Review: 97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know

97 Things Every Project Manager Should KnowThis is a neat little book on project management, which is ideal reading for web professionals acting as part-time project managers who don’t have time to read weightier tomes on the topic. As the title suggests, it contains 97 two-page essays from practitioners which are generally written in an engaging anecdotal style. It includes a useful index of tips by topic and quick explanations of project and technical terms at the bottom of pages, making it very accessible for newcomers to the subject. The focus is on IT projects in general, but lots of the tips are relevant to web-related projects.

Among the more useful areas covered for web project management are:

  • An emphasis in several contributions on agile project development, involving frequent interaction with clients to evaluate features as they’re created.
  • Reflections on the inevitability of scope change after requirements have been finalized and ways to deal with this. A good tip is provided on planning possible scope reductions from the beginning of a project in a controlled way by grading requirements according to their business value and the degree that they have dependencies for other requirements. The nice-to-haves with no dependencies are the obvious candidates for culling if necessary later on.
  • Encouraging simple solutions over complex ones – including in code development.
  • Finding alternatives to long pointless meetings – frequent instant ‘standup’ meetings are recommended by several contributors.

97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts is edited by Barbee Davis and published by O’Reilly.

Related posts

Free ebooks for web project management

Review: Content Strategy for the Web

content_strategyTextual content is a red-headed stepchild when it comes to website design and development. It’s left to the last minute in site redesigns, viewed as a commodity by most site owners and as a simple item in a to-do list for UX designers. Website text is rarely approached correctly in web projects as a ‘complex, ever-evolving body of information which needs ongoing care and feeding’.

This is the striking viewpoint of Kristina Halvorson’s book on content strategy which lays bare the complexities of content production. She offers plenty of common-sense advice about how to build website text into a key business asset, keep control of it over the long term and set measurable objectives for success.

Key to this is developing an appreciation of the political nature of content, engaging with content providers and giving reviewers plenty of notice for their contributions. ‘Don’t leave content management to your CMS’ is the clear message. You need people for meaningful, actionable content and the key person required is someone in overall charge of content – an editor-in-chief empowered to say no to the business when necessary.

The content audit is thoroughly explored as a content management tool. There are useful practical tips here, such as using indented outline numbers in your audit documentation - 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 , etc – so you can easily link specific pieces of content to matching references in the site map and other documents later. There’s also an interesting discussion of the use of page tables for content planning and advice on how to include qualitative judgments in your audit as well as just conducting a quantitative analysis of content

There’s a whole chapter on content maintenance – a subject you rarely see people write much about. This advises developing a maintenance plan, having enforceable well-documented rules and using regularly-scheduled qualitative audits to question the ongoing purpose of each piece of content. The latter point draws on Gerry McGovern’s useful advice that all content ought to be regularly reviewed and removed if it’s not meeting a business objective or helping users achieve a task.

The book has a lively pugnacious style which makes it an easy read about a subject that could easily have come across as dull. The author makes a stack of suggestions which anybody working on websites could benefit from. However, reading it only confirmed my pre-existing assumption that content strategy can be a hard sell.

Improving the status of content creation in most organisations involves fighting against the general assumption of management that ‘anyone can write content’. Within the professional web world it’s up against the status of more exciting and saleable web disciplines in design and development and specialisms like SEO which contribute more transparently to improving the bottom line. In this context, long-term content maintenance is never going to be generally considered as important as implementing an exciting new content management system or launching a flashy new site design. Recognising the centrality of textual content to a successful web presence is therefore always going to be difficult to sell to a lot of organisations, but this book is one of the best pitches I’ve seen so far.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson is published by New Riders.

Related posts

Letting Go of the Words is another recommended book on writing for the web which I reviewed last year.

Review: ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income

I picked up “ProBlogger” this week looking for some motivational reading to get me writing regularly again. I’ve been bogged down for the last couple of months with buying a house which has diverted a lot of time and energy I’d rather have spent  working on websites. The process has also left me feeling a lot poorer, so dangling the offer of a six-figure income in front of me was pretty effective.

I thought this book provided a good solid introduction to the issues surrounding monetizing blogs. It has plenty of tips which will be useful to any blogger – whether they’re interested in making money or not.  Despite the “six-figure income” bit of the title, the authors don’t push any get-rich-quick scams, but instead emphasise the time, hard work and discipline it takes to succeed. The personal blogging stories they provide in the introduction are particularly effective at getting this across – for example, this is Darren Rowse on his posting frequency:

“… there have been countless nights when I’ve worked into the wee hours of the morning blogging. Though I have better boundaries these days, it wasn’t unusual for me to post 50 times per day over 12 hours in front of the screen. “

This kind of makes me feel inadequate about my inability to manage one post a week…

The book starts with a chapter on “blogging for money” which looks broadly at different monetization methods for blogging and ways of measuring your blog’s success. This builds nicely into the second chapter on niche blogging, one of the core techniques for getting money out of blogs. The authors look at the benefits of finding the right niche and give detailed guidance on how to pick a profitable niche, considering:

  • Are you interested in the topic? Do you have experience or expertise in it?
  • Is the topic popular? Is the niche growing or shrinking?
  • What’s the competition, and what’s it neglecting?
  • Will you have enough content?
  • Is the niche able to be monetized?
  • How wide should a niche be?

Chapter 3 is about setting up a blog. Most of this is pitched at a basic level for people who haven’t tried blogging before – including a step-by-step guide to setting up a hosted blog at WordPress.com and a discussion of the benefits of hosted vs. self-hosted blogs. However, there are still some tips here which more experienced bloggers could gain from – especially in the discussion of factors to consider when choosing a domain name.

Chapter 4 is about blog writing. It’s probably the section of the book which will be most useful for all bloggers – not just those who are seeking to blog for profit. Topics covered include providing useful content, researching readership and writing tips for blogs. My favourite bit in this section is the list of 20 types of blog post – which should come in very handy if you ever get completely stuck for something to write.

The next couple of chapters are about actually making money, covering “blog income and earning strategies” and “buying and selling blogs”.  These provide wide-ranging coverage of issues surrounding advertising and other methods of earning income from blogging – including a short look at  indirect income earning strategies like freelance blogging, magazines and books, speaking, consulting and employment opportunities. The buying and selling section includes a discussion of flipping (buying blogs to sell them). There’s also coverage of how to value blogs and where and how to buy and sell them.

After a short section about blog networks, there’s a chapter on “blog promotion and marketing” which is definitely worth reading. It discusses building flagship content, commenting and linking generously, getting attention through link baiting, running competitions, using social media, SEO and tips for increasing page views on your blog.

The book is rounded off by a couple of short chapters covering “secrets of successful blogs” and “creating something worthwhile”.

Overall it’s a useful read – and it managed to motivate me at least enough to get me to write this post.

ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett was published last year by Wiley.

Related posts

For people looking to start using WordPress for their blogging efforts, see my review of  WordPress.Com Essential Training.

Website satisfaction surveys

When you start planning a website feedback survey you’re likely to have a lot of questions in mind about the most effective way to go about it.  How long should your survey be? What are the best questions to ask? When is the best time to promote a survey during a user visit to your site? How frequently to survey? What are the benefits of surveys compared to web stats analysis or usability testing?

The following resources provide some answers (and will probably also raise some more questions…)

Paul Boag provides some useful advice on website surveys on his Boagworld site. Creating a better survey summarises twelve ways you can make your surveys more effective, including avoiding distracting your users by the way you promote your survey and remembering to consider best practice for form design.  Improving your site with user feedback is also interesting. It looks at the role of questionnaires and surveys within a range of options for getting feedback, including face to face, web stats, search queries and third party applications. Importantly, it also discusses how to assess feedback once you’ve collected it so that you can decide which suggestions to implement.

Analytics Basics: Visitor Surveys and Mazimize Surveys’ Effectiveness are two pieces by Neil Mason on ClickZ. Advice here includes to be clear about your survey’s purpose and to keep it short and simple. Remember the need to test surveys before going live and make sure the survey complements your brand as “poorly executed online surveys can damage the brand whether they live on the site or are sent via e-mail”.

The Three Greatest Survey Questions Ever is a nice blog post by Avinash Kaushik advocating a simple approach to survey implementation. The “three greatest questions” are:

  • What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?
  • Were you able to complete your task today?
  • If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?

From the same blog, see also Got Surveys? Recommendations from the Trenches which includes discussions of  benchmarking for surveys, the usefulness of open-ended questions, targeting survey participants, integrating your survey analysis with clickstream data and the benefits of using surveys as a continuous and ongoing measurement system.

User satisfaction provides advice on website surveys from the UK guidance for government websites on Measuring Website Quality, including suggested core questions for surveys.

How to make an online survey work is an article from Webmaster-Now by Phil Blasco which provides general advice and some suggested questions.

How to build response rates for online surveys is one of several useful articles on the Demographix site. It considers a key issue with online surveys – how to increase response rates. Suggestions include using incentives if appropriate, thinking carefully about the wording of the survey invitation and best practice for promoting a survey on your web site.

10 Tips to Improve your Surveys is an article on the Zoomerang site. Among other suggestions, it emphasises keeping questions simple and rating scales consistent through your surveys. It also suggests sending reminders to people who have not completed the survey to boost your completion rate.

Once you’re ready to create your feedback survey, there are now plenty of online survey solutions available to choose from. If you want to trial one before you commit to spending money, then  SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo all have free basic services with paid-for professional versions

Free content management white papers

I came across a nice collection of free white papers on Alterian‘s website the other day, including several about content management: ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Content Management’, ‘Best Practice Implementation of Content Management Systems’ and ‘Using a CMS for Search Engine Optimization’. Others that I found interesting include ‘Creating a Web Strategy’ and ‘Build or Buy – The Route to a Successful Intranet’.

All the papers are free, but require registration on the site.