So your company is redesigning its website and you are going to be the project manager. You will be the one responsible for making sure that everything goes according to plan. You are probably excited! And … maybe a bit overwhelmed as well. The more you know going into this process the better. Since we have managed thousands of digital projects at Kanopi Studios, we wanted to share our expertise to help you hit the ground running.
Set clear and measurable goals
This is a critical step before getting started. Since your organization is investing time and money into its website, you’ll want to be able to prove it’s effectiveness and value. Think of all of the ways that a new website can support your organization’s goals and give some thought to how you could measure its impact. Having clear goals determined in advance will help your website vendors understand where to focus to deliver the most targeted solutions. It will also help you prioritize scope and features and prove the value of the site after it launches.
Find the right vendor
First, you need to write a strong RFP. Then, it’s on to selecting the right vendor for your project. You want to find a partner who you can communicate easily with, who has the expertise to do the job right and also meets your budget needs. To make things even more complicated, when you review the set of RFP responses, it is rarely apples to apples. The pricing and information represented in them will likely differ wildly. Be sure to ask each vendor what is included in their price. Some agencies will bid low to win your business, expecting that they will be able to issue change orders for more funds throughout the process. In general, you do get what you pay for, in websites as in other areas of life, so beware of the lowest bidder. And since your digital projects are probably only one part of your busy job, finding a vendor who is flexible, experienced, and trusted will help make things easier on you, leading the way to a successful outcome.
Gather (and wrangle) your stakeholders
Before your project ever starts, there is expectation setting to be done with your internal teams. We encourage you to establish a core team of approvers who will stay engaged throughout the project and understand the progression as decisions are made. Then, you’ll need to decide on the cadence for how you will share progress with the rest of your organization. Make sure everyone knows and agrees to their role in order to avoid last minute changes or requests that can throw off the process you have put in place. Consider documenting roles in a RACI chart for additional clarity. It can be to your advantage to use the project budget and timeline as a defense mechanism against new and last minute requests, as these things will have an effect on deadlines and dollars.
Keep vendors accountable
Work with your vendors to establish a cadence of check-ins and regular reporting on budget, percent complete, next steps, and risks. Ensure that you know what to expect from deliverables and when to expect them so that you can schedule time with the right people for reviews and approvals. Find out if your vendor uses a shared project management software platform that will allow you the ability to track progress, add tasks and keep all messages and files in a single, organized location. At Kanopi, we use TeamWork and have had strong success using it to increase transparency on projects.
Understand the creative process
During the UX and design process, your vendor will be establishing guiding principles that will carry through the project. The further the process goes, the harder it will be to change course. So if you aren’t sure about something, ask! It is always easier to adjust a strategy document or tweak a design than it is to rebuild something once it is in code. This should be a collaborative process, so we recommend frequent discussions and reviews to stay in touch on progress and get buy-in from your team.
Think about content early. Check in about content often.
Pay attention during the design phase to how content will be presented on the new site. Always be thinking: Do we have existing content to fill those boxes in the designs? Or will we need to create it? If there is new content to be created (as there most often is), do you have dedicated in-house resources to make this happen? Are your subject matter experts prepared to share details to help your writers deliver? Don’t forget that content also means images! We recommend making an internal content timeline that includes milestones and due dates to ensure that content delays don’t throw a wrench in your plans. If you don’t have the resources you need and are planning to hire, do this early on in the project so that your writers can be in aware of the strategy and design for the site. This will help speed their process, reduce rewrites and ensure that the copy is on target.
While it can be hard to understand requirements documentation, it is important, because it serves as the blueprint for how your site will be built. Requirements should be presented in the form of user stories for the technical build to help put things in simpler terms and define expectations. A user story put requirements into simple language and follows a common structure: As a (type of user), I need to (do something) so that I can (experience a result). While these may seem theoretical, they will impact the day to day reality for your content authors and site users. This is another area where you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure that you know what you are approving and that you understand what it will mean once the site is launched.
Search Engine Optimization
With all of the activity prior to launch, SEO can fall through the cracks. It’s also a responsibility that may be split between your vendor and your internal team. With a little planning and coordination, you can ensure that SEO is in place prior to launch. Check in with your vendor about SEO, establish who is doing what and double check it all before launch. Moz has a handy pre-launch SEO checklist that lists SEO actions in priority order.
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User acceptance testing (UAT)
During this stage, your team will be reviewing the website and entering feedback prior to launch. Ideally, your team will have plenty of time to check the site thoroughly on all devices and browsers, clicking every link and paying special attention to more complex functionality including forms, transactions and interactive features. It is also ideal for your vendor to have enough time to address the issues that your team finds prior to launch. However, in reality, this process can be constrained by launch deadlines, making clarity and communication essential. Be sure to prioritize issues, making it clear which are launch blockers and which are nice to have fixes. Include the URL the issue was discovered on, the browser, device and version being used, details describing the issue and the desired fix.
Preparing for launch day
Talk with your vendor to make sure that there is a plan in place for launch day. Line up your core group up to test the site as soon as it is live and make sure your vendor will be available in case anything unexpected needs to be addressed. It’s best to delay announcing that the site is live until these final checks can be completed. If you need to announce the site launch in advance, plan the timing with your vendor and make sure there is enough buffer time to allow for a site review and bug fixes.
Don’t forget about support
Launch day is just the beginning! Inevitably your site will need something … whether it’s small bug fixes you discover after launch or some of those new feature ideas that came up in discovery but got put in the phase two bucket. In addition, keeping your CMS up to date and ensuring site security updates are in place is an ongoing and critical process. Website support is the answer. Having a support contract in place before launch ensures that you will not miss a beat and that you can evolve your site as you learn from using it, receiving feedback on it and examining analytics.