You’ve selected your agency, you’ve chosen your platform, you’ve got an estimate for what it’s going to cost so time to sit back and let your agency deliver your website right?
Wrong! In our experience standing back and just telling an agency to make all the decisions is likely to fail. This article talks about how we have adapted our process to ensure better collaboration with clients from the start, through to launch and beyond into ongoing support.
How will I be involved in the project?
We are experts in designing and building new websites but you are the experts of your brand, business and who your customers are. Most agencies try to extract everything from you in a very limited timeframe and to us this makes no sense. If you have access to experts why would you want to limit their involvement?!
The challenge for us is to draw out your knowledge so that it complements the skills that we can bring to your project. Effectively what we are aiming for is a combined project team working as one. Not two teams of experts working in silos.
To generate a collaborative environment you need great communication. On the practical side we always set up weekly catch-up calls with you to discuss the project status with you and next steps in the process. We also welcome clients to ‘hot desk’ in our offices so you can be involved in face-to-face workshops, scrums and demos with the development team.
Online collaboration tools can be a great way of keeping clients working remotely in touch with the progress being made at our offices. The Trello board lower down in this article shows how we are communicating everything relating to a current project.
A typical website project will encompass the phases detailed below. It may be run as a phased approach, use an agile process, or a hybrid of the two. The combined approach gives the opportunity to prioritise deliverables against an agreed budget and is the route most commonly requested by our clients.
Scoping and planning
One of the first things a client should start thinking about is what you need to get out of the project. This is often broadly agreed before you go out to tender or becomes clear in the pre-sales stage but there is always more that can be done to clarify exactly what you want. Typical examples could include:
- I want to increase membership sign-up
- we need to provide sponsorship opportunities at our conferences,
- reduce support calls to the customer service team
- increase revenue
These requirements will help form the project objectives which Quba will help you define.
A content audit should be done so you can start to understand what content is working well for you already and help identify any gaps. There are a variety of tools that we use that will help you to get this information. If it makes it easier we can think about content as blocks of stuff rather than pages but it is important that we gather your content requirements at the beginning of the project so that the user experience and design is done with a full appreciation of what we have to work with.
To draw a parallel you wouldn’t want to start building a house only to find out at the end of the build that you forgot to install a skylight, chandelier, underground swimming pool and state of the art kitchen. Understanding your content at the start is the best way to go.
I’m personally a massive advocate of doing user research before you begin your project. This helps to identify pain points with your existing website. It is also important to speak to stakeholders in your business outside of the core project team for like the customer service department to see what is and isn’t working well already.
You may get some really useful nuggets here that can help define your target audience more clearly and gain competitive advantage by identifying potential areas of growth or opportunities to create operational efficiencies.
This initial research is extremely helpful for you to bring to the scoping and planning meeting. If you haven’t got these insights already we can help you by creating questionnaires or carrying out onsite user interviews before we get stuck into what the website looks like.
The scoping and planning meeting is a chance for the project team to collaboratively set the direction of the project. A User Experience Designer or Project Manager from Quba will normally chair this session and take the group through a number of tasks. Typically these will include:
- Persona development – As I’ve been describing it is really important that we have a good understanding of what your end users want to achieve. Personas allow us to focus on key user group needs so we can develop meaningful user journeys related back to real user stories and needs. Using personas in the planning and design stages frames our thinking. It allows us to avoid making recommendations based purely on personal preferences and keeps your end users consistently front of mind. You may already have some existing personas that we can help develop on, but if not, start thinking about the needs of your different customers and we can help you develop these further during the scoping phase.
- Sketching workshop – You will help identify key pages for the new site e.g. Homepage, bookings page, session finders as well as essential functionality within the back-end CMS, etc. and together we will sketch out what types of functionality would make up these pages.
- User journey mapping – starting with card sorting to understand the structure and then mapping user journeys to understand the flow of each persona.
The above activity and subsequent workshops are used to inform the design and project specification. We try, wherever possible, to make all documentation really easy for you the client to consume. After all, it is very difficult for you to participate in a collaborative project approach if you have no idea what we are talking about! The specification and design exercises are normally an iterative period of the project where we expect you to come back to us with recommended amendments.
Once we have everything documented it might be that we need to make some decisions over either scope, budget or deadlines (or all 3). Again by working collaboratively we can help to guide you when it comes to making decisions over what should be delivered now, pushed back to a phase 2 or potentially de-scoped indefinitely.
When the requirements for your initial project become relatively set we refine the specification adding additional technical detail along the way. Alongside the specification we will also create detailed wireframes that provide you with an accurate and clickable prototype of the site.
2. Design and UX
During the scoping session we will define the design brief with you. This means that when we come to design you might be surprised at how little you have to direct us. The wireframing will also have done a lot to demonstrate the layout of pages and user journeys which means when we look at design you can really concentrate on the look and feel and the overall execution of your brand online.
Our designers would typically create a mixture of screens on desktops, mobiles and tablets so that you can understand how the user experience and visual approach is executed across all platforms.
With the design, layout and specification agreed we produce a design stylesheet, these design guidelines are used by the developers to build the site.
For most of our clients the development stage is where we expect there to be a bit of a drop off in the regularity of communication. This is because of two things; 1. We are busy building your website. 2. You, the client, have realised that while you are not involved in workshops you need to get your content ready and generally catch up on your day job.
We do help customers to retain involvement by giving regular demo’s of new features as they are developed in the weekly calls. This information is replicated online on Trello like in the example above. This is important as it gives you the opportunity to flag anything you are unsure of before we get it ready for launch. This ultimately improves the efficiency or your project and reduces the chances of overruns in time or cost.
4. Testing, population and Go Live
Once the build is complete and it has been tested internally at Quba to ensure that it meets the agreed requirements. Now it’s over to you to carry out the User Acceptance Testing, population and sign-off. Don’t worry though, we are still on hand to help guide you through this period, provide you with training on your new CMS, and assist with content population if required.
5. Reporting and generally making you look good
During the early stages of the project, where we define business requirements, we look at how we can put in place real benchmarks for project success. This means that once the website goes live we can start reporting straight away and identify quickly how the new site compares to the old one in terms of performance against real KPI’s.
We are proactive in following up with you. We will make suggestions for enhancements and if needed tell you that we got something wrong before you or your boss spots it. Ultimately it is our job to make you look good. If we do this you will hopefully come back to us with more projects or you will recommend us to friends and colleagues.
Our collaborative approach to running projects really works for us and our clients but most importantly it delivers good results. If you would like to talk to me or anyone else about anything we have covered in this article please get in touch!