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Phase 1: Define the Project

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This chapter is from the book

Set parameters and expectations — develop methods for clear communication throughout the project's lifecycle.

Starting a web redesign project can be daunting. So much to do… where to begin? Although you — and the client — may have a general understanding of what will be involved in getting the project done, the details and process of starting a redesign project can be elusive. The first part of this first phase is all about gathering information.

This chapter will help you set the stage, plan, and prep. Here we focus on developing methods of communicating expectations and making sure there are no mistaken assumptions. We include a lot of handy tools designed to help you help your client provide the necessary information you need to define goals, objectives, budgets, timelines, and of course, the audi ence. (Don't miss this one; defining your audience and their goals is one of the most important and overlooked preparatory points in any development project, web or otherwise.)

Table .

WHAT THIS CHAPTER COVERS

DISCOVERY

CLARIFICATION

PLANNING

  • Gathering Information
  • Understanding Your Audience
  • Analyzing Your Industry
  • Understanding Discovery
  • Determining Overall Goals
  • Preparing a Communication Brief
  • Creating a Project Plan
  • Setting the Budget
  • Creating Schedules
  • Assigning Your Project Team
  • Setting Up Staging Areas
  • Planning for User Testing
  • Kicking Off the Project

Please note that this chapter outlines the workflow steps necessary for defining a project. We do not go into getting a project. We present workflow, not business development. But because it is often necessary to define quite a bit of the project in order to get it, there is a great deal of information here that is potentially helpful.

Also, a project may not be a complete redesign. You might be overhauling a site's architecture without changing the look and feel. Or you might be addressing a specific path through your site in order to increase sales leads. Whatever the project or initiative, take the time to define and clarify goals before starting. Overkill is not required, but some advance planning is necessary in order to operate efficiently instead of haphazardly.

We have divided this first phase of the Core Process into three tracks: Discovery, Clarification, and Planning. Through a series of surveys, discussion, and research, Discovery leads to understanding three critical things: the client's online goals, the audi ence and its needs and online capabilities, and the industry and the competition as it relates to the web. Discovery is all about gathering information and asking a lot of questions. The answers will serve as a reference for nearly every step that follows.

Clarification and Planning each consist of taking the information gathered and putting it together into documentation — the former into a Communication Brief and the latter into a Project Plan. This documentation is designed to communicate several topics clearly and concisely to both client and team:

  • What are the client's wishes and goals? What is the proposed plan to carry these out?
  • How much is the entire project going to cost, how is that cost broken down, and how many hours are allocated to each individual task?
  • Who are the team members, and what are their responsibilities?
  • What are the client's responsibilities?
  • What are the specific project deliverables (both client and team), when are they due, and what are the budgetary and scheduling impacts of missing deadlines?
  • How will the site be tested against audience needs?
  • What are the immediate measurable goals of the site redesign? What are the long-range goals for the site?
  • What, if any, are the technical requirements for complex functionality? (For these and other backend references, please see Chapter 9: Working with Complex Functionality.)

At the end of this defining phase, the preparatory materials are distributed at the kick-off meeting, atten ded by all team and key client members. The goal is to communicate clearly, to keep the members of the team aligned with the same goals and terminology during the life of the project, and to make sure no one is ever left guessing as to what comes next or when what comes next is due.

Gathering Information

Discovery is a thinking process. Its purpose is to allow team members to put themselves in the minds of the site's users and to understand as much as possible about the target audience(s), the company, the outgoing site, and the redesign project as a whole. To start, you need information. There are a lot of questions to ask; the surveys will get you going.

For more technical projects, especially those that require complex functionality (and therefore a backend), anticipate Discovery and Planning taking anywhere from a week with one tech-savvy person to several weeks or months with a team of engineers. For more information, see Chapter 9.

On the whole, Discovery can take one week or many weeks, depending upon budget and approach. The Discovery team can be one person or a posse of researchers. Regardless, Discovery starts with the Client Survey.

The Client Survey

Clients usually have clear business objectives, but are notorious for not having clear site objectives. And why expect them to? They are neither designers nor web experts. By asking clients the right questions, you guide them into aligning their business objectives with the constantly changing, evolving, and demanding web.

The Client Survey (available for download from www.web-redesign.com) should be a straightforward distribute/collect/analyze process. Distribution of the survey is the very first thing to do with a redesign project — with any web development project. Encourage feedback within a short timeframe.

Recommend to the primary client contact that the Client Survey be distributed to all decision-makers. Many organizations have several key players, and feedback from varying sources usually gives a broader feel for any project. It is the client's responsibility to manage this distribution and then to process all answers into one response for the development team to use. If you head an internal team, it is probably your responsibility to manage the Client Survey's distribution, collection, and consolidation.

Customizing the Client Survey

The Client Survey should be customized to be client- or industry-specific. If you are in-house and you know the company and industry well, certain basic questions can be eliminated and more in-depth questions added. In fact, if you are the project manager on an internal team, you may be filling out the survey yourself.

All projects differ in size, scope, and focus. The Client Survey asks for in-depth, but basic, information necessary for general site redesign. Using the Client Survey as a base, determine whether any additional information is required. Don't overwhelm the client with dozens of extra questions, however. If the client's eyes glaze over, it's likely you won't get even the basic information you need.

Analyzing the Client Survey

Once analyzed, the client-answered survey serves many purposes. You will refer to it regularly, especially to define site goals and to build schedules, the budget, and the all-important Communication Brief. It is, quite simply, the project's springboard.

When you are finished analyzing the Client Survey, you should have clarity on several points, concepts, and ideas:

  • Site goals. What are the overall goals of the site redesign? What is the primary business problem that will be solved (for example, increase traffic, increase sales)? What other goals will be achieved (decrease calls to customer service, create a more user-centric site)?
  • Audience. What are your audience profiles and demographics? A sample demographic includes occupation, age, gender, online frequency, connection speed, and online habits (the sites users visit and why, how often they purchase online, how web savvy they are). It also includes their type of computer, their browser, and where they live. An audience profile takes that demographic and puts a real name and person to it.
  • Redesign issues. What are the redesign issues and goals? Have a clear understanding of old site vs. new site in terms of usability, tone, perception, and message. Someexamples of uses for this list: to help create the Communication Brief, to review at the kick-off meeting, and as a check-off list during subsequent phases of development.
  • Tone. What is the client's desired tone and audience perception? Sophisticated? Sleek? Fun? Credible? Dependable? Inexpensive? Have a clear interpretation of this; you need it to write the Communication Brief.
  • Scope. What are the project boundaries from all angles including budget, schedule, creative vision, technical needs (including the extent of engineering needs), and overall size (as clearly defined as possible with existing knowledge)? You cannot create a budget without a defined scope.
  • Maintenance. What is the client's vision for future site updates? Formulate a basic idea of how often and to what degree the site will be updated. The Maintenance Survey will provide additional data.
  • Contacts. Who is involved on the project? Start a contact list for both the client and development teams. This should contain all contact names, email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and snail mail address (for deliveries and billing). Plan to keep this list updated and available on the password- protected client staging site (discussed later in this chapter).

Table .

EXAMPLES OF ADDITIONAL CLIENT SURVEY QUESTIONS

If promoting the site is a specific redesign issue/goal, try some of these additional questions:

If the redesign project will include a brand and identity overhaul, ask the client about the company's desired brand identity and how it differs from the current perception. Here are some sample questions:

  1. What methods of promoting your URL do you currently utilize outside your own organization both online and off? Do you currently have a way of monitoring and/or measuring traffic to your site? Is your site reliant on search results or keywords?
  2. How will your encourage site visitors to return to your site? What factors will motivate positive word-of-mouth solicitation?
  3. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term goals to increase traffic and awareness of your site?
  1. How would you describe your company's brand identity? What is the promise you make to your customers? How will this website help to fulfill this promise?
  2. What specifically do you want to communicate with your logo and brand? What kind of emotional response should the customer feel when they come to the website?
  3. Are you open to modifying or altering your current logo? How has the logo been modified over time?
  4. Who is responsible for maintaining consistency of the brand company-wide? Is this person also responsible for the website? Who has final approval over the logo and brand?
  5. If a new logo is required, please attach any examples (or URLs) of logos you feel effectively communicate that company's brand personality.

The Maintenance Survey

It may seem premature to address site maintenance this early in the redesign process, but it is far more streamlined in terms of effort and budget if the following is known early: the level of growth anticipated in the first 12 months following launch, and the post-launch plan, including who will be responsible for the updating (coding, project management, content management, and copywriting), and what skill level will be required for the actual coding. Please note that the Maintenance Survey (available for download from www.web-redesign.com) does not need to be filled out and analyzed prior to the project's kick-off, but it is an issue to consider before the site structure is set.

The client should answer the questions as thoroughly as possible, and the project manager should then use the results from this survey as a guide. By addressing these questions at the beginning of the project, you are able to plan in advance for maintenance needs once your redesign is live.

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