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Icon or Spacer Macromedia Website Production Management Techniques Phase 2: Define
Creating a Project Plan

The project plan is the guideline and overview for the project scope. It can take many forms, from an extensive document (sometimes called a scope document or a project charter) to a simple overview of methodology, budget and schedule. The project plan should contain enough information and detail to accurately describe the project to both the client and the Web development team. This plan should outline the project phases, the project team, the schedule, budget and deliverables. The plan can also contain information about usability testing, QA and any other services relevant to the project. Database or dynamically driven site development often runs on an interrelated development track, through the engineering team. (Note: We will cover these processes in future additions to this site.) Be sure the engineering team is involved in this phase as much as possible—such early involvement is key to successful coordination throughout the process.

Make sure to have the client approve and sign off on this deliverable (along with all other important papers and milestone documents). Requesting a signature greatly increases the likelihood that a document will be read. Once the project starts, any changes to this document will result in an AC (additional charge) or project delay—so define and outline needs in a careful manner. One of the greatest challenges is to effectively outline the details, deliverables and assumptions of any given project at the outset. A clear definition and a roadmap are necessary to avoid any issues of scope creep down the road.

 
Scope Creep
The inevitable migration of a project from a budgeted, scheduled, defined plan to a slowly expanding source of conflict, confusion and additional costs.
 
Establishing a Project Team
Each project requires varying levels of expertise. Determine what project-specific needs you have. Is the site a dynamic site? Is there a large multimedia effort? Will you need specific Web programming or database expertise? Determine the individual roles and responsibilities of the team. One team member may wear several hats, but each hat must be defined. First, there are basic roles that will need to be filled. The following list of roles and descriptions show general descriptions of team member responsibilities. Depending on the scope of the project, level of expertise needed and overall budget, some of these roles may expand into actual teams, other roles may be filled by one individual.
   
Team Member   Description of Services
Project Manager/
Producer
  Manages expectations through a project's lifecycle. Determines project needs, outlines specific deliverables and oversees the process and team from start to finish. Maintains ongoing client communication and education throughout project. Handles budget and scope issues, including weekly status updates and additional charges.
     
Art Director/Designer   Oversees visual design process. Helps to translate client expectations into a visual look and feel. Applies technical and user needs into final UI (User Interface) design. Works with project manager and client to establish a clear vision for the site. Manages design team to create design comps and final layered files to hand off to production.
     
Information Architect/Designer   Defines overall site organization and layout from an informational, navigational and functional perspective. Works with client and project manager to determine overall content strategy and site structure (site map), page layout (screen schematics) and interaction (user paths) throughout a site. Participates in usability testing and works with production and engineering to bridge gap between design and technology.
     
HTML Production Lead/
HTML Developer
  Facilitates production and implementation of visual design templates into final HTML. Oversees design and prototype phase to ensure visual direction can be translated effectively into HTML. Works with HTML production team to maintain standards for coding.
     
Copy Writer or
Content Manager
  Provides a consistent style and tone. Works closely with client to gather all information and materials for the Web site. Understands fundamentals of Web ready copy, and has a clear understanding of the overall goals and communication objectives of the site. Works with the information architect to implement content in an efficient manner.
 
Additional Roles (Depending on Scope of Project)
     
Engineering Lead/
Technical Lead
  Provides management and direction of the engineering team for back-end projects such as database development or system integration specialists. Acts as a liaison between front-end and back-end teams.
     
Usability Specialist   An individual with a background in human factors engineering and/or cognitive psychology who has a broad understanding of usability issues on the Web. This individual should have knowledge in information design, navigation and Web development processes.
     
QA Lead   The QA lead is responsible for creating a test plan and determining the testing needs of the project according to size and scope. The QA lead ensures the project is delivered under specifications and monitors the testing process, the tracking of bugs and errors, and the resolution of testing to a final release.
     
Creating a Schedule
Creating a timeline and methodology for the project is the first project document you need to hand out to your team and client. An initial overview should give a comprehensible breakdown of the project by week—showing the process, methodology and deliverables in one view. Whether created in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Project, or Macromedia Dreamweaver with the Calendar Object extension, the schedule should be a document that communicates urgency. The schedule can be elaborated on after the project begins, showing specific deadlines and deliverables in an expanded manner. Sometimes presented in a calendar view, sometimes presented in a task-oriented view, the schedule needs to quickly convey deliverables, due dates and process. The schedule should also outline content requirements and milestone dates for delivery (content is further detailed in Phase 3.) The more complex the project, the more detailed the schedule.
 
Establishing a Budget/Assigning Hours
It is usually a matter of experience to truly define a project's budget. You can quickly gauge a project's budget by taking a realistic view of the resources and time allocation. Once the budget is established and hours for each task and/or individual are assigned, you will need to track hours carefully through a project each week to see how much time has been used and how much time is left (according to your budget allocation). When tracking hours in this way, you are able to give a heads up to the client early on in the process, and also see where and how a project is going out of scope. For design firms: There are two realities when determining budget. One—we charge what we can. Two—we base our cost on hours. Determining how much the client has to spend on a project is often a good place to begin.
 
Determining Deliverables
Understanding what is due and when it is due keeps a project moving forward. By setting up clear deliverables and due dates for both client (internal or external) and team members, you will ensure that each person knows what they are supposed to be working on. Design efforts are often inefficient when undertaken without a specific deadline. A deliverables list can be created within a detailed schedule elaborated on from the schedule overview or can be a separate check list with draft, review and final dates for each item. Be clear. Update the team and client weekly, as deadlines shift and change throughout the process.
 
Creating a Usability Test Plan
Gathering actual user feedback throughout the process is one of the best ways to develop and refine your project to improve the user experience. Usability testing is one valuable means of obtaining firsthand data through observation. There are many valid forms of feedback (focus groups, online surveys, etc.) but usability testing differs in that it shows what users actually do, not what they think they might do. Usability testing is a one-on-one interaction between a moderator (preferably with a background in human factors engineering) and a participant (a typical user of the site). The moderator observes the participant moving through the site completing predetermined tasks. The usability test plan takes the project plan as a foundation and identifies where various forms of usability testing can best fit into the overall process.
 
Creating a QA Plan
QA, or quality assurance, is one of the most often skipped steps of the Web development process. Usually, during the HTML production phase, the site is checked by the production artists on different browsers and platforms to make sure the pages don't break. This is valid testing during production, however it is usually not enough, particularly for highly-trafficked sites. A QA test plan outlines the manner in which the site will be tested before launch to ensure compatibility with a targeted (predetermined) set of browsers, platforms, screen sizes and more. Depending on time, budget and a measure of the impact of the site going live with errors, a QA plan will outline the browser and platform specifications, specific test paths if functionality is involved and how bugs will be tracked. The complexity and cost will vary from a formal (using an outside facility or trained QA staff) to very informal (using existing team members and the client) approach; in any case, building in time to test, fix and re-test can make or break a successful site launch.
 
 Discover
Overview
Analyzing Your Industry
Understanding Your Audience
 Define
Overview
Goals and Objectives
Creating a Project Plan
Establishing Requirements
Housekeeping
 Structure
Overview
Content
Site View
Screen View
User View
Design and Prototype
 Build and Test
Overview
Pre-Production
Building
Testing
Launch
Evaluate and Maintain
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