Here’s a 2015 scenario:

Your website is overdue for a professional renovation. You shortlist a few good website developers.

Question:

Which of their in-house design skills are you most likely to undervalue [and regret later]?

Did you answer, “Their ability to manage my project?” If so, well done.

It’s a dirty little secret in the website design trade that half of all website projects finish late and/or over-budget. The problem is a lack of project management.

Officially, the 3 main reasons for this statistic are:

  1. Customer requirements change at mid-project
  2. Inconsistencies in stakeholder demands cannot be resolved
  3. Timelines and/or budget are too tight

All three of these factors are about as unavoidable as the common cold. They need to be anticipated and managed, and that’s where your supplier’s Project Manager can make the difference between success and failure of your project.

For example:

1. Changing Requirements

No matter how good your designers are, real life moves faster than a professional website can be built. It’s likely that project requirements will evolve during the project. Plan for it. How?

No website project should commence without a signed-off Statement of Work (SOW) including timelines, clear deliverables, and a Change Request (CR) process. Projects lacking a good SOW contribute to the appalling statistic you saw in paragraph 2 above. The SOW is the bible in the project. Anything not in the SOW is not in the project. Agree on that in advance, and you’ll be glad you did. It WILL come up later when the requirements start to morph in real time.

2. Inconsistent Stakeholder Demands

Let’s assume your website designers really did their homework in advance. They interviewed all the relevant stakeholders in your company, and drew up an air-tight SOW that accurately reflects their findings. That solves everything, right? Nope. In corporate environment, as in Hollywood, “Everybody’s a critic.” As the website takes shape, divergent views and needs will emerge. Your designers will start to hear mixed feedback, conflicting instructions, and may  start to feel like they can’t do anything to please you.

At this point, a seasoned project manager can make all the difference between project success and failure. How they handle such challenges is the stuff of books, not blogs. Let’s just say communication is key. When all else fails, it’s the PM’s job to pull out the SOW and say, “Client, as you can see, that request isn’t in the scope of work. It will cost extra. Are you asking me to draft Change Request for you?” This question is sometimes followed by an uncomfortable silence in the dialogue, but it has to be asked.  A good PM knows how, where and when to ask it.

The answer will either clear the obstacle or kill the project off. It’s the client’s prerogative to make that decision. It’s the PM’s job to keep the project on life support until the decision is reached.

3. Timelines and Budget are Too Tight

Irrelevant. The fact is that you, the customer, and your web design company formally agreed to these timelines and budget when you signed the SOW. You’re both committed now. Along the way, we should expect and plan for times when somebody can’t meet their commitments. When the reasons are legitimate, a good PM will help to mitigate the effect. When the reasons are not acceptable, a good PM will raise the yellow flag and adjust expectations accordingly. Hey, PM’s aren’t there to be popular – they are there to either make that SOW a reality or tell you why it’s not.

Here’s an important tip. If your web designer’s Project Manager is not present during the sales process, especially in the drafting of the SOW, be VERY careful about accepting the SOW’s proposed timelines and budget. Salespeople have a well-known tendency to [ahem] airbrush the truth. A good Project Manager will not accept an SOW where they will be expected to deliver on sales-y promises and milestones.

Moral of the Story

Bear in mind that projects, by definition, are unrehearsed journeys into the ether. The end result is never exactly what was envisaged on Day One. Whether or not that final deliverable turns out to be an acceptable one depends on many factors, and a big one is your Project Manager.

If your web design company is big on Creativity + Technology but small on Project Management, stand well back. Your new website could wind up in the statistical graveyard.