Is your company website due an overhaul this year? If you’re worried about how to brief your agency and manage the project in a way that gets you the best possible results for your budget, read on… Here’s the MadBit 101 on running a website project!
Website design and development involves many different skills and disciplines. There will be various people at the web agency contributing their expertise – graphic design, interface design, branding, coding, to name but a few. Depending on how the agency works, you may interact with just one account manager, or several team members.
Starting a new website project is exciting and can really get the creative juices flowing. However, web development is as much about project management as colours or code, so having a clear focus and strategy from Day 1 is absolutely essential. Make yourself a War Room (even if it’s a virtual one!) and prepare for battle.
The first step in a web development project is ascertaining exactly what you expect from the website. To brief your agency properly, you’ll need concrete feedback from your colleagues about how the site can best serve them, so that you plan ahead and incorporate the various features required.
For instance, your sales team may want to be able to put up special offers. HR will probably need to advertise jobs. Perhaps your company organises events, which you could also have on the site. Knowing the resources and skills in the company as you do, you can decide whether or not to have a blog, a newsletter, a download section, regular case studies, etc.
The new site has to reflect the needs of the company, otherwise you’ll find it impossible to get buy-in from your colleagues and you either won’t be able to get sign-off on what has been built, or you’ll end up with a dusty old website that nobody ever contributes to because they lost interest in it. Frank and open discussion with your bosses and colleagues will ensure this doesn’t happen!
When you start talking to web agencies, knowing the answers to the above questions will make it easier for them to confirm if they can deliver what you’re after. It will also help you to narrow down the list of agencies you approach in the first place – if they specialise in brochure sites, and you know that you need a whole host of functionalities, they’re probably not the right agency for you.
Once your agency knows what you want, they’ll be able to offer some suggestions on how these features can be delivered. They should be able to tell you which solutions and technologies fit best, and how everything will work seamlessly together. They will typically start with a core system (WordPress, for example) and then add your bells and whistles in an intelligent way.
Website projects are generally broken into phases. After the Discovery phase – when you talk through all the details such as the functionality, branding, messaging, goals, information architecture, etc. – typical project phases will be:
There should be a clear timeline for each phase of the project, so you can see if you’re on track to meet your launch deadline. It should also be clear who is responsible for the different elements going into the site – for instance, will you be providing the content and photos, or will this come from the agency or even a third party?
Expect to get regular updates from the agency, as they will want your approval on a variety of decisions to ensure that work doesn’t have to be redone. There will be regular sign-off points that lock in what is done to date. For instance, once you’ve approved the web design, you can’t go back and change everything without incurring further costs.
That’s why being clear about your expectations is crucial to the smooth running of your project (and to ensure it stays within budget). Make sure your colleagues understand this, or you may get someone running up to you the day before launch expecting you to integrate the brilliant idea they just thought of!
Good, clear communication with the website team will make the process much smoother. Try to be specific about what you like/don’t like and give solid reasons. This way, the team will be able to find the right solution quickly, instead of having to guess what you meant.
Remember that good design isn’t subjective. While it’s possible that the peach and turquoise colour scheme isn’t your ideal choice, if your agency can give you a reasoned argument why it is perfect for your target audience, you should take that information on board. Although you are the client, the product they are creating will be used by your website visitors and should work for them.
Taking a step back from the situation and trying out the ideas of the design team can pay off in this situation. After all, you are paying for the expertise and experience of the team; they have seen the results and effects of various website designs, so ultimately it may be the better solution.
The agency will have given you a timeline at the beginning of the project, but it’s a good idea to make sure they are sticking to it! They may use a project management tool, which is great, but if they don’t you can always set something up yourself. A simple calendar is a quick and easy way to track everything, or you could use a Kanban board (such as Trello) to keep on top of things.
To keep the project rolling, give your feedback and sign-off promptly. You may need to put in place an internal system to get feedback from your colleagues easily. If your CEO needs to approve every step but is away a lot or has a manic schedule, you’ll need to plan for this in advance.
Format can be an issue too; some people like to be emailed a link while others would be happy with a printout of a screenshot. You may have to rely on tracking people down in the canteen, handing them the work and making them say Yes or No before you let them eat their lunch! Don’t laugh, we know someone who did that 🙂
Once the developers have finished the technical build of the site and loaded in your content, they will usually hand it over to you for ‘testing’ before your final sign-off. This is a very important task. You’ll need to take some time to site down and explore the site as a user might, with no preconceptions about how is SHOULD work, but how it actually IS working.
Make a careful note of all the ticks and quirks you notice. Ideally, ask a couple of people not associated with the project to take a look around and let you know if anything stands out for them as odd, broken or difficult to do, so that this can be fixed before launch. Once these issues are ironed out, the agency just has a few final checks to perform.
And now the day has finally come… the website looks stunning, is full of great content, and works perfectly. You are ready for launch! Take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done, you can give the green light to your agency and take a nice, long holiday.
Well, almost. You’ve probably read elsewhere that a website is never actually finished, and that is unfortunately true. Once your site is online, you’ll want to update it regularly and keep on top of how well it’s performing. But that’s another post for another day; for now, you can just sit back and enjoy your achievement!
If managing a website project sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry! Working with the right processes and systems makes everything more efficient and can keep timelines and budgets under control. Talk to the MadBit team about how we can make your project stress-free.