As a new client, managing a creative or technical project of any size can be a foreign and daunting task. Onespacemedia’s Production Director, Thomas Rumbold, outlines the best way to get the most out of your web design project - and keep it on time, on track and on budget.
1. Know your goal
The most important part about managing a web design project and making sure that it's a success is knowing the problem that you’re trying to solve intimately. There are a number of ways to work out exactly what it is that you want from the project - but the best is simply to make a list. Making a list of the practical deliverables, and how they tie in with your business goals will give you a real benchmark - something to measure against once the project’s been launched. It should be said that as well as knowing your goals, you should also know your limitations and how you’d like to work around them.
2. Ask for advice
Once the problem(s) that you need to solve is clear in your head, ask for advice. Any design agency that you commission should be able to take your requirements and dig deeper - and help you to really hone your vision. Having an outsider’s opinion, as well as the opinion of a team that works on this stuff every day contributes enormously to the kind of result you get. Who knows - you might have nailed it early on - but asking for professional input can only aid the process and improve your direction.
3. Specify, specify, specify
When you’re certain that you’re all on the same page and you’re ready to start work, insist on a technical or design specification document. This does the following:
- Allows you as the client to protect yourself. Having a written version of exactly what is expected - full features, timelines, project phases and cost means that there is no ambiguity about what you’re expecting for your money.
- Allows the agency to protect themselves. Articulating exactly what they are expected to deliver prevents u-turns and any potential ‘but I also needed this...’ situations instigated by the client half way through an already complex project.
- Following that, it prevents scope creep. If it’s not in the specification, it simply shouldn’t be built. If you need more features halfway through, you’ll need to renegotiate the terms, the timeline, and realistically, the budget. Don’t do this. Get it right, early.
- Provides a go-to document when talking about the project with internal stakeholders.
A specification is not optional. It is a billable part of your budget. It might be the best money you ever spend.
4. Know your role
It’s important that you know your role and your responsibilities in the project, and that it’s communicated clearly to all of your internal stakeholders and the agency involved. This is the easiest way to make sure everyone’s expectations are managed properly from the beginning.
Who are the other stakeholders? What are their responsibilities and authority? What do they need to be involved in and why? This is key - as the adage goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. Keep it lean wherever possible - but make sure you get the politics right to avoid any potential upsets.
Dragging new personalities and responsibilities into a process that is already in full swing is a surefire way to break the project’s momentum. Make sure everyone that needs to be involved is given ample time, knows what is required of them and is involved as early in the process as is appropriate. It helps infinitely when mapping out those initial meetings and making solid strategic decisions early on.
This can be difficult if the buck ultimately stops with you - but it’s important to keep in mind. A design agency has their own processes and their own creative ideas based on a track record of success. You’re paying good money for professionals to do the best job that they can - and unless it’s absolutely necessary, it’s best to provide guidance and direction - not dominate a process that is already being handled as well as it can be.
If it feels like the project is moving in the wrong direction or you’re not being included where you should be, voice it. Any good agency can give you the support you need if you need some further help understanding what the next steps are and how they’ll be achieved.
5. Dedicate a project lead
This is really useful. While it’s not always possible, you should try as hard as you can to nominate a project lead. This person should:
- Have the authority to make the quick decisions that keep a project moving.
- Have a solid overview of the project’s goals and expectations.
- Have the ability to communicate diplomatically on behalf of the interests of both parties.
- Be available - it’s pointless if John is your project lead but then spends half of the 4-week project skiing in Aspen.
6. Feed the content beast
With great websites come great responsibility. It’s important not to do great work the disservice of poor content - because you’ll be lowering the overall quality hugely. For best results, work out the following things early in the process:
- What does your content look like? Is it text, images or video?
- Who is responsible for providing it?
- How long will it take them to source it?
- Who will be putting it into the website?
- Is it web-ready? Do you need help optimising it for the Internet?
- Who is responsible for your post-launch content management?
- If you don’t have the resource, do you need somebody to do the entire content round for you? If so - you’re going to need to budget for it.
7. Prepare for launch
Internally, there are probably a few things you need to do before the project is cleared for lift-off. Some of the other practical things you’ll need to consider are:
- Who manages your current domain and hosting information? Can you transfer these details to the development team so they have what they need to flip the switch?
- Do you need access to the code?
- Do you need access to the site’s analytics?
It might be the case that once you’ve lived with the product for a while, you’ll want to make some revisions. Minor additional development work should be budgeted for in advance - and typically shouldn’t cost too much if you’re just tweaking existing work.
Longer term, web technology moves quickly. Be prepared for the fact that further down the line, you’ll likely have to spend some time and money keeping it current - so don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
Realistically, a website needs someone supporting it. Even something as simple as restarting a server requires some technical chops, as does bringing the site back to life after unexpected downtime. So, consider:
- Do you have internal techs who will manage things post-launch, or do you need a support arrangement?
- What sort of support will you require?
And last, but certainly not least - communicate. If a project breaks down, it can usually be traced back to a breakdown in communication between team members which has gone on to derail the project’s larger goals. E-mail is fine - but telephone is better. It’s a much better way to gauge emotion and intent, and saves you having to write down 1000 words that might not articulate the topic adequately. Picking up the phone can very easily solve an issue before it becomes a problem.