The Art of Finishing a Project
By Chris LeCompte
Note: This article is specifically targeted at Web Development Projects.
If you’ve managed your share of web projects, then you’ve likely seen far too many fall apart or become snagged by delays in the end. These obstacles can make it nearly impossible to finish projects. There may be times when you don’t even know if the project is complete or not.
Believe me, we’ve all been there and will continue to experience that uncertainty in projects. Web sites are complex, and the job of creating them requires tons of flexibility. I’ve always said that the key to managing smarter projects is by being proactive and by communicating effectively. But what specifically can be done to finish those lingering projects and to be satisfied with the end result?
Get as much done as you can before actually starting the project work
The initial phase of any project is the most important one. It’s at this point expectations are shaped, communication established, and a roadmap fleshed out. The initial phase is also where you can get the most done.
How is this possible? I like to think of the time and effort I spend on the initial phase of a project as a high-interest yield investment. I deposit my chunk of time spent communicating with the client, and I expect to receive big dividends at the end of the project.
For example, before even touching the project work, I try to clarify the following questions:
- Where is this site going to be hosted? What are the capabilities of the hosting account?
- Does the client have content prepared? Will they need a copywriter? (I try to push this question into the pre-sales process.)
- What sort of control is the client going to need over the finished site?
- Will the client need any third-party accounts such as Wufoo, FeedBurner, and Google Analytics?
I’ve made the mistake in some projects of leaving one or more of these questions unanswered. The result was confusion toward the end of the project. The client would hit me with questions I was unprepared for, or I would run into technical incompatibilities with what I was developing. This isn’t good and will blur the finish line for your project as you run around trying to come up with alternative plans at the last moment.
Develop smarter contracts
Everyone preaches that you should always have a written contract in place and they’re absolutely correct. However, there’s an obvious difference between a one-page contract you typed up in your off hours, and a contract that was carefully crafted and critiqued by a qualified attorney.
Smart contracts can translate into finished projects because they’re able to assess and address multiple outcomes. For starters, a smart contract plans for the possibility of client content delay by tying the payment schedule to a specific date and milestone. Problem contracts tie the payment to the “web site launch” or “completion of the web site.” This is bad because the client can delay the launch indefinitely by not getting the content done. In the smart contract, you can demand payment as soon as you reach the specific date and milestone, and there’s nothing that lights a fire under clients faster than an invoice. They’ll receive the invoice – and hopefully pay it – and they’ll have more incentive to get their part done so that the site can be finished.
Another component of smart contracts is their precise language. There is no room for different interpretations in a strong contract. When you come toward the finish line for a project, the smart contract will back you up instead of serving as a liability. For example, I’ve had some clients think I was to develop the content until I pointed out in the contract that this was their responsibility. The problem was resolved in a mere minute, and the project was able to move forward without confusion.
Be aggressive about client obligations
Clients play an essential role in web projects. They can’t sit back and let you do all the work. You need their input on designs, content, collateral, and a number of other project-dependent deliverables.
Don’t let slow clients continually move the finish line. This is by far the trickiest part of managing a project. How can you encourage clients to become more invested in the project?
I’ve already mentioned one method, which is the invoice, but that should serve as a last resort. Instead, the best way to cultivate proactive clients is by being proactive. You may even need to become aggressively proactive.
Proactive behavior involves constant communication with the client in which you ensure they’re staying on top of their obligations. You must also communicate to the client the work that has been done. Sometimes, when clients can see the progress you’re making, even if it’s just baby steps, it can motivate them to become more involved. Getting things done is an infectious behavior that can be transmitted to other people. So get things done, and be aggressive in showing your progress to clients.
Define the finish line
Once you near what may seem like the end of the project, make it a reality by establishing a wrap-up meeting. This meeting can serve as the de facto finish line in which you discuss the finalities of the project and set a specific launch date.
I emphasize meeting with the client because it really is essential to see them in person, or at the very least, hear their voice over the telephone. This helps to impress upon the client the importance of the communication to take place.
During the meeting, you should only focus on items that relate to the launch of the web site. This includes the launch date, final payment, final deliverables (hopefully, there aren’t many), and of course, how the client can get into the content management system. I stress again establishing a specific launch date. Ingrain this date in your client’s mind, and they’re likely to stick with it.
Chris LeCompte is a web designer and Project Manager based out of Northern Virginia working at his own company. Chris runs his own blog: http://www.clecompte.com/.