Developer

Building a project Web site the easy way

A project Web site can be a terrific resource for your team. Here are tips on how to build a simple project site, even if you are restricted by a lack of resources or Web design skills.

Building a centralized project Web site, a key tool you can use to support a development effort, doesn’t require a Web designer or a big budget. This article explores how you can quickly and efficiently build an intranet or extranet Web site to support your development projects.

Benefits of a central project Web site
A central project Web site can help keep your project on track by serving as both an information repository and a communications tool. Here are some of the benefits offered by a project Web site:
  • A central user interface connects project team members to such project information as the requirements and design documents, functional specifications, and other documentation. The site provides a repository that is available to all team members.
  • It provides centralized scheduling information.
  • A library of project information is available for ready inspection/review by senior management and other selected stakeholders.

Elements of a project Web site
A project Web site should include these elements:
  • Contact information (e-mail, phone, cell, and pager) for team members
  • Meeting schedules
  • Project goals and vision
  • Statement of work for the project (if applicable)
  • Documentation for the project, including approved technical requirements, functional specifications, design documents, user guides, and other documentation
  • Test plans
  • Project schedule in an electronic format readable by site visitors (If you are standardized on MS Project, and your team members are not MS Project users, then you can convert the project schedule (*.mpp files) to HTML via the Project Tool. Converting the Project files to Adobe Acrobat files will also do the trick.)

Those without Web design skills please apply
Keeping a project Web site simple is always your best bet. Think of it as an index of project information or a portal providing access into the information and content developed through the course of a development project.

While the lack of pure Web design talent and resources may stop some from building a project Web site, there are GUI-based tools available that offer a word processor-like interface and templates you can adapt to your particular project Web site needs. Tools that are probably already in your software library can aid you in developing and publishing a simple project Web site.

Macromedia Contribute, which offers a simple browser-based interface, includes a number of templates that you can adapt for use in developing a project Web site. Figure A shows a sample template.

Figure A
Macromedia Contribute includes a number of templates, such as this one for a project home page.


The goals of this user interface are simple:
  • Links to all the information types on a single page for easy reference
  • Simple HTML coding and tool-agnostic design, which means that you can build a simple project Web site as long as you have a tool that can generate HTML and you can create links

Building a project Web site
You don’t need expensive tools to build a project Web site. With many companies standardized on Microsoft Office, you can find the tools you need already on your desktop. The example of a project Web site shown in Figure A was generated using FrontPage.

The user interface offered by this Macromedia Contribute template is simple enough for even the most novice Web site builder to modify. The design also positions the important project-related content at the top level of the site, making it easily accessible to project stakeholders.

Macromedia Contribute also offers a number of other templates useful for project Web site builders, including:
  • Meeting Notes
  • Calendar
  • Presentation Slide
  • Report

Figure B shows another example of a simple template.

Figure B
The Meeting Notes template in Macromedia Contribute


Another tool, Microsoft FrontPage, includes a Project Web template among its Web site templates that can be used to develop a project site. To take full advantage of this template and its interactive features, your project Web site must be running on a Web server with Microsoft FrontPage extensions installed. FrontPage extensions must be installed in order to allow publication directly from FrontPage. The extensions also drive interactive elements such as discussion boards and search. While there are other tools available, Macromedia Contribute and Microsoft FrontPage may already be available within your organization or can be purchased at nominal cost. Figure C shows an MS FrontPage template.

Figure C
Microsoft FrontPage 2002 project Web template


Adding interactivity and collaboration tools
Using interactivity and collaboration tools doesn’t mean deploying Microsoft SharePoint Team Services or a content management application. While security and resource restrictions may mean that interactivity is out of reach, at least for the initial iterations of your project Web site, there are still some options you can explore in the interim. These include:
  • FrontPage extensions that must be installed on the Web server where your project Web site resides.
  • Perl and CGI-based interactive solutions like those available for download from sites such as CNET’s Download.com. However, shareware-based solutions may be tricky to implement and raise the ire of your IT and security staff.

Making the move into a more collaborative environment is going to tax resources you may not have control over as a project manager.

Tips for building a project Web site
Here are some tips for building a project Web site:
  • Develop a list of what content you want to appear on the site.
  • Obtain Web server space that can accommodate your project Web site and accompanying project files.
  • Keep the design simple. Working from templates included with a Web development tool such as Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Contribute should provide a sufficient "starting block" from which to develop a project Web site.

Hosting a project Web site
Hosting a project Web site often requires cooperation from outside your project team. If your company already has an intranet, you should be able to post the site there. However, if your company does not have an intranet, or the current corporate intranet has gone cobweb, you should explore other options for hosting your project Web site. These options may include hosting the project Web site from a workstation capable of running a Web server accessible to team members—via your corporate network—or finding server space that you can borrow on a corporate server.

Managing a project Web site
Your project team should appoint a single team member or, at most, two team members as the publisher(s) of the project Web site. The publishing process may be delayed if too many managers have publishing rights. Team members expect quick results when they want a document published to a Web site. If the request to publish becomes too difficult to fulfill, then the centralized project Web site will lose credibility as a valued resource.

Project Web sites don’t have to be major development projects. You can take advantage of the benefits of a centralized project Web site without a large budget or even a modicum of Web design and development skills.

Let us know
Have you ever built or used a project Web site? Tell us about your experiences, positive or negative. Post a comment in the discussion board below or send us an e-mail.

 
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