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I am a programmer and a project manager.  The company I work for builds websites. In my experience, 95% of the job is pretty easy. That is not to say that anyone can do it – I know there are things during the website process that I cannot pull off.

Front end HTML is difficult for me.

Sales – You can keep that for yourself.

Design?  That one is nigh impossible unless you also think purple and green go well together.

There are members of our team that handles those tasks very well.  I, in turn, find it a far better fit to program business logic, design databases, and organize the team to complete their tasks.  Over the last several years when I have been the Project Manager at Mindscape, we have been able to standardize and create processes for just about every aspect of the website creation process. We have become more efficient and less prone to mistakes.  We strive to get better every day so we can deliver the best project possible.  But there is one area that refuses to be completely processed away.

The Devil is in the Details

The Devil is in the DetailsI love details, to the point where there are times where I cannot see the forest for the trees and I have to remind myself to step back and take a longer look at where we are going.  Even with a love of details, it is difficult to keep track of the thousands of details that come up even on a small project.

To help in the task, we use a product called Basecamp from 37 Signals.  We have templated ToDo lists that we add to each project.  Doing so gives us a firm foundation to work from, and helps us know what major items need to be accomplished for each task.

And with those major items, we are rolling along right now.  We get through 95% of any project without difficulty.  It is that last 5% that presents problems. The small details that may not be visible for a while but can come back to bite you if no one is aware of them.

Most of our clients do not work on the web for a living. They have an idea of what they want to do, but no firm grasp on how that is to be accomplished.  We have to take care of the details they know they want, while also taking care of the details that they have no idea they need. These details can come up in any part of the website process, and it is our responsibility to look for them.

It can happen in sales – We’ve seen similar situations to what our client is asking for, so we know what we can do for a client that will work well and the client has not considered.  It is up to the sales team to identify these details and present them to the client.

It can happen when doing a website strategy for a client – Identifying something the client isn’t currently doing can have a huge impact on their business.

It can happen in design – Pulling together the items the client asked for, and still creating a site that looks great and accomplishes everything and more is a difficult art.

It happens in HTML and programming – The client doesn’t have an idea what goes on here. But watching out for every possibility, and making sure it always works no matter what happens, is the cross we must bear.

It happens in support – taking the time to figure out what’s going on and explain the issue clearly to clients is key. It is even better when we can anticipate the problem or go above what is being asked.

During any of those stages, a thousand details come up that need to be recorded and remembered in order to pull off the impressive things we do.  Basecamp ToDos is the tool we use to track this. When something comes up that must be remembered or done by someone else, we put it in Basecamp and make sure it is assigned to someone.  The assignment feature in Basecamp is a lifesaver.  Our team can filter out all the tasks that are assigned to them and see the day it needs to be done by.

Everything works great, as long as each team member keeps an eye out for the details. Did that link get connected? Did we assign a Google Analytics account? Did we remember to put in the call to action the client wanted on the home page?  Wasn’t that form supposed to have two address fields?

Often, when a team member completes their portion of a task, it still is not complete. It needs to be sent to another person on the project. Again, Basecamp ToDo’s come in handy.  The first team member adds in a comment, and then reassigns the task to the next one in line.

The process works great when everyone is on the lookout for those devilish details.  It can be a hard thing to anticipate every request, the hidden things each request represents, and still remember to link up every page, replace all of the insidious Lorem Ipsum that can find its way into the site during testing, and make sure the pixels line up the right way in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE 8, IE 7 and that horrible monster – IE 6.

If you don’t use it already, I suggest you try out Basecamp. It’s a flexible way to manage projects.

How do you manage the details?  I’d love to hear your views on it.