Effective Project Planning

A 4 minute read written by carson January 12, 2012

A checklist icon on a blue background

William Winchester, the half owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, died of tuberculosis on March 7, 1881. His grieving widow Sarah was convinced that the angry spirits of those killed by Winchester guns were out to get the Winchester family.

If her family was cursed, how was she to possibly ward off these gangs of irritated spirits? The obvious choice was to build a house that would never be finished, and that's just what Sarah did. For the 38 years that followed, contractors toiled around the clock every day, continuously adding to and renovating the house under Sarah's strict – and somewhat insane – direction. Sarah was not an architect, so she would hold nightly seances for professional guidance. Each morning she would pass along instructions from the previous night's spiritual meeting to her work crew. The result was a sprawling, chaotic, 160-room mansion that included a staircase that led only to a ceiling, windows with views of walls, and a door on the second floor that opened into mid-air.

In total, Sarah spent the modern-day equivalent of over $70 million dollars on the house. When she died in 1922, the property was put up for auction. Due largely to the impracticality of the design, appraisers valued the estate at $0. Something tells me there's a valuable lesson here.

The Winchester manor

At Yellow Pencil, we recognize the importance of planning and have spent the last 89 years (not actually) developing a process that ensures we don't spend $70 million on a worthless product. Here is our 10-step Project Planning Guide – no seance required.

Client Questionnaire

Our exciting client questionnaire kicks off every project and is tailored to each client. It includes questions about branding and design, functionality and technology, content, and overall strategy. Along with the questionnaire, the client provides us with their visual standards guide, logo files, and any existing marketing materials. This way, our visual design stays consistent with any existing work.

Project Charter

Right off the bat, we set up a project charter document. All boilerplate info, such as our process overview and project management details are joined by an initial project plan, including budget and timelines, roles and responsibilities, deliverables and scope, assumptions and risks and dependencies and constraints. This document will be reviewed at the kickoff meeting and if all is well, signed off by the client.

Client Kickoff Meeting

With project charter in hand we can now hold the client kickoff meeting. Unless absolutely impossibly, this meeting should be held in person. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions – they develop rapport, trust, and an all-around positive start. As we move through the meeting we clarify our goals, processes, and the scope of the project to make sure that we're all on the same page. While some segments of this meeting require a presentation-style approach, we encourage interaction and discussion throughout. Brainstorming, problem-solving, and cooperative decision-making are key.

Content Inventory

If we are redesigning an existing site, we complete a \quantitative and qualitative content inventory. This helps us understand the existing content and informs the rest of our content strategy, information architecture, and user experience work.

Audience Profiles

With the target audience information from the client questionnaire, we create fully developed audience profiles. In addition, we develop user stories. These are scenarios that show us how people use the site in day-to-day situations. This information is later incorporated into the project brief.

Competitive Analysis

This is where we add our ideas to those supplied by the client and analyze them all. We identify best and worst practices and outline the dos and don'ts for each project.

SEO Strategy

Search engine optimization strategy is an important component of most projects. SEO assures us that the new site can be found by people and search engine bots. Using industry best practices and analytics information from the existing site, we create strategies and tactics to make the most of our online presence. This report now informs all of our future content strategy work.

Site Outline

Based on the client questionnaire, content inventory, and recommendations from our SEO strategists, we can now create a site outline. Note that this is not the final sitemap, but rather a high level, early overview of the site's structure. It will most certainly evolve as the project moves through its later steps, but it's important that we start to think about how the site will be organized and labeled. Having compiled all of our discovery information, we can begin creating a series of briefs.

9. Project Brief

Having compiled all of our discovery information, we can now create the project brief. There are four main sections:

  1. Strategic – includes project mission, objectives, success criteria, etc.
  2. Creative – includes audience profiles, competitive analysis, brand materials, etc.
  3. Technical – includes CMS details, hosting specs, user specs, login credentials, etc.
  4. Content – includes content inventory, SEO strategy, site outline, etc.

This document will guide our work as we move into the design and development stages.

10. Internal Kickoff Meeting

With a more complete understanding of the project, we can gather together the team members that will be working on the remaining stages to hold an internal kickoff meeting. This is an opportunity to get everyone up to speed on the project and communicate the contents of the charter and brief. Time to get to work!