Browsing articles in "Project Management"

Keeping on Task and Tracking My Time

I’m a big fan of the whole Getting Things Done system, however, I’ve always been a list person. However, in Getting Things Done David mentions my lists:

To-do lists make you feel like you have to get everything done on them today, instead of pacing yourself.

When I read what David had to say about to-do lists I realized why I had this love hate afair with my lovely life-leveling lists. So what’s a girl to do?

Well, while looking up GTD type accessories to keep my life together even in the busiest of times, I happened to find David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner. This handy tool has saved my life!

It keeps my love of lists intact while making me remember that if I don’t get everything done it’s OK, because I’m awesome for just even finishing three items today. For each set of three tasks I complete it has a little “go get ’em tiger” type message, and when you get to a total of nine completed items, it reminds you that you may burn out if you keep going like you are.

David Seah's Emergent Task Planner

David Seah's Emergent Task Planner

So how do I use it?

  1. I start my task list by listing my “permanent tasks”, thinks like meetings or items that are ABSOLUTELY required today.
  2. Then I list all the other tasks by priority that I need to finish that I know of. Many of these are carried over from the previous day’s list.
  3. For each task I make an estimate of how much time I think it’s going to take me to complete.
  4. Then I fill in the time grid based on the estimates, this allows me to know how much “free time” I have during the day for those random tasks or meetings that may popup
  5. I then use the bottom under the task list to jot down any tasks that pop up during the day that aren’t URGENT but need to be carried over through-out the week
  6. When I finish a task, I still get the satisfaction of checking it off, and I also fill in exactly how much time it really did take me to complete.
  7. Get Productive, Wash, Rinse, Repeat!
  8. Then at the end of week I use the completed sheets to fill in my time sheets at the end of the week.

Self-Inflicted Undue Pressure

I’ve been speaking to several colleagues lately within the web design community, and I’ve come to a harsh realization. I think that as a whole, our industry creates it’s own self-inflicted pressure with deadlines and customer relations.

Granted, some customers can come into the relationship wanting the impossible, but often, with a little enlightenment, customers can grasp how Rome cannot be built within a week. But I feel often, instead of investing in this conversation, we instead push ourselves to build things quicker, faster, and cheaper.

Sometimes we can just have a simple conversation with our clients, and often they’ll be totally accepting of our need for more time to create the desired product. Many times when I talk to a client, they themselves are not prepared for the product to be finished, they don’t have the content ready yet, they still need to gather all their product photos, etc.

Why do we tend to forgo these honest conversations that can strengthen our client relations and really give us a better working relationship in the long run? Is it our need for deadlines? Perhaps our procrastinative nature drives us to seek this adrenaline rush that is the last-minute push? Maybe a way to curb our creative natures that drive us to constantly expand the scope of possibilities for the project?

This issue has always frustrated me, why push ourselves to slam something out when there’s always more time to work? Sure, things have to get done, but does the quality of work have to suffer? We quit trying to achieve the best possible, and start undercutting to hit some date that really isn’t anything more than a spec of time in the span of the universe.

So I thought I’d toss it out there and see what you guys thought, why do we do this to ourselves?


SXSW Day 1 – Respect Panel

Alright so I thought that I’d have time between sessions and parties to really capture everything I’ve done while I was at my first SXSW, unfortunately, that was not the case. However! I took really great notes, so sit back and relax as I tell my story of one girl, one conference and thousands of geeks with great ideas.

I packed, I got into a cab, I stood in security, I boarded, I flew, I landed, what now? Taxi! Hopped in and jetted over to my hotel, while my room wasn’t quite ready I got to check in and have them hold my baggage which was nice. Stayed at the Radisson, which was alright, but next year I’ll definitely be staying at the OMNI, it’s just more… well… COOL. Anyhow, off to the conference!

Walking down to the conference center I’m already spotting people with SXSW badges and gear rolling down the street. The conference center was swarming with geeky peeps all excited and not quite sure what to do or where to go yet. Instantaneously greeted by the Integrumlins hacking in the halls already working on some new inspired SXSW twitter application. I am directed to the check in line, which spans AROUND the corner of the conference center, estimated wait time, 40 minutes. Vaguely reminded of college registration, I step in line and begin my journey to check in. The line moved surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I had a new shiny badge and my very own SXSW bag of swag.

Met back up with the integrum peeps and proceeded to elimnate about 98% of the paper products in the swag bag, poor trees!  Chilled for a bit before the first session, Respect! by featuring team members of Happy Cog and Douglas Bowman of Google.


The main premise of the panel was how to gain respect in our careers, from our colleagues and our clients, by developing concepts on how we can translate what we do in a way they can understand and respect it, as well as interpreting the value of what we do.

The Client

The important message here is getting the client to understand what exactly goes into the process of great web design. As Jason Santa Maria put it, “[It’s] difficult to respect something I don’t understand, you have to get what went into it to respect it.”  To have the client get what gets into it, you have to involve them early, letting the client draw and express what they really would like to get out of the website and giving them ownership of ideas, making them part of the process of initial strategy.

Having all the right research of what the client really needs is important. Happy Cog conducts extensive client research, going into their client’s office and really discussing with everyone regarding what they really need. “It’s the tipping point when you’re in individual meetings and they go to shut the door, you know they’re going to open up to you and trust you”, Liz Danzico stated, “creating an understanding with them that they find valuable.” If you feel you usually don’t have time to really get to know the client and their needs, start to make time within your proposals.

Another way you can gain client respect for you and the work you do is to not nickel and dime them on small changes and corrections. It’s awesome that the client wants to make it perfect, just make sure you’re consulting them through the process.

Also, when you help clients through the process remind them of the WHOLE process and what they’re doing right now at this very step. We sometimes forget that clients don’t have the website on their minds at all times, they have other business issues to worry about as well, how the company is doing, if they have to hire or fire, what about those health benefits their employees want? So remember that while their website might be forefront in your mind, they have other things going on and they need you to remind them what they’re doing in the web design process and why it’s important to the website.

Also be aware of how web savvy your client is. If they’re pretty good at knowing the small stuff, don’t be lazy, use that to your advantage by being able to teach and push their knowledge farther regarding some of the more advanced techniques that are involved. Remember, understanding is the key to respect.

Copy is one thing, visual representation can be the sticking point in a client relationship. “Visual representation is VERY personal” Jeff mentioned. Happy Cog gave us some solutions on how to get over this extreme hurdle in the relationship unscathed by giving the client two completely seperate solutions to their problems offering them up as “this says this about you, that says that about you” Jeffrey Zeldman recommended. Jason Santa Maria suggested “have the client focus on the problems rather than solutions” since the solutions are your specialty and your clients problems are their specialty. This gives the client a feeling that you’re holding the keys and they have to consult you on “the best way” to achieve a solution.


Jeffrey raised the question regarding awards and whether awards really  provide any metric to our clients regarding how good we are at our jobs. The panel concluded that while awards may have some impact as a metric on how clients respect you, that it’s both small and perhaps deceptive since there are so many awards out there that don’t really attest to great web design at all.

Within the Team

Within your team it’s important to have a certain amount of respect as well. To do this the panelists suggested to make sure everyone on the team was somewhat cross trained or familiar with what each staff member contributes to the project and how their job is also vital to the project completion and success. As said before, it’s hard to respect something your teammates may not fully understand.

Other Interesting Thoughts

I found that during the course of this years conference a reoccuring theme appeared with content collection and creation, lots of shops are demanding content be provided before the design process ever begins, which is great because we’re shifting focus from the aesthetics to the real reason the web began in the first place, CONTENT!

Happy Cog team members also stressed the importance of good content, they make actual editorial documents regarding the voice and use of the content throughout the site to really define and bring life to the brand. Also, the content needs to really be informative, as Jeffrey cautioned, “Sites [are] reading too marketing and not enough web.”

Overall a very interesting session and a great way to start off the conference. I’ll be posting more take aways from more sessions as I have the time today and tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled. 🙂 Now I have to hop in the shower for the last day of exciting SXSW action!


Changing Gears: Career Move

I’ve left my position at Terralever as a front end architect to explore other opportunities within the Phoenix area. Over the last few months I’ve developed an interest in other aspects of the web industry, not just xhtml/css. I’d like to expand my abilities in areas such as web marketing strategy, seo/sem, design and other areas in web design and development. Terralever is a great company that provided me with spectacular opportunities to work with big name brands and cutting edge technology. However, each employee is very specialized and a very T shaped professional, while this position allowed me to become very specialized in XHTML/CSS, I didn’t find the flexibility I required to delve into other areas I was interested in.

I have accepted a short term contract with Drawbackwards, a smaller strategic design and interactive marketing agency. I will be filling several roles at Drawbackwards that will enable me to have the flexibility to explore the other areas of the web industry that I’m interested in. Over the last week I’ve been able to create information architecture, SEO/SEM suggestions, project plans, etc. I’m sure this is just the beginning.

I’ve realized that I’m interested in more than just how the web is created. I want to know how people make the web great. Focusing on strategic approaches to connect great companies and services with customers and users whose lives will be enriched by these products, services and relationships.

Look for the tone of my website to change a bit, perhaps less technical and more theoretical. With the career change I’ll have more mobility, working from home three days a week, so I hope to be able to post more often. Also, in early March I’ll be attending the South by Southwest Interactive Conference, so I look forward to posting regarding all the exciting ideas I get from there. 🙂


Links of the Week Vol. 1

Welcome to the first week of LINKS OF THE WEEK! I come across some great informative and humorous content online, and I want to share that.. with all of you. Enjoy!

Wonderful cartoon explaining the communication struggle in development of applications.

Happy Webbies is like Happy Bunny for web geeks. Check out the animated talking heads of web design.

Burns Marketing will be closed up for the holidays, but they created a great viral marketing campaign with their Virtual Account Manager.

“wOOt” crowned as word of the year by Merriam-Webster, what does I have to say about this? WOOT!

CSS for Accessibility takes CSS a bit further, discussing how CSS can play a role in accessibility as well as layout.



Lots to Do This Week

I just wanted to make sure you were invited to all the awesome web and design happenings this week in Phoenix!

Tues, Dec 4th – Refresh Phoenix

Refresh Phoenix meets every first Tuesday of the month to discuss current internet issues and trends. The topics range from becoming your own boss to css frameworks to make your work more efficient. This month the topic is results from the 2007 Web Design Survey that was put out by A List Apart. This should be a very interesting conversation since there really has never been a survey of the internet industry.

When: Tuesday, December 4th 6:30 – 9:30 pm (come early to get some networking in)

Inza Coffee
8658 East Shea Blvd, Scottsdale

Fri, Dec 7th – 16th Annual AIGA Art Auction

AIGA Arizona is holding it’s annual Art Auction event in Downtown Phoenix at MonOrchid Studios during December First Friday! AIGA Arizona is pleased to present over 100 original works of art (paintings, mixed media, photography, digital art, sculpture, jewelry, and more) displayed on sale in live and silent auction formats. Plus bid on a selection of special packages that include dining, entertainment and recreation. This year’s art auction will also feature the Mohawk Show.

When: Friday, December 7th 6-10 pm

MonOrchid Studios
214 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix

Sat, Dec 8th – BarCamp Phoenix

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. All attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one. This is great because you can both speak and be an audience member.

When: Friday, December 8th 9 am – 5 pm

University of Advancing Technology (UAT)
2625 W. Baseline Road, Tempe


Making the "A" Team

Communication and team work really have a huge impact on bottom line, completion dates and overall employee moral.

When I say that, it seems like such a “duh” statement, but in day to day activities sometimes this simple statement can be so overlooked. I’ve worked in some very different team environments, and I feel that I’ve taken away with some decent experience as to what really makes a team successful in projects. I’m sure we’ve all had our parts in bad teams and in super ones. Each time we assess the team and wonder, “why was that so difficult/easy, compared to last time??”

So what are some ways good teamwork can be created? Wait… it can be created?! Yes. I believe anyone can become a great teammate, and a good team can be formed anywhere, any time, as long as a few guidelines are upheld.

  1. Be HONEST about your abilities, weaknesses, mistakes and concerns.
    • You need to know what the team has to work with, if you set out to accomplish a goal that your team isn’t prepared for, you’re doomed. Don’t take on a movie deal if you’re a couple of guys and a camcorder. Find out what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are.
    • Alert the team on any serious blockers as soon as they’re made known, hiding these serious road blocks and trying to find an answer yourself may be harder on team moral than just owning up to mistakes or changes and working out the kinks as a team instead of placing all the blame on one team mate for trying to cover it up until it was too late to repair. Everyone is human, we all make mistakes, own up to them and find a way to work around it instead of placing the blame on someone else.
    • If you have concerns or questions about what a project includes or what is required, talk to someone and be honest. If you think something won’t work, don’t be afraid to let someone know, it’s better the team knows about a possible roadblock before it becomes an issue. At least you can all start brainstorming ways to fix it now, instead of later when someone is freaking out because you didn’t tell them before.
  2. RESPECT your team mates as experts.
    • No one is ever any better than anyone else. Why? Because without everyone in the team you can’t complete your goal. Everyone is just as important as anyone else at getting the job done.
    • Just because you think their job is easy, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes people are so good at what they do, they just make it look easy.
    • There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming ideas on the best practices on how to do something, but when your team mate is clearly more versed in what you’re trying to accomplish, take the time to actually listen to what they have to say.
    • If a suggested solution clearly isn’t a suitable answer, be prepared to back it up with fact and reason instead of “because I want to do it that way”.
  3. COMMUNICATE about the project and every person’s needs to get their part completed.
    • Don’t ever leap before you look. Always let all the team members know why they’re working on a project to begin with. Tell them what the goals are, tell them what the outlook is going to look like.
    • Don’t skimp on defining the needs or desires of the project, these guidelines will be important when you want to make quick decisions. Communication is so important when you want to work quickly, giving all team members all the information means that they can make informed decisions without having to interrupt someone else or having to wait until the team leader is available for questions. This can also save you time on rework when people make uninformed snap decisions that have to be later readdressed.
    • Sometimes additional needs and considerations aren’t thought of fully until the entire team is fully informed in the needs of the projects.
  4. Be OPEN to others opinions and questions.
    • Just because you’re an expert in a particular area, doesn’t mean someone else on the team doesn’t have a good idea on how to approach a difficult problem in a creative way.
    • When additional items, issues, concerns or changes are dug up, be open to accepting that one person can not always think of all the things that can go wrong or need to be addressed.
    • If a team member feels they need additional information to complete their tasks, take the time to listen and to at least try to address their concerns or questions. These questions can be vital to dredging up pot holes that could have derailed the project further down the line.
  5. LEARN as much as you can.
    • Learn about project, the proposed process and your team mates. Find out everyones goals, roles and bits and pieces. Figure out how you fit into the process and who is intimately relying on you to do your job and do it well.
    • Constantly expand your current knowledge base, the more you know about your field, the more of an expert you are. The more confident you will be of your decisions that effect the project and the less mistakes you’ll make (usually).
    • Knowing about how your piece fits in with everything else will help you in planning what you need to get out when or how to deliver it, because you’ll know more about how and when the next team mate will need it. This makes their job that much easier.

So that’s it! Honesty, Respect, Communication, Being Open, and Learning. That’s all it takes to become a great team mate and a great team in total. Sometimes in the heat of trying to get something done, you can forget these very simple guidelines, but just take a deep breath and remember that everyone you’re working with to get this done want the same thing. And that is, to get the project done, right, on time and under budget. You’re all on the same team, with the same overall goal. No one is against you, no one is trying to make your life harder for no real reason. Head up, smile, and remember Honesty, Respect, Communication, Being Open, and Learning.


Seth Godin: How To Create a Great Website

Seth Godin recently posted his top 10 principles to create a great website. I really agreed with his perspective and wanted to elaborate with my own views.

1. Fire the committee. No great website in history has been conceived of by more than three people. Not one. This is a dealbreaker.

When you involve too many people into the process you start to conform and compromise until a great, original idea has transformed into a safe, bland piece of uninspiring web junk.

2. Change the interaction. What makes great websites great is that they are simultaneously effortless and new at the same time. That means that the site teaches you a new thing or new interaction or new connection, but you know how to use it right away. (Hey, if doing this were easy, everyone would do it.)

The web is all about interaction and ease of use, make it easy and make it essential to life. People flock to technologies and websites that make it easier to connect, share, do, and use in a way that wasn’t possible before. Take for instance, Flckr, it’s made photo sharing so remarkably easy that the whole world started sharing their snapshots. Or look at MySpace, making connecting to old friends easy, customizable so you can have your very own space on the web.

3. Less. Fewer words, fewer pages, less fine print.

There’s a new trend on the web where less is more. Don’t pitch to the client, don’t dance around the fact that you have a service they are interested in, just give it to them straight. If they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t be on your website, and they’re on your site for more concise, to the point information about you, the services you provide, and if you’re right for them. However, on the web, attention spans are at an all time low, so make it snappy!

4. What works, works. Theory is irrelevant.

Ultimately, there is no golden ticket to being a giant on the web. For years everyone thought we needed MORE everywhere on the web, and then came along Google: a logo, a text box, and a button. PERIOD. While you may think for a long time on how something may work, the true test is just to launch and see what happens.

5. Patience. Some sites test great and work great from the start. (Great if you can find one). Others need people to use them and adjust to them. At some point, your gut tells you to launch. Then stick with it, despite the critics, as you gain traction.

The bigger the site, the more complex, the more bugs you’re going to find. You can test EVERY scenario on how a user will try to use something, and then the day you launch, a user will show you a different approach you didn’t think of. The web is ever evolving, even if you launch today and it’s perfect, you’ll still need to update to stay fresh. Nothing on the web is forever. If you place your flag in the sand and wait two years to build on what you’ve created you’ll realize you have to totally rebuild because you’re washed up. Keep fresh, keep building on what you’ve made.

6. Measure. If you’re not improving, if the yield is negative… kill it.

You can spend a ton of money on a new site, but how do you know you’re getting a return on your investment? Do you know how many new contacts or sales are coming to the website? Do you know how many visitors you have and what your conversion rate is? If you’re not getting the numbers and contacts you want, where are your users bailing out of the system? Knowing all this information is key to making sure your investment is really being returned and that what you do next is really required to boost those numbers. Don’t be afraid to bail out of something that isn’t working after a period of time. Don’t beat a dead horse, just get up and move on to another approach.

7. Insight is good, clever is bad. Many websites say, “look at me.” Your goal ought to be to say, “here’s what you were looking for.”

Just because your site has all the bells and whistles doesn’t mean you’re going to draw in those users you want. Building on the less is more strategy, make sure that that select content you choose to include in your website is insightful and what the client is really looking for.

8. If you hire a professional: hire a great one. The best one. Let her do her job. 10 mediocre website consultants working in perfect harmony can’t do the work of one rock star.

Think of it as if you’re going to the doctor, would you tell him that your leg is broken and how to set, pin and cast it? No. Would you go to the illegal doctor working out of a shack instead of a highly trained doctor in a hospital? You should have the same regard for your interactive professional. Tell them where it hurts, tell them what other marketing meds you’re on, but don’t tell them how to do their operation. Even though you might save some money in the short term by going to a hole in the wall web shop, you’ll get want you pay for, junk. You’re going to reap the benefits of plunking down the dollars for a professional organized, designed and developed website.

9. One voice, one vision.

Make sure you know what you want to say and how you want to say it. You should have a solid idea of what you’re looking for. This will save time and money when you start looking at companies and solutions to help you build your website.

10. Don’t settle.

In the end, you ARE paying for a service. Don’t be steamrolled by a company who simply isn’t giving you what you need or thought you were going to get. Make sure the company you’ve selected for your project is right, and feel free to shop around. If your idea simply isn’t going to happen for your budget, more than likely several companies will tell you.


Bill Buxton: What Makes a Good UX Designer?

I happened across a video interview with Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher for Microsoft Research, on Canadian User Experience today and thought some of his points were very interesting in regards to what makes a great user experience designer.

He was questioned about what a college graduate should focus on when entering the ux career field at Microsoft, and his answer was interesting. “I don’t want a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. I want “T-Shaped People”, People who have a broad understanding of the whole field (the horizontal part of the T) but then have deep understanding and perspective in one discipline in particular ( the vertical part of the T).” He went on to describe how having this deep knowledge in one area of the field makes you very creditable and an expert in your area. This deep knowledge allows you to catch details of UX that someone with shallow knowledge likely would have missed.

Building a team of T-Shaped People allows you to have experts in all areas of your full field, yet all of them have a broad understanding of the task at hand and how they fit into the process. Being a T-Shaped person allows you to be trusted as an expert of your area of discipline, and other experts have to trust that you know the very miniscual details of your expertise.


Project Planning Does Development Good

An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure they say. I believe the same goes for web production and development.

Documentation is our fiend. Here is just a short list of some documents that will save your project a lot of time and money in the long run.

1. Branding Style Guide
Get the company colors, the fonts, the logos, everything! This will not only help in the intial design process, but keep the brand true when it goes into production.

2. Sitemap / Information Architecture
Just a general overview of what the client wants on the site and where each peice in general is going to go. Double check that if you have specific section designs that each peice falls into a section. This document really helps when you’re looking at how far you still have to go in the project as far as content or pages go.

3. Site Requirement Documentation
This one can be tricky. At the beginning the client usually doesn’t know EXACTLY what they want, so nailing them down on required development and user experience can be difficult. Especially when they can’t easily visualize the experience. Expect this documentation to change several times during the development process, but make sure all team members are aware as soon as those changes are made and make it clear when parts of the project are still up for discussion. This communication will save you quite a bit (maybe not all) of rework down the road.

4. Project Timeline
This is a timeline of all the milestones that the project should go through, from planning to final testing. Make sure that when you get started on the timeline that you discuss all the particulars and requirements with each team member to get an accurate estimate of the true effort required. Usually the most frequent project issue is time and deadlines, so doing this preplanning and letting everyone know when their section is due will help the project stay on track.

What is this?

This little blog happens to be the personal ramblings of one April Holle - I'm female, outspoken, webbie, a community evangelist, and Principal of Made Better Studio. Check out the about section for more info.

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