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Friday, July 18, 2008

Choosing a top Web development firm

Five steps to the right Web design company.

1. Self Analysis
2. Generate a list
3. Create a shortlist
4. Get proposals
5. Evaluate and select a partner

1. Self Analysis

A good Web development firm will work with you in defining your organization's requirements. That said, the better you can define your Web development and marketing goals (at least the basic ideas) the better it is – for both you and the potential Web development firm.

For instance: Do you want to convey only essential information on your company, like a brochure, or really promote your whole business – brand, products, services, etc? Does your company need Internet marketing such as Google Adwords, PPC or search engine optimization (SEO)? Will your Web site speak primarily to new accounts, or promote a closer relationship with your existing clients? Do you need an intranet/extranet for partners or employees? All or some of the above?

In order to find a Web design firm best suited for your project, your organization should be aware of the following:

* The intended goal of the project
* The intended audience for the Web site
* The anticipated budget for the Web site development
* How the project will fit into a larger marketing/corporate scheme
* The individuals/departments within your organization responsible for the project

Once you have determined these initial requirements, document them and use them as a basis for evaluating each Web design firm. This document gives you a common yardstick to measure each Web design firm you will be contacting. Similarly, a professional Web development company will respect the fact that you are taking your project seriously.

2. Generate a list

There are a number of ways to search for a Web development firm. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a referral is great but may be biased to different target market or industry sector; likewise, a portfolio review is great, but on its own may miss the technical aspects not visible on the frontend (i.e. database or software development). So a combination of the different approaches will be your best bet for finding a Web design firm to match your needs.

Referrals: Ask business acquaintances, friends, and family which Web design firm designed the Web site for their respective organizations, or if they can otherwise recommend a Web design firm. Be inquisitive. Find out what the individuals responsible liked or disliked about working with the various Web design firms. Some firms are better suited for taking a project from start to finish. Other Web design firms are more inclined to work from an existing concept.

Other Web sites: Determine the Web design firm that is responsible for the Web sites of organizations that you admire. These organizations may be your competitors, or in related or unrelated industries. Sometimes the Web design firm is included in the site credits, or is listed elsewhere on the Web site. If you cannot find the credits on the site itself, feel free to contact the organization and ask which Web design firm is responsible for the Web site. This can also be a good source for references for that Web design firm.

Once you have gathered a list of potential Web design firms you are ready to pare them down to a shortlist.

3. Create a shortlist

From the list of potential Web design firms, your organization's goal should now be to create a shortlist of 3-5 firms that are best suited for your project. In order to determine which Web design firms are most appropriate for your project, do the following:

Examine the portfolio
Do the projects in the portfolio have a consistent quality? If not, it's possible that the company has experienced staff turnover. You may wish to enquire which designers are responsible for the portfolio pieces you admire most, and confirm that these individuals are still with the company.

Has the Web design company provided solutions to other companies in your industry? Have they dealt with similar challenges to those faced by your organization?
These are some important factors to consider. At the same time, look at the Web design firm's breadth of experience – they may be able to address your immediate needs, but will they be able to provide solutions 6 months down the road, or 1 year later, or 5 years later?

Thanks to the distributed nature of the Internet, some of the better Web design firms have implemented systems that allow them to work with organizations across the globe as easily as organizations across the street. When reviewing the Web sites of a Web design firm, note the geographical location of their clients. A Web design firm that has worked with clients in many geographical locations will have a more global approach to your Web site.

Technical competence and experience
Does the Web development firm have technical experience for your requirements (or potential needs) such as ecommerce/ebusiness, Internet marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), interactive Flash/animation, or software/database development and system integration? Do they code their Web pages in compliance with top industry standards (like W3C)? Is their ecommerce code secure and/or hacker-proof? Do they provide hosting, long-term maintenance and support?

Analyze the process
Does the Web design firm have a clearly stated process for designing and developing Web sites? Do they spend enough time understanding your Web site goals and planning how those will be achieved, such as Needs Analysis? Does the development firm have structure and expertise in Information Architecture? Avoid selecting an individual designer, on a freelance basis, to design and develop your organization's Web site. It is rare to find a single person capable of handling the combined visual and technical elements that make an effective Web presence. Additionally, by depending on an individual, your organization is at risk of losing its investment should anything occur to that one individual – or down the road they simply can't find time to help when you need it.

Determine what other products/services the Web design company can offer
What kind of value-added products or services can the design firm offer? Product Marketing, Pay per Click (PPC) and Web site promotion? Newsletter or email campaigns? If your organization is not currently dealing with a print design agency, for example, this might be a factor for dealing with one group over another. Similarly, can the firm provide database and software development should your organization wish to Web-enable some of its existing systems or processes?

During this stage, your organization should make contact with the candidate companies that are on your shortlist. If any of the above information is not readily available, be sure to ask the potential Web development firm for specific examples as close to your needs as possible. Make sure you understand their scope inclusions, terminology definitions etc. If they don't have a glossary, get them to explain it in detail.

4. Get proposals

Once you have selected your short-list of top Web development firms, request that they send you a proposal. Ask that their proposal include an overview of your requirements and their proposed solution. This will help to determine which Web design firm understands your requirements best. Also ask that each Web design firm include a description of their development process and a price breakdown for the various aspects of the Web site project.

5. Evaluate and select a partner

Start off by examining each proposal individually. Before dealing with the content, evaluate the format and presentation of the proposal. The winning Web design firm will be creating your organization's image on the Internet, viewable to millions of Internet users. How do they present themselves? Do they communicate with you using their Web site and digital documents?

Maintain a list for each proposal, consisting of its strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of the respective Web design firm based on its other materials (Web site, portfolio, brochure, case studies, etc.). Alternatively, make a grid for easy comparison. Example: in an ecommerce project, compare the competing product features and costs side-by-side.

Importantly, weigh each firm on its ability to be a long-term partner. Have they been in business for several years, being stable and profitable? Do they have a list of clients and projects that you can confirm? Having an outsourced interactive agency as a partner has many benefits: expertise and experience in Internet marketing/SEO, software development and integration skills, and the flexibility of resources on tap. (This still applies even if you have on-staff marketing resources.)

After your organization has reviewed all proposals, compare them with each other. How do they fare in terms of presentation? How do their processes appear in terms of project management? Do they present scalability and/or upgrade paths for your project, that go beyond the needs of the immediate goals outlined?

Once you have made a decision, contact the firms that did not win the contract, and share with them the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals and the reasons (in general terms) why your organization selected the winning firm. Lastly, contact the top Web development firm and let them know the good news.


Friday, March 28, 2008

What tools and techniques are required to be used by a Project manager while execution of a project ?

Project managers can use a number of tools and techniques during a project life cycle such as:-

Verifiable objective setting

This ensures that the objectives for the project can be measured and verified to ensure that they have been accomplished.

Brain storming

This technique is used at all stages of the project to support creative thinking and for solving problems and bottlenecks.

Work Breakdown Structures

This is a technique to analyze the content of work and cost by breaking it down into its component parts. It is produced by :-
• Identifying the key elements
• Breaking each element down into component parts
• Continuing to breakdown until manageable work packages have been identified. These can then be allocated to the appropriate person having appropriate experience and skill sets.

Below is a work breakdown structure for the recruitment of a new person to fill a vacant post.

Project Evaluation Review Technique (PERT)

Network analysis or PERT is used to analyze the inter-relationships between the tasks identified by the work breakdown structure and to define the dependencies of each task. Whilst laying out a PERT chart it is often possible to see that assumptions for the order of work are not logical or could be achieved more cost effectively by re-ordering them. This is particularly true whilst allocating resources; it may become self evident that two tasks cannot be completed at the same time by the same person due to lack of working hours or, conversely, that by adding an extra person to the project team several tasks can be done in parallel thus shortening the length of the project.

Below is the PERT chart of the WBS shown above after the application of the network analysis.

Critical path analysis (CPA)

CPA is used in conjunction with PERT analysis to identify the tasks that are critical in determining the overall duration of the project. In the example above the critical path is shown by the tasks with heavy outline boxes.

Milestone Planning

Milestone planning is used to show the major steps that are needed to reach the goal on time. When several tasks have been completed the milestone is reached. It is often used at senior manager reviews.

What are Milestones? Why are they called Milestones?

Imagine you are walking along the road and you see a milestone that says 20 miles to London so you keep walking and later you see one that says 10 miles to London. Now you know that you are going in the right direction and you have made some progress. That is the principle of project milestones. For example, if the project is to build a house then completing each significant chunk of work could be considered a milestone on the road to building the house. For example the milestones might be:-
• Planning permission granted
• Foundations laid
• Walls constructed
• Roof built
• Fixtures, fittings and services completed
• Garden landscaped
• House inspected and approved
• House sold

For simple projects, a milestone plan may be the only plan required.

Accrued cost and earned value analysis

These measures enable the progress of the project to be monitored in financial terms.

Gantt charts

Gantt charts (named after the inventor) or bar charts, as they are sometimes called, are used to display and communicate the results of PERT and Critical Path analysis in a simple bar chart format that can be readily understood by those not involved in the detail of the project.

The PERT chart above is now displayed as a Gantt chart below .


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The role of the IT project manager (PM)

The role of the IT project manager (PM) is being redefined. In addition to making sure the project is progressing as planned, in today’s environment the PM needs to be good in 2 more areas

1. Effectively manage resources and clients that are mobile and globally located.
2. Understand the business and marketing strategy of the customer because in this competitive landscape the project scope can change or become irrelevant quickly and at any time.

In a traditional sense, a PM takes on the task, breaks it into sub tasks and delegates it to the right resources, assigns timelines and monitors the progress. Projects generally in the past had a long lead time and all the resources and clients were located locally making it easy for the PM to focus only on a well developed project management process to achieve his objective. ‘Waterfall’ project planning methodology with initial requirement gathering session and then dedicating session to design and develop software/web application usually worked well in the past.

But, over the past few years the complexity of the project management has dramatically increased. The life time of business cycle is dropping fast. The large organizations do not have the luxury of slowly adapting to the changing customer needs. The business processes have to re-engineer, so as to support fast decision making and execution of strategy. Business processes now need to be ‘agile’ to adapt to changing competitive landscape. Technological changes have accelerated globalization and have intensified competition and the organizations need to be nimble and agile. The organization’s product, priorities are constantly shifting to take advantage of emerging trends and customer preferences.

Because of the above mentioned changes, the IT Project Manager needs to possess two additional skills:

1. Demonstrate Cultural Intelligence:

This is Emotional Intelligence in the global cultural context. In a globally connected world projects are no longer constrained to a single location. Neither are customers located in a single location. Since, the resources and clients are now globally located, the IT PM needs to build ‘relationship’ with the development resource as well as customers across several time zones. To be globally competitive, a PM also needs to put on a learning hat to acquire knowledge and skills to understand unique culture of diverse individuals in the context of region, religion, ethnicity and country.

2. Understand Business Strategy:

Because of need for agility of organization, IT PM now does not have the luxury of being in seclusion and work on a project for few months at a given time. The IT PM needs to understand the client’s business strategy and challenge any project scope that is not in alignment with that strategy. IT PM should be in tune with changing marketing/business strategy to make sure that the project is still relevant to the client's need. The project management processes need to be agile to enable fast changing client priorities and the fastracing process may have scope in it. The IT PM needs the influencing and negotiation skills for forced prioritization to solve the major business problems in a short development cycle.

In my view, IT Project Managers who masters these additional skill set are going to be in great valuation in near future.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Project Lifecycle

Its another look to the Project Lifecyle for a Web development Project. A web development project, once a proposal is agreed, moves through a logical sequence of phases as the different components which are required to be considered for a web site development (design, programming, interface, text and Sign off). Throughout your project, Virtual Viewing will work closely with you, collecting content from you and asking for your feedback as development proceeds.

Working through a detailed design questionnaire with you, the Project Manager will brief the designers to produce initial mock-up designs of Home page first and then on getting confirmation on that from you. The inner key pages of the proposed site will be designed and will be sent for your approval. This will include navigational design, informed by the detailed site map the project manager had developed as part of the project scope statement.

As well as the construction of the full list of pages of the site (including any for which you will subsequently have administrative access), this stage also incorporates the linking of content to content management systems (such as OSCAR), the implementation of any programmed elements of your site (such as product databases, web-based forms for services such as inquiries and registration/signup, or site search functions), and integration with third-party systems [such as Payment gateway/ RSS (external feeds)/ Shipping gateway/ SMS gateway etc].

Internal Testing
Once development is completed, your website will pass through internal testing against the project specification to identify and correct any issues thats being detected in its operation.

Acceptance Testing
During this key stage, the Project Manager will make a development version of your website available for you to test and check online, so that you can confirm that it provides all specified functionality and adheres to the approved visual design.

At this stage, you should inform the Project Manager of any issues arising from Acceptance Testing (other than those accounted for/by any modifications or variations that have been formally agreed during production), so that the Project Manager can address these in the most suitable fashion.

While further modifications can be incorporated at this stage if so required, please note that any previously unspecified requirements will need to be estimated (cost) and approved by both the parties.

To populate the framework provided by your website’s design/programming, you will need to collate text, visual and other content (including any database that had been incorporated into the site’s functionality). The agreed scope/specification and site map will guide you through the content that will be required, and the Project Manager can also assist you by providing templates that will optimize your pages for search engine visibility.

Sign Off and Go Live
Once all development issues have been completed and resolved, your site will then be ready to be launched to public, subject to any final accounting / administrative issues.

With this stage, there can also be deliverables like arrange Training for your key staffs, Tutorials, QC plan.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Website Design Project Life-cycle

A successful website relies on much more than merely its visual design. Careful analysis of consumer wants and needs are essential to the delivery of a successfully designed website. At WEB SITE DESIGN PROCESS, follows these 4 working practices or methods within a project life-cycle: These are the steps which comes in the execution phase of the site's development. Apart from these there are other Management Processes to undertake, which are Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control and Closing.. The below mentioned steps comes in the Execution Phase..

* Website Exploration
* Website Creation
* Website Evolution
* Website Deployment

These all depend on numerous deliverables and milestones to move the project forward leading to its completion and moving it to the closing phase. WEB SITE DESIGN is here to help guide you through the process with clarity. So, where to start? The first step in your project will be the Website Exploration Phase.

Website Exploration

It is during this phase that the Service Provider's team spends a lot of time getting to know you and your business. It's required to determine:

* What is the purpose of this website?
* What are your marketing objectives?
* Who is your audience and what are their expectations?
* What message are you trying to convey?
* Who are your competitors?

Once a thorough understanding of your place in the market and your business needs is being obtained, then the service provider will require making recommendations of how to best achieve your goals.

The information that the provider uncovers during this phase will provide them with the foundations for the Website Creation Phase.

Website Creation

The designers take the results of the Website Exploration Phase and begin to come up with a concept for your website. Typically, the provider then offers a range of website designs and discusses with you each one in regards to usability and ease-of-use. Designing the look and feel for your website is just one deliverable of this phase; there are other tasks that will seek understanding and agreement on:

* Determining the architecture of your website by developing a detailed site map.
* If there is any technical development, we will need to make sure that the design of the functionality meets all of our usability standards.

Now as the decision on the look of your website had been achieved and have identified all of the pages that will need to be constructed, its an initiation phase to start constructing the website in the Website Evolution Phase.

Website Evolution

Working to the design developed in the Website Creation Phase, the team is ready to construct the pages of your website. During this phase its required to do the following:

* Construct the navigational architecture with usability best practices
* Populate all pages with graphics and content
* Code any technical requirements into the site - including database & e-Commerce functionality and website interactivity
* Create all animations, menus, and multimedia components

The emerging website will be located on one of the development servers of the provider for you to see and discuss prior to its 'live' location. The final phase of the project life-cycle is the Website Deployment Phase.

Website Deployment

Prior to your website going-live its requires to undertake the following:

* Thoroughly test the website to ensure an optimum user experience
* Determine a website launch plan - emails, newsletters, PPC (Pay Per Click)
* Determining the SEO plan for getting higher positions in the organic search of Google (if required)