15 Ways to be the Worst Web Project Manager

Written by Chris Roane
Peer Pressure

There are multiple ways in managing website projects. Regardless of your management style, there are things that you should learn to avoid as much as possible. Doing these things will not only allow you to get through projects on time and on budget, but they will leave a very good impression on the clients you work with, and your boss will not hesitate in giving you the reins on high profile projects.

#1. Let Interruptions Dictate Your Schedule

As a project manager, you most likely are going to be in charge of multiple projects and/or employees at the same time. It is very important that you are able to create a system that allows you to have a lot on your plate, and yet still be on top of things. This could include creating a priority list, when you check your email/voicemail messages or when you are available for meetings. The key here is make sure you get done what needs to get done.

Too often we allow ourselves to get distracted away from what we need to be focusing on right now. In most cases, we don’t need jump on everything immediately, and issues can usually wait until we are done with what we are working on right now.

A fantastic article that I found very useful was written by Tim Ferriss that you can access by clicking here.

#2. Make Sure to not communicate Well with Your Customers

I have come across some horrible emails that project managers have sent to their clients. Anything from spelling issues, to grammar issues, to using the wrong name for a client (saying Hi Bill when their name is Fred, for example).

How clearly you communicate through email and voicemail will reflect in how the client perceives you. If you write like a moron that appears to barely know English, the client will most likely look at you like that. Often times I will re-read an email 3-5 times before I send it out, just to make sure I catch any issues that are still in the email.

Also keep in mind that (generally speaking), clients typically respond better to shorter emails and voicemails. Sometimes you will need a long email to clearly communicate something, but I’ve come across clients who cannot retain information in an email if it is longer than 2 paragraphs.

When I have a choice between a phone call and an email, I usually stick to emails because I then have a communication trail that I can access later on. This is especially valuable for clients who are really busy and forget to read the email, because you can go back and re-send the email if you need to. It also gives you some verification, if the client claims you never sent them something.

#3. Always Make Your Customers Wonder Where Their Project is At

The more time you spend in making sure that it is clear to your client what your team is working on, the more they will appreciate you.

All this usually takes is an email letting them know what you got done today or in the last few days, and what your team is going to work on next. I also find this a great time to remind the client of the things you are still waiting to receive from them (content, images, etc…), and if these things will prevent you from finishing something.

#4. If you know you aren’t going to meet a deadline, make sure you don’t tell the customer.

Part of this scenario can be prevented by doing a good job with #3 above. If you do get to a point where it is likely that you are not going to meet a deadline, make it VERY CLEAR to the client why this is happening.

An example of this is if you originally thought that integrating a new API was going to take 2 hours, and it ended up taking 8 hours, this is something that should have been brought to the clients’ attention when it happened. This is how I would word something like this: “We originally thought integrating [XXXX] was going to take 2 hours, but we had issues getting their examples to work and it ended up taking much longer than we anticipated. I do apologize for the delay, but we will do our best in making up the lost time.”

It should never come to the attention to the customer that you are not able to meet a deadline when the deadline is NOW or TODAY. If this does happen, you are not spending enough time planning and communicating with the customer in what your team is doing, and you are not on top of things.

#5. Always Under Estimate the Resources Needed for a Project

Usually what ends up happening is that Client A wants a website like Yahoo, but is only willing to pay $5,000 for it. We think we can cut a few corners to make this happen, and so we agree to do it for $5,000 so that the client is happy. What happens is that the project ends up taking much more time than we had originally thought that it might, and so our company ends up eating a lot of time on this project, or we end up pissing off the client because they end up not getting what they thought they paid for.

This can be prevented by doing a good job in estimating the time/cost of each element in a project, and being honest about a scenario. If they think they can build a site like Yahoo for $5,000, than it is clear that you have not done a good job explaining why this is impossible at that price point (unless they find someone to do it for free). Another option is to present them with what can be done with that budget, and possibly create different phases so that they can get done what they want done over a period of time.

#6. If a Customer is being Rude…Make Sure to Dish it Back

It is always in the best interest of your company to be professional. If a client is getting worked up on the phone, it is best to say something like: “I’m sorry to hear that this is happening. My team will look into this immediately and get back with you.” Having a shouting match with your client will usually not end well, and could potentially get you in trouble with your boss.

Knowing when you are getting too worked up takes a level of maturity and professionalism, but is worth it in the end, because we can usually make the customer happy, even if we messed up.

#7. It is better to lie about a situation to make yourself look good, than it is to be truthful about it.

I am of the belief that most clients will not get mad at you if you make a mistake once, and are honest about that mistake, and make sure not to make the same mistake again. Most clients understand that you are human and will make mistakes, but the key here is that you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again, or your apologies will not mean anything to them.

Unless your team is making very basic, simple mistakes, usually just explaining to the client what happened in the email is enough to satisfy the situation. Also, making sure to fix the issue immediately will give you bonus points in the eyes of your client, because that communicates with them that you care about what you do.

If you are giving your client access to an area that you are still working on, or that you know still has bugs (which should not be publically accessible, if this is the case), then let them know that this is a system that you are still working out the bugs. If there are major bugs, I often times will let the client know about them specifically so that they won’t have a panic attack if/when they come across them.

#8. It is better to shift blame to someone on your team if the client brings up an issue.

If you are a project manager, than you are responsible for your team. If someone makes a mistake on your team and you do not catch it before the client, than this is ultimately your fault.

Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t talk to the team member about their mistake, but from the client’s perspective, they need to know that you are in control of your team. If something minor is missed on occasion, this usually is not a big deal. But pay very close attention to the mistakes your team members are making, and make sure that they are learning from their mistakes.

Ultimately if you are putting your trust in a team member that has not earned your trust, and they end up messing up and you do not catch this, SHAME ON YOU. Each and every person on your team needs to earn your trust. Otherwise you need to keep a very short leash until that trust is earned.

#9. Don’t Double Check the Work Done by your Team

We are all humans, and on occasion we will make mistakes. But we need to make sure that what our team has done not only is bug free, but that it works in a way that the client expects it to work.

We need to connect the dots in ways that our team may miss. Does the gallery do everything the client expects it to do? What exactly is listed for this area in the agreement? Is the site compatible with the major browsers? Doing this will not only make sure that the project meets the specifications of the agreement, but it also allows us to help improve the work that our team produces, which ultimately will reflect on us.

A big red flag that is a deadly sign is if you are not exactly sure what the client asked for, and you already quoted on the project. This is usually done with things like “photo gallery” for example. There are many ways of doing a photo gallery and this should be ironed out in the initial process of quoting on the project.

#10. Spend Very Little Time Writing Emails

This is similar to item #2, but I think often times we can write something in an email, and the client ends up miss interpreting what we wrote. In fact, because of this, I do not use exclamation marks, and I never write an email in all caps. These come across differently to each person.

You want to make sure to be clear and concise with your emails. If they need to get you something, put it in a numbered list. The same goes for questions. This makes it easy for them to respond through email, because they can just reference the number. Never put a bunch of questions in a paragraph, because they most likely will not answer all of them.

If you need to receive something before you can continue work on part of the project, make this very clear in your communication with the client. In fact, I suggest bringing this up multiple times. If these things will affect a deadline, make sure to specify this. For example, you could word it like this: “Please keep in mind that if we are still going to make the 2/10/2010 launch, we will need to receive the content for the website by 2/2/2010.” I do this because if they are late and we are really busy, this allows us to push the deadline back.

I always try to sound gracious to any customers who I contact through email, because this limits the probability they will take your email wrong, which they will appreciate.

#11. Don’t spend much time understanding your team and keeping a close eye on what they are doing.

If you are managing a team, it is your responsibility to clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. This should not be similar to a game like Russian roulette, where you are not sure what your team is going to produce. As project managers, we need to do a good job in putting ourselves in a position to exceed. Below are a few questions that may help you.

How is the code going to look that this team member creates?

Will this team member be able to get this part of the project done on time? How reliable has this team member been in the past? If they do not get this part done, what is my backup plan?

Does it make sense to have this team member work on a project that is this complicated? Has he worked on anything close to a project that is this level? Will it be more work for me to have them work on this?

If you have a team member that seems to make the same mistake over and over again, you really should think about taking this to upper management, or implementing other re-percussions that get worst if the problem persists. Trying to revive a dead horse is wasted time, and you are better off working with other team members who want to learn from their mistakes. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be willing to teach people, but they first need to be willing to learn before any constructive criticism is going to be beneficial.

#12. Assume your team is on schedule.

This is similar to #11, but I have found that if you do not do a good job with this, things can get ugly very quickly. A project that was on time last week, you discover is way behind now because an element that you thought was done properly is not done, or maybe a team member miss understood what needed to be done.

Setup tight and strict deadlines for your team, but give them some cushion to get through any unexpected items that come up. Make sure that your team members clearly communicate with you if they are not able to meet a deadline, and train them to do this long before the deadline arrives. Make it very clear that you are okay with them asking you questions on a project, and that you would rather have them ask more questions than to assume.

With a big project, this becomes even more important because being behind in one area could affect the whole project. Make sure you are doing a good job on what should be prioritized. If half your team has to wait on one team member to get something done, than that item should have been on the top of your priority list so that no time is lost.

A saying that I’ve integrated in how I do this is that I always try to under promise and over deliver. If I think my team might take 40-50 hours on a project, I may quote the project as taking 60-70 hours to complete, ESPECIALLY if I have someone on the team that I am unsure about. Doing this will give you some flexibility in your schedule, and give your team more of an opportunity to succeed. If you are doing really well on a project, where you got it done much more quickly than expected, you could even add some free bonus features to the project, and your client will love you for this.

#13. Do not create a system that makes it easy to remember to get back with your clients.

If you are managing many different projects, and you have a long list of clients that you have worked with in the past, this becomes extremely important. You absolutely need some kind of organized system that allows you to know who you need to contact. This could be as simple as having a folder or label in your email system that you use to put in any emails that you need to respond to. That way when you want to play catch up, it is very easy to determine who you have and have not contacted.

It will look extremely bad if you constantly “forget” to respond to client emails, or if you are extremely slow in getting back to people. Even if you are extremely busy, you need to let your clients know when you expect to be able to get back to them. I have found this method to be very effective, and it gives me some extra time to prioritize and figure out what I need to jump onto next.

#14. Pretend everything is alright.

If you are not absolutely positive things are on track for a project that your team is responsible for, you need to setup a plan that will get you to this spot as soon as possible. A successful project manager is not passive in the projects he is managing. He is successful and stays successful because he is on top of things. Things don’t just “happen” to work out, he makes sure that this happens by not assuming anything and by doing a good job in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his team. If this means taking a team member off of a project, or spending extra time outside of work to make sure the project gets done on time, he makes it happen.

If you are unsure on whether a team member got something done, ask. If a project is behind, what needs to happen in order to make up the lost time? If a project is off track, it is safe to assume that things are going to get worst if you do not do something to make it better.

Experience will help you learn what you can expect from your team and also how to best handle unexpected situations. This will make you a very valuable team leader at your company.

#15. Come into Meetings Ill Prepared

Even if you can’t be 100% prepared for everything in a meeting, you should not go into a meeting not sure what you are going to say when they ask you about specifics on the project. If they ask you something that you are not sure of, let them know that you will look into it and get back to them later. Do not make promises you cannot keep or that you are not sure about, even if they push you for answers. This includes deadlines and timeframes.

In whatever you are talking about, be confident. You are the expert in your field, not the client. But just make sure you are very deliberate in what comes out of your mouth. The main objective of any meeting should be to convince the client that you are on top of things and that they made a good choice in going with you. Even if you are behind, or if something went wrong, how you word things can determine the success or the failure of the meeting. I have found that most meetings that happen during the course of a project, the client is mainly looking to see that you are on top of things. Do not give them any reason to believe that this is not the case, and you will have a happy client who loves to work with you!

We all will make mistakes, especially in regards to leading web projects. But if we are deliberate in learning from our mistakes and learn how to improve what we have done in the past, we will become one of the best project manager’s at our company!

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Friday, January 29th, 2010