Time-critical SEO project management – classic or agile?
Many companies face the problem if they should manage their projects in a classic way, using a waterfall model, or if it would be better to use agile methodologies. Agile concepts like Kanban or Scrum offer a better flexibility with the disadvantage of impeded deadline planning. Especially for SEO agencies in a dynamic and deadline-driven environment, this can be a huge problem. The good news is: There are opportunities to combine the benefits of agile development and classic project management in order to be both flexible and reliable concerning deadlines.
Exact planning alone isn’t sufficient for delivery in time
Have you ever worked at a huge and detailed project plan with its numerous work packages, dependencies and milestones, only to recognize that all this had to be revised due to circumstances that couldn’t be anticipated at the beginning? Large Gantt diagrams ordered in a waterfall-like cascade, usually beginning with a concept phase, followed by concept detailing, development, quality assurance and rollout give you a fake sense of security. The more complicated such a plan is, the more error-prone it will be. It is no accidental occurrence that most of the projects planned this way won’t meet the expected deadlines and budget.
In opposition to classical project management, agile development perches on small units of progress. With each development cycle, only a few features are implemented. These so-called increments each are deployable software packages or other artefacts that can be rolled out and tested.
There are several agile methodologies. Two of the most popular ones are Kanban and Scrum. While Scrum is built on top of fix development cycles with a predefined set of work packages per cycle (sprints), Kanban forgoes mechanisms like that. Kanban relies on the visualization of the development progress. The work packages are symbolized by paper cards or tickets in an electronical ticket system like Jira. They run through a number of development phases, mostly beginning with a backlog (the work basket), followed by a selection phase where the upcoming work packages are collected, before they reach the development phase. After the development is finished, usually a testing phase follows, before a feature is finally rolled out.
In a daily meeting, the development team shifts all the cards that have finished a certain phase to the next one. This physical process of moving cards is one of Kanban’s most important characteristics because it makes the progress perceptible.
Besides Kanban and Scrum, there are several other methods and hybrid agile development methodologies, e.g. Scrumban.
One of the biggest disadvantages of agile development is the difficulty to plan reliable deadlines because a comprehensive and all-embracing plan rarely exists in such projects.
Deadlines vs. flexibility
Most companies can’t work without reliable deadlines. This is true especially for SEOs who are bound to contractual agreements. The customers expect the punctual delivery of the stipulated services. Albeit the results of the SEO actions can’t be guaranteed – this is especially true for the time when these results can be expected – at least, the work that is done in order to enable these results should be finished in a dependable manner.
Also, in-house SEOs see themselves confronted with agreed-upon deadlines – e.g. when the department that receives the SEO services does classical project management and expects the delivery for a fixed time or date.
On the other hand, SEOs work in a highly dynamic environment. What is true today can be obsolete tomorrow – think about all the Google updates in the past. Not to forget the competitors: Their actions – especially relating to SEO – can impact the effects of a company’s endeavors.
In many cases the dependency on both updates and competition implies the necessity for immediate action which often overburdens a classic project management organization.
This shows: SEO projects need a combination of reliable deadlines and great flexibility.
Agile development and deadlines: Do they fit together?
The question is how one can bring together the advantages of agile development with a reliable planning of deadlines. The experience shows: It works! And the best thing is: The developers do not even have to change their working habits. The only thing you as a person responsible for a project have to do is to change the administration of the work packages. By doing this it is ensured that no disturbances are brought into the development team.
In order to plan deadlines in Kanban, one simply needs the estimated effort for all the respective work packages in the project. For those work packages that will be implemented mid- and long-term, rough estimates are made up. The work packages should be tailored in a way that makes them comparable – e.g. each work package has an estimated effort of two to three person days. The number of the work packages lets you estimate the total effort for the project.
A second dimension you need to plan in Kanban projects is the amount of available contributors or developers that will participate until the end of the project. From the number of available project days, holidays and other days off are subtracted. The ratio of the effort needed for the project’s work packages and the available man-days results in the required time for finishing the project.
Dependencies between work packages don’t necessarily need to be taken into account for this calculation – except for external dependencies. You are free to choose which work packages to implement per sprint later on. This warrants the flexibility of the delivery team.
Conclusion: What is the right project management methodology for SEOs?
One of the most famous answers to questions like this in economics is: “It depends.” This is especially true for the question for the most appropriate project management methodology. Depending on the size and the complexity of a project, the number of involved contributors, the existence of internal or external dependencies, both classical project management and agile development can be the best way to do things the optimal way. By experience even when working in an agile mode one doesn’t have to spare the advantages of a reliable deadline planning – and this without changing the development team’s way of working.
Especially in the context of SEO with its fast-changing requirements, agile methods seem more and more appropriate. A planning that benefits from both the flexibility of agile methods and the reliability of classic project management can help to satisfy the customers’ needs.
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