The kickoff of a website redesign is a time of high expectations and excitement. Teams are aligned and anticipating steady progress toward a fresh, new site that’s filled with potential to power new directions.
Too often though, a host of unexpected realities creep in. Stakeholders get pulled in other directions. New priorities emerge. Setbacks of many sorts can derail timelines and sour progress.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to witness what works well and what can throw a project out of whack. As Director of Project Management for Solid Digital, I’ve pulled together a depth of experience and insight to help shape the way we work.
The impact of a lot of hard-won lessons now serves as the basis for how we manage web redesign projects in a manner that exceeds expectations, drives positive outcomes, and builds relationships.
Successful management of a website redesign is a function of three essential areas:
- Setting expectations
- Staying on track
Prep for Success
It is all-too-common for website redesign projects to stall or run into snags before they ever get off the ground. Taking stock of your current situation — possibly even before engaging the services of an agency — serves to fast track the discovery and fuel efficiencies.
Here’s a short list of some essential questions that need to be answered at the outset, as well as internal considerations that need to be agreed upon:
- Do you have up-to-date branding information, such as a style guide, brand guidelines, a clear understanding of your target audience, or user personas that can be shared with a website design agency? If so, is this documentation approved and ready for use? Making sure that all stakeholders are aware of and agree to key aspects of the brand will serve to avoid unexpected setbacks as that could result in sizable delays.
- Do you know what keywords you are interested in targeting or are you planning to consult with an agency concerning your SEO strategy?
- What about available photography or images? Have you taken stock of what’s currently available and what will be needed to move forward with the redesign?
- Have you determined who on your team will work with the agency on the website redesign and their level of availability in seeing the project through to completion? A website redesign project is typically an additional project on top of our clients’ full-time jobs. Allocating the hours upfront and ensuring that the work does not entirely fall on one person is an important step to avoid bottlenecks.
Once the necessary project components are in place, clarifying expectations is a critical next step. Too often, key players are operating off different assumptions, which is never a good thing. A key tenet: Assume Nothing. Agreeing upon and documenting clear expectations throughout every phase of the project, particularly concerning communication and collaboration between teams, can be the difference between a fun and productive project or one that can be stressful and difficult to complete.
Key among the points that require clarification concern exactly what is included in the scope of the agreement between your company and the website redesign agency. Make sure that this is well defined and documented. Of course, nothing that appears on the scope of work should come as a surprise. Ideally, you have taken part in the process of working with the agency to define your needs and determine expectations.
While every agency approaches this process differently, at Solid Digital, taking the time to ask lots of questions to ensure that there is a high degree of clarity at the launch of the project concerning milestones, timelines, roles and responsibilities, is a key part of our process.
That said, even after verbal agreements have been set and signed by key stakeholders, we highly recommend that everyone on your team read through the signed contract and that everyone is clear on the scope of work, the steps that will be taken to complete the work and what happens when changes to scope or the timeline occur.
At the launch and at every step along the way, our project managers are diligent about ensuring that everyone involved in a project understands what is expected of them, what is next, and that everyone on the team understands dependencies and has what they need to proceed with next steps.
Setting consistent times to check in on the current status, open items, questions and next steps will keep everyone aligned and provide an opportunity to discuss items that require closer collaboration. While regular check-ins are essential, an equally critical component is diligent documentation and easy access to status updates and decisions.
Staying on Track Requires a Strong Start
In the beginning of the website redesign, it’s essential to engage all stakeholders who will want or need to have input into how the new site is built. Sometimes stakeholders will request that they not become involved until midway in the project, or until a level of progress has been made that they can weigh in on. Don’t allow this to be an option. When input and insights from various stakeholders is limited or incorporated in the middle or end of the project, vs key points throughout the project, the result is continuous backtracking which derails timelines and can significantly increase costs.
At Solid Digital, we recommend that initial discovery sessions include key stakeholders who are often members of leadership, internal marketing, sales, human resources, customer service. Key stakeholder participation results in a highly productive level of discovery in which the full spectrum of goals and vision for the website can be synthesized and shared. The resulting stakeholder alignment serves to remove ambiguities and streamline progress through future phases.
Keep in mind: Despite an eagerness, if not impatience, to get started and quickly move forward with the actual design and production of the website, detailed upfront discovery and planning ultimately saves time by helping to pave a clear plan, mitigating against confusion, and reducing the likelihood of a scope change or delay at a later point in the project.
When Something’s Gotta Give
Nearly every project involves a balancing act among the often competing factors of time, budget, and quality. Upfront clarity concerning constraints, as well as flexibility, will help with critical decisions and course corrections as needed.
A hard and fast deadline could mean, for example, that a specific functionality or feature of the site might need to be delayed or dispensed with entirely.
Budget, of course, can be the most difficult factor to discuss and manage. It’s also an area where good intentions to save money can go awry. Often clients, for example, opt to take on the responsibility of copywriting in an effort to cut that component from the budget. In our experience, this is the most frequent cause for a delay in a website redesign project.
Most companies do not have a copywriter on staff who has available time and expertise in creating compelling, SEO rich content. As such, attempts to cut corners on the cost of content creation, can also result in diminished quality and missed milestones.
Aside from budget, timelines are typically the next critical element of a project to balance. Milestones for providing feedback are a frequent source of delays. We see a lot of success when our clients are able to gather everyone necessary and create consensus around the first round of feedback and use any remaining rounds to add final polish. The greater the discipline that clients can exercise in providing focused feedback, the greater the likelihood of the project staying within scope.
Concerning the third factor — quality — this can be the most difficult to define, compared to budget and timelines. It’s also the area that is the most unclear within the scope of work, but the one which can have the most significant impact. There are many ways to implement/design/develop an item that range from small, medium to large. When making decisions, remember you may have to make tradeoffs. Prioritize what’s most important to have all the bells and whistles and scale back on less important items to stay on track.
At Solid Digital, our project management process is a clear differentiator. Among other things, we are focused on the assurance that time, budget, and quality remain paramount considerations throughout every project and we always aim to find a balance with all three factors.
Interested in learning more about how we work and why that makes a difference? Give us a call.