This is the first part of a series of posts detailing how Redcentaur manages web design projects for its clients. In this post is an overview of the five stages we use to develop web sites. Detail will be provided in future posts that link each of these stages together.
While steps used within these stages may vary widely from project to project, and depend largely on what is involved in each project, the stages themselves generally remain the same. This is because they are fairly generic in nature. However, do not underestimate the importance of good project management skills: they can save you and your clients money, time and unnecessary effort. Vandelay Design has identified 10 other basic principles for projects in the excellent post, Guide to finishing projects on time, which supports this series of posts quite neatly.
The one most important factor for project management is communication.
No project management post would be complete without mentioning the one most important factor for project management: communication. It is essential for any well-executed project for the project manager to talk to the client, the design team, the development team and anyone else involved in the project. If there are relatively few people involved, this becomes easier, but it is essential that the client and the team working on the website are in communication.
Two kinds of project management
Redcentaur uses a flexible approach to project management, which is based on the kind of project we are working on, the particular needs and structure of the project and the client we are working for.
Structured, hierarchical approach
With a cascading or “waterfall” approach to project management, each stage of the project, from Inception through to Completion is finished in order. This structured approach works well when a client has a limited budget or tight deadlines and we are able to set out clear revisions. This is useful in that it creates a delimited timeframe for completion and should provide the client with a cost limit. The downside is that it is not easy to revise work once a stage has been passed, so if a client changes their mind about some element, it can often mean starting over. The structure is fairly inflexible, which suits some clients better than others.
Flexible, “Agile” approach
The agile approach to project management is more flexible and has become a favourite for IT projects in recent years. An agile method takes a less structured approach and results in different aspects of the build being focused on by different teams. The project is developed through various iterations until a final version is adopted. While the approach is more flexible, there is less certainty about the costs involved as each stage may require several iterations. It also requires the client to be far more engaged in the process.
The five stages
Regardless of whether an agile or waterfall project management methodology is used, the basic principles of managing a web development project fall into five key project management stages. These are the stages used by Redcentaur.
- Inception: This is about gathering all of the information that will enable you to understand and define the brief, scope and specification with the client. This is probably one of the most important stages to get absolutely right as misunderstanding or misinterpretation at this stage will cause the rest of the project to go awry. This stage should also be used to start building some concepts and principles, drafts and sketches of ideas. Start building a plan of how the project should be carried forward. Make sure that you understand how your client wants to use the site and how their customers/visitors are going to be using the site; are these two requirements compatible?
- Gateway: meeting with clients to go through main ideas and agree principles and design ideas to take forward.
- Design: Building on the brief and scope that has already been defined, this stage is where you evolve your ideas and present them to the client. You might have several variations to begin with and with the client decide on a favoured option. During the design stage, you should also have a clear idea for information management, data storage and content management. Make sure you consider the site”s users – who are they and what will they expect to be able to do on the site; make sure you make it simple and easy to navigate, purchase or convert clicks to cash throughout the design.
- Gateway: agreeing with client the final mock-ups, design elements and data management systems/design.
- Construction: This is where you start getting your hands dirty with some coding and implement the agreed site design. Site construction is the phase that requires the most concentration. By the end of this stage, you should have an almost-ready-to-go web site for approval by the client that is based on the designs they have agreed. You will need to build any back-end functionality, content management systems, databases, etc. and integrate them into the site. Everything should be tested, tested again and tested to make sure the testing was correct! The more you test at this stage, the easier it will be to reach completion and handover without a headache. By the way, testing might be a good idea!
- Gateway: internal testing of integrated design on test servers to ensure the design works as intended.
- Completion: This is where you do some user testing of site on testing server to ensure that user feedback is completed. Reassess and tweek the design, data management, etc. where there are concerns. Assuming you have completed user assessments throughout, you should at this stage make sure that users see the site and use it as expected: ask people to go through certain tasks on the site to make sure that they understand how to do what you want them to do without difficulty or obstacles.
- Gateway: test with the clients to ensure they are happy with the finished design, ensuring any minor tweeks are resolved and approval is given.
- Close out: Uploading the completed site to the production servers, final on-line testing on the production server, hand-over to the client and completion of any search engine submissions, etc.
Each of these stages will be described in more detail in future posts that will form a series on project management. The second part is already available, How to write a successful brief.
I am sure that other designers use other methodologies and stages to manage their projects. I would be interested in hearing about them. Leave a comment below, with your views on how you manage projects, or how useful you have found this post.