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The Technical Brief

Dynamic web sites use a lot of technology. As such, it makes sense to produce a document that gives the technical team its "marching orders." From the client's perspective, this document tends to demystify the process.

Let's take a look at the key features the Oakbridge Community Center site will employ. First is an interactive tour based upon user interest. This tells us we will need to create a facility that enables those interested in indoor sports, outdoor sports, and community use features—meeting rooms and conference rooms—to quickly review those features. We'll also need to create an application that enables the visitors to book the various sports and meeting facilities.

A new wrinkle introduced by the client is the creation of an online meeting facility. This is being included as a part of the center's efforts to broaden its reach into the Oakbridge community and to enable a variety of community groups to either communicate their message to the Oakbridge community or to hold online meetings.

Having done that, the process can be reduced even further, and we can describe and rationalize the functionality of each feature.

Rationales for the Features

The tour will be the part of the site that will receive the most visitor interaction. Visitors will need to be able to view the various programs and facilities, based upon their specific interest. After the visitor selects a category, he or she should be presented with an overview of that particular facility. If more specific information is required, the visitor can reach it with a single click.

The booking facility will perform a number of tasks. It will need to keep a running list of the facilities the visitor wishes to book. It must also include functionality to enable the visitor to change his or her mind and add or delete items. It should also include the capability to refuse a booking based on over-capacity or, if the facility is unavailable, provide a few alternative dates or times that can be booked. It should also be able to issue an email confirmation regarding the booking.

The online meeting facility should be flexible enough to accommodate all manner of users, from novices to the technically adept. Thus, it has to be flexible enough to offer services ranging from a text input chat facility to streaming video and audio. It should be able to accommodate groups ranging in size from three to three hundred. It will also contain a "help agent" that will "create" the meeting facility based upon user input.

Cool vs. Practical

The rationale, if you are on the web team, just oozes "cool." Focus on the "cool" factor and the project is doomed to failure. Never forget the web is a communications medium. This means information is being transmitted. Focusing on the technology—"cool"—and not the process—"practical"—will overwhelm the message. For dynamic sites to work, the technology has to be transparent.

The tour could be done in any number of applications, but we decided to feed the content into Dreamweaver templates using content located in or referenced by the database. This way, the information is not fixed in place and can be quickly amended to accommodate change. For example, outdoor tennis courts and baseball diamonds can easily be removed during the winter months, and programs like "spinning" or aerobics can be added without major modifications to the site.

The booking application will be created in both Flash MX 2004 and Director MX. The reason here is to demonstrate to you how both applications can obtain and display data using ColdFusion and Flash Remoting.

The online meeting facility will be a Flash application that shows you how to add some "cool"—streaming video and audio—to the site. It will also be built to accommodate those visitors not as interested in "cool" and will offer a text chat option using the Flash Communications Server.

Timelines/Deadlines

More and more web development companies are starting to understand the importance of project management and the use of a project manager. This individual, in many respects, could be the difference between the success or failure of a project and, to be blunt, the web development company. In fact, one of the authors has gotten used to hearing the principals of many large and small web development firms tell him the smartest thing they ever did was to actually hire a "project manager."

This individual knows the key to the successful completion of the project is the schedule, and that means he or she must get the team and the client to "sign on" to the agreed deadlines. If the schedule is properly developed, both groups will see a continuum from the start of the project to upload to the client's server. This continuum involves timelines and deadlines and helps everyone involved to differentiate between forests and trees.

Timelines, the forest, are usually contained in a key event schedule that lays out the broad parameters of the project and the scheduled completion date for the elements of the project. Depending on the complexity of the project, this document presents the major milestones of the project's progression through the production process as a series of weekly or monthly deadlines. This document should be included in the proposal presented to the client.

A detailed schedule—the trees—serves to move the team toward the completion of the project. By breaking the project into a daily schedule, all the major team members have a daily "to–do" list. This should be a fairly detailed document, but don't make it rigid. Spawned from the key event schedule, this document should accommodate the fact that scope creep will occur and that tasks will inevitably be added or subtracted and deadlines will expand or contract as the project moves toward completion.

The Tardy Client

There are any number of solutions available to the project manager who has to deal with a team member who consistently misses deadlines. What about the client that misses them on a regular basis?

The solutions here range from blood oaths and weapons on the table to account resignation. To avoid this situation, make the client aware right at the start of the process that time is money...the client's money. This tends to get their undivided attention.

Clearly explain each of the project's goals and the financial implications of the client missing his or her goals for content delivery and approvals. In certain instances, it also doesn't hurt to request that the client appoint a back-up individual with the authority to approve, sign, and date documents, should the client be unavailable.

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