How to Manage Web Projects When You Don’t Have a Project Manager

We do a lot of website building at Online Optimism, and while our web team doesn’t have anybody with the title “Project Manager,” the web projects still have to be managed. This means that the designer, developer, and content manager—and anybody else who gets pulled into the project—have to manage the project themselves.

So, how do we manage to share the PM job while also wearing our developer or designer or content manager hats? At Online Optimism, we do it with a combination of experience and sense, as well as with a liberal use of online tools. We’re not sure which is more important, but we definitely couldn’t do it without the tools.

Hands typing on a computer keyboard.

Our Project Management Tools

Asana for Project Management

What tools do we use? At the top of my list is an issue tracker. (I’m a developer, so I call it an issue tracker; others might think of it as a task list or just call it project management software.) The issue tracker we use is (free plug) Asana. It’s a really good issue tracker, because it lets you sort your issues in so many different ways.

You can sort by project, by date due, or by who a task is assigned to, to give just a few examples. It also lets you see and follow other peoples’ tasks, which is useful if you need to keep track of some task that will affect you in the future. To top it all off, when you mark a task complete, a colorful pegasus flies across your screen, leaving a trail of sparkles. Really. You can turn this silly, unbusinesslike feature off if you want to, but it’s turned on by default and I find it gives me a sense of achievement.

An issue tracker also comes in really handy when someone—the client, for instance—needs a progress report. It lets you (and everybody) see where you stand in a concrete way. More importantly, it replaces your own faulty memory in terms of remembering what you planned to do.

WPEngine for Hosting

WPEngine office building.

What else? We find it makes a big difference where you do your hosting. I’m reluctant to hand out more free plugs, but we use WPEngine. Besides being reliable, it has a couple of tools we depend on.

One big one is their multiple daily backups. We haven’t needed to restore from backup a lot—I think just once since I’ve been here—but it worked seamlessly. Our WordPress database and custom code were all safe and sound. I don’t even remember what was bad that happened, it was fixed so quickly and so correctly.

Another great tool WPEngine offers is their Git integration. For those who don’t know what Git is, it’s source-control software. For those who don’t know what source-control software is, it’s software that keeps track of the code you write and all the changes you make to it. It lets you compare the state of a file over time, so if something stops working, you can see what was in the file when it worked. It also lets you keep code synchronized across many computers, so two or more people can work on the same site and see each other’s changes.

I’m really used to a Git-based workflow, and WPEngine’s Git integration makes it really easy for me to get the most out of it. One of the big pluses of Git is that you can use it to deploy changes to your site with a simple command, instead of having to open up your FTP software and drag a bunch of files around. (If you haven’t done that before either, let me tell you now, it’s slow and error-prone.)

Slack for Internal Communication

Another tool we use, maybe the least replaceable one, is Slack. Slack is discussion software, with different “channels” for any subject you like. Chatting in Slack is like chatting in real life, with added features.

One huge feature in our sun-splashed, high-ceilinged, dog-friendly, occasionally loud, open office is it’s quieter than chatting in real life. Other huge benefits include:

  • Slack remembers everything you say (though it does let you edit your mistakes).
  • It lets you upload files, and it keeps them in the discussion where you uploaded them, making it easier to find them than searching through Google Drive in a lot of cases.
  • It lets you post funny .GIFs.
  • Most important, it lets you initiate conversations with busy colleagues without having to physically interrupt them.

Transparency, Communication, and Tools Are the Name of the Game

Project management on a web project is mostly a matter of transparency and communication, and that’s what these tools help us with. They free us from the burden of having to get in each other’s faces all the time. After all, you can’t design, or code, or write content while you’re in a meeting. You need the communication, absolutely, and I think I already mentioned you need experience and sense, but the online tools make using your experience and sense so much more efficient.