April 17, 2014

No time? No problem.

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in the annual Twin Cities Overnight Website Challenge. The event pairs teams of web pros with non-profits, giving non-profits the opportunity to have a professionally built website for their companies in a matter of 24 hours.

After a few years of doing this event, I have seen the ups and downs when it comes to the most challenging aspect: building a quick turn-around product. Even though we would all love to work on projects that have infinite timelines where we can create perfectly polished products, that’s just not reality. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of key internal aspects to consider in order to successfully build a product while under tight deadlines.

Have a Solid Game Plan
Before meeting with a client, the best thing you can do is sit down with your team and construct a game plan. In the case of a short turn-around project, it’s especially important that everyone is on the same page and knows their role. Do you use the waterfall approach or agile? Do you have testing plans in place? Are your servers and development environments ready to go? Having these types of questions answered in the beginning will save tons of time and minimize problems.

Use What’s Familiar to You
The best way to learn new technology and languages is by doing it, but upcoming deadlines are not a good time to start. Using things that are familiar to you (technology and team), will help the process run smoothly. When team members know each other, their strengths and limitations are already worked out, and work can be divided by who can do it most efficiently. Sometimes this can be overlooked by assuming all developers or designers can just jump in on any project, but team chemistry can be one of the most critical factors for success.

Build Modular
When creating a product, building modular can mean different things to different members of a team. For developers, breaking out your code into a separation of concerns can keep things organized and reusable. For designers, building a style guide with modular elements keeps things consistent and also helps developers with their reusable code. When working in an agile setup, a modular approach keep things manageable.

Maintain Reasonable Expectations
Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind for a quick turn-around project is to manage expectations. The internet can be a mysterious place and websites magically appear in no time. Being able to communicate with your client about what they should reasonably expect within their timeframe can save headaches in the home stretch. It’s important to discuss the cost and the impact on timeline when adding new features and if necessary, consider a “phase two” approach. When your client is informed, trust is maintained and you can more successfully reach your product deadline together.

Quick projects can be very stressful and costly if not approached correctly. Keeping these tips in mind, continually refining your process and reading about what others are doing can save you time in the long run.

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