Drupal Project Management
As developers, we sometimes get a little lofty in our abilities: what we can and can't do, how long it will take to get things done, what resources we'll need, how many things we depend on to get our jobs done, the bureaucracy doesn't apply to me...and on and on and on. It's a condition of our creative influence. Ultimately functionality falls on us. Consequently, we feel a little overly powerful. The negative spin-off is we underestimate the value of a strong project manager and this always stings us, sometimes to the point of killing an otherwise awesome job. Never ever make the mistake of underestimating the value of a well laid out project plan, statement of work, and project charter by an experienced project manager.
- Programmers, Systems Administrators, and Graphics Designers are not Business Analysts: Clients often assume you'll overhaul the Drupal User interfaces to tie into existing business systems, so no one has to learn anything new and nothing has to change. They'll even tell you this is a condition of the project. Hearing this will cause most developers to do the fast calculation that this job just got bigger. Great Project managers will insist upon Business Analysts documenting all processes associated to the project before they'll begin to discuss final specifications, time lines or costs. This will takes the stress out of our jobs as developers.
- Rarely do projects have finite specs: Because business stakeholders know very little about web design and the resources necessary to make it happen, not to mention anything about Drupal, scope creep is a fact of life. I've never known a job that didn't grow a lot, at the cost of the consulting organization. You'll have to compete to win the job. When you do, the specification will be roughly: build me a Drupal site, include our old functionality, and include this other new stuff we heard about. A wise project manager will say yes to help win the deal, with a proviso. We'll mutually agree to final specs as the first phase of the project. This will give you time to keep it real. More importantly this will give everyone in your organization the opportunity to properly cost the job, in spite of loosely written first round specifications.
- There are always things you can't know at the beginning: Because the people with the budget in a new account won't necessarily know all the technical details, you'll win a job based on a particular set of business criteria. As you get into the complex parts of the job, such as migrating content from one database into Drupal, you'll learn a great deal more. You may even learn that the original premise of the job is not practical, given the Drupal way of doing things. What then? A wise project manager will build in a proof of concept phase to give you time to flush out these unknowns.
- Politics happen: Companies have their politics. This is important because websites fall under the responsibility of many departments, politicing with one another for power and budget. It's easy to get caught in the crossfire while collecting final specifications, ultimately getting pinned down as outside consultants. Rather than try to make peace where we're not getting paid for it, great project managers will present the final plan back to the stakeholders for sign off, giving responsibility where it belongs. Side-stepping politics is a good idea. We developers don't like politics too much.
- Focus is the key: Often times, we are our own worst enemies as developers. We take just this one road less traveled for just a minute, because this awesome thing would be so cool to try. Presto five hours have gone by. Great project managers will remind us that we need to work the plan. We need to deliver on the plan. They'll encourage us to meet our objectives through agile project development practices. It's good to have friendly reminders of where the bread is buttered.
At the end of the day, great project managers are not appreciated because they look like they're doing nothing and we're doing all the work. That's okay. If they're great at what they do, they facilitate what we do, so we can add another big corporate success story to our list of Drupal converts. Never underestimate the value of a great project manager. If you find one, keep them.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.