Don’t Ignore the Social Challenges of Web Development

Our goal is to leverage what is already out in the field in terms of partners, but then hire in project management capability and a bit of technical capability.
– Kevin Rollins

It is easy to get excited about the new wave of technologies entering the market and the constant evolution of frameworks, hardware and technological ecosystems while at the same time forgetting about the single biggest bottleneck in web development: social challenges. Organizational structures, governmental mandates (in terms of standards compliance), special requests, gridlock and the like are bigger factors involved in the successful completion of major web development projects.

Three Major Revelations in Web Development

  1. The client is also responsible for your success. To manage these social challenges a disciplined consulting approach is needed. Not only should the developers facilitate and lead consensus but also managers on the receiving end should diligently contribute to the projects completion. Hence, taking a project towards success doesn’t depend solely on the technicians involved in content production.
  2. You will inherit any pending internal wars. And these “wars” will manifest in fights for prominence in the homepage, amount of content displayed and other automated features. Each department will fight to have more prominence on the web and hence better performance on the real world of sales and corporate indicators. Welcome to a war you didn’t start.
  3. You will manage more, not less legacy hardware and software. Probably your project will at some point have to integrate certain facilities with even obsolete programs and services residing in the bowels of the corporate ERP. Plus, you will inherit any partial developments created by a previous web development team. Your only recourse here might be to negotiate having the client prepare these integration scripts or replacing certain legacy systems altogether. Good luck with that.

What is Gridlock Anyway?

All web developers in their careers experience contracting for a gridlocked company. This is a very particular feeling and one that you won’t forget easily. The client can’t provide you with content in a timely fashion, meetings are a canvas for internal warfare and emails are received with a cold face that looks the other way. To help you understand this situation I must say that probably “It’s not you. It’s them”.

To work in architecture you are so much involved with society, with politics, with bureaucrats. It’s a very complicated process to do large projects. You start to see the society, how it functions, how it works. Then you have a lot of criticism about how it works. – Ai Weiwei

Gridlock occurs when equal forces move in opposite directions within organizations. It usually precedes a major corporate change or failure and is pretty hard to identify for any external consultant. To manage gridlock you need legal counsel that can tailor made  contractual agreements that compel your clients to timely answer your requests or face financial penalties. Even with adequate counsel, enforcing these penalties is damaging to pre-existing relationships and should be used sparingly.

Enter The Government and Standard Bodies

It doesn’t end with the client, though. You must comply with any governmental standards that your country has established, deliver upon industry best practices and adhere to W3C recommendations. While you will likely not directly interface with these institutions it is clear that they underscore the complexities associated with building any major website.

Some Closing Remarks

Certainly, web development requires many social and technical skills as well as pre-existing rapport with clients in need of major professional service. Try to think thru these social challenges before engaging in any major web development project and quote accordingly. Also, don’t solely focus on achieving great technical acumen and strive to grow as a person by developing your social skills as much as you can. In any event, focus on clients that have a good corporate culture and a manageable work/life balance.

I love working if it’s with people who are capable of having a good time. People with a little bit of enjoyment of what they do. If it’s enormous pressure, and people feel that their lives are at stake, then it’s agony. So I try to pick projects where I feel like I’m going to avoid those traps. – Alan Arkin