Once you’ve made the commitment to create a new website, there is a certain buzz of excitement – anticipation of a fresh new look, functional new features and interested new customers. Those feelings tend to ebb and flow throughout the project lifecycle. Unexpected challenges mixed with awesome output can leave one feeling a little exhausted along the way. It’s no secret there are pain points to any project you’re tackling – whether it’s painting a room in your house or building a website. We want to shed some of the mystery surrounding web development and give you a better idea of what to expect in a development project.
Stage 1: Preparing for the project
It’s important that you are ready to commit time, energy and resources to the project. We provided a checklist of five things to do before starting a new website project in a previous blog post. This is an initial list of what we’ll need from you, but know there will be more homework assignments along the way. Tackling this list upfront will save you time and energy later on.
Stage 2: Kicking off the project
We’re going to ask you a lot of questions. Yes, we studied your organization ahead of time and we understand the general nature of your industry. However, we haven’t heard you describe this in your own words. We’re going to find particular pain points that you didn’t realize existed. We’re going to catch onto your enthusiasm about what makes your products and services different than your competitor. We’re going to uncover things within your own business that you haven’t thought about before. We’re like a reporter interviewing you to uncover the story of your business and gather the facts. This is your opportunity to share your story as you want it to be portrayed on the website. That “story” is created by the visuals, the content and the functions we develop.
Stage 3: Additional homework
Following our initial discovery workshop sessions, you will have homework. It will range from gathering data, compiling additional assets, answering questions and firming up decisions regarding site design and functionality. Sometimes clients get hung up at this stage because they weren’t prepared for additional work beyond the kick off. Here’s a fact – your involvement is needed throughout the entire project. Prepare to spend time weekly on the web development project. Specific tasks can be delegated to different people within your team, so the level of involvement per person will vary. However, it’s essential there’s a main point of contact on your end for our team to communicate with during the project and beyond.
We’ll also have homework at this stage – writing out general requirements discussed during the meeting, conducting any necessary research, developing wireframes and finalizing our game plan for the project.
Stage 4: Design
Even though each project is unique and sometimes there are extra steps in the beginning of the project, the most typical next step is laying out the design of the website. Our graphic designers start laying out the elements that will appear on the page. For example, a homepage typically includes the company’s logo, graphical banner, the main navigation, introduction paragraph, news and events and promotional call outs. We lay out just one or two pages to give you the general flavor of the visual design. Following any modifications and approval, we’ll lay out the remaining pages.
A challenge client’s face at this stage is looking beyond placeholder copy and images. If you are not able to supply images of products, customers or lifestyle settings prior to this stage, we use sample imagery to give you an idea of what could appear on a given page. Alternatively, we may not include a real image and simply write in “photo.” This goes back to the importance of stage one and gathering as many useable assets for the site. If you want the site to start appearing as it will when it’s finished, then we must have those assets all gathered and passed along to us. If we’re forced to use substitute images – you’ll have to look past temporary elements we’ve created on the site.
Another issue that arises in this stage is differing opinions within your own team. You like the design but your boss does not. The board likes all of the design except the background color. The only thing your team likes on the design was the background color. Design is subjective and certainly everyone will have an opinion. There are two things to keep in mind when reviewing design:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Your site visitors won’t care if an image is 25 pixels to the left or to the right. When you look at the visual layout, does the information displayed make sense? Will users be able to navigate the site based on how it looks? If the answers are yes, then it’s on the right track. Beyond confirming the right corporate colors and logo were used, is it clean, simple and easy to use?
2. You don’t have to live with the design forever. Even if one day you think you’ll change the company logo or you might add a product line that needs its own navigation tab, the layout can change in the future – it doesn’t have to be the version you think you want 10 years down the road.
Stage 5: Development
Following approval of the visual layout, the graphic designers prepare the website for a programmer to begin development. The programmer will start writing code so that the site is functional. Depending on the depth and complexity of the functionality needed for the site, there may be extended periods of time where there isn’t anything to show yet, which can make it feel like “nothing’s happening.” If you asked for a car to be custom built for you, while the builder might show you pictures of the car along the way or provide a verbal update on progress, they’re not going to let you attempt to drive it until all the necessary components are in it to make it functional. The same is true with a website.
During this stage is a great time to confirm all final assets have been gathered for the site. Have you procured final images and content? Have domain names been secured? Have you appointed appropriate team members for the testing stage (which is coming up soon)? You’re not alone in this effort – our team will guide you along the way and will probably check in multiple times throughout the project until an item is crossed off the list.
Stage 6: Testing & Training
Once the development of the site has been completed, we’ll test the website. The goal is to ensure all functions are working properly in various environments. Before we turn it over to your team to review, we’ll train your team members on how to use the content management system (CMS). There’s a learning curve, similar to learning any new tool, so we know you may have additional questions following the training. We’ll answer those questions and help you move forward.
Once we’ve trained you in the CMS, we’ll turn it over to your team for review. It is highly likely you’ll find errors in this stage. That is normal. That’s why we have a testing period and why it’s essential for both teams to review. It’s also likely you’ll see several opportunities in the site or the CMS for new features. It’s very exciting once you start to see the possibilities of what exists and what your site can grow into. However, it’s likely a combination of the scope and timeline don’t allow for all of those enhancements. We have to be careful to call out a functional error vs. an enhancement. If you feel strongly about an enhancement, a change order is issued and the functionality can be added with your approval.
This might be the toughest stage of the development project. It’s like the proverbial wall people talk about hitting at mile 20 of 26 in a marathon. You’ve already done all of this work – and you’re ready to celebrate the victory – but the toughest part has just begun. Typically this is the stage where some clients have a hard time getting past the “I want it perfect” feeling. We want your website to be wildly successful for you. We want to you to be excited. But we also need you to trust in the original vision we agreed upon because it’s the right vision for this initial phase. We’ll guide you after the launch and into future phases. We’ll answer your questions, strategically think big picture with you and support your digital efforts. To get there, we have to successfully close out the first phase with the site launch. We can cross that finish line together and celebrate!
There are many other steps that happen during a web development project. These are the major stages and some of the realities that occur. Every project is unique and your experience and expectations will play a role in how you navigate it. We have no desire to sugar-coat the process or promise it will be easy-peasy. It’s hard work for all involved, but the goal is that the outcome is very rewarding. Ultimately, we will work hard to make sure that happens. Part of that comes in knowing that we’re here for our clients in the great times – when you cross the finish line – and in the difficult times – when you hit that wall in the race and feel like giving up.
To learn more about our process and a realistic look at the web development cycle – schedule a time for our team to talk with you.
If you are just preparing to tackle a new web development project, read our post on "Five Things to Do Before Starting a New Website Project." If you've recently launched a new site, read our post "Four Tips for Post-Launch Website Success."