The Project Team

April 18th, 2008

Numerous people, with a variety of skills, are involved in getting a web site on-line. The effort truly requires the dedication, commitment and cooperation of many people throughout the company including designers, developers, systems and tech operations, marketing, copywriters, content developers and some type of management structure. It becomes a true matrix organization. The work and project schedules for all of the involved groups need to be laid out and overlapped to identify dependencies, critical work paths and potential problem areas. Communication is key and needs to start early and be continuous throughout the project.

For this process to be efficient and effective, there must be ONE person who coordinates ALL of the various individuals and groups to ensure that they are working toward the same goal. This role goes to either an informal project manager, a formal project manager or a person serving in the capacity of a web producer. For small projects, in small organizations, you can get away with an informal or part-time project manager. For larger scale projects, or in bigger companies, with a lot of stakeholders, a more formal project manager or strong web producer is necessary.

While it is obvious that the web developers and system and network administrators report to the CTO, things start to get a little less clear-cut regarding the web producer/project manager and the designers as several cases can be made. With regard to the designer(s), they need to take input from the marketing and content people and deliver an end product to the developers. So, the case can be made for the designer to report to marketing, content, CTO or the web producer/project manager. In fact, any of these structures can and will work. I think the same thing can be said regarding the web producer/project manager, including, depending upon the project size and experience of the individual, instances where this person could report directly to the highest levels of company management.

Many different organization structures can and will work. However, what I think is most important is that there is one person with overall responsibility (and authority?) for the project and that that person have excellent communication, coordination and project planning skills.

Where to start

April 8th, 2008

In an ideal world, everyone who is launching a startup can have the product with all the features they want, tomorrow and at no cost. However, that is not going to happen. In reality there will always be some constraints on the available finances and the time frame for delivery. What this means is that functionality decisions will have to be made. Managing this process is particularly difficult in a startup as the environment is charged with enthusiasm. This enthusiasm, which generates a never-ending flow of ideas and concepts, coupled with the founders’ long-term vision creates a long list of functionality that would ideally be incorporated into the product at launch.

Inevitably, it becomes one of the primary responsibilities of the CTO to manage and broker the internal give and take of ensuring that the available resources can get the company to launch, with enough of a feature set to be successful, on schedule and within the given budget.

To be successful at this, the CTO needs to be more than just a great technician.

* First, the CTO needs to be an excellent interviewer and communicator. The CTO needs to ensure that the ideas, concepts and vision of everyone involved are captured. Included in this is obtaining a sense of the importance, priority and potential impact on the business of each of the concepts. It also entails ensuring an understanding of both short and long term objectives. This is usually accomplished during some sort of ‘Discovery Phase’, either formal or informal.
* Next, the CTO needs to have the skill set and experience to smoothly and efficiently understand and manage the feature set cost estimation process. Cost estimation is extremely important as it will be used to weigh the potential benefits against the costs of various features.
* The CTO needs to have the business skills and acumen to thoroughly and fully understand not only the business model of the company, but also the business plan. Using these skills and applying them to the known budget, time frame, and requested feature set, the CTO can then develop a prioritized list of product set functionality, centered around the potential benefit to and impact on the company’s goals and objectives (usually revenue based).
* The CTO needs to be a top-notch planner. With known costs, timeframe and features, the CTO can then create a launch development and enhancement plan, including incorporating contingency resources that will invariably be needed when things don’t go as smoothly as expected during the initial euphoria and for developing just thought of, must have features. It is important to note that once the schedule has been developed and agreed to, the reputations and credibility of many more people than just the CTO are involved, so the skill set of the CTO in this area is critical.
* Finally, the CTO needs to be a relatively good sales person, negotiator and facilitator as he/she presents and sells the feature plan, budget and project plan to the company management. The CTO needs to clearly and concisely explain the reasoning and thought process behind the recommendations. In all likelihood, changes will be requested, but the end result is that everyone will have a baseline understanding and timeline for what will be included in the launch. It is also important that any stipulations and external critical path requirements that could impact the schedule are identified at this point. However, in the end, even if these are included and agreed to, no one will remember them or care as the original communicated launch date will be paramount.

So, the original topic was ‘Where to Start?’. The answer to that is to identify the resources, timeline and requirements list. Using a combination of business, planning, technical and negotiation skills, the CTO can put a box around the concepts and vision for the company to create a development, roll-out and initial enhancement plan that will get the company headed in the direction of success.