Web project? Buy this book.
By David Walker (Google profile)
Rushing wildly to develop Web sites as fast as possible, the industry of Web development has until now avoided developing any standard work methods for itself. Now, Ashley Friedlein has filled that void with 302 pages of method, in a book titled Web Project Management ($A93.50 from Dymocks or McGills, $US39.95 from Amazon). After you've bought it and studied it thoroughly you'll know how Web development should work. As ArsDigita founder Philip Greenspun puts it on the back cover, "a lot of people will end up owing their jobs to this book".
Make no mistake; it's a readable textbook with a few light touches, rather than an amusing memoir. The hyper-prosaic title reflects Friedlein's style. He has focused on the essentials. In doing so, he has nailed all four of the characteristics that a book of this type needs:
- It covers Web project management from end to end. After pinpointing what makes a good project manager, it moves through project stages from preproduction all the way to post-project evaluation. The book's table of contents is itself a solid checklist of the tasks you'll need to cover in a typical Web project.
- It covers issues in necessary detail. The pages on budgeting, for instance, include such issues as checking for software licensing gotchas like per-processor software pricing. There's a simple, sensible example of how to implement version control on project documents. Such detail is particularly important in a field like Web project management, which is recruiting from fields as diverse as C++ software development and TV journalism.
- It's authoritative. Time and time again, Friedlein pinpoints the key issues in a specific Web project management task. His three-page table comparing the strengths and weaknesses of various site activity measures is the pithiest around. The section on that relatively little-known field called content management homes straight in in on the toughest issues - total cost of ownership, standards compliance and performance. In many places, he uses concepts (for instance, detailed technical specifications) established during the past thirty-odd years of software development.
- It's realistic. Friedlein understands how unpredictable and changeable Web projects are. Rather than decrying the fact, he outlines ways of responding to change and spotting risk areas. This realism shows through clearly in his single, highly detailed and candid case study - an account of building www.channel5.co.uk. It also shows through in countless specific pieces of well-informed advice. ("Usually the most time-consuming part of creating a database-driven Web application is getting the data itself in the specified format and structure and getting it clean.")
Friedlein delivers these four essentials with a discipline which would win him respect from project managers in any industry. Yes, he makes the standard noises about Web project management's unique challenges. But he also borrows extensively from the wisdom and rigour which software project managers have developed over the past third of a century. And beyond that, he understands the unchanging project management challenge: that change breeds chaos, and that project management can tame this chaos by setting clear task agendas. It's this management mindset that should ensure the Friedlein volume supplants Jessica Burdman's 1999 volume Collaborative Web Development.
Friedlein's background suggests he was born to the task rather than trained for it: he spent time as a television producer before jumping to the Web around 1997. But his employer, the large UK new media agency pres.co (now Wheel) clearly exposed him to practices more rigorous than were in use in most late-nineties Web development shops.
Why has Web Project Management not already garnered acclaim and bestseller status? Largely because its author lives and works in Britain, denying him and his publishers the opportunity to schmooze directly and full-time with the US West Coast digerati. This book's lack of fame gives you all the more opportunity to get a jump on other Web project managers.