As the Project Manager, I’m responsible for managing expectations throughout the process of a website redesign project. I try to prepare my clients from the start for what their project will look like. In most cases, they’ve already done a lot of work getting to this point. They got support for a new website in the first place, found budget dollars, and approved a vendor. Now, they are hoping for a smooth ride. I want that too. What they often don’t realize is that a “smooth ride” means they will need to be actively involved; it takes a good deal of their time throughout the process.
One of our developers shared a story from several years ago. A client wanted a digital tool to allow customers to sign up for their service online. The process originally took a lot of manual time with paperwork and approvals from several different departments. The new process would work with those departments using automated prompts. The client asked for a project methodology that allowed for quick and iterative work. They had a very specific deadline, so they wanted to complete as much as possible within that timeframe.
Unfortunately, they didn’t realize the amount of time it would take from their side. The developers organized “sprints” to complete work every two weeks, and then they would present to the client. They needed to accomplish a lot between those two weeks, and they needed to make important decisions each time the team reconvened. However, the client didn’t assign anyone with a product ownership role to work with our team and make key decisions. So at the beginning, we weren’t able to move quickly, the entire point of the project plan, because no one had the authority to make decisions or prioritize tasks. The client realized this wasn’t effective. They selected a “Project Champion” who could devote the time to own the project, so we could make meaningful progress and meet their deadline.
In this example, the client selected a project plan with high engagement; however different approaches require different time commitments. A “waterfall” project plan moves in a very linear path. You define nearly all the details from the start, so it doesn’t require much time throughout the project. This approach often works best for clients with small projects or few staff. If they just need a website with a few pages, it is easy to define the project. If someone like the CEO is responsible for advancing the project, along with many other duties, they likely will move best through a linear process. For large projects, the popular approach today is the opposite: “agile”. In agile development, you define short-term project goals and work in sprints to complete small steps and evaluate what to complete next. In pure agile development, the client is involved to the level of daily stand-up meetings. This process works better for clients that have complex projects and enough people on-staff where they can devote someone to their website redesign project. In reality, it is still a big commitment for any company. At Springthrough, we usually take a blended approach. Like a scale, we end up somewhere in the middle, with variation based on each client.
Most of our clients face complexity in their business and their project. In their world, complexity could mean that their content management system needs to share data with other business systems. Or they could have a large assortment of product offerings to organize on their site. No matter the case, their project is going to have variables, some of which are unknown at the start. With our projects, we ask for time from the client.
All throughout the project, there are many ways for the client to be an active participant. Starting with research (Insight), our team of digital strategists and architects work to fully understand the current state by performing research, assessing the risks, and interviewing the key stakeholders to understand their goals. From this information gathering, we are much better positioned to develop clear and focused strategies for achieving desired outcomes together (Clarity).
Finally, with a well-informed strategic roadmap, our team of experienced architects, developers, and engineers are able to work closely with clients to build and implement solutions (Enablement).
If you are paying quite a bit for a new website, you may wonder why so much of your time is required. But if you are investing in this project, you want to ensure that the end product is what you envisioned. Project methodologies that fall towards the agile side of the spectrum pride themselves on their flexibility, speed, and quality. Guess what –that means there has to be frequent communication. It’s key. To keep the flexibility, clients need to review frequently to determine if changes need to be made. To work quickly, clients need to be available to make decisions. And to ensure quality throughout the project, the client should be verifying that they are satisfied with the development.
Why do I share all of this? Like I said, it’s my role to manage expectations. If clients go into a project with an understanding of their role in the team, as a champion for the project, they can plan appropriately and will be happier with their end product. So we always ask for a “Project Champion” with the authority to make the call on the project’s direction and with the availability to be actively involved throughout the project. If you can define that person, you will have a jump start on success.