks with enough details to keep them headed in the right direction. Course corrections will be much smaller and easier to manage.

Trying to achieve perfection

It has been said the inability to stop working on something is the bane of every great artist. The same can be said for web design and development project teams. There will always be something that could use a tweak, a design element that can be improved. There is no such thing as perfection, especially in a fluctuating medium like the web.

Instead of trying to perfect every aspect of the project, which will only push back the deadline and increase the budget, make your work creative and compelling.  In the early phases of the project, try not to get stuck on revisions. Create something compelling, something significant, then iterate over it later in the project if there is time.

When a project becomes plagued with  productivity problems, control of the project is wrestled away from the project manager. You will start missing deadlines and going over budget, making the project very difficult to recover. Being proactive instead of reactive, you can catch and correct these problems early on, almost guaranteeing the project will be successful. 

Photo credit: Max Kiesler

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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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