One of the overriding requirements of a successful webdev project is the need to think about the totality of project needs, and development of a way to look over the shoulders of the dev team to make sure all those needs are met.
This should go without saying, because it seems so obvious; but the biggest obstacle of any project—especially one with a deadline—is a common lack of clear communication. In other words, people involved in the project need to talk to each other. Active listening skills with clarifying questions will most quickly achieve the desired understanding.
The project must be planned, and part of that plan must include the scheduling and resourcing needs of all team members. Once the plan is in place, the success of the implementation rests largely with the management of the process. Generally, this will begin with an individual acting as Project Manager, who knows a great deal about what the client wants and why. This person “rides herd” on the rest of the team, making sure they’re all heading in the same direction.
There are now many commercial project management platforms/software/apps that can be used by groups large and small, local and remote. These tools can give an edge to savvy users because they are designed to anticipate problems and help clear them up when they do happen. There's an excellent roundup of potential packages, including both SAAS and downloadable platforms, here.
Once project management has been established, it’s now time to determine the shape that function will take inside your webdev project. Chances are you already have an established process you follow, but if not, consider adopting “SMART” Tasking. This consists of the following attributes:
- Specific – Target a particular area for improvement.
- Measurable – Quantify, or at least suggest, an indicator of progress.
- Assignable – Specify who will perform each task.
- Realistic – State which results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved. You need to be able to check it off, say I'm done with this. It can't be a never-ending task.
Learn more about SMART Tasking here.
One of the first things a webdev team must do for an effective new site build is to design a fully integrated production process. This requires viewing the larger overall strategy of the client and their digital presence, as well as all the elements thereof.
The last area in which you must manage client expectations to enable a successful long-term outcome from a webdev project is what will happen post-launch.
The unfortunate fact is that, despite all precautions, websites can get hacked. If you’re not going to be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of your client’s site, protect all the work you put into building it by making sure they know:
- In most cases, hackers usually want to deface a site with activist messaging or simply embarrassing content, just to prove they can. But some will use hacking to launch and cloak nefarious activities.
- A site that has been hacked can be rescued, but that’s an expensive, too-long process. A hacked site can be disastrous where Google rankings are concerned. Real damage can be done to the client’s business and reputation in the meantime. It’s far better to be proactive about keeping it safe in the first place.
- All CMS software must be kept up to date to prevent security loopholes from being exploited, and HTML-based sites must constantly be monitored for hacking by proven site security software and/or security monitoring service.
- Who’s in charge of their security/CMS updates. (If your company will be responsible, agree on monthly or annual maintenance fees.)
As we stated in an earlier post, a successful website is never “finished.” It’s a living cyber-representation of the client’s business.
- The client should commit to keeping its site up to date with news—either via an inhouse or contracted content editor—or by you, if content is designated as part of a maintenance contract.
- Training for the CMS should be costed into project, if someone in their organization will be responsible for that task.
- If it’s an HTML-based site, that means it’s likely large and complex enough to warrant hiring someone whose only job is maintaining the site.
A website is subject to Laws of The Land, and the client should be aware of these. Some include:
- Website accessibility recommendations for physically challenged users
Regardless how wonderful your execution is of their website development, the relationship can sour due to a lack of expectation management on the back end. Most often, this scenario can be brought about by technical issues.
Since this is an area largely unknown and therefore misunderstood by many clients, make a special effort to get out in front of any such landmines. Here are some major ones you should be aware of regarding a new website launch:
Even after a successful launch, sometimes websites go down for reasons beyond anyone’s control. Be prepared by:
- Finding out who hosts the client’s existing site (if there is one), and getting contact details for their tech support
- Making it clear to the client that site hosting is a separate function from site development. Be sure they understand that hosting fees are a recurring annual charge and will need to be monitored and ensured that they are paid by someone in the client’s organization. You may, alternatively, offer that your firm will continue managing all aspects of the site on a paid annual contract, if you offer such services.
It may be that you’ll need to make a domain transfer, which can sometimes go off the rails if their current domain manager is miffed about losing the business and isn’t inclined to be cooperative about enabling the changeover.
- Make sure the client understands that, in this process, you’re largely at the mercy of the registrar and possibly someone who’s currently managing their domain.
- Get contact details for the current domain registrar’s tech support, and find out who currently controls their domain.
- Let the client know that domain registration is also a recurring annual charge, and will either be someone in their organization's responsibility, or that your company can continue managing all aspects of the site, if you offer that service.
If the client’s email accounts are embedded in their current web hosting account, their email could possibly go down for 24-48 hours. Prepare them for this possibility, then:
- Find out who controls current email accounts within your client’s organization, and get contact details for that person.
- Ascertain how many email accounts the client currently has, and whether or not they will need more.
- Ask if they require a VPN, which may mean you have to configure a different email server entirely.
Make sure the client is aware that a public website launch doesn’t just happen all at once. Explain that several processes are going on to enable the launch, and sometimes—after all the buttons are pressed on your end—it’s a matter of being patient and waiting until the site propagates to the Web.
- Understand that “going live” is not the same as “launched.” Going live happens when those responsible for user testing can access it as needed, launch is when it becomes “real”—ready for anyone to use, for the public to see and respond to, for the marketing department to use as an active tool.
- Decide what expectations are for the launch from all parties, and agree among you what constitutes “launched.”
- Agree on what activities will be undertaken around the launch—news releases, a related blog post, social media notifications—and make sure they are properly timed to allow for this lag.
Regardless what is agreed upon in the interim deadline establishment, there will inevitably be changes to the creative brief, which can happen for any number of reasons. These should be communicated with timings considered and costs agreed upon in electronic form. Email or via your chosen project management software is best. Texts are too easily lost or overlooked.
This is the point in the project where things can get tricky. Here are a few landmines to be aware of:
- Expect Evolution – As a creative, you may not realize that some people have difficulty visualizing things that don’t yet exist. Most people don’t really know what kind of website they want until they see it starting to take shape. Then they get ideas, and want you to implement them. This is fine, but remind them that they must agree which is the priority: More/better features and functionality, or budget.
- Avoid Incremental Scope Creep – No Favors. If the client wants to control costs, you must all agree on a scope of work, then stick to it. But any additional work performed outside the original project scope (this is why it’s important to have it in writing) will be charged out, agreed upon and accountable. The closer any changes occur to the beginning of the project, the less costly they will be, because they affect less other work that’s already been done.
Having established a good system to track deliverables in your webdev project, ‘milestone’ dates for interim deliverables should be agreed upon.
You’ll need to communicate to the client that missing any milestone date for supplying initial content or adding new content will have an impact on launch commitments and costs. Both of you have businesses to run, and your schedule depends on them holding up there end of the bargain. If you have to shuffle personnel from one project to another and/or pull in help off of other projects, there’s a cost to those delays that the client will have to bear.
The best way to make sure major milestone dates are met is to set interim deadlines for each portion of the work. These would include setting dates for:
- Initial content delivery
- Site Architecture approval
- Site Functionality approval
- Site Design approval
- Draft site internal “go live”
- Site Owner and User Testing
- Public site launch
Last time, we discussed the importance of establishing the content creation process for your clients webdev project. Once that’s out of the way, the next challenge to keeping clients happy with a smooth process becomes tracking all those elements.
Asset Tracking & Management
You’ll need to create a content gathering platform that works for the client and your creative staff. Without such a system, the entire process can go off the rails: Email gets lost. Attachments get lost. Version control becomes a nightmare.
Google Docs is a free and ubiquitous tool, but you’ll need to decide if it’s adequate to the project’s needs. As a text processor, it can work okay, but doesn’t track changes as well as Microsoft Word.
It might be time to explore asset tracking and management tools. There are many out there, most now available as SaaS or subscription platforms. You’ll want one that allows for meta tagging, categorization and adequate titling. Your particular needs may vary. Let’s look at a few possibilities:
- Gather Content is a low-end platform that works fairly well.
- Flowmapp is a user journey designer that can be used to prototype content.
- You can find other, more sophisticated Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools online. Here are places to look for free and open source products. Freemium and paid tools can be found here.