Target vs. Deadline (or “how long is this going to take?”)
There's an old saying in project management. It's called the “project triangle,” and it applies to website development as much as to anything else. “Good, fast or cheap. Pick two.”
Many clients come to the Frogs with a can't-miss-it kind of deadline for when a website needs to go live, while others don't have such speedy requirements. Inevitably, everybody asks the same question: “How long is it going to take?” With a new project, some information is needed about deadline before the project can be slotted into one of three categories – hard deadline, soft deadline or target.
Naturally, everybody would prefer that their brand-spankin' new website went live yesterday, but these things take time. Based on a deadline given by the client, we work backwards to see if there is enough time to complete the project – and if there isn't, figure out how much overtime might be required. However, project management and timelines are based on things getting done by both the developers and the clients.
A trade show is coming up and the marketing materials need to be in place by March 31st. A government grant is coming your way, but only if your website is operational by the middle of June. You're going live on April 1st with a series of radio and television advertisements that will point to a website that hasn't yet been built.
In situations like those above, the website absolutely must go live by a certain date. This is what we call a hard deadline. It's non-negotiable. It can't be moved. There will be consequences if it's not up and running by then.
Any delays, whether it's on the developer's side or the client's side, can jeopardize the deadline, and that could mean overtime hours are needed to get the site live in time, which in turn increases the cost. Hard deadlines are stressful, and both sides need to work to a rather rigid timeline to make them work.
Similar to the hard deadline is the soft deadline. It's exactly like a hard deadline, in that a go-live date is chosen and work is done in a timely manner to fit that deadline. The key difference is hell is not going to freeze over and the world is not going to end if the soft deadline is missed. It can be moved upon discussion, and the deadline date can be pushed out.
Stay on target
Douglas Adams, late author of the incomparable “The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy” series, once remarked, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” In a way, good ol' Doug wasn't talking about deadlines. He was talking about targets.
A target is just that – it's an optimistic date for when a client would like to have a website go live. It's even softer than the soft deadline, in that it's constantly moving. As milestones for the project are met, the target is moved ahead accordingly. For instance, if the approvals process takes a couple extra weeks more than expected, then the target moves ahead by a couple extra weeks. No one is going to get shot out of a cannon for failing to meet the target go-live date.
What affects a timeline?
Keeping with the notion that everyone wants their website to go live yesterday, most clients come to the Frogs with a hard deadline in mind, but it can become a soft deadline or target based on communication, internal project management and the needs of the client.
Clients that want to keep a project on track need to consider that there are three things that push timelines out:
- Input. Developers need client input to do their jobs. They need to know if you like the colour, the content, the artwork, etc., and they need that input in a timely fashion. If milestones related to input are missed, the deadline needs to move.
- Approvals. Everything a developer does needs to get approved by the client, and like getting input, it needs to be done in a timely fashion. If an approvals process takes too long, the deadline gets pushed ahead again.
- Payment. This is something that's often forgotten. The cutting of cheques is built into the project management timeline, and while a client could approve the work and is ready for the website to go live, lack of payment can slow things down again. Make sure payment is made on time and the project will move ahead as planned.
Getting it done
As our account manager, Connie Berenguer, would tell you, website development is a fairly in-depth process that has a lot of milestones that need to happen before the project is finished and the site can go live. Typical turnaround for client input or approval is 48 hours, and that's considered in laying out the project's timeline. If the turnaround time is longer, then the deadline will have to change – or further costs can be incurred (such as having our designers work overtime).
Connie offered a few tips to stay on track:
- Communication is key. Talk with the Frogs and make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Assign a project manager or a small project management team to the project. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen, right?
- Likewise, have a limited number of people directly involved in making decisions related to the project.
- Set your timelines appropriately. Can you realistically meet all the milestones set out?
- At any stage in the process, feel free to throw your hands up in the air and tell the Frogs you're stuck. We have project and account managers on staff that can help you out of a tricky situation. Let us unstuck you, as we like to say.
- Understand that the day the site goes live doesn't mean it'll be available across the Internet. It's a technical thing that gets into discussions about DNS and the other techie talk, but the Internet as a whole needs time to find your site. It may take up to 48 hours for servers everywhere to find you. Factor this into your timelines.
Make sure to leave enough time for everything that needs to be done, and the website development process will go smoothly.