Our new site about internet marketing is live. We rushed through the last couple of days to get it done (thanks to John and Rick for pulling extra hours and making it happen) but we still have some kinks to fix (e.g. the whole newsletter subscription process needs to be streamlined, and the Adventive integration isn’t complete).
So as the guy nominally in charge of project management, am I happy? Well, I’d say overall we’ve been effective, since we did deliver on deadline most of what we had planned to reach our first set of goals. Time boxing more or less worked toward its purpose, as I was able to press on with a process driven by goals and deadlines.
On the other hand, we’ve been far from efficient, meaning I had to ask my teammates to work on the previous weekend and late at night before our migration and launch, and we have more open bugs than we’d like. We’ll do a full post mortem to identify what we can improve, but here’s what I can share publicly (this will sound like PM101 in some ways, but there are lessons you keep relearning, and we’re still new as an organization – besides I’m more of a marketer than a planner):
You cannot communicate too much within a virtual team
There’s so much room for misunderstanding or things falling through the cracks, that towards the end of the project daily updates of the task list are not superfluous. We work through 6 time zones, in 3 different countries, with widely different personalities. Believe me, there are plenty of ways to go out of synch, even when you’re a small team working on a small project (we have much more ambitious plans than what’s currently available on the site.)
Don’t let too many tasks accumulate towards the end of the project
If you don’t harass people to get started on their deliverables, they’ll start at the last minute before their task’s deadline. I’ve let too many tasks end at the project’s deadline, and we had many things that were still in the process of being completed until the very end.
Put pressure on late tasks quickly
If a task is late by three days, and you’re just 5 days from deadline, it’s not ok, it’s already way late. Treat it accordingly.
Be wary of small, easy tasks
They look like done deals but might turn into the grains of sands that grip your whole machine.
Make sure people understand the full scope of their assignments (trust doesn’t preclude control)
In some cases people think they’re done, while in reality they’re not. It’s not necessarily their fault if the task at hand wasn’t clearly defined. Ask to see deliverables to make sure the work is properly done, if only for centralization and QA purposes.
Keep pushing to meet your deadline
Smart people will always come with excellent reasons to postpone. Up2speed as it is now is far from perfect, complete, or fully consistent. But it’ll never be, and shipping is a feature. Anyway, if we delivered a subpar experience, we’ll hear about it from our users, and I’ll bear the consequences. In the meantime, at least we have something to show them.
Be open to suggestions… up to a point
That one will sound mean, but you want to be open to discussions, not drowned by them. Arguments about color preferences and font sizes could go on forever. You’ll always have someone who’s much clever than anyone (and they might even be) and oh, things would have gone so much better if only you had "listened" to them (i.e. done it like they wanted it to be done). Well, maybe, but project management is not about the past, it’s about the present and future. Press on to keep moving, be ready to make decisions that not everyone will like. You want to build team momentum, but you’ll never get 100% consensus anyway, and you’ll stall if you want to accommodate everyone’s wishes.
Be aware that a friendly atmosphere cuts both ways
Yes it’s cool to be able to work in our underwear, unshaved for days (still, try to shower daily, please!) But working with friends in an informal atmosphere can also give the wrong impression. When it’s time to enforce discipline and make decisions, people might take it personally, especially if everyone is smart and opinionated. It’s a struggle to maintain focus without taking the fun out of the whole thing.
Enough musing about PM, if you’re interested in online marketing do check out Marketingvox.com and tell us what you think.
07/20/03 update: The challenge of global employees.