Having just come through an eight-month process of planning, designing and developing a new website, all I can say is, “whew.” It was quite a journey. We didn’t simply redesign the site with a new look; we took a new design and added all new information with a new, easy-to-navigate layout. Then, we married the new front-end with additional functionality brought about by the installation of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database.
We named our endeavor “Project Segue.” Segue, because as dictionary.com defines it, we wanted to “make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption.” For those who know me, you know I’ve not had the best of luck with a Segue – of the personal transporter type. My history of staying upright on these contraptions is storied, with scars visible and my own personal barometer in the form of nuts and bolts still encased in my right wrist.
So, why on earth would we call this Project Segue? It’s simple, really. A reminder to remain balanced and poised, agile and flexible. And, it’s a continual nudge to plan for the expected and unexpected. What I learned throughout the process as project manager (and silly me, I volunteered for the job), can be used in managing any type of large project and I wanted to share it with my credit union compatriots.
1. Write a charter that outlines the scope of the project
Writing a charter or project business plan will be an invaluable tool as you move through the undertaking. It will set out what will and will not be accomplished so everyone can drive to the same result.
An agreed upon charter also guides you when you experience what is not so affectionately known as “scope creep.” Scope creep on a large project is inevitable and happens when others say things like, “So, as long as you’re doing that, can’t we do this?” For us, the creep came when others saw the host of powerful features available during the development of the website. While the functionality certainly could be made available, many of the requests were not previously identified as mission critical in the first iteration of the project and would have taken us off task.
Scope creep adds to many unforeseen changes and new roadblocks in your project, including: delays in finishing the original project because of the additional requirements; added time and human costs that impact your budget; and implementing new features and functionality beyond the original requirement will add to your operational cost and reduced productivity by requiring more time in training. Whatever the request, if it’s not identified in the original charter, it’s the creeping crud.
2. Choose team partners with necessary expertise from throughout your entire organization
I don’t need to remind anyone that a website is more than pretty pictures and prose. Well, I guess I just did. It’s about functionality for the products and services you provide and the usability experience for the end-user.
Because everyone in our organization uses the website in a different manner and for a host of varying reasons, it was important to have each perspective represented during the development process. Creating this synergy among departments and with different voices gave us a certain amount of assurance we’d have the development components needed before we started.
A wonderful side benefit to having others involved is they feel, well, involved. Engaging employees from different areas of the organization helped us build an excitement about the project. And that excitement envelops others to get everyone focused on delivering a top-notch product.
3. Be meticulous in defining roles and responsibilities
This is the category where the rubber meets the road development – which is quite a visual given my Segue explanation above. Once you have identified the “what” of the project in the charter, it’s important to bring in the experts to ensure the end-result meets the expectations of your stakeholders. For us, that meant a combination of internal experts and external partners.
Putting a plan in place that clearly outlines who in the blended team is responsible for what project components ensures you a certain amount of harmony instead of finger pointing when something goes awry. Have no delusions. In a project this size, things will go wrong.
Outlining responsible parties makes it easy to appropriately address issues as they become uncovered. Be specific. Don’t simply say, “IT is responsible for IT items.” Using the project timeline, (introduced below) identify who is responsible for meeting each deadline. They, in turn, can determine sub-group participants to help accomplish tasks within the deadline.
4. Set a clear timeline with deadlines and dependencies
Once roles and responsibilities are outlined, it’s time to set goals and a project timeline. Each and every person on your project team should be involved in this process to ensure they identify the time needed to accomplish the project component for which they are responsible.
Once the estimated component times are consolidated, schedule dependencies – those items that cannot be started or completed until something else is accomplished – to determine a project timeline. At this point in time, make certain all your project stakeholders are in agreement with the proposed length of time to completion.
Drive to individual deadlines all the way through the project. Letting a week slip here and there really adds up. Each and every one is responsible for managing the timeline for which they previously developed and approved. If a missed deadline has dependencies, you end up in a squeeze play, putting pressure on team members to either make up the time on downstream tasks or miss their own deadline as a result.
Any adjustment in your timeline should be approved by stakeholders to ensure they are aware of any change in final deliverables.
5. Hold teammates accountable early and often
If your project is anything like ours, team members won’t be liberated from their day jobs to accomplish projects tasks. The crush of tasks to be accomplished combined with daily responsibilities can take a toll on your timeline.
By volunteer or assignment, each team member has made a commitment to be an active, productive part of the project. They must deliver on the promises made in the project charter and timeline phases.
Bus drivers and Segues don’t play well together. (Don’t be coy. You know what I mean.) Hold each other responsible and address any issues standing in the way of completing the project. Push in private when necessary and in public when required. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure your team stays engaged and continues to understand their responsibilities.
6. Involve others when necessary
There may be times along the way when a roadblock is so insurmountable that you need help from others. Recognize your limitations and reach out for help. If it’s an issue of capacity, as it was for us when obtaining web community member information, make a call for rescue to the entire organization. We asked everyone in contact with our members to provide names and e-mail addresses so we had a solid foundation of information.
We also brought in the big guns when we hit an obstacle in programming and development. If it’s a problem that will affect the delivery of the product like this, go to the stakeholders. They can help escalate the problem to a successful result. It also keeps them apprised and the big aha’s at bay. (One of our goals, no surprises.)
7. Celebrate success along the way
When you’re putting your timeline together, set some celebration milestones along the way. It’s important for your teammates to know they’re appreciated. As a part of the milestone, make plans to update the entire organization on your progress. A thank you for help, a sneak peak at your progress or a creative event will work to your benefit in keeping people excited about the project. Check out the final result of Project Segue at our website at www.mcua.org.
Would I do it all again? I already am. We’ve recently embarked on a three-year, multi-million dollar cooperative campaign to improve consumer awareness about the differences and benefits of credit unions. As for the battle between me and the Segue, I intend to get myself back on one and show it who’s boss. As my dad always says, it’ll feel better when it stops hurting. And, it always does.
Amy Bucaida joined the Missouri Credit Union Association (MCUA) in February 2011 in her current role as the Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Immediately prior to coming to MCUA, Amy worked for three years with CUNA Mutual Group in sales and marketing. Previous to this experience, for six years she owned a marketing consulting company, dedicated to helping credit unions maximize their marketing budgets and get the biggest bang for the buck. During this time, she also helped credit union leaders analyze their operations to help them create greater efficiencies and prepare their organizations for the future.
Amy has worked in the credit union industry since 1981 in varying capacities, holding roles from teller to executive director of marketing and human resources. She worked with the National Credit Union Foundation as its director of grants and marketing, and the Iowa Credit Union League and The Members Group in a number of roles from director of research and compliance to director of marketing and communications. Her role as sales manager for the Outsource Marketing Division at Liberty Check Printers gave her great insight into what credit union leaders need and the challenges they experience.
Amy earned her Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) designation in 1990.