Five Mistaken Assumptions about Web Site Development Projects

I love a surprise! Only just don’t give it to me on a web site development project. I feel pretty safe assuming my clients would agree with this. For those of you who are not web development professionals and find yourself running a web project, I thought it would be useful to dispel five mistaken assumptions about the web development process. Each of the next five posts will address one of these assumptions:

1. Once you hire a web design firm, the client’s role is minimal
2. Web firms should never preview work
3. An open source content management system (CMS) is preferable to an off the shelf CMS
4. It’s OK if the CEO or top executive in charge does not attend the kickoff meeting
5. Flash is dead

Assumption 1: Once you hire a web design firm, the client’s role is minimal

Recently a client of mine said, “I didn’t know how much work I’d have to do on our web site!” It was an innocuous enough statement but reminded me of the importance of a thorough web development process review in the very beginning. While I do recall walking through the process, I realize that sometimes until you have first hand experience, some things don’t always register. Here is the list of client tasks for a typical web development project:

Content Inventory – Arguably the most challenging task of a web project is not programming, nor information architecture or even design, it is figuring out what content stays, what goes, what needs editing and what needs to be created from scratch. This information then needs to be catalogued in a spreadsheet and assigned an author. Nobody is in a better position to determine these things than the client. If an average B2B web site is 100 pages, and sometimes considerably larger, it will take some time.

Copywriting – In cases where the client writes their own copy, allow more time than you think to get it right. Expect interruptions from your “real job,” which may extend the process.

Information Architecture (IA) – Creating the IA is our job, but as the client you will have much to say about what content needs to be created, where it belongs in the information hierarchy and what links to what. Others on the team will also be involved.

Search – Though search is often our responsibility, the client will need to participate in meetings and reviews of keyword strategy.

Meetings – Other than for non-local clients, there will be a minimum of three face-to-face meetings, the project kickoff, the IA kickoff and the first creative presentation. Most of the rest of the process can be online presentations and conference calls.

The Approval cycle – Every client organization is different but there is usually a hierarchy of approvers and a selection of team members that need to be kept in the loop. With schedules and business travel, this can add unexpected time.

Next time I will discuss whether or not the web design firm should preview work-in-progress prior to the first creative presentation.