Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Section 2: What do I do first?

Cover yourself at home

Set expectations with your family

If you have a family, make plans to cover yourself for unexpected long hours. If something breaks on a website, you have to stay there until it is fixed. Websites are a 24-hour, global presence. You don’t just get problems during work hours.

You won’t be dealing with problems like this every day. The “bad days” are few and far between... but they will come and you will have to deal with them. Hopefully you won’t miss dinner with your significant others often, but setting expectations with family and making arrangements for children will lower your overall stress if – well, when – it does happen.

Equip yourself at home

Multitasking can be embarrassing - if you are working at home, focus on what you are doing.
Another way for you to cover yourself for unexpected, off-normal-business-hours problems is to get yourself a cheap laptop or even a full-sized tablet. Most things on a website can be managed through a simple web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) so you don’t need to buy a fancy (i.e., expensive) laptop. You just won’t need the power. A cheap laptop or a tablet (that you can lock up from the housemates, spouse, or children) will be fine. It’s amazing just how much you can get done snuggled up to the little one who insists on watching freakishly cheerful cartoon creatures help the little puppies... for the fifty-eighth time.

That said, don’t go for the 10-year-old laptop Aunt Sally is trying to get rid of. It’ll be slow – really slow – and that will make you crazy.

Cover yourself at work

Set expectations with your boss

Talk to your boss about your personal performance expectations. If you still have the responsibilities of another full-time job to manage, be clear with your boss about how much time is to be spent on the website. If you are stepping into a website that has been running along pretty easily (with no big redesigns on the horizon), you’ll probably be able to manage it on a part-time basis. If your organization’s website has been sort of ignored and you are stepping in to “get it back on track,” there probably aren’t a lot of specific expectations connected to it. You’ll be able to manage the amount of time you have to spend by defining what needs to be done.

If you are being asked to oversee a large-scale redesign or replatform, the website will take up all of your time. This is true even when you have an outside vendor doing the design and technology. Here’s a quick list of the things you’ll need to do even if you are outsourcing all of the work:

Everyone thinks they are a designer so they all have opinions. Plan for extra time on this step.
  • Work with internal stakeholders to figure out what the site needs to do/look like.
    • Document this in as much detail as possible since you’ll need to communicate it to vendors.
  • Create an RFP (request for proposal) to find a vendor (or multiple vendors).
  • Analyze the proposals as best you can with a limited background in this stuff.
  • Sit through the vendor presentations. 
  • Select a vendor.
  • Negotiate a schedule and contract with the vendor(s).
  • Work with the vendor’s project manager to write up some formal documentation (requirements) for design and technology.
  • Talk to the vendor’s designers about what your organization needs.
  • Keep talking with internal stakeholders about visual designs. 
  • Make a lot of micro decisions on the fly about what the site does and looks like in order to keep the project on schedule and on budget.
  • Find or create graphical resources (logos, photos, etc.) for the designers.
  • Find, create, or get others to create an awful lot of editorial content.
  • Make a million more micro decisions about the technology. The programmers will need a lot of information from you. 
    • A coder working on a form, for example, would need to know what the questions are, what the answers are, what font and type size they need to be, what colors need to be on the form, whether each question is multiple choice or yes/no, and what happens when the “submit” button is pushed.
  • Deal with (i.e., manage) changes/new ideas from internal stakeholders as time passes. Keep managing these changes to your budget and schedule.
  • Create more content. If you can create a little backlog of articles, headlines, “teaser” paragraphs (that will draw people in deeper to the site), and graphics it’s easier to make sure the site keeps changing after its launched.
  • Do technical and content quality assurance (QA) on the initial software. Basically, that means clicking on every single link and making sure everything works right. 
    • This is important. The minute you say it’s OK, the vendor has completed his or her contractual obligation. Fixing problems later could cost you more money.
  • Communicate internally to your boss and your coworkers about the new site and how it will help them/impact them.
  • Oversee the launch – do another QA. Fix any problems you uncover.
  • Create some documentation for the person who will follow behind you and maintain/grow the site.
  • Possibly hire the person who will follow behind you and maintain/grow the site.

I don’t care how amazingly organized you are, you won’t be able to do all of this and effectively maintain your other job. Save yourself the ulcer and find a way to take a leave of absence from your other role until at least a month after the redesigned site has been launched. How do you do this? Talk to your boss. Explain that you’ll need the focus to stay on top all of the details you are managing, and show him or her this list. Even if a vendor is “doing everything,” someone at the organization has to check and approve what the vendor does and that will most likely be you. Things will get a little hairy as the new site gets closer to completion (“launch”).

You’ll need the extra month to clean up little problems that came up during the main development process and get everything organized for the person who will come in after you.

If that’s not an option, then you’ll need to cut way back on what you are doing. You can maintain an existing site while juggling another job, but a redesign or a replatform are pretty tough to do. One possible alternative: Get a buddy. See if you can get your organization to assign at least one other person to help you manage all of this. Two organized people who work well together could pull this off while doing other jobs.

If all else fails…

If you are going to be essentially juggling two jobs, here’s another hint. Be really up front with your vendor when you are talking to them initially – before you sign a contract. Tell them, even before the contract is signed, that you are juggling two jobs here and that you’ll have limited time for feedback. They can take a lot of the micro decision-making, internal stakeholder communication, and documentation off your plate. You’ll need to pay the vendor for the extra time, but it might end up cheaper than putting you on the project full time… or paying for your therapist later.

Activate your resource network

If you participate at all on the Web (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), start pinging those networks. Ask around for relatives, friends, or friends of friends who manage websites – look for some people you can ask questions of.

If you don’t participate in any of those networks, you should probably start. Facebook and LinkedIn both offer great tools for connecting with people you already know. Since the Web is such a big part of our world, you might be surprised how many people you know have some kind of experience with it. Having a group of friendly people that you can ask questions of (or commiserate with on the bad days) will make a world of difference.

Next is Getting organized: Figure out corporate goals for the site.

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