One of the more interesting aspects of building web sites is the way it forces an organization to look at itself. If done right, a web site project will lead the organizational stakeholders down a path overrun with questions like 'who are we?' or 'how do we want to be perceived?' When there is dissension on the answers, it gets really interesting.

How does one web developer help an organization overcome an identity crisis? I'm not sure if any quick answers exist. But, I do know what not to do: do not take sides! If the process is sound the issues will sort themselves out.


Managing expectations...

In the creative business, I have learned there is often a natural tension between ensuring profitability and ensuring customer satisfaction. Essentially, a project manager or producer will come to a point where a decision like this emerges: Our client expects X but they are only paying for Y. What next? It is likely the client will be unhappy to learn they are expected to pay more money.

So, the answer is to do the work for free, right? Nobody can afford to have unhappy clients. Particularly in this day and age. Everything we do in creative services is becoming a commodity and there are 500 companies chomping at the bit to pick up where we leave off if things don't go well.

On the other hand, if the producer consistently allows scope change after scope change, with little or no consequences, the project will quickly become an expensive hobby. If enough projects are not profitable, the company fails.

When I was a producer, I eventually determined this was really not my decision to make. Frankly, it was not my money on the table. The correct action for the producer is to quantify the delta between what is expected and what is being paid for and then request approval from someone who is authorized to make such decisions.

Now, I am a director, so I am thinking about this pretty carefully. I am also looking at the problem from a new perspective and I am starting to think...There may be another way. I'd really like to avoid the unhappy client altogether, if I can.

The key is to back way up...For starters, why does the client feel shocked to learn more work will mean more money in the first place? What action did we, as a vendor, take or, perhaps more importantly not take, to set up an environment where our project is in a class of transactions which is completely unique...Where time no longer equals money.

I'm convinced this is a result of neglecting to manage expectations. In this case, we have forgotten or decided not to explain what a change in scope is and what it means. If we had explained this up front it is likely reactions would be less, or not at all adverse.

It is critically important to explain these things before they happen, in a calm, relaxed setting. This is why I choose to make it an aspect of the kick-off meeting. During this crucial first interaction with the client the producer should carefully review this subject in detail, so the client knows what to expect.

Then, when the first scope change situation arises, I always recommend it is free, or significantly reduced in price. This does not mean it is not quantified and documented. It is absolutely critical the everyone sees and understands the consequences of introducing new requirements or changing their mind...even if the first time it does not actually sting...

Finally, and most important, communication is the key. If there is regular, consistent communication that includes information about time line and budget, the client is not likely to be surprised about the consequences of their decisions. Oh, and pick up the phone! don't discuss money via email. That's inviting a mess.


Commenting policy...

I recently came across a blog with thoughtful and useful posts called 'Naked PR'. Today I commented on their post regarding commenting policies . This is an interesting topic to me and it is one I often find myself discussing with clients and friends. I feel like we sometimes have a tendency to over-complicate this issue...I do myself anyways. It's as if because I am communicating online I am suddenly a different person, at least...in the past that's how I felt.

Today I have a tendency to stick to some simple, core ideals that seem to make it easier for me to stay out of trouble and help my clients do the same. Essentially the idea is, when it comes to communication, do online what you would do in the real world.

For instance, let's imagine I were in a crowded room with mixed company. Would I feel comfortably yelling out some obscenities and disparaging a specific group of people for no reason? Whatever the answer to this question is will help me decide what I should and should not say on my Facebook status...or my twitter account.

On a related note, if I were amongst friends...would I feel comfortable holding myself out as an expert on finances, politics or medicine? Probably not. This helps me to remember what I should and should not talk about in general. I stick to things I know...which applies to me commenting and blogging as well.

Another topic my clients often wrestle with is how they should handle negative comments on their sites. Surprisingly, more often than not the people I have met do not want to be the 'evil big brother' and erase comments. They will often leave comments alone which are clear, concise and make sense...even if they are negative. But, there is a fine line and although it may be unseen...It is clear as day to me.

For example, if my neighbor were to drop by and spray paint obscenities all over my house after that time I dumped trash on his car because he stole my parking spot in a snow storm, you can be sure, I would paint over it...Regardless of how justified his anger may or may not be. Thus, if he were to discover my blog and tell me today how he felt by leaving an angry comment on this post...I'd probably erase it...After I pointed out the inherit danger in removing a man's trash barrel from his carefully cleared parking spot after a blizzard in Cambridge...


64 Bits

I finally got my new PC today. It is definitely screaming fast. At one point I actually had it installing multiple applications simultaneously. Sadly, the day was not without disappointments. The upgraded, 22 inch Dell flat panel monitor has a problem and flickers when there are shades of gray on the screen and I have to wait a few days for my MSDN subscription to go through. Microsoft just can't help themselves...Everything has to be a pain in the @ss!

The classic moment was when Windows Vista asked if it was OK to trust Microsoft.

I learned about a bunch of new business initiatives I am going to be involved in. I can not disclose much information about our clients but I will say I am going to have an opportunity to work on projects for television networks and shows everyone has heard of and I, personally, love.

Life is good! It would be better if the sun came out...so I could take the bike for a ride...but life is still good.


New position

I started as Director of Interactive with Viewpoint Creative (VPC) today...Very exciting. VPC is an absolutely incredible force in video production and creative. Their list of clients is, frankly, impressive. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

My friend Michelle created a really cool little slide show which gives a quick description of twitter strategy: http://tinyurl.com/d8y7ug