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Project Management: Make it Happen (#3 in the series Small Business Project Management: Turning Great Ideas into Reality)
By Jeri Merrell

Make it Happen is article 3 of 4 in a series on Small Business Project Management: Turning Great Ideas into Reality.

You’ve done your research. You’ve planned until your fingernails turned blue. Now it’s time to unplug the phone, shut down IM, send the kids to Grandma and make it happen. This phase, where you roll your sleeves up, can represent about 40% of your total project time and effort investment.

Dig In

If you’re a writer, start writing. Remember, perfect draft syndrome is right out and you’re following writing guru Anne Lamott’s mega-wise advise to write shitty first drafts. If you’re a coder, start coding. If you’re an artist or designer, get your hands dirty, start working with your materials.

This is the time to get focused and minimize distractions. There are many fabulous GTD resources out there that can help you stay persistent, organized, effective and minimize procrastination. The important thing is to remain true to your objective, your requirements and your design.

Project management philosophy suggests that you avoid adding extra functionality and extra content, above and beyond your defined requirements and design, because the effort invested there defocuses you from meeting your primary target. In this arena, meeting minimum standards is NOT a slacker’s objective but a sound business practice!

If at all possible, build and test your product in a restricted development environment that closely mimics the real thing, but is offline or secured and private.

Consider building incrementally, rather than all in one big bang – it minimizes risk. If you’re writing, write a section, pull it into your information product format, upload it to your test environment, and run through your customer subscription and download processes. Then rinse and repeat.

The same applies to coding, but it’s even more critical. Segment your development so that you can implement and test your code a section at a time, rather than waiting until you think you are complete, crossing your fingers and hoping the whole thing works.

Get Testy

Make sure that you thoroughly test your project prior to releasing onto your poor, unsuspecting customers. Releasing a glitchy interface or product is a surefire way to alienate your user base and undo all the good things you’re doing with your product release in the first place.

There are three minimum areas you should test:

  • Performance testing. Make sure that your database is properly configured. Ensure your pages load quickly. Check download time for your file, even when you have multiple download streams running. If you can come up with a way to stress test your product with multiple users, downloads, and accesses, do so. Consider asking your hosting provider if they have tools that can help.
  • System testing. Ensure that all the technical aspects of your product are working, in its production environment, end-to-end – database, application, all links both internal and external. Check it across all platforms, recent versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera on both PC and Mac. (As a Safari user I can assure you – sites frequently have Safari issues.)
  • User acceptance testing. If possible, ask a few friendly users to test for you. If not, pretend you know nothing about your site and product and test it yourself.

Come up with a list of tests to run – best practice is to test against your original requirements – and ensure they all run. Click around on an ad-hoc basis too! Try and break the interface; think like a bored teen and do stupid stuff. Hit “back” when you’re not supposed to. Enter too many characters or leetspeak instead of a real email address in a field and see what happens when you submit it.

Make sure you track any bugs you or your customers do come across, either in your issues list or a separate document. Once they’re fixed, make sure you retest to verify – and if it’s a customer-reported bug, follow up with the customer to let them know it should be resolved.

Jeri Merrell, PMP, is an IT program manager for GCI, an Alaskan telecommunications company. She has worked in project management for the last ten years and her focus has been varied, exploring many facets of the industry: business process, product development, infrastructure, IP telephony, business intelligence and application development. She writes technology and business focused articles at http://www.ungeekit.com.

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