Which activity takes the most amount of time: A) Traveling to the nearest star. B) The gestation period of an African Elephant. C) Developing a website. D) Renovating your kitchen.
The answer is A, 70 light years — though to many business owners it might feel like the answer is C — developing your company’s website — with D being a close second.
Both clients and developers have their own horror stories of how a short-term web project turned into a lifetime commitment. Things usually start out friendly enough, but before you know it, both sides are losing patience, fingers are pointed in every conceivable direction and the site is finally launched more with a sigh of relief than a feeling of triumph, with both sides relegating the other to the “We’re not speaking anymore” pile.
What causes this unhappy happenstance?
I have found these to be the ones that occur most often:
Lack of Preparation – Developing a website appears to be deceptively easy — and it’s so much fun! The tendency is to jump right in and start working away without sufficient fore thought. Suddenly one is inundated with unforeseen technical problems, insufficient resources, incorrect information, unworkable designs, unaccounted for features and any other number of surprises that can bring things to a screeching halt.
The earlier you figure out what you’re doing and what you need—and where the potential problems might be—the easier things will be to deal with. Start by making lists, lots of lists, lists of lists if necessary, of what the project will entail. At this point all you’re doing is moving things around on paper, so revisions are painless. You’ll also sleep better spending a little extra time getting things organized before you start than you will by making it up as you go along and hoping for the best.
Put it in Writing – As with any collaborative effort, the different parties involved will have their own preconceived ideas about the nature of the project, usually ranging from the simple and pragmatic to the grandiose and wildly impractical. All too often, this information is communicated verbally. Written Project Specifications, Development Processes, and Production Schedules are crucial to managing expectations, keeping everyone on the same page and on track—not to mention sane.
Keep it simple. One development company created something they called The Digital Delivery Process which outlined the 127 steps they take in developing websites. The mere number of steps was enough to scare away more clients than it reassured.
The Dreaded Project Creep – Often a project that starts out in one place will, like a litter of puppies, wander off in totally unexpected directions. Gradually it heads down the slippery slope of increased functionality, additional content, and modified objectives. Sometimes a new player is introduced, bringing with them their own ideas and requirements. Before you know it the project has grown in size and complexity far beyond the original Scope of Work.
It’s best to temporarily call a halt, re-asses, and rethink the (written) project specs. Avoid the tendency to take these incremental changes in stride by trying to accomplish them by using the resources that were allocated for the more limited scope — this will only result in delays, misunderstandings and lots of yelling about the final invoice.
Availability of Material – Website development requires a number of specific areas of expertise, there is only so much one party can do. At some point one member of the team may not be able to proceed without material from another. I once lost a client because they took so long getting their copy together that the site we were developing became obsolete. Ultimately there’s not much you can do aside from pointing to the production schedule and offering to help or diplomatically remind them that you’re waiting…and waiting…and still waiting.
If you are the one holding things up, respect the other team members. Do not hide the fact that you’ll be late or that you’ll need more assistance than anticipated.
Poor Communication – Many of these issues come down to, or are made worst by, lack of a communications. Parties are not clear about what they want or expect, others are not clear that they’re not clear. Each party should designate a point person through who all communications will flow. Everything should be put in writing — the miracle of email may seem impersonal to some, but it creates a written record that everyone can refer to.
All projects take on a life of their own, and some of them need to take up the time they will take, but proper preparation, realistic expectations, written specs and open communications will go a long way in keeping things moving and everyone smiling : )