Things around Four Kitchens have been pretty busy all year, and especially this summer. There have been four major project launches in the span of six weeks (Wood Magazine, American Craft Council, NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and MDedge.com for Frontline Medical Communications), with many other smaller projects in between. Conferences, industry events, and vacations are also heavier in the summer. Everyone has been swamped. What a PERFECT time to kick off an internal project to redesign our website!
We have been at full capacity all year, but we needed a refresh, we had a lot more content to add, and we were broadening our capabilities and offerings. Furthermore, we collectively decided that while building and managing our own site in Drupal has been fun and played directly into our skillset, we aren’t our clients. Drupal is not the best tool for our small site because the quantity and complexity of our content doesn’t really warrant it. We decided to move ourselves over to WordPress.
Great! We had a guiding technical challenge, an updated information architecture, a wireframe plan, some content update goals, and a light design refresh as our scope for Phase I. Time to get some people! Immediately I had my very talented marketing team and content specialist on board and ready to roll with all of their great ideas. Next I needed designers and developers. I managed to wrangle a bit of design, UX, and frontend support, but when it came to backend, our whole team was fully consumed with client projects.
This is a good problem to have, unless you want to manage an internal project that needs some backend development. It’s like a cobbler sitting at his bench with a shoe pattern, beautiful leather, a set of tools, and no thread. Luckily, one of our senior team leads came to the rescue and devoted some spare cycles to helping get the site hosting and environment set up for us.
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
When it comes to managing agile development projects, we feel like we have it under control. We manage client projects all day long, every day. Everyone knows how this works and what the perfect project should entail, and we ideally know how to avoid the typical pitfalls we encounter in client projects. It should have been a piece of cake!
Except, it wasn’t.
We are used to interacting with each other as coworkers, rather than clients. Can our content specialist be the product owner when the company president is on the team, too? Who is in charge of making decisions in a group of leaders? My typical process of reigning in client dreaming and telling them, “Nope, that’s not in scope!” wasn’t as easy when my clients are my teammates, our budget is fuzzy, and my stakeholders are the President and CEO.
Since we were working for ourselves, the bulk of our budgetary concerns were around time and resource availability, not money, and the timeline was more difficult to manage than with client work. When the President was out of town and unable to review and approve wireframes, everything had to wait. When our actual clients needed extra love from someone on my internal web project team, those priorities came first. When project managers and tech leads across the company were busy with project launches, writing past client case studies had to take a back seat. Our clients always come first, and that created unexpected challenges for this internal project.
In the end, we managed to pull together some great new case studies, reorganize and flesh out our service offerings information, bring more visual design life to the site, and move it to WordPress. We accomplished a lot with a little, even if we hit a few bumps along the road.
As we embark on Phase 2 shortly, migrating our blog to WordPress and enhancing its features and functionality, I think a Phase 1 project retro will be in order. In a world where clients come first, how can we better and more predictably manage ourselves? My gut tells me that we will need to go back to the basics and clearly define project roles in our team, even if they aren’t the same roles we normally play with respect to client projects. We also need to acknowledge and accept that timelines for internal projects are by necessity a little more flexible. By recognizing this flexibility, we can avoid feeling as though we have somehow missed a target.
Client work will always take priority, but we are important, too. Allocation of the right resources to deliver the next phase will be mandatory. Our website is our public face, one of our key marketing and communication tools, and an important part of our business. Even if the schedule can be flexible, we need to carve out specific time by the right members of our team in order to ensure technical success with our launch. We shouldn’t just cross our fingers and hope that someone on our team has a little bit of extra time here and there to help do a bit of development work in between client commitments. We are cobblers of really big and beautiful websites; our children deserve some really excellent web shoes, and the new pair we’re making is going to be amazing.