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11 critical boxes to tick before you embark on a website project

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When you embark on a new website project, there are a lot of ducks that need to be lined up in a row before you can go ahead with the actual build. These critical steps cover everything from deciding on your high-level strategy to choosing your base technology to assembling the project team. When you set the right foundations for your project, it helps you to think through both the bigger picture and some of the detail, and ultimately lead to better outcomes.

In this post we’re going to cover eleven of these critical boxes that need to be ticked before starting your website project.

What you need to do will depend to certain degree on why you are creating a new website. Perhaps you have a new corporate brand that you want to reflect on a new site. Perhaps you need to re-platform or upgrade because your current content management system has reached end of life or doesn’t deliver what you need. Perhaps you’re changing digital agencies and they’re recommending a new technology. Also, your project may not actually be technically a new website – it may be a significant redesign or new iteration of what has gone before. Even so, many of the steps outlined in this article will be relevant for any major website project that involves significant change.

  1. Decide on the high-level strategy and objectives for your website
  2. It’s always important to have a broad strategy and idea of the objectives for your new website before you go into the project. Some of what you want to achieve might be obvious – to reflect your new brand or to generate more leads or to open a new ecommerce solution, for example. Of course, beyond this there will need to be far more detail, that will be reflected in your designs and requirements. It’s possible that detail will only be determined once the “project” starts, but it obviously needs to be done before the build stage.

    Overall, going into the project it will be important to ensure all your business stakeholders are aligned and agree to the relative strategy and objectives. To avoid misunderstandings and to manage expectations, it’s usually good to articulate these and get specific sign-off from the stakeholders that matter.

  3. Agree on an aspirational but realistic timeline that doesn’t create problems
  4. As well as a strategy, you’ll also have an idea of a timeline when you want to launch your website and which your stakeholders buy into. Sometimes this is driven by a hard and immovable deadline such as a launch for a new brand, or when a licensing agreement for your old CMS ends. But more often than not, timelines for website projects are driven by the need to drive momentum and aspirations to launch as soon as possible.

    While it’s good to be ambitious, timelines that aren’t realistic or mean the project will be a rush can set the project team up for a fall which is completely avoidable. It’s also worth remembering that elements such as getting content ready during the build, RFPs and getting businesses cases signed off, can all take a very long time.

  5. Decide on your base technology
  6. Deciding on the base technology for your website project is an important decision. You need to have the content management system (CMS) or digital experience platform (DXP) that’s right for you and your project.

    For many teams this may not be an element you have a choice over or really need to consider, as you already have a solution in place. But those that do need to decide, there can be multiple inputs to think through – budget, team preferences, your level of ambition, desired speed to market, follow on projects, compatibility with other systems, preferred hosting, the skill of your content contributors and the experience of your agency.

    For example, at 3Chillies we’ve delivered multiple projects involving Umbraco and Sitecore. Both are excellent solutions, but they have very different strengths and some projects would not be a good fit for Sitecore but great for Umbraco, and vice versa. The decision around any base technology to use is something that your agency or in-house technology team should be able to give input on.

  7. Issuing RFIs and RFPs to appoint an agency
  8. You may need to appoint a new agency for your website build because your current agency may not be your best option, or you may to decide to retender because it feels like good practice. Public sector organisations are likely to be required to go through this process. Appointing a new agency is usually done through an RFI and then a related RFP, but there can be more informal processes such as selecting three vendors and then picking the best.

    An RFI and RFP process is thorough, but it can be also very time-consuming and involve many different people. It’s also very expensive for those responding and not every agency will respond to an RFP if the size of the project is relatively small. How to carry out an RFP is a big topic in itself, bit there are ways to make it easier, including running an RFI prior to the RFP, as well as having some early demos and presentations from agencies before you actually go into the fully blown process.

    It’s also worth noting that you may need to do a separate RFP process to select the right CMS as well as an agency. However, quite often they are done as part of the same process, with CMS vendors usually working through partner agencies. Whatever you do, it’s important to leave plenty of time for the RFP because it can be a long process. Once appointed, onboarding a new agency can also take some time.

  9. Making the business case
  10. Sometimes you’ll need to make a business case for your website project. This is another wide topic and probably something for a future post. Any business case will probably follow a format and process already established within your organisation.

    While making a business case can be a laborious process, it does also force you to think about what you want your website to achieve, some of the potential elements and other key areas such as the right technology to use.

  11. Defining functional and non-functional requirements
  12. You’ll also need your functional and non-functional requirements before you start your website build. You may also want to have these in advance of running any RFI or RFP process to choose your base CMS and / or appoint your agency or implementation partner.

  13. Setting up the project team
  14. It does take a village. Website builds can involve what feels like a cast of thousands. Within your core project team, you’ll have some key roles such as your business sponsor, your project manager, perhaps a business analyst, core roles from digital marketing and IT. You’ll also involve consultants from your digital agency or agencies. This can involve more than one organisation if you’re using a best-of-breed approach with development specialists like 3Chilllies plus a design agency.

    Beyond the core project team, there will also likely be internal and external experts and specialists you need to involve from time to time although not through the entire project. These might include your branding team, an SEO expert, your IT security team and so on. Identifying any skills gaps and making sure any specialists are lined up accordingly up front can help ensure a smoother project and give you access to the full array of skills necessary to deliver an excellent website.

  15. Sorting your designs
  16. Sometimes sorting out the design side of things is considered part of the project, but it can be done before the build kicks off. Getting designs for your site will often mean working with a design partner who may be working with wire frames and even prototypes which are then iterated based on input.

    In our experience it’s critical to make sure your developers have some oversight for the design to ensure it can be realistically delivered with the base CMS or DXP. Getting your developers and your design team together early on is always a good idea. Here at 3Chillies we work regularly with the same design partners who we get to know very well and have a proven track record of working in good alignment.

  17. Work out your infrastructure and hosting
  18. There will also be some important aspects of your website build upfront including any infrastructure needs, your preferred hosting (Azure vs AWS) and any other technical dependencies, although some of these may not emerge until later in the project. Aspects such as hosting will impact your costs, choice of agency and more. We’ll cover these more technical areas in more detail on a future post.

  19. Get an early view of risks
  20. We often work with law firms and public sector organisations who are very risk averse. If you’re in a sector or organisation where managing risk is high up in the agenda it pays to identify any potential risk issues early, for example around information security or data privacy. Speaking with relevant stakeholders early such as your legal function, IT security team and other internal compliance functions can help ensure there are no showstoppers that can block features, extend timelines and even scupper projects.

  21. Set yourself up for good communication
  22. We strongly believe that good communication is at the heart of a successful digital project. However, smooth communication is not always a given when you have a project with many moving parts and also several different stakeholders and even organisations involved. The way you communicate will be part of the your project plan, but before this you can also set yourself up for good communications with different stakeholders meeting to set expectations and even have a social event so everybody gets to know each other just that little bit better.

Setting yourself up for the perfect website project

There are a few high-level things to sort out before you go all guns blazing into your intranet project. Carrying out all the things outlined in this article will really help the quality of your output and set the right foundations. It also means that you will have thought through what you want your website to do and some of its key features.

If you want to discuss your potential new website project, then get in touch!

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