Budget, schedule, and scope. The three words that qualify every project. Most of us formulate a plan to reach our goal within these constraints. A direction. Unfortunately, the wrong plan can get the same results as no plan at all.
One of the most common projects we face - day in and day out - is building new websites, so I asked our team what advice they would give to companies as they put shape around a website redesign project plan. They said that one of the biggest mistakes is to take a very linear approach, one that creates silos within the team and separates disciplines. Success, they said, is directly related to how well you integrate multiple groups from the start.
Starting out, many people think in the terms of, "First we'll design our website, and then we'll send it to developers to build it. Once they are complete, we'll launch. And it will be simple, beautiful, and bring wild amounts of praise from my colleagues."
More often than not, it doesn't work out that way. Especially when you're an organization with complexity in your website - whether that complexity takes shape in the functionality, stakeholders, or process. The best project plan takes a multi-dimensional approach. You work in tandem with design and development to keep your project on-track from start to finish.
LINEAR (“WATERFALL”) PROJECT PLAN:
A project plan where each technical group works with the client independently and sequentially.
A project plan that includes all participants (strategists, designers, developers, etc.) throughout the life of the project to ensure a cohesive end result. This often leads into the “Agile” methodology of project planning.
Let's say you're building a house, how would you go about that?
You could contact a designer first. You could tell them that you want a house to impress your neighbors, draw attention from the streets, and keep people coming back to visit. So to meet your requirements, the designer plans an expansive yard, a pool with a waterfall, and a walk-in closet for every room. If you take that design to a builder, it's going to cost a mint. And maybe your lot isn't zoned for waterfalls. And if you put a walk-in closet in every room, you don't have enough room for a kitchen.
Instead, most people bring construction and design together. Yes, it takes more coordination (that's why you get value from a good contractor, i.e., project manager), but you get a house that's built to what you want, what you can afford, and what is feasible.
The best website project brings the discussions of design and build together because combining knowledge of budget, systems and priorities sets a plan up for success from the start.
From the moment you hear leadership talking about a new project, you likely consider the cost and time (which can be alleviated at a higher cost). If you're responsible for the project, you're trying to put each dollar to the best use. Whether you have a hard number or a rough expectation, budget helps drive the decisions we make.
The biggest issue with planning for a project with a linear approach is that budget considerations can get lost early in the mix. The cost to design something can vary greatly from the cost to build it. If you wait to talk with the developers until after your team has approved a design, you'll likely have to make some serious decisions after. You may have to narrow down the design elements you can afford to build, which will compromise the approved design. Instead, we often work with our clients and design firms from the start to stay on top of their original expectations while keeping in mind budget requirements.
Most enterprise websites are built in (or moving to) content management systems to allow marketers to manage the information that is displayed on the website without the help of developers. If you're looking to build a new website, a new content management system is likely in the discussion, and that means new functionality to make your job easier while offering more options than you had before. If you are a Marketer, it is an exciting concept.
However, most content management systems are built on some sort of platform, which creates a baseline and then allows certain levels of customization to be built by developers. Unless a designer is intimately familiar with the technical aspects of the content management system, it is going to be difficult to determine the best ways to customize the system. If experienced developers can work with the designers, the developers can help everyone understand how the content management system works and what it permits with customization. The developers and designers can create together.
There are likely a lot of things that you would like to see with your website. As you research other websites, you see new approaches and exciting new concepts. And different stakeholders at your company have different perspectives about how your website serves their needs. Your team may have already had discussions about what you need to see today, and what you anticipate for the future.
If developers and designers can work with you together, we can make decisions along the way about what elements of the experience you want to prioritize by weighing their benefit and cost. Design can share the concepts for experience, development can share how that impacts your project, and you can decide what elements are worth investment today and what can wait for tomorrow. You will have a more holistic view that can better inform your decisions.
Of course, this adds a new level of complexity to your website project management
There is no doubt that it would be easier if you could just hand off design to development to create, but if you live in a world with the constraints of budget and schedule (like most of us), you're going to get the biggest bang for your buck with a multi-dimensional project plan. From our experience, project managers play a critical role in coordinating between the different teams. But even more than planning the workflow, they can facilitate the discussions vital for success - even within your own team. They help set the right expectations, so that at the end of your project, you meet the goals on time and on (or under!) budget.