How to Set Up an Online Project

Posted on Aug 04, 2015 by admin

With the wide range of project delivery options now available, from freelance portals through to a myriad of design and development firms, more and more companies are electing to perform the full project delivery cycle online. For experienced operators, setting up a project online is a methodical task that has been performed numerous time. But for newer players in the market, the apparent ease of setting up a project online belies a greater complexity that must be considered.

It is important to remember the following when setting up a new project online:

  1. The quality of your written job brief is vital
  2. The strength of the agreement between you and the service provider is paramount
  3. The interaction between you and the service provider must be honest, transparent and respectful

Without the above, you increase the risk of project failure and reputation damage.

Remember, in the online world, your service providers may not be located close to you. You may not even know what they look like. Unless you are prepared to get on a plane and fly half­way across the world, you may never be able to meet face to face to resolve project issues.

Your Written Brief

Make it absolutely clear what you expect from the project. List the deliverables in an itemised manner and clearly articulate what they are.

For example, if you are setting up a project for website design and development, you can choose to articulate the graphic design component of the project as:

“I need all graphics for the website created” ­ this leaves things wide open to scope change and


A more appropriate summary of the graphics requirements would be:

“I need all graphics for the website created which will include:

  • one original logo (including size if available)
  • one header banner
  • approximately 12 icon buttons
  • 6 stock images retouched to include our watermark”

This will demonstrate to your service provider that you are committed and detail oriented.

If you are unsure of the requirements, or are relying on full creative inputs from the service provider, you can still demonstrate this with a requirement like this:

“As part of the website design process, I am expecting to engage with you to understand the graphic design requirements to ensure that cost and quality are not compromised”.

A detailed brief makes it clear not only what you are expecting to receive, it also gives the service provider the opportunity to respond clearly and tell you what they are expecting to deliver. Aligning these two points is important if you want to avoid delivery misses or cost overruns.

Service Agreement

The agreement between you and the service provider needs to be watertight. Wherever possible, articulate every deliverable including timelines. Align the deliverables outlined in your brief to the deliverables contained in the service agreement.

But, to be brutally honest, this is not enough. When I say the “strength of the agreement”, I refer to an element frequently overlooked in the world of online project delivery: Mutual Benefit.

To create a strong agreement between two parties, there must be mutual benefit. All the time.

Too often do I see job postings online for projects with only what I can say is outrageous demands, either in terms of scope of delivery and time allowed and/or available budget. I have no hesitation in performing small pieces of work for clients, in fact they can be great to build partnerships, but what I will not do is compromise our project delivery because the very fabric of the agreement itself is placed in jeopardy by unrealistic delivery expectations. If there is not something in the project for all parties, then something has to give. Quality goes first, profit margin not far behind that, eroded team morale the deciding factor which can carry on well after the current project is done.

If you are posting a job online and you are seeking the lowest possible cost only, do you really understand what you are signing up for? Imagine a website design project you post for say $200.

Sounds like a great price for you, but what is happening behind the scenes?

  1. You are extremely unlikely to have quality firms or contractors bid on your work ­ at $200 what is really left for them?
  2. You are sending a message to the online community that you are seeking “cheap and nasty” even when that may not be the case
  3. The firm you select will have one objective in mind only ­ protecting whatever margin they have left. Quality will be the first casualty.
  4. Firms that can operate at a margin like this often run production line type of operations that require fast and high turnover of 100’s of projects to survive ­ simply the focus on your project is not there from a creative perspective and you get cookie cutter results.
  5. Firms that do offer an increased service in terms of creative inputs and revisions will often preserve their margin by passing the risk to their employees ­ how? long shifts, tight deadlines, punitive working environments. Quality is the first casualty. Staff attrition might mean you have many different people working on your projects.
  6. Unintentionally, you are not valuing the skills of the people performing the project for you. Many of the project staff will have studied extensively and gained significant on the job experience to become competent in their fields ­ forcing low pay or unrealistic timeframes can be viewed as disrespecting their industry and skills. Quality is the first casualty.

Wherever possible, seek mutual benefit. You will attract a better quality service provider, get better project outcomes and also contribute more positively in the online marketplace.

Interaction and Engagement

If you get the service agreement right, you need to live and breathe transparency during the life of the project. Both in terms of how you communicate with your project teams and in what you expect in return.

Key lessons in engaging your project teams are:

  • ­ Do not assume anything, ask questions respectfully but constantly
  • ­ Create a structure around your questions based on the project milestones and then drilling down into the detail
  • ­ Ask questions in a manner that encourage a detailed response, not a “Yes” or “No” answer ­ in experience, the answer will always be “Yes”
  • ­ If you are concerned, call it out respectfully but directly. Search for solutions, don’t just play the blame game
  • ­ Reward your team for meeting milestones or going above and beyond ­ say “thank you” often
  • ­ Respect hierarchy, if you are working with a project manager or lead, don’t undermine them in front of their teams

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