Web Migrations & Taking Sites Live Reality Check

Now let’s say you have been brave enough to either hire a web developer or build your own website yourself, or let’s say you have been assigned to build out a new website for a large corporation. If you know some PHP/Mysql or have some programming skills, or you are a designer, a “web producer” or web product manager or just a plain old entrepreneur, and you are in the middle of trying to get your website live, I understand your pain.

The Brand New Site

Websites run the gamut. They start from a 1-10 page biz card like sites, which only show your basic contact us, about us, services, to a full blown combination of existing systems like WordPress & Joomla adding in customized “serious” app development. They can have 10 lines of programming or in the case of one of my projects over 300,000 lines of programming. Either way, a brand new spanking web site with some level of serious programming will have this kind of logarithmic ending to the project It’s even worse than the old 80/20 rule, where 80% of the work is in the last 20%. It’s more like 95% of the work occurs in the last 5%.

Why so much work at the end? That’s because you typically have a situation where a lot of things are not known till the very end. It does not matter what the developer, project manager, third party guy in India tells you. The hard work in this business starts not on day 1, but day 180, when the petal hits the metal. And this kind of work has more to do with QA than development, and precision, not hand grenade throwing let’s kind of get it working. That’s why many outsourced websites, to overseas folks, die on the vine, or cost 10 times what they projected. This detail work is the work that you, the owner, or a close person to you needs to do. It is not for a guy or gal in a developing nation out there to do. Not to say that overseas development is not cost effective, it’s saying that I have my doubts after the 7th inning stretch.

Civil Engineering vs. Web Engineering

If you compare building a website to building a building. They are similar in that there should be some type of project plan. Where they differ is that a building can’t change, much, once you start building it. The plans for a building are set in stone, or the building could fail. A website is more like a big plumbing project in an old house, even for new websites. You don’t know the full extent of the project, sometimes, till you are in the middle of it. That’s why many web developers are not so willing to take one price stop shopping when selling their skills. Smarter web developers now realize that the big work can emerge towards the end, when a few extra things were discovered.

Web Feature Discovery

I mention web feature discovery a lot in my blogs. That’s because much of the development process on the web is about discovery. A good case in point is you start building a site, and you end up finding a new opportunity along the way. An example recently for me is we were building this college admissions counseling website and we realized about halfway through the project that there is an opportunity to create a series of pages, when SEO’d, would drive thousands of visitors. We would not have thought of this feature, unless we undertook the project. This is not a sequential process. This is a mind map type of process, where you start and many different directions appear. You have to visualize these directions, and rate them and decide which come next, which to ignore and which to take on.

The Migration

Ah, the migration. Another way to say this is what a p in the a. When you are moving a website, it is one of those things that can keep you up every night and you are blind while you are doing it. Even when I had a team of 20 people working for me and with me on a big migration of sites for NTT corp., we could not think of all the details. Our brains can not contain everything. When I recently migrated Pre-dating.com, one of my projects, I did it myself. This was like saying I am going to move myself, and you have a big house of stuff. It will happen, but it is painful. I have moved something like 12 times in my adult life and everytime I have to leave something behind and extricate from my life items and things I don’t want to get rid of. But moving means leaving it.

When migrating, you have this list of all the things that need to happen. Mind you, some techies are great at migrations. But no matter what you know and do, there always seems to be an issue you did not think of. We don’t know everything or sometimes we don’t know much at all. I moved a site recently and I realized after we moved the reverse DNS was set up incorrectly, so when you looked up the site by IP address it was incorrect. AOL blocked the email. Argh! I got it working, but it was in an area that is not my expertise. I fixed it, like fixing a migraine headache. Another issue on a migration I see all the time is slight differences in the servers. The old server and new server may be the same, but for some reason PHP, mysql, sql server, there is always a difference. Hopefully the settings don’t cause a major problem, but it often does. I have even seen a migration and 4 months later the problem is discovered.

What Am I Saying

I am just venting on the issues in taking sites live, and I can’t give you much than a pat on the back when it goes live, whether its a new site or a migration. This is an accomplishment, regardless of what you techie friends would say. There are many sites which refuse to change, move, migrate or improve because of fears of disaster. The disasters, I have seen them, so there are a good possibility no matter what you do. They happen and you deal with it!

Web Feature Discovery Process – Part 2

This article is the second part of 2 articles on the Web Feature Discovery Process. You probably should click here and read article 1 if you are here for the first time.

Ok, so you have finally figured out the key assets and are starting to go down the road of making your new web feature happen… well let’s just say you are only 20% towards the finish line. There are some major hurdles involved for most of us, including even the big guy or gal at the top. The thinking part of discovering ripe juicy revenue or visitor producing features is the easy part. The difficult part is making it happen, navigating the human beings all along the way, especially when you know they are all trying to make sure you either fail directly, fail indirectly, fail just by the fact that you don’t have the energy to fight anymore, fail because you left the job or fail because the job left you. It is a fight to the death my friend and its all because you sorted through the company assets with a flashlight at night when nobody was looking and you had an idea, you brought it into the daylight, and now you are a pure unadulterated target for those who don’t want you to succeed. So how do you proceed in the most murky of environments…

Social Engineering

I first began to understand social engineering, when I was reading a great article about Kevin Mitnick, the infamous hacker who broke into Sprint and stole tons of information about their customers. He was not genius. He was not very technical. He was basically a petty thief. How did he do it? He used social engineering. If you think about it, social engineering (in the Mitnick version) is about figuring out how to use information and people of an organization to think what you want them to think and do, using that information wisely. Mitnick figured out that when executives names where mentioned, people lose their minds and do what you want. “Uh, Dick Lynch the VP said we need that report now!” Minick found out that if you know some small piece of information or just a name, you could easily navigate an entire organization, call around to people and they would hand you off like you were a friend. He would use person X’s name and say hey person Y, Person X recommended me. What really did is say the VP wanted me to get onto System Z, now so get me a login and password…

The point is, you need to understand the dynamics of the organization, the motivations of people in the organization and the hierarchy of decision-making. Getting the organization on board with you is what I am getting at! But ultimately, like I have said before, you can take the high road or the low road. Taking the high road means bring the organization along on a ride towards success (success means getting your feature implemented).

Education Camp

Sometimes unusual methods are needed in order to gain the trust of execs and the whole organization. For instance, some of the features I was trying to get implemented at my last company required me to make sure that the organization understood the features. What did I do about it? I ran a seminar. Now people in my company who came to my seminar looked at me in strange ways as I ran them. Once again who was I to run a seminar? I was just a programmer there, sometimes a manager, but in no way did I have the keys to the kingdom or really was in charge of much there. Fellow employees would look at me with confused looks. Who was this guy standing up there talking about things? I ran periodic internal seminars at the office. This means a short 45 minute talk, on WordPress for instance. I ran a seminar on Whois. I was planning a seminar on a variety of subjects. What was I doing in my crazy convoluted method was starting the social engineering process by planting seeds through my seminars. I wanted this company to adopt certain strategies and methods. Once again, nobody stopped me from running a talk at noon time in the conference rooms. This is a great place to flesh out your ideas and don’t freak if someone shows up to show you up. My answer to them would be, show me how to do it better!

Plan 32

One thing that a great product manager should always have is a pile of ready to go plans in their back pocket. You have all the plans (I mean PPTs, Power Points) that are company planned, on the so called “Road Map”. Actually I am going to digress here and tell you that if there is a Road Map beware! The kind of process and thinking a Road Map can create can be a real negative, because from experience nay-sayers love to use the Road Map as a way to block new Road Entrances. Never let the Road Map not allow the process to be re-prioritized and redeveloped. I have yet to see the Road Map (in the web feature world) be the best guide. Now, as far as plans are concerned, you have the top line plans already planned out from the execs and board. You have the plans that others know about that you are promoting, and you have a dozen others that they are not aware of, but you have them ready to go, in standby mode, in a file on your hard-drive or cloud, just in case the time is right. Why the three types of plans? Well, part of succeeding is not giving it all away too soon. You have to release plans periodically to the organization, who can’t handle all the plans at once. They have to be part of a series of changes over time. Once again, as a champion, of a lot of other people’s ideas (OPIs), you need to map out these features properly and get your presentations just right. Sometimes you have to sit on things and let osmosis occur. You wake up some morning and your brain somehow figures it out. Who knows why things work that way, but often they do. I would highly recommend sitting down with all the guys and gals who thought them up and show them where there idea is now!

The Shadow Government

Sometimes all the education and all the presentations and all the board room brawls are insignificant compared with the reality that something has to be done subversively. It is a rare thing to do, and there are some well documented cases where it is a necessity. A great example is the case of the James Cannavino at IBM. I read a great story about Jim in the late 1960s trying to convince management that he could speed up the IBM Mainframe. They rejected his notion, but in a subversive move, he had the technology developed outside the company and when it was finished went over his bosses and showed it to the board. He faced either being fired or being promoted. Luckily he was promoted. Hopefully it doesn’t come to this, but sometimes getting things done in an organization require unusual activity, because like I have been inferring there are many more forces at work trying to not make things happen than happen, even on the smallest scale.

Project Mercury

Those funny project names, that often mimic Nasa project names are not just wild imaginative words that are spread around at a company. They are used to get your attention, to try to get the organization to recognize a plan. These project names may sound strange and odd, but customer oriented, improved website features are often a shift and they may seem quite odd at first. Social networking stuff like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook. These are now household names, but 10 years ago they would sound strange. And it is only going to get stranger. When I say Tweet, Joomla, Droopal, lamp or soap to people in the web world, they better know what I mean… What should be happening in most American web firms is an injection of militarization combined with humor and something to spice it up. That’s what a project name is all about. If project names are not attention-getters, they should be. I would always try to make the name relevant, but a good bit of creativity is a positive not a negative.

Misdirection And The Book Of 5 Rings

Talking about military tactics, people’s military training can go a long way in corporate America. Just because I was not in the army, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from military tactics. They are important. At the end of my MBA program I took a class which revolved around Musashi’s “The Book Of Five Rings“. Musashi is a Japanese expert on war in the middle ages who survived to his old age and therefor, because he was only one of the very few warriors to survive, he wrote about his tactics. One of the tactics listed is a method of drawing an enemy towards oneself and at the last minute let the enemy run themselves off a cliff. In our language we call it misdirection. Sometimes you have to lead people down a path and not stop them from their self destruction. Often your plan has one way of doing things and another person has their plan. If you see their plan is faulty you don’t always have to stop it from failing. Sometimes it is best to let it fail. When I worked back at the phone company we used to leave documents around about projects that were never in existence in order to confuse people about what our real intentions were. Sometimes it is important to not reveal these intentions until you are ready to present and make it happen.

This the second of a 3 part articles. I have not yet finished article 3 about Making the Web Feature Happen.

This is the first article (You should read them in order)