This is where Macromedia steps in with there new killer app: Sitespring. We know Macromedia produces the best web software solutions (ask anyone who uses Flash or Dreamweaver) and we have come to expect only the best in software from them. Sitespring, unlike other Macromedia software, does not design anything. Instead, Sitespring takes the bold step of managing the interaction between E-Business managers and their clients, the tasks and development cycle for any given project and the version control of any file needed for a project. The final result is a complete life cycle management program that gives the right users the content at the right time. The end result: Decrease time to execution, increase customer satisfaction and reduce overall costs for any given project. This, and is does it all through a web interface. Does it get any better?
Getting ready, fast!
No Web software management tool will work unless it is fast to install and easy to use. Well, Macromedia has you covered. To begin with, it takes less than 5 minutes to install the software (currently it runs on either Windows NT 4 or Windows 2000 servers). Once the software has successfully installed a browser window will link you directly to the administrative tools for Sitespring. A big bonus is the admin tools are all managed through a Web interface! This means that Sitespring can be managed from anywhere you can see the web server it is on, whether that is the company Intranet or an Extranet.
The first thing you will need to do in the Admin window is set up the access rites for users of Sitespring. Sitespring has two different types of user: a client and active user. The difference is this: if you have a user who will need to access the personalized features of Sitespring to manage projects, tasks and version control then they are classed as an active user. If your user is simply being asked to provide content and review web projects then this person is a client.
Client needs analysis
It is the role of the e-business manager or Account Executive to collect a complete business plan from the client, or what is sometimes known as a “needs analysis”. A planned “needs analysis” will allow the Web team to gain a full understanding of the project, the scope, who is the intended audience and who the person paying for the project is. Sitespring provides you with the tools to collect this data and store it. Using the web interface an Account Executive for the Web group can meet with the client and write down exactly what the client needs are.
The focus should be on business needs, not technology. As we have all seen with the explosion of Web technologies in the last five years, technology can stale very quickly. Business needs, however, may well have been running your business for over 80 years.
Sitespring makes the client’s business needs available to everyone within the team. This is critical. At any point in time web team members can review this data to understand where their parts fit within the whole vision. It can help make sense of cryptic tasks and, more importantly, increase the flow of communication.
With a business needs analysis fully conducted the next role is for your Project Manager. The Project Manager takes the “needs analysis” and, with help from the Account Executive, breaks down the various parts of the project into tasks.
Sitespring Active users are then assigned tasks. Each user receives their task through email and can access the details of their task through a web site. By providing two methods of delivering the content the Project Manager is fulfilling their role of keeping the paths of communication open.
Each email provides a direct link back to the Sitespring web site. A user clicks on this link and is immediately directed back to the site. After logging into the site, the user is presented with a web page personalized to their needs. Four main tabs are on the page: Projects, Tasks, Discussions and Reports, as shown in Figure A.
Figure A: Sitespring’s Personalized interface allows you to get
to the information you need when you need it
The “Projects” tab lists the projects that user is involved with. At any time the user can click on the project to review any documentation on the project, including any client contact information.
The second tab identifies all of the opening tasks. Opening a tasks identifies what needs to be done for what project.
Communication is fundamental for today’s increasingly disparate development teams. The inclusion of the discussion tab allows open discussion to be conducted around a specific project. This is extremely helpful. Email can and is used to discuss projects, however, following the discussion trail for a specific project through email can be very difficult.
The final tab is “My Reports”. This tab is a checklist of high level reports.
Very quickly a user can see what projects they are working on, what tasks need to be completed and what the current discussion on hot topics.
Everyone is a Project Manager
The web does work differently. Time scales are greatly diminished. For this reason, it is important that a developer, designer or content owner, must be able to have the free reign to create tasks in addition to the project manager. Consider this scenario:
Certainly this can also be done with just email. But, the benefit Sitespring brings is that it will allow all actions to be tracked. This is important in seeing who signed off on sections of the project. In addition, a report can be generated for your clients identifying all of the work that was done, by whom and how long it took them.
Note: As a rule of thumb try to keep all projects within an 8-12 weeks time frame. Yes, I know this is very tight. But, this is also the web. Web users’ current expectations are that the web is an instant process. Your clients will also place the same demands on you, if they are not already doing so. Keep all projects small in order to achieve goals. Don’t do everything at once. Plan for three phases of a project (this should take about 6-9 months of work) with specific deliverables to be met at the end of each phase. Managing projects in this incremental execution demonstrates to the client that you do meet deadlines and goals. In addition, the client sees a constant and deliberate increase in the scale of their sight.
How many times have you created a web page and edited the same page more than once? Now, ask yourself, how many times have you edited that web page only, at some point, to realize that you wish you could go back to the old version? If this has not happened to you then you are perfect and I would like your phone number so you can come work for me. If, on the other hand, you are like me and the millions of other web developers you have probably had this happen to you. Sitespring to the rescue! A fabulous new patent-pending technology built into Sitespring is a version control system. Unlike WebDav or Microsoft’s Visual SourceSafe, Sitespring does not use a database method for storing versioning nor is it limited to text based files. Sitespring’s version engine sits on top of the file server that hosts the files used during the development of a project. Any file can have versioning applied to, such as Flash movies, graphics and videos as well as text based files such as HTML, CSS and XML. The versioning is applied as follows: a file is created or saved to the Sitespring file server (for all intents and purposes it looks and behaves the same as any file server on your company network). Say the file is a graphic JPG file called starting.jpb. The designer opens starting.jpg and makes some changes. Occasionally he saves the file. Each time he makes a save an extension is added to the file: for instance, the first four saves of the file would look like: starting-1.jpg, starting-2.jpg, starting-3.jpg and starting-4.jpg. Each time the file is saved Sitespring creates a new version of the file. This can take up a lot of space with large files such as AVI movies so a “clean-up” versions tool is included with Sitespring to manage unwieldy files. However, versioning is a boon. Every single change can be tracked easily and efficiently. But, what makes this too wonderful is that when the designer forwards the starting.jpg file onto another user, Sitespring knows to change the ownership of the file to the new person. When ownership of file is changed, Sitespring creates a milestone version of a master file. Milestones indicated a completed phase of a task.
What is “Done”
A tricky question for any web site is defining the point of “done.” I have heard people say, “tell me, what is done? Aren’t web sites constantly being added to and modified?” This is true, however without a clear definition for the end of a project a web site can never be completed. Sitespring defines “done” when the Project Manager or Account Executive for the web team presents the completed project to the client. Again, using Sitespring, the client can review the project and sign off. Sitespring captures the digital signature, who signed, at what time and for which project. Only at this point can the site be moved to the staging server and onto the main production server. At this point your web project is “done.”
Through using Sitespring a Web team can exactly capture the needs of the customer, define and distribute the associated tasks for a project and capture exactly the time when a project is complete. This reduces time, costs and energy spent on a project while allowing the project to work and flow in the natural ways of all web projects. The client is delighted. And, what is better, the client may well come back and ask for more work to be done! You never know.
About Matthew David
Matthew David has been developing Flash based applications for over 6 years (that makes him very old in this business!). Examples of his work can be found at his web site www.matthewdavid.ws, or you can email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew's most recent publications include content for Flash 5 Magic and Inside Dreamweaver 4. You can also see him popping up in many online magazines, such as Sitepoint.com, Windowatch.com and UDzone.com.