Jillian Warren

Digital Project Management & Communications

Tag: Project Management (page 1 of 2)

The Secret Talent of a Good Project Manager

City map

I challenge you to find me a project manager who could not have a successful side job as a travel agent.

From my experience, project managers are excellent trip planners. The PM mindset and skill set lend themselves nicely to the organizing and executing of a grand travel plan:

  • Research
  • Considering different personalities and preferences
  • Weighing different options before selecting the best course of action
  • Documenting decisions and purchases made
  • Setting a budget and sticking to it
  • Thinking through all possible issues, risks, and tiny details
  • Developing a detailed itinerary
  • Communicating the plan to all parties
  • Getting everyone on board

As a professional project manager, I planned several travel ventures for my project teams — and, let me tell you, planning a multi-person business trip is an extremely detailed process.

Perhaps this project management training is why I’ve been having so much fun planning an international vacation for later this year. A normal, non-PM-minded person’s head might spin when considering international train schedules, nonsensical museum hours and holiday closings, hotel prices and locations in alien cities, and a million different flight options … But not me! This is where I thrive.

Although, even I must admit that sometimes there just seem to be too many choices nowadays. Here are a few tools I’ve used to help make sense of it all:

  • TripIt: TripIt has been a godsend for planning this particular trip, though you can use it for much smaller travel plans, as well. You just forward your flight/hotel/etc. confirmation email to them, and it “automagically” creates an online itinerary. You can add maps, images, notes, contact numbers, and anything else you might need during your trip. They’ve got some great apps for your phone and iPad, for easy access while you’re on the road.
  • Expedia‘s multiple destinations flight booking: We plan on flying into one major metropolis and then flying back to the US from a completely different country, so a round-trip fare wasn’t an option. One-way tickets aren’t always cheaper — and, when they are, they’re often on low-cost carriers with crazy baggage restrictions and fees. We also plan on taking trains and cars, instead of a flight, to make our way from our original destination to our final destination. This unfortunately ruled out several flight aggregator sites, like Kayak and Orbitz, whose multiple destinations booking requires you to purchase a flight from your first city to your last. Never fear, though: Expedia to the rescue! Expedia was the only major aggregator I found that easily let you book two one-way trips (without also booking a flight between those two airports) and still get the discounted package rate. We got two one-way flights, 3 nights at a hotel in our first destination, and 5 nights in our final city … All for way cheaper than if we’d bought through a different site.
  • Google Maps: This one should go without saying. Google Maps (admittedly in conjunction with a host of other review sites and travel guides) helped us figure out ideal hotel locations. Google Street View even lets you check out the surrounding neighborhoods. In keeping with the Google family, I did a lot of preliminary comparison shopping, budget planning, and scheduling in a Google spreadsheet.
  • European travel sites: If you’re traveling to “the continent,” these sites are clutch — Via Michelin, Eurail, and Bahn (the German train site that has everything you need in English).
  • Booking.com: There are a million sites you can use to book hotel rooms — but for this particular voyage, Booking.com seemed to have the lowest prices. I can’t vouch that this is always true for any type of trip, but it’s at least worth a look when you’re price shopping.

These are only a few of the hidden secrets of the project manager/travel agent. Let me know your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below!

Lenovo Blogs and Social: A New Connection for Those Who “Do”

Lenovo Social Homepage

January 3, 2012
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

2011 was a banner year for Lenovo. This international tech company was crowned the #3 global PC maker, rolled out a snazzy new brand campaign (have you seen its For Those Who Do ads?), and partnered with Viget to launch the new Lenovo Blogs and Social pages.

Our goal for this redesign was to centralize Lenovo’s existing blogs and social media in an engaging, navigable, and branded way, using one easily maintainable CMS. This would solve a few of the old sites’ big problems:

  1. Their dated designs no longer aligned with the brand’s message or high-tech look.
  2. It was difficult to make quick edits to the site and to manage so many authors.
  3. The Blogs section was divided into nine separate, ambiguously-named blogs, making it difficult for users to find relevant content.

The new Blogs and Social pages solve problem #1 through a gorgeous look and feel that really matches the brand. Check out the new Blogs homepage as an example:

Lenovo Blogs Homepage

To tackle problem #2, we built the site using the ExpressionEngine CMS. Now, the Lenovo team can quickly jump in to the back-end of the site to manage blog content, and each contributing author gets his own account with unique permissions to access the content areas relevant to him. We also set up easily curated social media feeds and different languages for Lenovo’s worldwide audience.

We addressed problem #3 by reorganizing the Blogs structure. We created a new tagging schema that de-compartmentalizes blog topics and makes it easier for users to find content. Now, users can click through all blog posts in one place; plus, they can filter by topics, products, recency, or popularity.

Lenovo Tagging Schema

Such a high-tech, high-energy company needs a web site that can keep up with it, and the new Lenovo Blogs and Social pages are certainly up to the task! We hope they serve Lenovo well, and many thanks to Erik, Nano, and the rest of the team for a fun, successful project!

The Key to Starting a Project Off Right

Web Project Team

October 4, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

You’ve put together the proposal, made the pitch, and sold the project. Great! Now, it’s time for the kick-off meeting.

Kick-off meetings can be intimidating. In some cases, it’s the first time you’ll meet the client, and it’s always a key moment in determining the course and tone of the project. A great kick-off can lead to smooth sailing, while a not-so-great one can initiate months of misery. Make sure you don’t go into this meeting unprepared.

Here at Viget, to prepare for kick-off, we start each project with an internal kick-off meeting. That’s right; we kick off our kick-offs. A few days before the real, client-facing meeting, we gather the whole internal team together to get everyone on the same page.

This is crucial. Going into a kick-off with an informed team and a deliberate plan helps you get the most out of your discussion — learning as much as possible and making important project decisions without wasting valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time. In my experience, project kick-offs without internal preparation often feel disjointed. There is no clear team vision or cohesion, and the kick-off becomes more about about educating the internal team than about laying the foundation for a successful project and relationship.

My internal kick-off agendas typically include:

  • Information on the internal team. We’ll be spending the next several weeks or months working together, so we set expectations early about who is on the team and each individual’s role. We also discuss internal communications methods, like which systems we’ll use to share deliverables or outline details of specific tasks or tickets.
  • A basic introduction to the client and the project. We review the history of our relationship with this client, the client’s main stakeholders, and the “10,000-foot” overview of the project — including high-level goals and motivation. I also provide links to any relevant documents or research: contracts, notes from the sales process, analytics, client-provided documents, etc.
  • Scope details. Although the PM will largely be the only one concerned with money, schedule, and contractual obligations throughout the project, it certainly helps if the whole team is aware of the constraints from day one. We discuss the budget, timeline, process, and deliverables. Everyone knows what is expected of them — both individually and as a team. This also gives us a great opportunity to discuss anything we might want to change about the project process or any new approach we might want to try.
  • A discussion of next steps. Now that we’re familiar with the nitty-gritty, we decide how to actually kick off the project. We not only figure out the logistics of the kick-off meeting — like meeting location, transportation, dress code, and technological requirements — but we also start to set the agenda. While many kick-off agendas cover the same basic topics, we deviate from the standard and customize our discussions for each project. We make sure to touch on any red flags or important questions that came up during our internal discussions, and we suggest any exercises or “games” we want to run with the client.

After the internal kick-off, there is still more preparation to be done. The team does research, reviews project documents and analytics, and prepares any visuals, slideshows, data, or exercises needed for the kick-off meeting. We also ask our clients to fill out an introductory survey about their business, users, goals, and preferences — so we review those responses, too.

Meanwhile, the project manager uses the internal kick-off conversation as a guide to create the kick-off agenda. The whole team will review and approve the agenda before it gets finalized and sent to the client. Also, here’s a nifty PM trick: create two versions of the kick-off agenda. The client-facing version is the “official” version, and the internal version includes additional questions, notes, and info on who will be leading each point of discussion.

I’m sure every project manager starts his projects differently. Even Viget PMs have their subtle differences! How do you start your projects? Do you kick off your kick-offs, and what do you discuss?

The Red and Blue, Reimagined: the new UPenn.edu

UPenn.edu Admissions & Aid page

September 19, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

I’ve been bursting at the seams trying to keep this one a secret, but the time has finally come to announce the new upenn.edu!

This site serves as the primary web portal for the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution in Philadelphia. Founded by Benjamin Franklin more than 250 years ago, Penn has rich historical roots and a modern, forward-thinking philosophy that has helped it grow into one of the world’s premier centers for education, scholarship, and research. It’s also the best school in the world (although, as an alum, I am clearly biased).

Penn’s previous site had been around since my freshman year (a long time ago, especially by web standards) and no longer accurately reflected the University’s evolving personality and standing in the global community. UPenn.edu needed a modern design that showcased the University’s friendly culture, top academics, and commitment to service … And, that’s where Viget came in.

UPenn.edu homepage, designed by Viget Labs

From our initial on-campus workshop to final site testing before launch, this engagement ran the gamut of our web expertise — including user experience and visual design, front-end development, and marketing services. We handed off our built-out files to the Penn team to integrate and add content, and everyone’s hard work culminated in a final product that truly does Penn justice.

The new site, informed by extensive user research, shows off the University of Pennsylvania’s unique features through beautiful campus imagery. These gorgeous images, many of which were taken by the talented Penn Web team, really make the site come alive. In particular, the simple yet eye-catching homepage uses striking visuals to tell the University’s story in a compelling way. The large background image changes each time the page refreshes, and the red headlines sidebar is anchored to the left for maximum impact. The Life at Penn section, another storytelling tool, gives a great glimpse into campus culture — particularly for off-campus audiences.

UPenn.edu Sports & Recreation

This main .edu site faces big challenges in that it needs to address every possible user group, from prospective students to staff to alumni, and it has to cover a ton of information. We used an audience-specific level of homepage navigation and carefully planned page layouts to point these diverse users toward the content they’re seeking. This one site connects the different departments, schools, and initiatives in an intuitive, organized way.

Thanks for all the hard work @viget! The new upenn.edu looks awesome! – @PennWebTeam

As someone with a ridiculous amount of Red and Blue pride, working on this project has been a dream come true! My sincerest thanks and congratulations go out to the wonderful Penn Web and Communications teams and my talented Viget team members. I think Ben Franklin would be amazed at your work and at just how far his University has come. Here’s a toast to dear old Penn!

The UPenn.edu of yesterday (2002 redesign):

The old UPenn.edu

The UPenn.edu of today (2011 Viget redesign):

UPenn.edu About page, designed by Viget Labs, 2011

My Big Launch!

Penn

My alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, just launched a new redesign of upenn.edu last week. I couldn’t be prouder to say that I project managed the Viget Labs team that worked with Penn on the new site!

I’ll have more to say on this soon, but for now — enjoy the site!

UPenn.edu homepage

A Tale of Two Conferences: WebContent 2011 and Texas JavaScript

WebContent2011 logo

June 20, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Here at Viget, we all have an annual conference/training allowance, among our other awesome job perks … And, we certainly put it to good use two weeks ago, when four Vigets traveled across the country to learn and make new friends!

For my training, I returned to my hometown of Chicago for WebContent 2011. This year’s theme was “Going Mobile,” and I spent two days soaking up a ton of information on content strategy and the mobile web. From a workshop on Content Strategy 101 to in-depth sessions on the latest mobile trends and their implications for your business, the conference’s offerings gave me plenty of food for thought and a whole new list of ideas for tackling my clients’ content issues. I also got to know a bunch of new faces in the web industry — plus, I got to eat wonderful Chicago pizza for a few days!

Brand and strategy consultant Margot Bloomstein of Appropriate, Inc., speaking at WebContent 2011 -- and using Viget's own SpeakerRate to get feedback on her presentation

Read more at Viget.com…

WebContent 2011

WebContent2011

Two weeks ago, I used my annual Viget conference allowance to attend WebContent 2011 — a web content strategy conference in Chicago. This year’s theme was “Going Mobile,” so I was hoping to learn a ton about mobile sites and content that would help me better serve my clients… And the conference did not disappoint!

Kristina Halvorson presenting at WebContent 2011

Web content guru Kristina Halvorson presenting at WebContent 2011

I’ll be doing a quick overview write-up shortly for the Viget blog (which I’ll post here, as well), and hopefully I’ll get around to more specific posts about my new mobile content knowledge soon!

WebContent 2011

Conference attendees waiting for the first workshop to start. There I am, right in the middle! (photo from the conference's Facebook page)

Designing for Facebook: the MyBand Application Redesign

MyBand Facebook Application

February 3, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Viget doesn’t just do web sites — we also design all sorts of other cool products and applications, from mobile to Facebook.

As an example, we worked with ReverbNation, a start-up that’s become one of the biggest musician sites on the web, to redesign the user interface for its MyBand Facebook application. With 2.5 million active users, including musicians from Sean Kingston and Tenacious D to the garage band down the street, MyBand aims to keep fans engaged with an artist’s latest songs, photos, videos, and tour dates. It also provides a path to purchase merchandise or sign up for a mailing list.

The MyBand application displays a great amount of diverse information — so we needed to create a visual hierarchy that reduces clutter while making all this information easy to digest.

Although the Facebook platform allows for a lot of flexibility in design and layout, this new design closely mirrors the standard Facebook design in color, icons, typography, and other visual aspects. This lends a certain credibility to this third-party application that it might not have with a unique design. The more MyBand resembles the Facebook brand, the more likely users are to trust it as an “official” part of the Facebook experience.

Also, throughout the project, we were aware of upcoming changes to Facebook’s layouts — specifically with regards to page width. Through a careful layout and longer scroll, we created a fluid, flexible interface that could easily accommodate Facebook’s constantly evolving layouts.

ReverbNation MyBand application design

A special thanks goes out to ReverbNation for a fun project that let us think outside the standard “web site” box!

Giving a New Face to Ruzuku.com

Ruzuku.com

January 28, 2011
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs Blog
Original Post

Here at Viget, we love working with young start-ups to help them establish their identities and express a personality that really stands out.

Recently we worked with our friends at MoreBetterLabs to design a new marketing homepage for Ruzuku.com. Ruzuku is an online social learning community, and it needed a more compelling homepage design to coincide with the launch of user registration.

As you can see, the original page was pretty basic …

Ruzuku.com (before)

… While the new design gives this start-up much more personality!

Ruzuku.com (after)

After learning more about Ruzuku, we created a series of mood boards to explore different design directions and narrow down the best fit. This final concept is bright and welcoming, and the polaroids feature images of real users — which help give an engaging new face to the Ruzuku community.

“It was a lot of fun working with you guys on this, and we’re very happy with the design,” said Jackson Fox, Principal Interaction Designer at MoreBetterLabs (and Viget alum). We had a blast working together on this, and congratulations to the Ruzuku team!

14 Tips for Better Presentation Slides

PubCon Presentation

November 18, 2010
Written for Viget Labs’ Four Labs BlogOriginal Post

Your slides will make or break your presentation. An effective slide deck not only makes your talk easier to follow and comprehend, but it can also boost your credibility and leave your audience with a big smile on its face.

I saw dozens of dozens of presentations last week at PubCon Las Vegas, a web marketing conference focusing on search and social media. In addition to all the amazing insights I picked up, I also learned a lot about what makes a good (and bad!) set of presentation slides.

PowerPoint Tips: General

1.) Have a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.

For the presentation newbies, PowerPoint is slideshow software by Microsoft; Keynote is the Apple equivalent. All the presentations I watched this week had a slide deck, so I have no complaints … But I did see plenty of complaints on the conference’s Twitter stream about speakers who went sans slides. Their talks were more difficult to follow, and they appeared less credible and professional.

2.) Use your slides to complement your speech, not overpower it.

Your slides aren’t the main attraction; you are! When building your slideshow, focus on the information and visuals that will best communicate and highlight your amazing ideas.

PowerPoint Tips: Design

3.) Choose a basic template.

A simple template will better emphasize your content. Complicated, cluttered, obnoxious themes make your slides difficult to read and dilute your message.

4.) Avoid fancy fonts.

Stick with a clean, clear font in a medium to large size — so even the near-sighted people in the back of the room can follow along.

5.) Pick easily distinguishable colors.

Blue text on a purple background is hard to read; black on white is not. Keep readability in mind when you choose font and background colors.

PowerPoint Tips: Layout

6.) There should be fewer words on the slide than in your speech.

Paragraphs are great for essays, but not for slideshows. Avoid large blocks of text and break sentences into smaller, more visually digestible pieces. Also, never read from your slides verbatim.

7.) Use bullet points wisely.

Bullet points are probably the best way to organize your info. Bullet point text should be concise, and don’t cram as many bullet points as possible onto one slide.

8.) Put important info in the top two-thirds of the slide.

Leave the bottom third of your slides empty, because it will be difficult for everyone to see — especially those in the back rows. The empty space makes a great place to list your contact info, date, or presentation name.

9.) Use visuals to your advantage.

A picture says 1,000 words. Images, infographics, and charts can help get your point across. If you have a great image, let it stand on its own.

PowerPoint Tips: Content

10.) Include your contact info at the beginning and end of the deck.

Not everyone will be paying attention at the start of your presentation, and not everyone will be paying attention at the end. This gives your audience two chances to know who you are and how to get in touch.

11.) Post your slides online.

Upload your slideshow to your web site or to a sharing site like SlideShare. Tell your audience upfront that your slides are available online, so they’ll spend more time listening and less time frantically scribbling notes. Then, include a link to the download at the end of your presentation. If you’re feeling particularly generous, provide a QR code as well! QR codes are a type of digital barcode that you can scan with your phone to easily access online data. Here’s more info from Mashable.com and Raleigh’s News & Observer.

12.) Shorten your links.

If your presentation includes links (which it should — see #11!), use a URL shortener like bit.ly — which simplifies URLs and also lets you track how many people access the link.

13.) Make sure the slides match what you’re saying.

When audiences hear one thing but see another, they get lost fast. Make sure your slides and your speech follow the same rough outline, and do a run-through ahead of time to double-check.

14.) Thank your audience, and ask for feedback.

Let your listeners know you appreciate them, and invite them to comment on your presentation. Link to your SpeakerRate account (which, incidentally, is run by Viget’s Pointless Corp.) for easy feedback.

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