Today we’re sitting down with Kylie Aldridge-Ogden, Senior Project Manager here at ImageX, to discuss where web projects typically stumble and what successful projects share in common.
ImageX: Tell us about your background as a project manager.
It’s an interesting story! I actually have a Masters in Law, which I obtained after I received my Bachelor Of Business Administration. After I graduated I worked in the hospitality industry for Fairmont and was offered a position in an advertising firm that specialized in the hospitality sector. I initially managed a group of 45 employees and their day-to-day interactions with our hospitality clients. That was my first taste of “project management”, albeit in a services environment.
I then moved towards a more traditional project management role within the firm, managing a portfolio of content for an enterprise client. They had 7,000 properties that required a perpetual flow of content ranging from listings, videos, image galleries, and marketing initiatives. After seven years in that role, I spent a few more in senior operations overseeing all of the company’s project delivery. In total, it was ten years with that firm before moving to ImageX in 2015.
ImageX: Tell us a little about the portfolio you manage here at ImageX.
Most of ImageX’s higher education clients are in my portfolio. It generally consists of four to six active projects, depending their size and nature, and I also manage our Drupal distribution project, “OpenEDU.” Recent clients include Stanford University, Columbus College of Art and Design, Trinity Western University, Ambrose University, and Nebraska Wesleyan University.
ImageX: After a decade in project delivery, what have you seen that most underperforming projects have in common?
Most issues can usually all be traced back to a lack of knowledge and understanding -- of the project, the partnership, the process, etc. The nature of a web project dictates that both the client and the web agency have a high-level understanding of what the project is trying to accomplish and a high-level framework for execution, but the devil really is in the details.
The single most common issue with underperforming projects is a lack of clarity, or in some cases agreement on how project success is defined. When a client hasn’t clearly flushed out their goals and objectives it becomes a running dialogue that can extend a project, balloon scope, and ultimately, kill a budget.
Too many cooks in the kitchen, or not having a unified project lead who is empowered to make decisions and move a project forward. Time is money, and the more back and forth or time it takes to make decisions will incrementally add more hours to a project that don’t seem meaningful at the time but, once accumulated, cause significant overages.
Lack of commitment to the project schedule. Even a healthy project timeline can be overshot if decisions aren’t made within the delivery cycles. Depending on the delivery process a client chooses, and particularly within an Agile development process, a client can make changes throughout the entire project lifecycle. That can be great, but it can also introduce indecisiveness where every decision is scrutinized. Again, consistent small delays can kill a project timeline, and ultimately the budget.
Having enough resources to do the job. Knowing what will be required by your organization, and when, is critical to project success. Let’s use content as an example when talking about a web project -- inventorying, migrating, and re-writing content is a labour-intensive part of the redesign and usually taken on by the client versus their agency vendor. Knowing what you’re responsible for, planning, and resourcing for it is critical to project success.
ImageX: Conversely, what do projects that succeed have in common?
It’s an interesting question. There’s obviously the inverse of everything we just talked about -- proper project planning, staffing, appropriate project leads, etc. But there is also a variety of intangible reasons why projects succeed, which often comes from the preliminary strategy of the project.
Knowing what your internal stakeholders want to achieve. Different groups within the organization may have different goals and objectives; finding out what those are after you’ve invested a lot of work toward the redesign is the worst case scenario. The projects that enjoy the greatest amount of success have a unified team with clear expectations going into the project.
Knowing exactly what kind of partnership you want with your web vendor and choosing them based on that working relationship. Some clients want to be managed, others want to manage the partner; some clients want to do as much of the work as possible, while others want to rely on the expertise of their partner. No two clients are the same, nor are any two web agencies. Of all the successful projects I’ve been a part of, a complementary partnership has been consistent across them all.
Alignment of expectations between the organization and the web vendor. Project goals, timelines, scope and budget; successful projects have complete transparency on these elements of the project and aligned expectations. Successful projects have consistent conversations on these elements from the start to the completion of the project.
ImageX: What advice would you give an organization just starting a website redesign?
Clearly outline your objectives for the website and make all decisions along the way within that framework. Don’t allow your decision making process to get pulled in different directions; once the project stakeholders align on the objectives, ensure everyone understands that preferences or biases will be tested against the project's stated objectives. That should eliminate a lot of back and forth along the way.
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