I’ve seen website builds go bad, sometimes it’s the agency’s fault, sometimes it’s the client. More often than not it’s a bit of both. Picking a good agency will help but there are a few common mistakes that you, the client, can avoid.
Pick The Right Project Manager
A client putting the wrong person in charge of the project at their end usually leads to a bad outcome, I want to explain why and help you make sure that the right person in your business ends up managing your website project.
The most common failure I’ve seen is when either marketing or IT take sole ownership of the project and shut the everyone else out. Marketing driven projects tend to be visually stunning but otherwise awful, like Avatar in 3D. IT driven projects tend to be technically brilliant but look like they were made in a Soviet tractor factory.
When the department who wasn’t in charge see the result they either wash their hands of it or try to take over and reshape the project, doing so at this point ends up with a late, expensive mess.
The next most common failure is when no one wants to manage the project because they recognise that they don’t have the skills. It gets kicked down the management structure until it gets to someone who’s not in a position to say no or someone at the right place on the Dunning Kruger curve to volunteer. Even if the project happens to land on someone who’s experienced and capable, they’re not given the management backup to get anyone else to contribute. So they get on with it and no one pays the project any attention until it’s close to completion at which point a whole load of people decide that now is the time to jump on board and try to steer.
There is now absolutely no chance of your project being on time or in budget, decisions that were taken months ago get second guessed, change requests build up and so do costs. Your web agency collectively roll their eyes and your project gets de prioritised.
Scope the Project Properly
I know how it is, you’re keen to get started and it’s hard to visualise exactly what you want until you’ve seen work in progress so you just throw a brief together and get moving.
Ask any web designer or developer what their top three reasons why projects go bad are and I promise you that scope creep will be on every list.
Getting the scope right in the first place will take time, but you’ll save that time tenfold compared to making it up as you go along and throwing all your agency’s project plans out of the window. There will be changes, you won’t get it 100% right first time and agencies expect this to a degree but keeping it to a minimum keeps you on schedule and on budget.
A good agency will tell you if your brief isn’t comprehensive enough for them to quote and offer you help refining it, less scrupulous agencies will quote low to get your business then rack up the extra costs as you add detail to the requirements.
So how do you get it right?
- Choose an agency that are clear on what their own project management practices are, if they have a solid methodology with clear stages and milestones there’s less for your team to do.
- Establish who your stakeholders are, what their input and responsibilities are in relation to the project and make it clear that the project has senior management backing.
- Get stakeholder agreement on what the scope and objectives of the website are. Seriously, if you skip this stage you guarantee that someone will be unhappy with the result.
- Pick someone to act as a single point of contact with your web agency, they don’t necessarily need all the requisite skills themselves but they do need to recognise what skills are required and be able to work with people who do.
- Make it clear that regardless of the usual hierarchy your project manager has responsibility for the project.
- If major new requirements surface in the middle of the project, put them into a phase 2 list and discuss it with your agency as a second piece of work to be done only once the project you’ve agreed is complete.
At various points during the project your agency will deliver things, wireframes, mockups, interim releases etc depending on their methods and the project. These are the times to get stakeholder views and feedback, your project manager needs to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have their input and you need to make sure that feedback is timely. Opening a discussion about the colour scheme and fonts at the mockup stage is fine, doing it when the site is all but complete isn’t.