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Professional Webmaster Business Issues Forum

    
Meta-webmastering, IA, Project mgmt... or what it is
the business of working in very different fields and integrating them
claus




msg:782423
 4:41 pm on Jul 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

I've been wanting to share this for a while. It's quite far from the daily concerns of the average webmaster or SEO, still it might be inspiring as that average webmaster or SEO grows to become a household brand name (best of luck to all of you, btw.). I find myself working with the latter category of companies/sites, i've been doing that for a decade or so, shifting between employment and my own business, and that is what this post is about.

In this respect i might belong to a minority on WebmasterWorld, but still i find fellow members quite intelligent and knowing, so i hope this could spin off a good discussion. Basically, i need some advice and inspiration for what i do, and even more so, on how to communicate it, and do it better.

So, what is it that i do?

Potential customers actually ask that. Still, i just can't seem to find a nice word, or even short phrase for it. During meetings i can elaborate and provide examples, but in the pre-sales phase (before initial contact) it's difficult. For that reason, my sales effort is essentially limited to word-of-mouth, ie. "we know this guy who did this-and-this, he might be able to do that-and-that as well". Let me try to explain:

A good proportion of what i do is... well, see thread title - there's no real term for it, but we could say Project Management and Information Architecture (Research based, even). That's a small niche in a very broad field that nobody really understands. Yet it involves most, if not all, of the forums on WebmasterWorld. Still, within these forums, it usually only involves a subset of the forum topic, not it all.

  1. Search Engines, keywords, links, domains, bots, spiders
  2. Portals and Directories; making them, improving them, as well as getting listed
  3. Advertising, sales, ecommerce, m-commerce, conversion rates
  4. Technology: PHP, web services, web servers, caching, cloaking, DNS, SQL / databases, XML, RSS (even WML, SOAP, CMS'es, and a ton of other stuff that i don't know much about but the clients seem to love)
  5. Programming: PHP, Perl, Java, ASP, .NET, C-type-stuff, and whatever the customer's flavour of the day seems to be
  6. Client side: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, VBscript, Actionscript/Flash, Design, Copywriting
  7. Research, Studies, Focus groups, Tracking, etc.

So, my toolbox needs to cover most of the forums on WebmasterWorld, and then some. Not that i'm an expert in all this - i'm absolutely not, and i have no desire to be so, but i have to understand and communicate at a fairly high level with people that are experts. In a few selected sub-fields i even have to know enough to convince experts why they must do things in a certain way that sometimes might not seem intuitive to them.

It's not just webmastering, it's meta-webmastering... in some odd sense. To be able to "do my stuff", i need to know quite a few things in-depth, that aren't really all that related on an expert level, meaning: The graphic designer will not know what the server admin is talking about - OTOH, i have to work with both, as well as the editors, database admins, management, html-coders, serverside programmers, research agencies, ad-sales, etc. An expert from one of these fields often don't understand what one from another field is talking about.

These examples might help to illustrate my point. They're fictious, but i've met them all in some context:


a) Graphic Designer: We use the water methaphor to get the fluid feeling of flexibility and freshness, and embrace the user on the site. We consider making an animated Flash wave across the top half of the screen to emphasize the mood.

b) HTML Coder: According to W3C this element is deprecated, but we can solve it using CSS. However, for that DIV to look as expected, we have to make a box model hack to get it working across browsers.

c) Backend Programmer: In order to preserve state we can choose between using session ID's and cookies. Our current CMS does not have this list-type defined, however, but the data exchange can be done with XML.

d) Server Administrator: This system replicates, but doesn't flush memory, so with each additional record the footprint grows exponentially. Also, we will need to use serverside caching to minimize response time and protect the system.

e) Accountant: The NPV of the project is negative at the current interest rate. We'll have to reduce time-to-market, refinance, or the sunk costs will not be resurrected. Also, do we really need to host those servers by ourselves?

f) Research Manager: On the average users claim that the task of filling in information is trivial. Time spent on task and click-path analysis, however, suggests otherwise. Also, there is a significant number that just didn't complete.

g) Account Manager: The single most important task to focus on right now is conversion. If it doesn't convert, we're SOOB. Also, we just have to be able to cross sell related products. Btw. the Google ad colours need to match our POS displays.

h) Ad Sales: Couldn't we just make an interstitial, so that when the user clicks "read more" he will see a sponsored message for, say five secs? And, btw, i'm worried about the fact that the sky-scraper isn't visible on 800x600, how many use those old screens, again?

i) Marketing: Television is quite expensive, so could we use click-tracking to track the effect of that? Also, we need to know the exact demographichs of our target audience. And how much do we have to pay to get Google to list our products at the top?

j) Production Staff: When i tick this field i don't get a confirmation, so i have to check on the site, which isn't live in the backend interface, which means that i have to walk across the room to a live outside computer each and every time i update.

k) User: Wow, great design! I like the colours a lot. Also those buttons and the large font, that makes everything much easier. I still don't understand why i need to get an email, isn't that information on the site? And why you need my home address in order to send me an email?

l) Customer: We've got this really great website with tons of information and things to do. Yet, we feel that it could, somehow, need a "fine-tuning" of some kind, if you know what i mean? How much do you think this would cost, and how long time should it take?

Me, i simply have to understand and work with all extremes. Instruct them in what to do, even. For this reason i have to know a lot about what they really do, and what their peers do as well - a general knowledge just won't do the trick, you have to know when they're for real and when they're just churning out lingo. I use the term spikes of deep knowledge myself, as i'm not a specialist in "their field" but i'm quite some specialist in some selected part(s) of their field.

So, here's the stuff i'd like feedback on:

1) My work is essentially generated by word-of-mouth references, which is good. Still, i need to convey this information somehow outside of a face-to-face context. How do i communicate all this to a potential customer? Has anybody got experiences that i might be able to learn from? Should i just publish that above list on my website or what?

2) Has anybody got experiences or tips that they would like to share on managing complex projects with a lot of people involved that just don't speak the same language? Does the above list ring a bell or two somewhere?

3) Advice on minimizing perceived risk during projects. What's the best method for "telling a bus driver how he should drive the bus" without making him/her upset, or perceive it as a threat to his/her position or a challenge of his/her level of expertise?

 

jdMorgan




msg:782424
 7:53 pm on Jul 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

Claus,

Interesting subject... No short title can possibly cover all of those activities to the point of being self-explanatory, but something like "Internet (or Web) Marketing Project Manager/Coordinator/Consultant" with the last part variable, depending on whether it's a hired position or a consulting contract, and the level at which you interface with the company; "Manager" if you're actually given carte-blanche to tell everyone what to do, and "coordinator" if you're expected to work withing the established management structure.

As far as defusing the problem of people feeling threatened, you can point out that you are consulting (even consulting with *them* personally) and that you're not enough of a specialist in their field of expertise and experience to take over their job.

Enjoy the word-of-mouth referrals! Those are likely to be your best source. It should be very effective to have someone who has worked with you explain to a potential new client what you can do before you meet with them. You might even try to arrange to listen in -- like maybe at lunch with both -- to give you ideas on how to market yourself to your different types of clients.

As far as explaining this on your Web site, how about some "case histories" of past projects? Your "multi-view" description above certainly helped me to understand what you're doing, and I think it could help others; It's comprehensive enough that everyone is likely to find at least some part of it that they understand (and can "judge").

One of the best project managers I've ever worked with was a fan of Tom Peters' Managing by Walking Around. He spent about half of his day traveling from facility-to-facility, department-to-department, and talking with *anyone* who had a few minutes to spare. He didn't know that the machines we needed were going to be late because he read it in a third-generation week-old status report, he knew because he stopped at the receiving dock and asked one of the guys who unloads trucks, and the guy said that the shipment hadn't come in this morning. I imagine he drove 60 miles a day, and walked 20, but *no-one* understood how the company worked and how it was doing better than he did. This might not scale well for very large companies, but it worked well for one with 8000 employees, spread over 16 buildings in a 200 square-mile area.

Jim

iamlost




msg:782425
 10:37 pm on Jul 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

So, what is it that i do?

Potential customers actually ask that. Still, i just can't seem to find a nice word, or even short phrase for it.

I include database design but generally we seem to have much in common. Generalists in a specialists world. Your question is one for which I still have no definitive answer.

My work is approximately two-thirds "in-house" (the client never knows if I use subcontractors or not, I supply finished project) and one-third "project architect/manager" where I design the project and oversee clients staff and subcontractors who do the slogging. The later are usually the "big" companies.

Being able to describe both with one term is difficult/impossible. The word(s) must encompass project overview, research, creation of individual components, marketing ... the skill sets are diverse, the vision simultaneously broad and narrow ...

In another thread ronin used the term polymath. I have wanted to use it for years ... but I would spend all my time explaining the meaning and feeling incipient hubris. So I never have.

Initially (probably like everyone here) I used "Web Site Designer" but by five or six years ago that meant "everyone" (and I am not everyone!).

Thought of "Web Architect" but that excluded draughtsman/designer, painter/graphic artist, electrician/server side, carpenter/programmer, etc. so never used it. Instead I just mumbled my way through situations much as you describe.

"Project Management" is a good term but depends on two variables being present: one, other people to actually do the work (manage implies supervision, not doing); two, a project has been defined - and that happens after a proposal, not before. Also it seemed limited similar to "architect".

So (currently) I have two "job descriptions" for myself:
One: in casual/social/general conversation I use "computer network systems consultant". It is so broad and undefined aand meaningless! Peoples eyes glaze over and they go back to talking about themselves.

Two: In business conversations I use "I increase the value of Internet properties." It is not a "title", it is a "service description".
Business people have no difficulty understanding "property" and "increase value". Should they be interested I can be more descriptive.

So much for blather, on to your questions:
1)How do i communicate all this to a potential customer?

Most of my post was aimed at this question. "Increase value" is the best I've been able to come up with. It opens the door anyway.
1) Should i just publish that above list on my website or what?

By all means ... your web site is you to a visitor so absolutely tell them what you do. I am surprised it isn't there now! I would refine the list somewhat so that it flows in the order you might use in an actual project with an explanation both of what each item is and why it is important.
2) Has anybody got experiences or tips that they would like to share on managing complex projects with a lot of people involved that just don't speak the same language?

Absolutely the first thing: hire or get assigned someone who can speak all the languages, can translate and interpret on the fly, and who you feel comfortable with/can trust. That person becomes your shadow. If the job requires visiting multiple sites and each is a different language you do not want one shadow per site. You want one person and one person only to be and travel with you. The "I thought you meant" disasters that can occur otherwise are mind-blowing (unfortunately, I know).
3) What's the best method for "telling a bus driver how he should drive the bus" without making him/her upset, or perceive it as a threat to his/her position or a challenge of his/her level of expertise?

jdMorgan's advice is bang on. To expand: If your approach is: here is the project overview, here is your proposed contribution, let us sit down and you give me some feedback and help me nail down your precise contributions and milestonestones ... you are including them in the process and will be seen to be working with them rather than dictating. You can always dictate if it becomes necessary. Think like an architect talking to a tradesperson: they have to do what you say but will work better if included in the process - they might have good ideas to help along the way.

netguy




msg:782426
 1:10 am on Jul 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>So, what is it that i do?

Claus, you expanded into project management, but as far as "what is it that I do," that is an excellent question in itself, and one that is very difficult to answer (quickly) for many of us due to the diversified and somewhat arcane nature of our businesses.

Referrals. Referral leads are the easiest. Most prospective clients call because they have heard that you are making money for one of their friends or associates. This is a big advantage, where I generally discuss the 'big picture' items that relate specifically to providing a solution for their business, then offer more services at the bottom of a followup email (with a link to more comprehensive services on our site).

Chance Encounters. The biggest problem is brief encounters with people at a restaurant, bar, or party. "I'm in the Internet business" by itself doesn't get it, nor does "search engine optimization," or "we do web site design and hosting." The attention span is quite short in such an environment.

After stumbling for years, I now use the 'elevator rule.' If it can't be explained in a 60 second ride up an elevator, don't bother. I prefer to say "we design, and build traffic for, websites." I then name drop a couple of our sites that most people have heard of.

Thank God for referrals. Quickly convincing the average guy/gal on the street is a tough task. I hope to hear from others that do HTML, CSS, graphics design, SEO, have their own sites, provide hosting, programming, and other services many of us offer - and can explain it in 60 seconds. ;)

Steve

percentages




msg:782427
 9:59 am on Jul 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

>"what is it that I do," that is an excellent question in itself, and one that is very difficult to answer (quickly) for many of us
>and can explain it in 60 seconds

I'm going to try:

"I MAKE YOU MONEY!"

.....4 words are enough;)

All fun aside, and I do give the above answer in all seriousness often, the question is actually very, very complex. Which is why it is often better to be very flippant and confident with your answer;)

You need to be the "Magic Man". The customer doesn't need to know exactly how the "Magic" is performed. They just need to know that you will perform for them!

They also need to fear you, if you are not on their side, you will most likely be playing for their competitors.

I deal with several top 100 Internet properties, if they should ever ask me the answers to the questions you answered in your original post, I would simply answer...."You don't need to know how that works, you only need to know how to measure the results".

If you can truly deliver, and I have no reason to doubt that you can, then you need to be telling your customers that they do not need to understand how it works. Trying to explain it will most likely be your downfall! Most webmasters can't understand it, what chance do they have?

>"telling a bus driver how he should drive the bus" without making him/her upset, or perceive it as a threat to his/her position or a challenge of his/her level of expertise?

I suspect you mean by "bus driver" a lower level individual in the company? If so, the answer is that the question should never arise. You need to be convincing the owner of the "bus company" that what you say goes, no ifs, buts or ands. The owner then needs to be telling his "drivers" that it will be that way. Strong leadership is required, and although the owner should already be of that ilk, you may need to push a tad.

It is a technique called "using the higher authority". You win over the guy that counts and you use them to mop up any potential conflict that may occur with lower levels of management and staff.

If the lower level "bus driver" has a problem, you don't get involved....you tell them to talk to their company superior for advice;)

Simply put: The only guy you ever need to win over is the guy at the top, and he won't give a hoot about what you actually do, you only need to convince him in plain simple terms that you will win!

claus




msg:782428
 7:21 pm on Jul 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks a lot for the responses sofar, they're really valuable and i think i can use them all.

>> one that is very difficult to answer (quickly) for many of us due to the diversified and somewhat arcane nature of our businesses. (netguy)

It's nice to know i'm not the only "octopus in the sea" :) Polymath could be the phrase i was looking for, i think, but it's more of a term for a person than it's a term for a business. And, if i didn't know the term in advance, my customers don't know it either.

>> "Manager" if you're actually given carte-blanche to tell everyone what to do, and "coordinator" if you're expected to work within the established management structure. (jdMorgan)

>> two-thirds "in-house" and one-third "project architect/manager" (iamlost)

These are good points. Sometimes i'm in charge, and sometimes i'm not - sometimes i even work as a subcontractor myself. So, traditional titles seem a bit too rigid, as they only focus on one role.

I like the ideas about a "service based" description, along the lines of "increase the value of Internet properties", "design, and build traffic for, websites", or "i make you money".

>> how about some "case histories" of past projects? (jdMorgan)
>> your web site is you to a visitor so absolutely tell them what you do. I am surprised it isn't there now! (iamlost)
>> a link to more comprehensive services on our site (netguy)

Really good points. I spend so much time and effort on customers' sites and tend to do much less on my own site. Actually i had a temporary page up for a year or so because i was too busy working with customers to even think about having a site of my own ;)

>> he stopped at the receiving dock and asked one of the guys who unloads trucks (jdMorgan)
>> working with them rather than dictating. You can always dictate if it becomes necessary. (iamlost)
>> You need to be convincing the owner of the "bus company" that what you say goes, no ifs, buts or ands (percentages)

It was fascinating to read these three statements in a row. Essentially they're two or three different ways of getting the job done. Personally, i like to involve people a lot and only "use the higher authority" when i have to. The reason for this is simply that (imho) at the end of the day it makes a better mousetrap.

Eg. I will tell the programmer that (s)he should use cookies in stead of session ID's if the site should be spiderable, but i couldn't care less if (s)he chooses ASP, PHP or something else to actually program the stuff. Of course, some customers buy blackbox projects - i deliver, they don't need to know how or why, but i don't have a lot of these projects. My inhouse/outhouse ratio is probably 90% outhouse, working with clients at their offices.

>> you are consulting (even consulting with *them* personally) and that you're not enough of a specialist in their field of expertise and experience to take over their job. (jdMorgan)

It's not their job security, it's more the subtle thing about "this guy coming from outside and telling me what i should do in the field i'm an expert in" (eg. not use session IDs). I need to work with these people, not against them, as i need to get them up to speed and become creative and develop things for me they never thought about doing before, or perhaps thought about but never did.

>> hire or get assigned someone who can speak all the languages(iamlost)

Oh, it wasn't languages as in "foreign languages", it was languages as in "lingo", "tech speak" or "jargon". They do speak the same language, yet they don't. I have no problem with that, as it's me that is the "translator".

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