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July 16, 2007

Website Project Management – Dealing With Large Companies

The business of developing websites is a real challenge but working with large client companies and keeping control over large projects is another task in itself. This article examines some of the pitfalls of doing web design work for larger companies and suggests some approaches that you can adopt to keep tighter control over your web design projects.

Dealing with large web design clients is more difficult that one might think. For a start a larger company means more middle managers and marketing people to satisfy and unless you keep tight control over the project from the start, clients of this nature can run you ragged with switching the goal posts, adding in new requirements and conflicting requests.

Having said this, working with larger clients is usually far more profitable than working with smaller companies so it is often worth the extra effort in keeping the larger projects under control.

The first step in maintaining tight control is to have a really tight website specification in place before the site is started. It is also work taking the time to make sure the clients actually understand what you are going to deliver when they signup. I have seen project spiral out of control because of the abscence of a well defined specification. Another thing to look out for is ambiguity in a specification. If it can be argued that a point in a specification document means something else then there is a real chance that you will have to alter the website which ultimately means more development time and less profit.

A real problem when dealing with larger companies is something called ‘feature creep’. Feature creep is when a client sees a demo of a website at a review stage, has a brainwave and says – “oh i really like that, but can we just change…”. I have seen this happen lots of times in the last few years. I call them ‘can you just…’ requests. A well defined spec will act as your shield against this particular situation. If you have yourself covered by a tight specification, you can give one of my own favorite answers – “of course we can, we can make it do anything, would you like us to put a quote together for the change.” You never agreed to do the change so why do it for free just because Mr Big Client has asked you. Its not Mr Big’s fault – he didn’y think of it until now. If you had a builder contracted to do an extension to your home you wouldn’t dream of asking him “oh i really like that – but it would be better if you could add an extra room over here”, you are in tight control remember so why stand for it on your project?

Another big problem with dealing with large companies is dealing with lots of different people. There is nothing wrong with taking in the views of many people, the problem is when people at the same company start to contradict each other. For example, Person A may request a blue background then person B may request a red one! Where does that leave you? It leaves you with either a phone call or an assumption to make. And we all know that making assumptions over client requirements is not good!

Another thing to watch out for is having more that one client spokes person at kickoff meetings. I have lost count of the number of hours I have lost in meetings listening to clients decide on their requirements on my time rather that where the decisions should have been made – before they arrived at my office!

To help with this situation, a really simple and useful thing that you can do is to insist on having one point off contact for each client company. This works well because their spokes person is responsible for collating the views of all the people involved with the website project. When meetings are held they are much more productive because their requirements have already been decided and the message comes across much clearer allowing you to get things right for the client the first time.

Conclusion:

By insisting on and being consistent with these simple but effective rules you can give yourself the best chance of maintaining control over large client projects. You can avoid ‘feature creep’ and the associated frustration of having to make amends for free. Also by making sure to explain things clearly to your clients at every stage you can maintain a rapport with them and offer them your best possible service.

Author:  Stuart is a freelance website designer in wakefield UK who specialises in search engine friendly web design for companies of all types.

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