I became obsessed with project management and 'process' after an incident
a few years ago at HotWired, after a lengthy but fairly smooth design
and production schedule. It was our first experiment with framesets
and we kept running into little bugs that delayed the launch that day from
morning, to afternoon, to on into late evening.
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
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.