Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Please Do Not Build My Website Like I Ask You

Are You Disappointed With Your Website?

Your website is not meeting your objectives. Your surveys say that customers do not like it. Your employees feel the same. Yet, it was redesigned at great expense just last year. Your web committee produced a three page report listing all your requirements. You sent a request for proposal (RFP) to four agencies and awarded the contract to a very respectable one. You did all that and nevertheless, your website is not a success. Why? Could it be that your agency developed your website exactly like you asked?

2 Possible Reasons

First of all, and this is not to put down any members of your Internet committee, it is possible that the problem lies with your list of requirements. Did you make your objectives very clear? Were your target users well defined? Were your requirements really required? Did you forget any requirement? In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to really master a skill. Just like watching movies for years does not make me a movie producer, surfing on the Internet does not make anyone a web designer. That is why it is better to request help from true web professionals when drawing web requirements.

Secondly, when based on a wish list for requirements, the RFP process is a dangerous path. You must remember that proposals are evaluated on two things: price and the promise to deliver what was asked for. In such a context, it would be disadvantageous for agencies to include additional elements that increase the cost. Also, once the project is started, any good idea from the agency only reduces their profit margin.

The Construction Project Analogy

A complex construction project is usually broken down in three phases:
  • architecture plans;
  • engineering plans;
  • actual construction.
In the same manner, a web development project has three phases:
  • Strategy (where vision and scope are defined);
  • Design of solution (where the exact specifications for the site are defined);
  • Web development (including implementation).

Do you think a construction company would prepare a quote for an office building project before the architecture plans are completed? Certainly not! Yet this is often what is asked of web agencies.

What Should You Do Then?

Just like you start a construction project by hiring an architect, you start a web project by hiring an experienced web strategist (sometimes called web architect). This person should have expertise in business, in web technologies and in web development. Usually, a single person is enough unless your web project is very large (with a budget greater than 200,000$). Your web strategist will help you formulate your mission and objectives, your target users, your priority usage and will prepare the first draft of your content and features lists. He will also help you manage the scope of your website so that you remain within budget.

The web strategy phase usually costs between 10% and 15% of the total cost. The elements that will influence the cost the most are the speed of the decision process and the coaching required by the committee members.

What Do You Do After the Strategy Phase?

Once the web strategy deliverables are approved, they can be used in the RFP for the next phases. For large projects, it is preferable to award a contract limited to the next phase: design of solution. This is because the various options have not been analysed and therefore, it is not possible to precisely evaluate the cost of the development. For smaller projects, everything is simpler and it is not worthwhile to separate design and development. You should award a contract for the rest of the project.


Instead of listing your requirements yourself, it is more profitable to ask the help of a web strategist. He will accompany your team in the development of your strategy document which, in turn, will be the perfect input to the RFP for the rest of the project. The web strategist is not an extra cost. This is a job that needs to be done and it is that much less work that the web agency will have to do. But more importantly, the right decisions will have been made so that your website will be able to meet your business objectives.

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