Six Ways to Keep A Web Project on Track

January 5, 2010

Website projects can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but they don't have to be.

When engaging a development firm, the two parties are agreeing to work together to create a finished web product in a certain amount of time for a certain budget. There's a lot of interdependency to deliver all those things as expected, and it can be easy for things to go wrong.

With so many moving parts, what can you do to help keep your web project on track?

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

There are basic pieces of information that every web developer or development team worth their salt will need to know before a project can really hit the ground running. Planning ahead about what the website should be and do will go a long way toward a smooth kick off.

Here are a few typical questions we ask before any design or development can begin:

  • What is the site's address (URL)?
  • What is the purpose or primary goal of the website?
  • How will the site's success be measured?
  • What is the site's primary audience?
  • Should visitors be allowed to comment on any content?
  • Can visitors register for accounts?
  • Where should emails from the site be sent?
  • Are there any existing logos or branding materials that need to be considered when designing this website?
  • What are must-have features?

Having answers to those general, but important, questions can save time up front. Be prepared to discuss the project vision or any ideas with your development team, then work together to decide how to best reach those goals given timeline and budget.

2. Determine Decision-Makers

Before the project starts, know who will have input and final say on important project decisions. Keep those people involved from the beginning and throughout the whole process.

It's a huge time and budget waste to work on a design effort with a client for weeks and then head back to the drawing board when it's discovered the company president doesn't like green. If Joe President needs to provide input, have him there on Day One to say if certain colors are no-no's.

Having all decision-makers in the loop at all times reduces the likelihood of having to repeat or re-do work because the development team hears its instructions from the most important sources.

Caveat: Too many decision-makers can slow a project down, too. Decision-by-committee can be slow and laborious, because it's so difficult to please all parties completely. Try to walk the tightrope of involving everyone you need without also involving everyone.

3. Develop a Communication Plan

If something changes mid-way, or even might change mid-way, however minor, keep your web friends in the loop; they should return the favor. It's good for all parties to be apprised of anything that could be a game-changer or affect the schedule.

If it's not clear already, know how to get a hold of your project manager or main contact. In turn, make sure they know the best way to get in touch with the project's decision-makers. Should all decision-makers be carbon copied on emails? Is there one person who should always be contacted first? Does she prefer phone or email communication?

4. Define Project Scope

It can be tempting to want to sneak in a small feature here, a new detail there, but all those changes can add up and derail a timeline or budget.

Determine with the development team what is and isn't part of the project's scope. Every firm or developer may do this differently. In some cases, this might be a list of must-haves before the project will be considered complete. In other cases, it might be a list of priorities in the order in which they should be addressed as budget allows.

Whatever is agreed upon, hold developers accountable for the work they've promised to complete. At the same time, know that adding to or changing scope mid-way through a project may knock things off track or require agreeing to adjust project scope to make things fit.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

If the project can't move forward until copy is delivered or design is approved, don't be the reason that the design or build-out stalls or gets knocked off schedule. Deliver materials and approval to the development team as soon as possible or according to the dates decided on ahead of time.

6. Expect Some Bumps

There is no perfect project. Even with the greatest forethought, synergy, and communication, don't be surprised if there's a speed bump or two along the way. Be prepared to have a certain amount of flexibility on any web project; with solid groundwork in place, problems can be managed effectively and have a minimal impact on the end result.