Delivering Projects from a Distance

Delivering Projects from a Distance

Eva Marer writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

Coordinating time and human resources is a major challenge in the high-speed world of Internet consulting, especially via distance. Whether the project is a corporate Web site or an Internet IPO, managers need to ensure that far-flung team members-from site architects to designers and programmers-get on the same page fast. “If you don’t know what everyone else is doing, it’s impossible to do your job,” says Dan Maccarone, an information architect at the New York offices of iXL, an Internet strategy and consulting firm.

One of the best tools in the arsenal of the savvy project manager is the project plan, which breaks each job into a timeline of required tasks, or “deliverables.” The project plan provides a complete run-down of all the tasks associated with a given project, from html coding to client approval. Done correctly, the document not only coordinates team members but also helps manage client expectations.

Above all, the project plan functions as a communication tool, says Michael Daly, lead project manager at the New York offices of iXL. Day’s project plans generally run no longer than 10 pages and contain anywhere from 120 to 500 tasks, depending on the complexity of the assignment.

“Sometimes clients have not been through this before and it helps educate them on the process and the steps that are required,” says Linda Horaist, a project manager with Proxicom, an Internet consulting firm in Weston, Va. With the project plan, she says, each member of the team understands his or her role, as well as the amount of time allotted for each task.

Proxicom’s operating methodology consists of four major phases – define, design, develop and deploy-and a project plan is developed for each. While strategic goals, demographics and competitive analysis are better left to business plans, the project plan should include time constraints for client review and approval, as well as creative resources required to accomplish each task.

The project plan can be posted to the Web, Horaist notes, where it is accessible to clients and team members alike. Clients can also look at design comps and page layouts on the Web and then transmit their approval electronically, through e-mail for example. Freelance consultants can use virtual offices like to post project plans, timelines and to-do lists. Project plans, which can be devised by hand or with software like Microsoft Project, can also include graphics, such as gantt charts (timelines) and site maps.

“The project plan is a great tool for managing your client,” says Daly, who includes his clients as resources-to furnish content and approval-in his plans. “If the client doesn’t deliver a heaping mound of content until two weeks after the deadline, I can show them why we were two weeks late getting the project finished,” he says. “It’s a kind of insurance policy.”

A project plan also keeps time and budgets in check, Daly says. “You can look at a well-maintained project plan and see if you’re behind, on target or ahead of schedule,” he says. “It’s a great way to do your budgeting to determine what a project is costing you.”

“In the old days, I would work on one part of a site until I got bored, then I’d go on to another section,” says Maccarone, who has worked with Daly at iXL. “Everything was done on the fly, and it ended up taking longer and costing more. Clients deserve a realistic proposal that takes all the elements of the project into account.”