Saturday, February 9, 2008

Project Management Means Managing Conflicts of Interest

Many of the project's problems occurred through the bureaucratic way in which it had been set up. European union funding procedures and the plans required to get and maintain EU funding are based around supporting a large bureaucracy rather than supporting effective project management. Rural Net was not unique in this, new technology projects do not fit well with old style management procedures.

EU guidelines set specific targets for outputs, but the project lacked any coherent project management plan or practical imperatives on the usability and design of the site. A good example of this was usability testing: the EU plan specified that this should be carried out (by a local university), however it was scheduled in near the end of the project, when there would be very little scope or commitment to change the existing web-site. There was no understanding that usability activities need to be co-ordinated with development activities in order to achieve product improvement. Similarly, day-to-day project management was not well coordinated. The overall effect was that the project was heavy on bureaucracy but low on efficiency.

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Effective, supportive and professional project management is a vital component in the success of any well run software project. When that project incorporates elements of user centred design and usability, project management skills become even more vital.

Web-site development projects require a particular blend of project management skills to enable usability considerations to be accommodated. The project manager must have an understanding of the scope and importance of usability work and know the right points at which to apply usability consultancy. Most importantly they must have the "soft" interpersonal skills to convince the client of the need for the usability element of the project, and to persuade the development team to implement in keeping with the usability consultant's recommendations. But the project manager must also be sufficiently technical in order to bolster persuasion with consistent technical reasoning when the development team present obstacles or objections of a technical nature.

Designing web-sites to suit diverse international markets and cultures is now accepted as good business practice. It illustrates that the organization responsible for the site is sensitive to local needs. Unfortunately for Rural Net, the original idea in the EU proposal was to produce a pan European site with a standard template which would be used by all similar projects running in four different countries. The UK content providers wanted something that was tailored specifically to the requirements of their users. In the end this was achieved but it did cause delays in the project work.

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