Here’s a common scenario. You work at a mid to large size company. You’re the lead on a team that’s tasked with hiring a design and development partner to work on your new website and application.
The budget is approved and all that’s left is to find the perfect partner to bring on board. But hiring and working with an outside contractor can be a challenging situation, even when you find the perfect the fit. Especially because there are roadblocks within your own company that can wreak havoc on even your best laid plans.
Since we’ve seen this happen over and over again with companies just like yours, we thought it might be helpful if we shared some of our experiences and how we deal with roadblocks that pop up during a new project. Just think of us as your friendly GPS that can help you, your project partner, and your company reach the final destination.
On your mark. Get set. Wait!
You might be asking yourself, “I haven’t even started yet and there are already roadblocks?”. You betcha!
First thing’s first… when you find that ideal partner for your project you’re going to need a contract. Many companies have standard vendor agreements that are already approved by their legal department. However, your standard agreement might not always be suitable. Your new partner might ask for modifications or it could be that your project itself might not fit within standard terms.
Do you know how the contract amendment process works at your company? Familiarizing yourself with internal processes can save you a lot of time if issues arise. Even if you don’t know the process, it can be useful to have a relationship with someone in legal or a colleague that has experience in this area. That way when issues come up, you’ll already have that person on speed dial.
Don’t let your project blow up just because you took too long to amend an agreement. You’ll spend a lot of time finding the perfect project partner, so you don’t want to lose them!
Another roadblock we see at the start of a project is processing the initial payment. All firms worth their salt require payment up front before they begin work on a project. We can’t tell you how many projects have been put on hold because payment was approved, but not sent out yet.
Payment issues can happen at any stage of a project, but they’re especially problematic at the beginning.
Payment issues can happen at any stage of a project, but they’re especially problematic at the beginning. Everyone is itching to get started and then because of a breakdown in the finance department, you have to start modifying the schedule before you even start. Talk about a momentum killer.
Be sure to identify who within your company will be processing payments to your web design partner. At larger companies it can be easy to get the run around between departments. Knowing who to contact ahead of time can be extremely valuable. Even if the delay is inevitable, maintaining trust and open communication between your company and your partner is essential to starting things off on the right foot.
Here’s a tip: Try to develop a relationship with the person in your company that sends out the physical checks. Guess what? More than likely it’s not the department lead that was assigned to your project. That person will undoubtedly tell you it’s been sent, even when it hasn’t. Having someone with eyes on the ground can give you a real status report. They may even send your payment sooner if they know you’re personally waiting on them for an update.
Share design progress with everyone
In an ideal world, all the key stakeholders are involved at every stage of your project. In reality, while your team may be running point, your company policy may require you to get sign-off from higher ups at key stages of the project.
This can be another difficult roadblock to overcome. Since these higher ups are not involved in the day to day progress of the project, they aren’t always aware of what your team has been working on. You probably have a meeting on the schedule where you’ll be expected to communicate the reasoning behind your decisions. In truth, it’s hard to do that effectively in a single meeting, but you’ll be expected to do it anyways.
We’ve seen months of work blown up because of one of the meetings we described above. It all stemmed from management feeling like they weren’t consulted earlier in the process. Just when everyone thought we were moving on to the next phase, we were sent back to the drawing board.
So how do you get critical feedback and buy-in along the way so you don’t find yourself immersed in an avalanche of scope creep?
The key is to keep them up to date as you go. In other words, don’t dump everything on them in one meeting.
To keep everyone in the loop, try sending out progress reports at key milestones within each phase of the project.
You might be saying, “But they were on the kickoff call and can follow along on the project management site”. C’mon, you know they never check that link after they first receive it! It’s now buried under thousands of Basecamp emails they’ve received since the beginning of the project.
To keep everyone in the loop, try sending out progress reports at key milestones within each phase of the project. Send them a link to the wireframes explaining why you decided to cut certain areas or features. In another email, send them the design you chose along with notes about why some of the other iterations weren’t up to par.
If you keep them informed along the way you won’t have to explain as much in that critical sign-off meeting.
Here’s a tip: People are quick to ignore emails with large cc: lists. Take a few extra minutes and send each stakeholder an email update individually. When you ask for their input directly, they’ll be more likely to respond and feel more involved.
Don’t get complacent during development
It’s common for there to feel like there is a lull when you reach the development phase of a given project. Up to this point everyone has been working hard on design and there’s a sense of excitement that your vision is on it’s way to becoming a reality. But your development team won’t be ready for another round of feedback for a while. They’ll need time start building and getting things presentable before you’re needed again.
Don’t just sit around waiting for the next feedback milestone. Instead, use this time to your advantage to start attacking the subsequent set of roadblocks on the horizon.
Your project partner will likely be showcasing their work on their development servers or maybe on one of your internal servers. Eventually, though, you’ll need to get your production servers ready for launch. That means that it’s time to engage the dreaded IT Department.
IT Departments get a bad rap for being difficult to work with, but they’re not really to blame. Whenever their phone rings or a new email arrives, it’s always bad news. It’s never a call saying they’ll be able to hire the extra support staff they need. It’s never an email confirming budget approval for the new servers they’ve been requesting. Something is always broken or on fire and everything hinges on an immediate resolution. That kinda life would make anyone irritable!
So do the IT Department (and yourself) a favor and come to them early with needs. These things could include:
- Needing a production server spun up with specific requirements
- Granting your project partner remote access
- Figuring out who from their team will be on call the night you launch
There are processes that must be followed for all these things to happen and some of them take time. By coming to them at the start of your development phase you’re giving them time to get things handled when they’re not under the gun. It will give you a better chance of things going smoothly when things really heat up closer to launch.
Here’s a tip: Don’t give them too much time!