How to Control a Project, Vital Advice for New Upstarts

 How to Control a Project, Vital Advice for New Upstarts


This article is written primarily to explain to web design companies how to control a project. However it will also be interesting for clients to see what kind of problems could compress  come up on projects if they don’t make sure that everything is fully thought through at the start. Truth be told, much of what I write here will help control of any kind of project.

Problems on web projects almost always stem from price and schedule squeezes which can be made worse by a general rush to get development started quickly. The rush to start can come from both the client and the web designer, due to natural pressures each party is under:

the client will naturally have commercial pressures that dictate meeting a particular implementation schedule (such as “time to market”).

the web designer will naturally want to get a contract signed as quickly as possible to secure the work (otherwise days of planning could lead to nothing, and the web designer doesn’t get paid for their time helping the client).

So my first piece of advice to clients is to not come in from an angle of trying to push quite a few companies at once trying to get the best deal. It is better to look at a few companies, then pick the one you think is the best fit (in terms of skills, location, pricing structure, cultural compatibility, etc). If a web designer knows the client is giving them serious consideration, and has decent funding available, they will feel reasonably secure and as a result they will feel able to spend a much longer amount of the time with the client in advance on assured good faith. As a result, both parties will be able to better control the project from the start.

Working out exactly how long the project will take without actually doing it is going to have a very high margin of error. Things often take longer than expected. For example, one common situation on web projects is working around unexpected or random problems on old Microsoft web browsers literally adding 25% to the development time (but unpredictably so). Generally, working around bugs or hidden deficiencies in necessary infrastructure is impossible to properly plan for and can really throw a spanner in the works. People often don’t realise that because technology has developed really quickly, the ducks are secretly paddling very hard under the water.

Non-trivial new requirements invariably come up during development (for example, if the client forgot to mention something, the world changes, or a lesson is learnt), and at minimum they will have to be charged for, at worst they can require going and redoing other things already done. Scope and detail can easily be miscommunicated, leading to a dramatic change in the amount of time and cost and threatening keeping control of the project.

Almost all clients will want a fixed-price quote on their project because it is just common sense to not want to go ahead without knowing how much something is going to cost. However, as you can see from all this, running a fixed-price project is a serious challenge. The web design company has to use their experience to make an estimate as accurately as possible, as they will be underwriting the serious risk if things take longer than expected, but they usually also will be under some pressure to be very competitive (especially in this economy). Add to this that most clients seriously underestimate implementation costs, and it shows what a difficult position companies have to be able to work from.

Here are just a few examples of how control of a project could be lost:



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