Website Development Process
What to Expect Once You've Signed on the Dotted Line
If you have chosen you're developer wisely, you'll know in advance what each step of the process is. Again, the idea is to:
- Avoid surprises for both parties
- Avoid significant changes to the project's scope
- Avoid irritating (to both parties) delays
- Finish with a website that has the best possible chance of meeting your objectives
The best way to avoid surprises is to establish a good flow of communications from the outset. While the unexpected can always rear its ugly head, if both parties are communicating regularly a minor surprise won't escalate to crisis level. Communication channels are developed before the contract is signed. In fact, the agreement itself should spell out the significant events and corresponding dates as definitively as possible.
The Flow Chart
Flow charts can be anything from a list of events and expected dates to a serious Harvard Business School thesis. But since I'm talking about small businesses, let's stay with simple.
The sequence should go something like this:
- Sign contract and make deposit
- List content for main navigation menu (should be included in contract)
- Establish design parameters (again, design overview or scope should be part of contract)
- Determine colors, graphics, images and global design layout (that part of the design that's on every page)
- Produce initial design comp (a working sample)
- Finalize design and layout of content on home page (if interior layouts will be significantly different, another sample should be produced)
- Produce working HTML pages with design in place
- Add content (text and images)
- Review website
- Launch website
- Optimize website
Website Development Timetable
Timetables will vary from company to company. When I have run larger companies, we usually tried to stick to a 90-day sequence from contract signing to launch. This was obviously an average, some were faster others slower, still others much, much slower (more on that later). At Just Imagine, on the other hand, we like to work on faster turn-around. We can do this because our projects tend to be more uniform (fewer big projects) and because we don't have employee and other business issues with which to deal. The caveat, however, is that the client must work with us to achieve the necessary level of productivity. How so?
1. Timeliness of Response
You'd be surprised how many projects bog down right away because the client won't or can't give us answers in a timely fashion. This could be due to an unexpected business trip, or it could be that decisions are made by committee. Whatever the cause, the first place projects come to a grinding halt is design approval.
2. Lack of Content
This is the number one holdup. To make a 6-week development schedule, the client must be creating and organizing content while we are working on design. But content creation can be a painful exercise for many clients. In fact, I've literally had websites take more than a year to complete because the client simply couldn't get his or her content act together. This is one reason why we'll gladly get involved in creating content, for a fee of course.
Just as the client is more absorbed by the "look and feel" of his website than any visitor is likely to be, so too is the client overly concerned about content at launch. What I mean is that many clients, though counseled ahead of time, want their website's content to be absolutely complete at the time of launch.
What's wrong with this? A couple of things:
- The story of your business changes constantly, therefore your website must change.
- As long as the most important content is present, it's actually better to phase in new material over the first few months. Search engines like that and it gives you a reason to get visitors back to the site.
- By giving yourself an opportunity to get some feedback from your customers and prospects, you'll do a better job of producing subsequent content.
- Realistically, not many people are going to see your site in the first few months. If you have to choose between getting the site in circulation and spending time adding more detail before launching, choose the former.
Though the web development process never formally ends (if handled correctly), we have to declare an end, if for no other reason than final billing must go out. This is something that can cause the biggest and most damaging surprise.
Over the years I have inherited projects that were virtually complete but the parties couldn't agree on launch. The client wanted more work done, the vendor said it was ready to go. This is especially prone to happen when a project has taken longer than either side expected. The time to deal with this is at the beginning of the project, however. Clients need to understand that there will always be another document or another image to add to the site. Developers need to be able to convince clients that they're not walking away from the project just because final payment has been made.