29 05, 2019

What to Expect When Expecting a Website

By | 2019-05-29T07:29:33+00:00 May 29th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Is your institution thinking about a redesign? Perhaps it is time for a new look and feel, or maybe you are trying to attract more prospective students. With a busy academic schedule, it can seem daunting to tackle a redesign. However, with some planning and a little help from Beacon your redesign can become a reality.

To help you tackle your project, we enlisted the help of Christy Dunman, Beacon’s Director of Project Management. Christy knows a thing or two about getting a job done. She has led thousands of projects and helped several higher education clients meet their redesign goals. She has shared a few key items to help make your site redesign process go smoothly.

Identify Your Goals 

First and foremost, setting goals for your redesign is the most important step in the process. Identifying the goals for your redesign is a key element to the success of your project. What is the purpose for your redesign? Who is you target audience? How will you measure success? Understanding these items will help define your project.

Goals set the tone and expectations for what will transpire over the next few months. These goals also help outside teams, like Beacon, understand what you want to accomplish. We use this guidance to help you create a plan of action to get your site where it needs to be. Establishing clear, attainable goals, will create an impactful and focused site redesign.

Pick an Internal Team

When creating your internal team, stakeholders, department heads and IT staff are common choices. Their responsibilities will include anything from content creation to design feedback and approvals. This team will help keep an eye on progress in their respective areas and ensure deliverables are received on schedule. In some cases, having more than one team may be helpful depending on the scope of your redesign.

There is no right or wrong way to put your team together. Defining a team, or teams, will be unique to your institution and project needs. Regardless of team size, remember to clearly communicate project goals and expectations to everyone.

Develop A Plan

The internal project plan will be one of your most valued resources. Its purpose is to set clear expectations for project deliverables and due dates. While planning, identify who the major decision makers are for each stage of the project. This maybe one person or it could be a committee who will sign off on designs, content, and testing. Make sure to plan in enough time for the approval process and edits. Keep in mind that deliverables from one team are often dependent on items from another.

Speaking of requested deliverables, we want to stop here and note that content is key to a redesign. Content is the biggest obstacle in the redesign process, and it is easy to underestimate how much time it will take. Do not save it for last. Start creating, organizing and updating content as early as possible.

Status Meetings

Now that you have your site redesign planned out, be sure to communicate this plan out to your team. Status meetings are the perfect way to do this. Meeting with your team regularly lets you touch base, gauge progress and address any questions. The length and frequency of your meetings depend on your project and your team.

For Beacon, we meet with our clients once a week and we encourage them to do the same with their teams.

And Don’t Forget to Celebrate

Seriously, we mean it. Don’t wait until launch day to pat yourselves on the back. Celebrate milestones like content hand off and design approvals throughout the process. You don’t have to have a blowout party just focus on acknowledging everyone’s contributions.

The Beacon team not only celebrates internally, we share successes with our clients as well. It is important that our clients know how important their contributions are and what they did well. It builds confidence and it feels good to be recognized for a job well done.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Project Management

Upcoming project more than your team can handle? Let Beacon help. From conception to hosting, Beacon’s got the mother lode of higher ed web dev components. Reach out today and let us know how we can help.

6 12, 2017

Managing a Website Redesign: Overcoming 3 Common Problems

By | 2017-12-06T20:43:15+00:00 December 6th, 2017|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

The moment has arrived. Your website needs an overhaul. There’s a great deal at stake and if you’ve never gone through the process, it can be overwhelming. However, if you take the right approach, it isn’t that painful. Done right, it can even be exhilarating.

Either way, there are sure to be surprises. Nobody likes surprises. The small ones take care of themselves but the big ones, well that’s another matter. Consider this a heads-up. It’s your insurance policy against a costly mishap.

1. Understand the Full Scope of Content Issues

Content is one of the most important things to consider in any website redesign. It is also the part of the project that is most often underestimated. Content consists of old information that you’ll want to carry over as well as new content. This new content includes video, photography, and social media.

There’s more there than meets the eye. Here’s why.

User habits have changed. Attention spans are shorter so you’ve got to create easily scan-able pages. If someone cannot find the information they seek at a glance, they won’t hesitate to move on to a competing website.

Google’s algorithm has changed. Once engineered to emphasize written content, the algorithm has changed to reflect the habit of today’s users. Engagement and user experience are big factors, hence a new emphasis on video and other engagement tools. You’ll want to consider who you’re presenting information to, new and old.

Accessibility is a hot button issue. Not only has accessibility become part of Google’s algorithmic changes, it has become a legal consideration for schools and companies. You’ll need to make sure that your content – new and old – meets compliance requirements.

Step one is to thoroughly assess your content situation. Place your pages into categories so that you’re working with manageable groups. If you’re a college website for example, a few appropriate categories may be admissions, programs, news, and alumni. Some of these categories will require that you update or rewrite the information. Typically, this is the case with your program pages. With your news pages, you may wish to carry the more recent ones over while eliminating some that are so old they’re no longer relevant.

You’ll also want to review your admissions content as that information may need to be newly created or updated. The same may be said for student life pages. By now, you get the picture. Before you begin the redesign process, make sure you have a realistic accounting of the total pages you’ll want to carry over, which ones require updating and which are to be newly created.

2. Maintain Consistency Throughout the Redesign Process

This problem is particularly acute in cases where there are many stakeholders, such as a college or university. The marketing or admissions office may be driving the bus, but there are deans, professors, administrators, athletic directors, and students who all want to tell the driver where to go.

If you’re spearheading the website redesign project for your school, don’t get hung up on pleasing every stakeholder equally. What may be ideal for one school or department may not work as well for another. Try to maintain a singular vision throughout the entire website redesign.

The stakes are high so try to keep all interested parties on point. Managing the expectations of deans, administrators, and other interested parties can be paramount to the project’s success. Your redesign firm’s project manager will do their best to give the website redesign the momentum it needs.  But it works best when all parties involved adhere to a singular vision. Otherwise, you run the risk of a delayed launch and cost overruns. Or worse. If everyone gets what they want, you may have so much clutter you may wish for the old website back. Imagine having to redesign your redesign just a few months later!

3. Adhere to a Hierarchical Strategy

Earlier, we spoke about decreasing attention spans and scan-ability.   Your hierarchical strategy needs to consistently follow this same principle. Information must be organized so that the content that’s important to your audience is simple to find. This should be reflected in the organization of your content as well as its visual design. In order to develop a sound hierarchical strategy, do your homework in advance.  At Beacon, we perform a user engagement analysis early on to identify the ways in which your audience uses your website. We strongly suggest you do the same. After all, good data makes for sound decisions.

Once you’ve reviewed the data, you’re ready to develop a hierarchal strategy based on user behavior, increasing your chance of success exponentially.

Breathe easy with Beacon.

If you’re looking for a new website, talk to me. I’m here to answer any questions you may have regarding the process and how Beacon can make it easier for you. We know a thing or two. We’ve been redesigning Higher Ed websites for over 20 years. Contact me any time or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.


30 09, 2015

Triple Constraint – Customer Satisfaction within Scope, Budget, Time

By | 2017-06-16T12:22:29+00:00 September 30th, 2015|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

The triple constraint in Project Management refers to the scope, timeline, and budget of a project. Change one and you impact the others. But where does customer satisfaction fit into that triangle? Without it, can a project be considered a success?

Here are 7 ways to satisfy your customer while staying within budget, within scope, and delivering the project on time:

  1. Define the goals: Taking time to clearly define goals at the beginning of a project is sometimes seen as a waste of time that only delays the start of work. However, a lack of clarity around project goals will almost always result in time spent later making corrections or adjustments to the project.
  2. Write it down: Once the goals and requirements of a project are clearly defined, put them in writing and require your customer to review and sign off on them. Provide a realistic timeline of when the project will be completed and include significant milestones.
  3. Know your customer: Are you working with a small business or a large corporation? Each type of organization has different resource constraints and needs. Know your customer so that you know how to better meet their needs.
  4. Communicate: Check in with the client on a regular basis to provide project status, check the pulse of the project from the customer perspective and see if the customer has questions or concerns. As soon as you realize that a project timeline is in jeopardy, discuss the problems with the client.
  5. Have an agenda, literally: Prior to project meetings, provide an agenda to all attendees.  This helps to manage customer expectations, keep the meeting on track, make sure that obstacles get resolved, and gives the client a chance to provide input on meeting topics.
  6. Establish relationship: Be friendly, be courteous, don’t be late for meetings, return phone calls, and do what you say you will do.
  7. Say ‘Yes’: If a customer request is quick and easy, say ‘Yes’. If not, say ‘No’ with respect and without emotion and clearly explain why. Where possible, offer alternatives.

Customer satisfaction often results in repeat business and contributes to good word-of-mouth advertising. While focusing on scope, timeline and budget, don’t overlook the overarching objective to satisfy your customer.

5 05, 2015

Critical Success Factors of Projects

By | 2017-06-16T13:07:14+00:00 May 5th, 2015|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

A recent Gartner survey finds that somewhere between 20% and 28% of all IT Projects fail. This survey goes on to document the main reasons for failure, the top three of which are: “Functionality Issues”, “Substantially late”, and “High cost variance” (Gartner, June 2012). However, these are only the symptoms of deeper problems that stay hidden below the surface. The main cause for the functionality issues and project cost and schedule overruns that Gartner highlights is due to poor management. In my experience, here are some of the root causes of project management failure:

  • Unclear objectives
  • Unclear scope
  • No plan or poor plan
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of expectation establishment and management
  • Lack of continual project monitoring

In order to avoid these failures, certain questions must be asked at the beginning of a project, as well as throughout the project:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is and is not included in the project?
  • What is needed, when is it needed, and who will complete it?
  • Who needs to know what, and when?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • When and where did we go off track?

If these questions are asked and taken seriously, what will result is:

  • Clearly defined objectives with team support
  • Agreed up project scope and expectations
  • Project plans that are developed by the right stakeholders
  • Clear and approved communications
  • An appropriate “battle rhythm” or cadence for checking and reporting of status

Beacon has the right recipe for success when it comes to project management. That’s why our projects are continually successful. We take the time to understand the customer’s requirements and needs, then we document those objectives and scope, and create a plan to deliver our product on time and in budget. At Beacon, each web development project includes these tools:

  • Business Requirements Document – This is an important document that defines the project’s objectives and scope, as well as the client’s high-level needs and desired features and capabilities. The document is developed after Beacon and the client meet for requirements gathering sessions.
  • Project Plan – This is a timeline of tasks that must be accomplished in order to complete the project. It includes tasks for both Beacon’s development and the client’s review and input.
  • Periodic project reviews and status reports, are conducted both internally and with the customer to ensure the project stays on course and within budget. Any issues that arise will be proactively addressed and handled as a team.

Though projects vary widely in scope and need, this list of project management tools helps guarantee the success of the project as well as the satisfaction of our clients. These tools ensure that each project asks the right questions on the outset, and continually monitor and control project performance and delivery.

6 02, 2015

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Higher Ed Website Redesign

By | 2017-08-08T08:27:13+00:00 February 6th, 2015|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , , |

After recent experience with several higher education website redesigns, I’ve come up with a list of the top ten ways that you, as a higher education client, can prepare for an upcoming website redesign project.  Though these items aren’t technically required right at the beginning of a redesign project, they are all eventually needed and the sooner they are brought to the table, hopefully the more satisfactory the project results.

  1. High resolution .eps or .ai files of  all variants of the official logo (including reversed text, for example)
  2. An official “style guide” (preferred) or, minimally, a list of brand/official fonts and colors (with hex codes please)
  3. Considerations of all target audiences to be addressed by the website (prospective students, alumni, faculty/staff, community, media, etc.)
  4. A variety of high resolution images of the campus, students, faculty/staff and activities, in both portrait and landscape formats
  5. User id and password (read only access is usually fine) for any secure areas of the site that will be redesigned
  6. Documentation of any dynamic/database driven pages currently in use (a data-driven, searchable academic catalog, for example) as well any forms and 3rd party sites linked to the live site (a third party site for prospective students to apply, for example)
  7. Any  print or electronic marketing materials/brochures that have a graphical presence that should be considered for the website redesign
  8. Requirements for search engine optimization and analytics tracking
  9. List of websites with a similar look and feel to what you are trying to achieve with the redesign (do not have to be .edu sites)
  10. Bonus points:  review my previous blog “Terms you need to know for your website redesign

With these items in mind, I hope that your upcoming website redesign is very successful… Best of luck!

31 01, 2014

5 Ways Google Docs Makes Project Management Easier

By | 2017-06-16T12:31:50+00:00 January 31st, 2014|Categories: Digital Marketing|Tags: , |

As a PM, the one critical thing is communication. With all the moving parts in a project, it is your responsibility that the everyone, from the client to your company resources are on the same page. Changes, issues, and statuses must all be communicated quickly and effectively across a large group of people.

There are many different programs that do a lot of sophisticated things. I’ve worked with ERP software, Ticket Management software, and even as simple as sending spreadsheets back and forth, but for the right mix of ease of use and capability, I like Google Docs.

1. It’s Familiar

Even if you have never used Google Docs, when you first open it up, you’ll immediately recognize what you’re supposed to do. It closely resembles Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that the learning curve is pretty low. I like this option because it makes using it easier to disseminate across varying levels of computer expertise. In other words, even casual users get the idea.

2. It’s Flexible

flexible-woman I’m a big supporter of keeping it simple. Nothing could be simpler than opening and collaborating on a Google Doc. If you can use a word processor, it’s super easy to get started. Programs with a lot of specialized features are great if that fits what you need, but the more specialized the software, the harder it is to repurpose it to fit your way of doing things. In other words, it’s rigid. you adapt to the software, not the other way around. Something as plain as a spreadsheet has unlimited potential because you can use it for almost anything. You can use it like a checklist, a calculator, an estimate sheet, an invoice…pretty much whatever you want. That also means that the software is more adaptable as your needs evolve.Another great thing about the flexibility of GDocs is that it’s intuitive for clients to be able to use it too. They can log in to Google anytime and view project progress and add notes where necessary.

3. It’s Secure

As the creator, you choose who can view and who can edit your documents. It’s very easy to manage permissions levels. Even if something happens, you can rollback to an older version to recover anything that was lost. It may not be as secure as that proprietary project management software that’s only accessible inside your company firewall, but it’s certainly better than emailing unencrypted documents back and forth.

4. It’s Collaborative

This is one of the key features for me: Google Docs is edited in real-time. So your entire project team can be on the document at the same time and everyone can see the edits everyone else is making. You can even comment and chat in real-time about the document for impromptu discussions. It’s a far cry better than Track Changes on Word because nothing is overwritten, everything is saved instantly (no worry about forgetting to save your work), and you can bookmark it in your browser. Access isn’t first come – first serve, so nobody gets locked out, which eliminates the problem of people having to wait to edit a document. They can also make the edit as they are thinking about it rather than deciding to come back to it later once the document is free and then forgetting to do it. To me, that equates to up-to-date statuses without having to badger everyone.

Another cool thing is that you can download any Google Doc as its Microsoft equivalent, so once a document is finished, you can store it locally. You can also email it as a Microsoft attachment for those clients that refuse to do work in the cloud. Side note: proof the document after the conversion. Most of the time it’s fine, but if you have any significant formatting, like tables, you might have to rework a few things.

5. It’s Free

google-drive-syncYea. That’s a great price in my opinion. Plus you can make as many Docs, Sheets, or Slides as you want on Google Drive because Google Docs don’t count against your 5GB of free storage! Source. Speaking of which, you can access files in your Drive from your phone and tablet too, so it’s great for on-the-go changes.

All praise aside, Google Docs can’t do everything. Some PM’s needs may be very specific and sophisticated to the point of requiring custom software. You’ll just have to decide for yourself which solution works for you and your projects, but there may be some functions you can rethink and make simpler with Google Docs.

8 10, 2013

Finding the Critical Path: 7 Simple Steps to Better Manage Project Timelines

By | 2017-06-16T12:31:58+00:00 October 8th, 2013|Categories: Web Development|Tags: |

For project managers, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly how a delay in one part of a project will affect the others. Even if a small delay won’t have any impact on the final deadline, where is the line in the sand and how do we know when we’ve crossed it? How late can one deliverable be before the whole project deadline is compromised?

I’ve recently discovered a simple method that answers all of those questions: CPM (Critical Path Method). It was originally developed by E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. Like the name suggests, this helpful planning tool makes clear what activities cannot be delayed and which ones can. It can be used internally to help shuffle resources should an emergency arise, and it can be used to manage client expectations given delays or scope creep. Here’s how it works:

1. Break Up the Project

Most managers do this already to create project milestones, but you want to make sure that the way the project is broken up makes sense and is useful. An activity is a task or group of tasks that are related to achieving a particular goal of the project. There’s no hard and fast rule to say what officially constitutes an activity, so use your best judgement and tweak if need be. For web projects, here’s how I define the typical activities:

Activity Description Duration
START Kick-off meeting
A Planning 24
B Wireframes 16
C Wireframe Approval 24
D Design 20
E Design Approval 24
F Content Development 48
G Back-End Development 60
H Front-End Development 40
I Content Import 8
J Testing 32
K Review 40
L Launch 4

2. Identify the Dependencies

The next step is to identify the immediate predecessors to each activity. What has to happen before a subsequent activity can take place?

Activity Description Duration Predecessor
START Kick-off meeting
A Planning 24 START
B Wireframes 16 A
C Wireframe Approval 24 B
D Design 20 C
E Design Approval 24 D
F Content Development 48 E
G Back-End Development 60 E
H Front-End Development 40 E
I Content Import 8 F, G, H
J Testing 32 G, H
K Review 40 I, J
L Launch 4 K

3. Draw a Chart

Next, I draw a flow chart that shows each activity. CPM-chart-step3 The symbols in each block are important to know.

  • ES stands for Early Start – the earliest an an activity can begin.
  • Dur stands for Duration – the length of time needed to complete an activity.
  • EF stands for Early Finish – the earliest an activity can finish. EF + Dur
  • LF stands for Late Finish – the latest an activity can finish.
  • LS stands for Late Start – the latest an activity can begin. LF – Dur

4. Fill in Duration

Replace the duration in each activity block with the initial estimate you gathered in the quoting process. You can use either weeks or hours, but make sure to keep the units consistent. I typically use business hours for my chart, which makes it easier for me to schedule projects over the holiday season when there are fewer business days.

5. Forward Pass

Now, we replace ES in Activity A with 0 since that is the earliest the first activity can start. To calculate EF for each block simply add ES and Duration. The EF of the activity becomes the ES for the activity immediately following it. So ES for Activity B is the same as EF for Activity A. When you run into a situation where there are multiple predecessor activities (like for Activities I, J, and K in our example), you use the largest EF value because that is the soonest that all predecessor activities will be completed. Now you work your way forward through the chart until you have the Early Finish for the final activity. This is the length of the project. In this case, it’s 244 working hours.

6. Backward Pass

So now we have a project duration, but we have quite a few activities that don’t have to start right away. So now let’s calculate LF and LS for each activity. Starting at the end, substitute LF for the final activity (L) with the EF. The project conclusion date should be both the earliest and latest the project can finish. Now we subtract Duration from LF to find LS. So LS for Activity L should be 244 – 4 = 240. When you run into a situation where there are multiple subsequent activities (like E, G, and H), the smallest Late Start value becomes the Late Finish for the previous activity because that is the latest that activity can start.

7. Critical Path

Now we identify the critical path. Simply compare the Early Finish and Late Finish of each activity. If they are the same, then that activity is on the critical path. If they are not, then there is slack time. Early Start is the soonest you can begin the Activity, and Late Start is the absolute latest you can begin it. Here is how our chart should look now with the critical path shown. CPM-chart-step7 So our critical path here involves activities A, B, C, D, E G, J, K, and L. From here, I can see that if there are any delays in Activity F (Content Development), I know that it won’t sacrifice the deadline. I can even see the Slack Time (LF – EF) is 36 working hours or 4.5 business days. So if a client says the content will be 4 days late, no problem. On the other hand, if it is 6 days late, the project will be delayed by that difference in time (1.5 days). Neat little tool huh?

11 10, 2011

Cycles and Phases

By | 2016-05-09T17:22:37+00:00 October 11th, 2011|Categories: Web Development|Tags: |

In a recent book review I read, the author proposed that the Big Bang might be cyclical. The premise is that given enough time, everything in the universe starts over again. That is a long cycle for sure. We have some time before the cycle is complete and begins again. Until then, the universe will keep expanding.

Having a repeatable cycle is also beneficial on a smaller scale. Like our daily routine. We humans are creatures of habit. Typically, we do not like change. This is especially true in business – we like having a predictable and repeatable process. There is the challenge to keep it from boring routine execution. Management types appreciate working with knowns as opposed to unknowns. Having that consistent process cycle is a good thing.

When managing projects, I like having distinct phases (i.e. – discovery, planning, execution, etc.). Managing phases and cycles across multiple projects can be challenging yet also very rewarding. I enjoy the interesting challenge of having a cycle of multiple projects in different phases. Those situations keep you focused!

I think we are entering a business cycle where things will accelerate. Companies that are properly positioned with resources and good business processes can take advantage with increased sales, market share and ultimately, profit.

What phase is your company currently in? When the boom cycle starts again, will you be ready?