John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. Welcome to “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We are digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today my guest is Meghan Williams. She’s one of our account managers. Welcome, Megan.
Meghan Williams: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.
Web Design Project Management Phases
John: Today, we are going to talking about “web design project management tips.” Meghan, what are the phases of a web design project?
Meghan: I like how McDougall Interactive breaks a web design and development project into four phases. It starts with the Kick Off, then there’s the Design phase, the Development phase, and the Launch.
Each phase had very distinctive deliverables, goals, and a time line attached to it. When we move clients through it, they know when they’re leaving which phase and going into the next one.
John: Can you talk about each one of those phases a little bit and what it is?
Web Design Kickoff and Design
Meghan: “Kickoff” is mostly strategy…talking about to them about what they don’t like about their current website, what kind of design features they do like, what they want to see in their new website and high level stuff. Then coming up with the plan.
“The design phase,” is where we actually turn that strategy into some design files where we start slow and mark up some wireframes, and then we talk about the overall design and colors, schemes, fronts and all the different little pieces that come together to make a design.
John: Because you don’t want to jump into that design right at the beginning when we haven’t talked with the client and hear about what their goals are, what it is that they like, as you said, what they like about their current website or don’t like about their current website.
You want to know whether or not…”Do you want to go into a total direction than what you have now, or you’re looking for something very similar to what you have now, but just brushing it up a little bit.”
You need to have that kick off meeting ahead of time, so that you can be going in the right direction at the beginning of the project.
Meghan: If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everybody wants to talk about the fun stuff like the color scheme, or the cool design elements that they want to have. But if you don’t have a reason behind the choices you’re going to make, that you establish in your kickoff, then your design phase is going to take forever, and you are never really going to get to a design that you like.
John: You really want to talk about business goals and things like that as well to make sure that you’re building a website that’s going to convert well for them as well.
Website Development Phase
Meghan: The next stage is the development stage, where you actually build the website. You have to do a little bit of that in the design stage. The choices you make for a design have to be grounded in the actual development plan, and then the goals from the kick off need to be executed in the development. So you have to build this site around the goals you started with.
Ideally, each phase has the goals carrying through it. Then at the end of the development phase what you have is your design brought to life in workable, clickable website that you can check out and it’s got all the different information you need, and all the different functionality you need.
The last is the launch, where you actually send it out there to the world.
Launching a Website
John: There’s a little bit to that, as well, deciding…”When is that launch is going to happen? When are we finally done with the website? Are we going to launch it?”
One of the things that I’ve always noticed is that, people tend to be maybe…a little bit of their perfectionism comes out in that phase where they say, “Oh, this isn’t quite exactly right here, I want to tweak that a little bit or that text on that page is a little bit off.” They hold off on going live on that new website until everything is perfect.
What ends up happening in reality is that your website is never perfect. It’s always changing. That can really stall things and we are going to talk about that in a little bit later. But that can definitely be a problem when it comes to picking that time to launch, and things can get stuck in that phase very easily.
Meghan: The way I always talk about it, or I’ve been talking about with clients, is at each phase – design, development and then launch – you’ll have things that need to be changed, because without changing them bars the launch, and things that do not bar the launch.
You just have a list in post launch. You just go back and knock those out as long as it takes. You will always be tweaking it. I’d say the number one tip I have though for somebody taking on a website development project, is it’s going to take longer than you think.
That’s OK, because these are huge projects. Clients sometimes underestimate how big it is to launch a new website, and then they get to near the end of the design phase and they are ready to sign off, or ready to start the launch process and they get caught up on all the little details that aren’t perfect, because this is the front of their business out there in the world.
It’s a big deal and it should take a lot of time. It’s OK to spend a lot of time but like you said, at the same time you do have to pull the plug at the sometime, and launch the thing.
Common Pitfalls of a Web Design Project
John: Yeah. Some things can be fixed afterwards. We’ve talked a little bit about some, maybe common pitfalls that happen in a project management of a web design. What are some other common pitfalls that you can try to avoid when you are successfully managing a web design project?
Meghan: Probably, the biggest one would be miscommunication. By that I mean this is big deal to clients. It’s the front of their business that they are showing to the world. It’s very important, and we as an agency have to understand that and be on that level with them.
You have to err on the side of over‑communicating, because if you’re miscommunicating on some details that perpetuates this viscous cycle where you don’t really understand each other.
It’s important to have a relationship where you understand each other in such a huge complicated project. When in doubt, over communicate even to the point of communicating with the client about how you are communicating. Do they prefer the phone or the email or do they want a big long list, or do they want everything broken down into little pieces of communication?
John: Sometimes people are busy and they just can’t be bothered with all the little details, and other times they really want to hear every single little detail. You need to know that.
Meghan: It’s OK to tell your agency, “I want to hear every little detail. Or I only want you to call me when you are ready to move on to the next phase.” It’s OK as an agency to ask your client, “How do you want me to communicate with you?”
The other piece of that is critical to really listen when you’re communicating, because what the client is saying is different from what YOU think they should say, or what YOU think they should think about how their site is designed or built, because you as a marketer may know, well, obviously you need the home page to have X, Y and Z…
John: Like a call to action or something like that.
Meghan: Very specific. It should be in this spot. It should be this color. It should be this text. But the client may, for whatever reason, not like that.
It’s their website. You have to really listen to what they want, and find the middle ground of what they want what you may know as the best practice and deliver something they are happy with that will also work.
John: You need to be able to explain, “Well, OK if I’m saying that there should be a call to action on this page on the home page, or something like and it should be here in this place.” What are the reasons for that? What are the data that I need to back that up?
Like you said, sometimes it’s OK, the client’s website is their website and they can do what they want, but as long as you are communicating to them the reasons of what you want to do and it’s not just arbitrary. That makes a big difference. How do you get a stalled project back on track?
We talked before about going into that launch phase and sometimes things can get stalled in that phase because we’re just waiting for every last little detail to be done when maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other times when a project can get stalled. How do you get things back on track?
Getting a Stalled Web Design Project Back On Track
Meghan: There are probably two ways that I’ve seen things work out really well and they are related. The first one is sometimes it just helps to bring somebody new into the project, some fresh eyes on a problem, or just a fresh person to facilitate the communication.
Because if there’s some breakdown, people aren’t understanding each other. Sometimes all it will take it somebody who hasn’t been involved at all to hear both sides and understand where the breakdown was, just being the fresh set of ears and eyes on the project can help get things moving again.
Related to that – another way to do that is to approach it from another angle. So if there’s a specific element of the website that you just can’t get past, you just can’t get it right, then just put aside for right now. Go through all the things of the website that are good to go, and talk about maybe somewhere else where you can make some progress.
Maybe it’s much easier to get them to approve some images, swap those out and change the look of a couple of pages, and then you can go back to that one element of the site where you weren’t really able to get a consensus, or really get it to final. When you go back to it, sometimes, it’s not that important or everyone realizes you can always change it later.
John: Now, those images are in there, you can see how it all fits together or something like that. Sometimes one little thing that has changed or like you said, something that has progress made on it can help to move something that’s stalled for a little bit, because now you are seeing it as part of the bigger picture.
Meghan: Exactly. When you can see everything else that’s working really great, it puts into perspective maybe a small piece that isn’t quite right yet, but can give you some new energy to attack it or maybe he doesn’t understand. Maybe we can come back to it after the launch and we can always fix it then.
John: All right. That’s great information. Meghan, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Meghan: Thank you very much.
John: For more information about digital marketing, visit McDoughallinteractive.com, and make sure you subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.