Developing a website takes time, money and resources. And in today's hyper-competitive landscape filled with new content and expanding Web capabilities, it's important that new projects are planned with scalability in mind.
Today, we feature a guest author in Patricia Mejia, VP of marketing, Siteworx (a Virginia-based interactive agency).
When it comes to your organization's website, just how much up-front planning is necessary?
The short answer is: not as much as you might fear. At Siteworx, we're fierce proponents-and in some ways pioneers-of the agile design philosophy, which allows websites to evolve organically over the course of their development.
But just because we advocate an iterative, flexible design methodology doesn't mean you should dive in with your eyes closed. It's essential for even the most agile organization to create a basic blueprint addressing a project's core considerations.
So in the spirit of preparedness, we've put together a list of the top ten questions to ask and answer before breaking virtual ground.
1. What's driving the project?
Believe it or not, most major Web and mobile projects are driven by nothing more than a vague sense of inevitability-the "we just need an upgrade" syndrome. Maybe so, but you'll also need clear business objectives to communicate to prospective vendors. Those drivers will help inform some critical decisions concerning your investment level and the long-term viability of your project.
2. Who's driving this project?
Every Web project needs ownership, and most contingents within your organization (e.g., Marketing, IT, Product Development) will have their own opinions on essential features and functionalities. So be judicious when assigning project ownership, and make sure your vendor knows the chain of authority.
3. Which features are essential for the initial launch?
If your Web project is large or complex, don't delay its launch while waiting for a finished product. Instead, you can greatly expedite the process with a phased launch schedule; just be sure your most important features are included in the first release.
4. Have you documented your requirements?
You certainly don't need to write a treatise, but by capturing your project's fundamental business, user and marketing requirements, you'll communicate a no-nonsense professionalism to prospective vendors. Even better, you'll help foster transparency and alignment among scattered internal stakeholders.
5. Which technologies are you considering?
Does your internal IT staff favor commercial products over open source? Are cloud-based/Software as a Service (SaaS) options viable, or do business requirements necessitate an on-premise implementation? Once you've determined the feasible options, allow the needs of your target audiences to dictate final technology selections.
6. Who are the internal/external users?
Speaking of those target audiences, have they all been accurately accounted for? Make sure you've thoroughly analyzed the needs of every discrete end-user segment during the planning process. A common mistake amid large-scale Web projects is a failure to account for the needs and expectations of internal audiences-an error that practically guarantees long-term adoption hurdles.
7. How many visitors/users/transactions are projected per month?
When it comes to site capacity, anticipation is the watchword. So try to be as open as possible with prospective vendors about your current traffic numbers, projections, and aspirations. The better your communication of these requirements, the more suitable your resulting infrastructure.
8. What's your mobile strategy?
With close to 40% of U.S. adults now accessing the Internet via mobile devices, your organization's mobile Web presence may soon become the most crucial component of your entire Internet strategy. For maximum efficiency and continuity, consider developing your mobile site in conjunction with your fixed site. And think seriously about mobile applications for the iPhone, iPad, Android OS and other platforms/devices.
9. What's your content management strategy?
Most websites are only as valuable as the content they feature, and content is worthless if it can't be easily updated, shared, and located. Today, enterprise search and Web Content Management (WCM) tools are more necessity than luxury. And just like most interactive features, they're best integrated at the start of a Web project, and difficult to integrate after the fact.
10. What's your budget?
Last but certainly not least, try to establish a budget for your prospective vendors. By sharing financial considerations up-front, you'll spend more time evaluating realistic solutions and less time downscaling unsuitable proposals.