Website planning… and the perils of moving the goal posts

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Guest contributor Charlie Hill of Quba explains the importance of upfront planning for web projects.

I’m a big fan of Grand Designs. The more episodes I watch, the more similarities I see between building a house and building a website (on a much smaller scale, of course).

One of the biggest issues for any project manager is how to manage the average enthusiastic house builder if they decide to make a change along the way. Little amendments like a change of light-fitting position or a different cladding material can result in a domino effect of problems that affect both the time the house takes to build and, more importantly, the final budget.

For example, in a recent episode the client decided half-way into the build that they wished to swap the position of the dining room and the kitchen. The cataclysmic effect of this added 8 weeks to the build schedule and a whopping £15,000 to the overall budget! Reasons for this range from the siting of electrical points, provision of services and window placement.

Plan, plan and then plan some more

Any architect or designer (including Kevin McCloud himself) will tell you that the key to a successful build is planning, and no truer word can be said about the build of a new website. In the words of a recent stressed-out self-build novice: “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail”.

Before you get started with any web project, make sure you enjoin the key stakeholders across your business in the process. Being armed with this information ensures a smooth start and usually a smooth end to a project.

Working with an experienced digital agency will afford you the opportunity to explore, in detail, what you need from your website. You should take advantage of their project management, planning and strategy knowledge. They will then lead you in coming up with a plan for your online presence that ticks all the boxes, and that plan isn’t always what you thought it might be. Speaking from experience, this whole process will save you time, money and a lot of effort in the long run.

You will need the advice of a digital professional (in-house or external) who can look at your content and business goals and provide advice and documentation on the structure of your website and how it can be built to be as usable as possible. These are called Information Architects and UX specialists (user experience). It could be argued that these guys and gals are key to making sure your website performs for you and achieves results; another reason not to skimp on the planning!

The specifications produced by all these clever people will be used by a development team in much the same way that a builder will follow a specification or set of blueprints. The issues that arose for the kitchen/dining room fiasco on Grand Designs can also occur when changing the spec of a website once it is in build. A change to the blueprint will almost undoubtedly add time and budget to a project, even if it seems like the smallest change in the world!

This is why it is so important to plan as much as you possibly can. The specification and scoping part of a project is the ideal opportunity to explore ideas.

With the help of a great digital team, a website can be created that meets all of your needs both functionally and commercially.

Charlie Hill is a Senior Project Manager and Information Architect with Quba,  a full service digital communications agency based in Sheffield.  Quba works with a number of leading UK manufacturers on digital projects, including delivering an updated online specification tool for Ideal Standard and a website rebuild project for Armitage Shanks.

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