Swiss Army Knife

June 5, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Posted in Coding, Design, Management | Leave a comment

 

I have noticed over the last couple of days that web development involves a lot more jobs than I initially thought.
I’m only 3 or so years out of university. Fresh meat, you could say. Furthermore, my degree was in software engineering – peripherally relevant to the industry I work in, but not quite a nice mesh. As such, I’ve approached my job thus far with the same mentality I had while going through my studies – that of a code monkey, although the software engineering degree involved more management than I would have liked, but am grateful of now.

Continue Reading Swiss Army Knife…

Simple Email Workflow

March 1, 2007 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Day to Day, General, Management | Leave a comment

Email is a big part of life in any company and in some ways basic email clients like Outlook and Thunderbird (which I use) is still lacking. I read this today and thought wow, what a great idea. All of the features he mentions are things that I will use daily.

“I send and receive lots and lots of email. My life runs on email. But, I find most of the current email clients lacking a few basic (but very useful) features that I think would be easy to implement. So, my idea is for an Outlook plug-in (I pick Outlook simply because that’s the client I use) that would do the following

  1. Response Expected: Let me flag messages I send out as being “response expected”. Once a message is flagged as such, the system would monitor to see if the message actually ever got a response from the recipient. Once such a message comes in, the original message would go back in to “normal” state. If a response didn’t come in, it would show up on a list somewhere (see below)
  2. Response Required: I’d like to flag incoming messages as soon as I scan them as being “response required”. This is a mental note to myself that a given message requires some response on my part. Similar to #1, if I don’t respond within a certain time (hopefully, user configurable), the message will show up on a list of messages requiring attention.
  3. Someone Should Respond: This is similar to #1, except that I’d use it when there were multiple people on the “to” list of a message. In this case, the system would “watch” to see if someone responds to the original message (likely some other party on the “to” or “cc” list). If so, then the message is considered “handled”. If not, then it would show up on the “attention required” list.
  4. Sender Significant: I’d be able to mark any sender of a given email as being “significant” (this would be a toggle). Until I turn this flag off, all messages from this sender would show up on the “Response Required” list (or otherwise be highlighted).
  5. Delegate: This would be an extension of “response required”, except it would be an email forward to a designated recipient with an automatic “response expected” flag turned on (to make sure the person who received the delegation acknowledged).

That’s it. Ideally, each of the above could be done with a single keyboard shortcut. Something like this would likely do wonders for my email productivity (and ensure that emails get handled appropriately). I can’t tell you how many times I meant to handle an email, but then just had it slip through the cracks. Outlook supports it’s “flag” feature, but that just doesn’t cut it for me as it doesn’t go far enough.

What do you think? Is this idea dubious, or is there a need for something like this? If such a tool existed, would you use it?”

A Work In Progress

February 9, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Posted in General, Management | Leave a comment

What is the general feeling on showing clients the work while it is in progress? I pose this question specifically to the web designers/developers of the world, but I guess it applies to a number of different fields.

Where I work, we upload websites in development to the life server, to a live domain name, but under an undisclosed development folder. The reason for this is mainly because we’ve noticed in the past that even if you think your development server is set up identical to your final hosting server, something will go wrong, and at least one unforeseen bug will come up.

It also helps when clients ask to see the progress on a website. The website is already there, we don’t have to create any special user accounts on private servers, all we do is tell them the name of the subfolder and tell them to surf their browser there.

But, after my most recent client, I’m second guessing our policy to allow the client to view a website that is in the middle of construction.

I was developing a website with a customized CMS that was developed in house. I haven’t been working at this company for very long, and the company is very new, and not extremely advanced in terms of web technology used in websites. I’m trying to develop a CMS on the fly, site by site, against my wishes.

Very close to the start of the project, the client asked to see the site progress and I agreed. What followed was constant hounding from the client that the website doesn’t look anything like we agreed it to look. No matter how hard I tried to explain to the client, I couldn’t get across that I was developing the backend of the website, the framework that the website is going to be built on. When he first asked for a look at the website, I didn’t have any graphics made. I left the design to build up the frame work and configure modules that had been written for a previous site.

So I put up a very quick home page with non-functioning links, and of course, didn’t bother optimizing the CSS for multiple browsers.

What’s worse, the client kept checking, day after day, and was growing increasingly frustrated at the perceived lack of progress. While I was building an object-oriented image gallery for his website, he thought I was sitting on my behind and doing nothing. He felt like he was not getting his value for money at all, which is understandable, and his knowledge of technology, specifically web technology, was so low that he couldn’t understand that a lot of the work I was doing, he would never see.

Unfortunately, this is really my only current experience in showing a client a website in progress, still being built. The client, in their limited understanding, and capacity to understand, was very unsatisfied and frustrated during the whole process, and it damaged his perception of us as a company, and set him instantly on the defensive whenever he dealt with us.

I believe, however, with a more “tech-savvy” client, that this process would be reassuring to them. I believe that if I explained what I was doing, and they tinkered around a bit with the admin section, they would see how it works before my demonstration, and be able to direct the administration of their website the way they want it.

I believe that it is important to keep in mind who you are dealing with when you are considering showing the client a website before it is finished. If the client has an honest, complete understanding that the site is not finished, will not perform as it is intended in the final product, and often doesn’t look anything like what they want it to, then there should be no objection to showing them a work in progress. However, in all seriousness, how many of those clients do web developers often get?

Project Management for Web Sites

January 31, 2007 at 4:52 pm | Posted in General, Management | Leave a comment

Developing Web sites, whether it be for Internet, intranet, or extranet purposes, one thing is certainly clear: Having the right project-management process is essential. I’m not talking about your average skill sets of being organized and knowledgeable about the project. I’m talking about the detailed thought process involved that makes professional Web developers stand out from the rest.

Whether you are an actual programmer or not doesn’t matter, but understanding programming and what is involved does. There are certain criteria for project managers who deal with the Web that differ from people who manage projects of a different nature. The best way I can summarize how to be the best manager of a project geared for the Web is to sanely have multiple personality disorder. By this I mean you really need to put yourself into many people’s shoes and be able to think like them in order to develop a Web-based project from start to finish. Solid, professional project management is more than the task of wearing many hats. It goes much deeper. Professionals need to be able to completely shift mindsets and think from several different perspectives, and that’s what makes them so successful. Let’s take a typical Web site and break down the process.

Continue Reading Project Management for Web Sites…

The Component Solution Analysis

January 30, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Management | Leave a comment

I read the most interesting and well informed article today posted by Webinion. It’s about time loss due to unproductive meetings. Give it a read it’s really worth it.

Creative Briefs

January 29, 2007 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Management | Leave a comment

A project starts with someone uncovering a need he or she thinks a project can satisfy. In most projects the person uncovering the need doesn’t have the resources or skills to satisfy the need. In web development terms this is when the client approaches the webdeveloper to build him a new website.

When iniating a new project with a client it’s important to understand the clients needs. If you don’t understand his needs you might end up developing a site that doesn’t meet the true need or you could end up creating a project that ends up costing more then it saves.

For these reasons before starting a project you need to fully understand the scope and needs of the client. This is best captured in a Creative Brief.

The creative brief is a document which is created by the development team outlining the visual and conceptual goals. Use a client questionnaire to help determine adjectives which describe the site in tone and style. The brief can be a simple one page document or can be a multiple page document outlining specific marketing goals and strategy along with the standard visual direction. The purpose of this document is to state in verbal terms the way the audience/user will perceive the site. Additional information (target audience, communication strategy, tone, etc.) helps the visual designer and information architect set the proper tone for the site.

A decent creative brief might take a few hours to complete but by planning a new project properly in the begging it might saves your many more hours in development time. It took me quite a while to understand this concept which seems so simple now. Having things like a sitemap, colour schematic and competitive analysis close at hand means that the developers have a lot less to work out. A good creative brief is formulated by asking the client the correct questions. The system I developed for the company I work for include questions like :

  • How will you measure the success of the newly designed website? For example: Unique hits, feedback, brand recognition, sales, ecommerce sales
  • What is a typical task the user might perform on the new site? For example: register, log-on, search for information, buy a specific product, send their email address, call for more information, etc.
  • Who are your competitors and what do you think about their websites?
  • List competitive URLs if possible:
  • Name a few website URLs you like:

The best is to think of what information you need to make your job easier and what questions would supply you with that information.

The point is that the more information you have to reference from while designing and coding the site the less errors there are. A major time waster is the when you take a proof design to a client and he rejects it. That means that a lot of time has been wasted creating a proof that was not wanted. If you can get as close as possible to the clients needs on the first proof you will waste less time on the next one, if there even is a next one.

A good creative brief will also give you a scope on what type of personnel you will need to work on the project and how to organise your budget accordingly.

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