Ghost Man on Project

When I was little, my cousins and I were always playing games. More often than not, it was kickball or baseball. And depending on which cousins I was playing with, we would have a field of between three and five potential players that we would need to divide evenly between two teams. Even with an all-time pitcher, we’d have to make some adjustments depending on how well we were playing at any given time.

Inevitably, we’d have to employ “Ghost Man“. The Ghost Man was an invisible player we’d assign to a given base as the runner. If you hit a double and had to bat again, you’d say “Ghost Man on second!” Ghost Man could be thrown out at the plate, but naturally, couldn’t be tagged. He ran as fast as you ran and his runs counted as long as you made it to the next plate and he could advance to home.

I’ve never really investigated how common Ghost Man was in other kids’ lives. For kids with lots of neighbors or siblings, maybe they could field a whole team and Ghost Man was never any concern of theirs. But for us, he was a critical component of continued gameplay.

In my quiet moments, I miss Ghost Man. I wish I could bring him into projects.

Who’s on First?

I have had the good fortune to work with a number of small businesses and independent artists over the years. When they come to me for help with a project, I try to start by asking good questions. Among them:

  • What are the goals, as far as the site is concerned?
  • What sort of audience do you have now, and who are you trying to get?
  • What kind of budget are you working with, and in what time frame? (Author’s note: Though these questions are very important, I never, or rarely ever, lead with these…it leaves a bad taste in their mouth and mine.)

I ask others, but these get most of the good thinking out of the way. Oddly, this is also where I lose a lot of people. They just stop emailing me, or they say they’ll mull it over and never write back. I don’t take it personally—projects take a lot of time and thinking and work and, for them, money. Even these few questions are more thinking about their website than they typically want to do.

“But that’s silly,” you say. “They’re so simple.” Yeah, they are, to ask. It’s much harder to answer them effectively. When you’re running a small business or a personal consultancy, you have to keep your eye on the ball. The projects and clients you’re serving come first and you’re not just the provider, you’re also the CEO, the CFO, the COO, the accountant, the secretary…you are involved with every layer of your business. And all you know is “I need a website.” You don’t want to do a lot of exploration of why or how.

Sometimes they DO know, which is great. But when it comes down to construction, they tend to leave a lot of the details to me, including content. I can write copy and source photos and illustrate diagrams. I can do all of that. But then, I’m not developing a website, I’m focused on bringing the content to life. I should find a better way to charge for that, or charge more, or count on doing that kind of work as part of the construction of the site, because it happens quite a lot. I’ve come to realize that it hurts the development because I tend to like content creation more than the nitty-gritty dev work. I’m more naturally drawn to it because, if I’m being honest and not-braggy, I’m great at it and I enjoy it.

So the site suffers somewhat. The content suffers because it didn’t come from the business owner or someone qualified to speak on their behalf. In the end, it ALL suffers. And they have to start over later with someone else, who hopefully asks good questions up front and waits for the answers.

It’s here that Ghost Man could really shine; an invisible, quick, attentive body to get all the planning done? That’s the dream. But it’s only a dream.

Unless…

Unless…

I have been reading a number of articles about Figma and Webflow and other front-end design apps that generate the accompanying code. I’ll be honest, I haven’t jumped in and tried these apps yet. They seem really cool, but I just keep having flashbacks to Dreamweaver and the acres and acres of table rows it would generate on export. Y’all ever do that? Export from Dreamweaver without modifying the resulting code? Good times, good times…

But the idea is pretty neat. Code, ready to go? And matching my persnickity little comp? A dream come true, right?

Why couldn’t we do the same for project management?

So, let’s say me and my client want to create a fifteen page site with some dynamic components. I would go to my Ghost Man app, open it up and click “start new project.” It would basically “Wizard” me through the process of planning. Each new page, each new action item, would adjust the number of tickets I would need to complete. So, say one of the items is “build a podcast feed”. It would generate tickets for:

  • Get audio files created and edited for first episode(s)
  • Set up feed on fireside.fm or other hosting platform
  • Write show notes for each episode

And, on top of that, it would adjust the burndown. “Level of Effort” would be pre-calculated. It could keep an eye on how much time and money we have to get things done. It would email the client and I about potential trouble spots. It would remind us to sign our timesheets.

I understand that what I’m talking about is an extension of artificial intelligence that could create the next SkyNet. I know it’s something of a pipe dream. But MAN would it help me out.

And so, I decided to do the next best thing to creating a perfect computer simulation of a project manager: I spoke to a human project manager. A friend of mine who has a lot of PM experience told me he’d be willing to help me on the next project I handle. I’d pay him a portion of the money I’d be making to create the site in exchange for some basic, productive project planning. Why wouldn’t I bill his time to the client? I could, but it’s a small project, and the planning is more for my benefit than the client’s. So I’m treating myself to productive project management input. If it goes well, I think I’ll make it a part of my future projects. It’s damn near a selling point.

I don’t know why this feels like such a revelation to me. It might be because I worked on so many projects where I had no one to manage the actual project, or to provide a framework for completion. I had me. And I’m finally willing to say it out loud: I’m a shitty project manager. I’m really not good at it. I’m creative and inventive and I love solving problems, but I’m not built like a PM. They’re a wholly different creature and they enjoy this kind of thing. I’d be stupid not to leverage them as a resource.

Consider your next side hustle or personal project. Picture yourself midway through and envision, realistically, how well things are going. Are you in a tug-of-war with the client over who owes whom some deliverable? Are you starting to get antsy about how much time you’re spending on one aspect of the site? Are you swirling into a Javascript k-hole? Are you stuck on second and it’s your turn at bat?

You have two options: one, employ a project management app that knows all the tricky parts of project work and has the kind of processing power that only a human with real experience can bring to bear; or two, get a real project manager involved, even if only briefly. You don’t have Ghost Man anymore…it’s time to go find some other kids who are eager to play. The game will go much more smoothly.