Web Development Projects – The Truth, Can You Handle It?

The web aspect of your business is really important. More and more today businesses are relying on their online presence as much, if not more than their bricks and mortar stores. As a result many businesses are investing necessary time and money in a web development project to:

  • Grow or customise their product or service offering online,
  • Deliver unique customer experiences,
  • Integrate their website with other back end systems or;
  • Automate processes to create business efficiencies.

It’s so important that at the beginning of your web development project, like any project, you take the time to prepare. In fact it’s critical! A web developer or team should look after the project management aspect of your web development project, i.e. planning/designing, building, testing and launching the site. It is important however  that you do your research, have a clear objective, a clear idea of what you want and a good idea of what to expect.

Research:

The last thing you want to do is to proceed with a project that is going to add no value to your business. Or worse, to get to the end of the project only to be left wondering why no one is using your new whiz bang platform.

To set yourself up for success, it’s important to do some market research. Who are your competitors and what are they doing online? Is there a market for the extended or new product/service you are intending to offer? Can this demand be quantified and therefore will the project investment justify the business return?

Web Development Project Objective:

It’s really important that you are clear on the objective of your project and that you can clearly articulate this to your web developer and any other team members involved. What do you really hope to achieve from this project? Is it brand awareness? Is it attracting a new market segment? Is it to expand your web presence? Is it customer convenience or a competitive edge for your existing customer base?

Defining this early and sticking to it will help you and your web developer make decisions down the track. E.g. if it’s about a new market segment then this may translate to design decisions such as the placement of call to actions, or new landing pages specifically for this market, but if it’s about a competitive edge then those activities may be redundant.

Web Development Project Scope:

This is a big one. If not the single biggest issue that leads to project delays and added costs. This is basically a list of what will be included in this project and what won’t be included in this project. It is important to work really closely with your web developer when formulating this list so that you are both clear. Once this list of products, system features, functions and processes is clearly defined, lock it down as tightly as possible. Scope creep is where the project evolves along the way and new features, functions etc. are added that were never initially included. The problem with this is adding things that were not discussed up front may:

  • Create development complexities,
  • Increases the delivery time of your project
  • Increase the cost of your project.

A good way to manage scope creep is where you are considering requesting a new feature or function; first ask your self if it is fundamental to achieving the original objective. Then clarify the added development time and cost and determine whether it is still worth it?

Another option is to complete the project as planned and to create a new phase of the project that the new request can be added to. This means that there would be no change to current project time and cost, and the additional request would be assessed and developed separately, typically at the end once the current project phase is complete.  Here are some tips for writing a scope document.

Expectations:

It is important to have realistic expectations of the web developer and web development process. Here are a few myths we want to put to bed to help achieve clear expectations:

  1. Web Development is simple

Whilst it may appear easy to build a website, and whilst a two page static site with no custom functionality may be straightforward to build, there are many things that you should be aware of that actually make web development a complex task.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Customised design and functionality requires programming skills and takes time to code. When code is being written from scratch it can be like writing an essay in a different language or languages, as there may be multiple languages used. And to validate the accuracy of the code and ensure it is functioning correctly it needs to go through testing. Each testing phase may then require revisions to the code. All of this takes time.
  • Compatibility across browsers and devices can pose a host of issues. For example a button that works on chrome and Firefox may not work on Internet explorer version 9.0; or works on mobile but not on desktop. Again the website has to be tested across devices and any bugs ironed out.
  • Third party systems or API’s can also cause complexity where there is a reliance on another party to provide or receive information.
  • In the end web development is still a project, so poses the same challenges as any other project such as: planning, stakeholder management, quality assurance, project team management etc.
  1. The more people involved the better

This unfortunately is not true. Have you heard that saying, too many chefs spoil the broth? This is also true when it comes to web design. The more people, means the more opinions, the more time to review and the more feedback that is not always value adding. In addition to the web development team, a few key personnel with the right skill set and the right level of authority to make decisions is the optimum mix. At the end of the day a few key people making consistent, strategic decisions inline with objectives and factual data such as market research is what is really required.

  1.  A great website can be created by anyone

It’s like saying anyone can bake a cake. Well that’s almost true, but if you want a multi-tiered cake with different flavoured layers and an amazing design, you have to admit that’s going to take experience and talent. The same is true of web design and development. Whilst there seems to be a lot of people out there offering this service it’s actually difficult to find people with project management, web development and UX experience to deliver a high-quality project on time and on budget.

When it comes to your online presence you have to ask yourself how important is it to your overall strategy and how much are you willing to invest? This will help select the right calibre of web developer for your business.

  1. It’s your website, so it’s your design

If you look at picture and ask five people to describe it, it’s likely you will get five different answers, potentially very different answers. We all have our opinions, but when making fundamental design decisions for your website it’s important to put all the opinions aside and leave it in the hands of those that you have hired to do this. Trying to accommodate layers of opinions into design can blur the vision and lead to a confusing output. It’s best to allow the designer to create a vision based on business objectives, user experience, design standards and data, as this will result in an intelligent website.

  1. Once the web development project is complete, that’s it

Do you have a car? Do you have to maintain it? If you don’t maintain it what happens? The same is true with your website. As a business asset it’s important that your website is maintained. That means it doesn’t get built once and then everyone crosses their fingers and hopes for the best. It takes effort to ensure that any software used on your site is up-to-date, that the site remains secure and any security flaws are addressed. As time changes so does information and societies preferences. It’s important that the content on your site is regularly refreshed to ensure relevancy, and that over the years the design of the website is adapted to look like it was built this century. After all your website represents your business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…what kind of representative do you want working for you?

 

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