Better web projects: part 1

All but the smallest web project can be tricky to manage using traditional methods. Without care and effort a range of common problems can easily affect the result for client and web studio alike. Any of the problems below sound familiar?

Common problems

  1. An incomplete or vague project brief. As a client do you know how to answer all the questions asked in a blank brief? Maybe you’re writing the brief and have no idea what information it should include. As a web studio can you accurately estimate a project requirement with incomplete or missing information?

  2. Estimating the project fee and timescale is a ‘best guess’. Clients often want to know upfront the project fee and delivery date. As a web studio it can impossible to give an accurate answer - with or without a clear, complete brief there are too many unknowns and external factors.

  3. Scope creep. Requirements change mid-project because of new business needs, an unforeseen situation, or internal politics. Each change affects budget and deadline - is it still possible to launch the website on time? How much extra management time is needed so that the project can accommodate the changes?

  4. Efficient working requires time. A strong client-studio relationship aids efficient, productive work. Until that point however, there’s unplanned investment of time and effort to learn each other’s processes and culture.

  5. Project management reduces time available for productive work. Many smaller studios (us included) and some larger agencies believe project management should be the whole team’s responsibility, not the job of just one person. This approach has several advantages (new tab) but there’s a trade-off: excessive time spent project managing reduces availability for getting things done.

The traditional result

Delays and missed deadlines are the common when some or all of these problems occur. Likewise project can easily go over budget or the web studio has to absorb the extra costs.

Whether delayed, over budget or not, site is considered ‘finished’ except for ‘maintenance’ work. As a client you may or may not have a process in place for adding and updating content. Either way, in terms of content, features, and/or functionality, sites stagnate. Until some years down the line, the whole exercise is repeated.

What result does the site - and by definition the investment - deliver? Could it have been better? Probably.

New thinking for improved results

These problems would be partly solved if we stop thinking in terms of a single monolithic ‘web project’ something we ‘start’ and ‘finish’. At a recent conference Andy Hume (new tab) spoke about a website never being perfect, never lasting, never being finished. At the same conference Mark Boulton (new tab) explained the difference between a Design Project (short term, low risk, difficult to build strong relationships) versus an Advertising Account (longer term strong relationship, more of a risk, better results).

So can we find a method to treat a website project as an Account? Can it accommodate changing business needs; deliver new, important features & functions quicker; correct issues rapidly? Ultimately, can we as a small web studio use it to deliver better results for clients? At the same time can clients avoid the same level of financial commitment (and therefore risk) as an Advertising Account?

Over the past 18 months we’ve evolved a different method of working based on five main processes, borrowed and adapted from different disciplines. It’s not perfect; there are refinements to make. It does however, help us avoid the common web project problems and deliver better results for our clients and ourselves.

Better web projects: part 2 outlines our approach to web projects and how it helps solve these problems. Feel free to get in touch through traditional channels or via Twitter (new tab) if you have a question.