Case Study: Sciencemag.org Project Wins

We’re continually reflecting on processes, tools used, and project management practices and systems. Our most recent engagement: a brand-new search function for sciencemag.org, one of several web properties belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, allowing users to comb a database of articles and resources dating all the way back to 1850. We loved working with AAAS, and we’re delighted to report that the list of things that went very smoothly (and accumulated to result in a great product) is far too long to account here in its entirety. Thus, we’re distilling the goodness to a few key project attributes, and wanted to share them in celebration of a great engagement with sciencemag.org...one of our very first as an organization!

Great Client Communication and Engagement

Communication, accountability, and trust are at the center of any great project, and this was no different. Frequent, low-stakes communication is the name of the game, and every time a Basalt team member or stakeholder pinged a counterpart with a message, responses were prompt and actionable. Great communication requires active commitment over the course of the project, but there were a number of key factors that set us up for success in this regard, including...

Flawless Component Inventory = Clear Requirements, Great Deliverables

Simply put: great component inventory creates a great substrate for client communication. The process of translating wireframes→ components→ requirements→ deliverables was seamless, straightforward, and transparent, and allowed the client to track progress without doing anything fancy: our actual to-do list progress. This project was our first in which we tackled component inventory as a team, and we were really happy with how it laid the foundation for a successful engagement by clearly defining the project goals, and by giving the client direct, meaningful access via…

Basecamp!

Choosing the right project management platform depends on the size of the project, but at the end of the day, we couldn’t have been happier with our choice. Basecamp was our one-stop-shop—we kept things streamlined, simple, and robust, and eliminated the friction of communicating over Slack, juggling tickets in Jira, accessing comps in a shared Dropbox, and so on. We could sing Basecamp’s praises for a blog-and-a-half; thus, to paraphrase…

  • Release notes were incredible. Using Netlify to host the builds, we preserved a discrete site for each branch, which allowed us to document extensively and compare branches with ease. Reports after every sprint made AAAS really happy, and helped our developers with great documentation.
  • Basecamp links in with the client’s pre-existing email, so it nullifies the limiting reagent for frequent, low-stakes communication: the client signing into Jira to view tickets, comment, and respond. Communiques from Basecamp go straight to the client’s inbox, and their emails come straight back to the project management system.
  • Improved client comprehension: too often the client needs a project manager/liaison to digest Jira tickets in order to verify where the project actually stands. Because the reports were so clear, and the common access point made them so available, post-sprint reports actually fulfilled their function, and kept all stakeholders informed.

Stellar Project Management

You know a project is well-managed when there’s little project churn, and the friction that does occur doesn’t derail progress: everyone stays collaborating, and on the same team. To make some of those invisible specifics visible:

  • In-person kickoffs for developer hand-offs→ crystal-clear intra-team communication. It’s worth the extra time. ‘Nuff said.
  • Recognizing project churn/scope creep early and working with the client to re-direct. It happens in every project. Acknowledging it early and getting everyone back on the same page keeps the project away from the recursive loop of an unrealistic goal.
  • Pattern Lab, Pattern Lab, Pattern Lab: even though the search function’s back-end wasn’t built yet, we were able to use dummy data to build preemptively, saving time and buying the project more runway for free.

More Juice For The Squeeze

Excuse the expression, but that’s what you get with agnostic, decoupled builds: the ability to use them in multiple locations. It feels great to give that to a client—a product that they’ll be able to use across sites (the search function we built isn’t bound only for sciencemag.org; it’s destined to be used across multiple AAAS sites). One elegant build = a decoupled search function that AAAS can use in a variety of locations. No more clicking to more pages, science fans! In less time than it takes you to say carotenoids of cavernicolous crayfish, your scroll refreshes and shows you more results.

Our sincere thanks to AAAS for a great engagement. We really enjoyed working with you.