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Wanna Be a Project Manager?
by Pam Statz 03 May 2001

Pam Statz is a HotWired alumna who now works at Red Industries. She made her television debut in 1984, appearing on the musical variety show Puttin' on the Hits.

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I was in the production department and my job, in addition to managing the schedule, was to integrate content into the live site and check that the HTML and code actually worked. This generally was all the quality assurance testing we did -- and instead of weeks, we usually had hours. Not surprisingly, we ran into many unexpected problems with Cocktail and its frames, but all of us in production and engineering tried our best to fix the bugs so the site could still launch that night.

What triggered my obsession was not the chronic lack of time, or the many errors that kept appearing, but a certain anonymous coworker. He had recently started at HotWired, and hadn't worked on Cocktail. He just happened to be at the office that night. Just at the worst possible moment, when everyone was panicking and trying to come up with a quick fix, he approached me.

Instead of offering to help, he said, "Pam, we really need to talk about process." At that moment, his comment could not have been more loaded. He might as well have said, "Pam, this is the biggest mess I've ever seen and you have no idea what you're doing." Obviously, I was irritated by his unsolicited comment. I just walked away and continued doing my job until the site launched a few hours later.

As irritating as the remark was, to a certain degree he was right. Most of the time, sure, we didn't know what we were doing. We had no road maps to follow and we invented the process as we went along. However, we did manage to produce new sites regularly and the launch of Cocktail was by no means the worst we'd experienced. We posted a new set of stories to the site once a day by hand-coding HTML without the luxury of the fancy content management systems the kids have these days like Vignette or Interwoven. And we usually had a good time working together. Sometimes things got rough, but we got through it as a team.

Still, I started thinking there had to be a better way: a way to protect ourselves from having to do everything at the last minute; a way to get the work done and still go home at a decent hour; a way to keep people like anonymous coworker from feeling compelled to make irritating comments.

The information in this article comes from many sources. Much of it may sound familiar because -- well -- project management isn't rocket science. People have been doing it for a long time in many disciplines other than Web production, such as software and game development.

I'm going to describe the position of project manager and some of its challenges. Then I'll go through the process I use at my current workplace, Red Industries. Red Industries consists of just four people, yet we follow this process carefully because we value our down time. Using this process, we're able to handle large jobs yet still take weekends off. It works for us -- and hopefully it will help some of you avoid another late night at the office.

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