For many organizations, a website redesign is a huge undertaking. It requires a lot of time, effort, and collaboration to go from concept to completion. No one understands this complicated process better than a digital project manager, the main point of contact at an agency who is responsible for ensuring that the project remains on time and on budget.
In my more than six years as a PM, I’ve worked on projects big and small — some of them went off without a hitch and others seemed to stall at every turn. What have I learned from the trials and tribulations?
The website redesign process is often long and complex, but there are simple measures we can take to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. Reflecting back on the projects where everything didn’t go quite as planned has allowed me to identify what went wrong and why. Now, I’d like to share some of the most common problems that can derail a website project with you so that you can not only anticipate them but avoid them altogether. After all, a website redesign is an exciting time for many organizations, and it’s a lot easier to enjoy the creative aspects when you don’t have to worry about minor mishaps getting in the way.
The Problem: Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Feedback is an important aspect of the website redesign process that can cause unexpected delays in the project timeline. Throughout the project, there are key deliverables such as the sitemap, content outline, and wireframes that require detailed feedback in order for us to progress to the next step. Especially when dealing with a tight timeline, problems can arise when feedback isn’t communicated within the expected timeframe. For example, you may think you need 48 hours to turnaround feedback on initial wireframes, but that can quickly turn into two weeks when you sit down and try to coordinate schedules for a meeting.
The project kickoff meeting is when the feedback and approval process is discussed and when the timeline is finalized. It’s a great opportunity for clients to let us know how they work best and if certain team members’ schedules could potentially cause delays. However, it’s important to be realistic about how your team functions and not just plan for the absolute best case scenario. Because let’s face it, how often in life do things go exactly as planned?
The Fix: Open and Honest Communication
I can’t stress enough how important clear and consistent communication is for a project to be successful. It is my responsibility as a project manager to clearly communicate our expectations to the client, and I appreciate the same honesty from them. I’d rather you voice any concerns about the approval process early on rather than wait until the last minute and risk further delays.
The Problem: Decision-Maker Delay
Along with setting unrealistic expectations for when you can deliver feedback, another related problem involves gathering feedback from key decision-makers. I often see people wait until a deliverable has undergone multiple rounds of review before they show their bosses. The problem with this approach is that there isn’t always the time or budget for endless rounds of revisions. If you wait until a later date to bring your boss on board, it could have major implications for the project if they don’t agree with the decisions that were previously made.
The Fix: Bring Your Boss Along for the Ride
Don’t be afraid to show the final decision maker something that is still a work in progress. The best projects I’ve worked on have turned out well because the right people were in the room at every stage to make the necessary decisions.
The Problem: Confusion Around Functional Requirements
The functional requirements for a website tell our development team what the new site needs to do. These are the core operations that the site should be able to perform. For example, the functional requirements for a nonprofit’s website might include the ability for users to log in and see their membership status, make a donation, or complete a survey.
When functional requirements aren’t clear from the start, it can cause bigger issues further down the line. In order for the scope, budget, and timeline to be accurate, we need to know all of the technical requirements for the site ahead of time and if there are any external vendors on your end who will need to be consulted. Once we understand exactly what the site needs to do, we can then determine the best possible solution to make it a reality.
The Fix: Do Your Due Diligence
If you’re not a technical person, I recommend getting someone from your team who is involved in the website redesign process early on. When you involve more of the organization in the process, it increases the likelihood that all of the required functionality will be uncovered and clearly defined from the start. This will set our designers and developers up for success to deliver exactly what you had envisioned.
If you simply can’t find someone who is able to clearly describe the functional requirements, it’s often better to grant our team platform access so that we can do our own due diligence. Another great way to demonstrate the functionality you’re looking for is to provide examples of similar sites.
Lastly, if any external vendors are involved in the more technical aspects of your site, it’s a good idea to let them know ahead of time what will be expected from them and who their main point of contact from the agency will be. This way, they won’t be blindsided when they receive an email request (most likely from me) with an important deadline attached.
The Problem: Underestimating the Importance of Content
You can have a beautiful website with impressive functionality, but if the content doesn’t live up to the design, the message will get lost in translation. Over the years, I’ve seen countless clients underestimate how long it will take to populate their site with killer content. Don’t let this be you!
The Fix: Treat Content as King
Content should be more than just an afterthought. If you are responsible for the content portion of the redesign process, start gathering and creating images, copy, and other assets as soon as possible. Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to brush up on the fundamentals of whichever content management system your site will be built on. If you have an IT person on your team, now is the perfect time to consult them about the new system. This way, you’ll have a headstart when it’s time to import your content into the back-end of the site. But don’t worry if you still have questions, our team provides a CMS training session prior to launch day to ensure everyone is up to speed.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve taken a great first — and often overlooked step — as you embark on your website redesign project. Keep these four tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to a successful and stress-free launch day:
- Communication is key. Don’t be afraid to speak up early and often if something isn’t working for you.
- Web projects are a team sport. Get key stakeholders from your organization involved early on so they have a say in the final product.
- Have the right people in the room. If there’s a technical aspect of the site you don’t quite understand, it’s OK to ask questions or consult your IT team.
- The time to start thinking about content was yesterday. Don’t wait until after the design and development phases to figure out what content will live on the new site.