It’s no secret – at least not to those of us in the industry – that website design projects tend to vary all over the map in terms of time-to-complete. And only some of that is due to the scope or size of the job; even for similar-scope projects, there’s a lot of variance. Most of it is due to subtle traps that clients unwittingly fall into, often because projects of this type and complexity are simply unfamiliar territory for many of the people who really need to be involved.

Here at emagine, we’d much prefer to see every website-design project run like clockwork; in fact it’s a win-win, better for the client and better for us. So we’ve put together this little checklist of steps clients can take to keep theirs from becoming like the houseguest that never leaves… or in this case, The Project That Never Ends.

Setting the stage for success

Many project problems can be traced back to decisions made way before anyone does any actual work. Here’s how to avoid the worst of those:

  • Keep your committee small …absolutely as small as you realistically can in the context of your particular organization. Everything gets harder – and slower – as your committee size increases. Just keep in mind the old adage about multiple cooks and the broth… it applies to websites, too.
  • Many contributors, however, are good. Especially for content development, leveraging as many of your firm’s experts as possible can greatly speed up what’s typically the longest part of the project. Get them signed on before work begins; just be sure they don’t all get the idea that contributing a page or two buys them a seat on the committee, much less veto power over the entire site.
  • Build a real plan. It seems so obvious, but we’re continually amazed by the number of clients who believe they can figure out how to proceed as they go. They can, of course …eventually; but it’s guaranteed that their project will take more time than it really needed to.
  • Name a dedicated point person. Even if your vendor project-manages the overall effort, things will go fastest and smoothest if one person on the client side knows all the tasks involved, guides the contributors, is empowered to make most of the needed decisions, and communicates with any stakeholders not represented on the committee.

Keeping it running smoothly

And now, some tips for the execution stage…

  • Realistic deadlines. Unless you enjoy the feeling of being late and missing target dates, don’t be optimistic in estimating times for component tasks. It’s simply a given that your contributors will get sick, go on vacation, and/or sometimes get “out-prioritied” by one of those all-hands-on-deck emergencies.
  • Hire (/“rent”) a writer. Utilizing a real writer frees up your contributors to act as the subject-matter experts they are, not also as the budding Hemingways they may wannabe. Plus it will enable all areas of your site to speak with one “voice”.
  • Seek incremental approval. Usually there will be one or more approval levels above that of the point person or committee chair. If possible in your company’s climate, bring that entity in for mini-approvals at several milestones; their involvement will tend to make them more supportive of the team’s work, and you won’t be gambling on an all-or-nothing shot at the end. Few things are worse than seeing 30 or so person-months of work go down the drain because the ultimate approver didn’t like the basic design or site structure.
  • Don’t allow mission creep. Software companies are familiar with the difficulty of getting a new release out, which requires drawing a hard line and putting all those great feature ideas that come up during final coding and test onto the wish list for the following release. The same thing goes on in web-design projects: if you try to please everyone who belatedly submits a great new idea to include – especially if it requires going back and redoing too many completed steps – it’s literally possible to never get your website launched.

An experienced website-design consultancy – such as eMagine – will reinforce all of these pointers in their pre-planning dialogue. Typically, they’ll also: make sure that you have a real plan (with realistic deadlines); provide a qualified project manager; offer writing services; and show you how most of those Johnny-come-lately “1-plusses” can be easily backfilled post-launch using a CMS. That still leaves you with some of the listed items to manage internally; but working together with your consultant firm, your web-design project should stay on the rails and launch on schedule.