When we build a new website or redesign an existing site, the process can be broken down into three basic phases: discovery, design and development.
Without question, the most important of these sections is the first. It is in discovery that we learn the exact details of what our client is looking for. Beyond that, we meet key team members and learn roles and responsibilities as they relate to the website.
An incomplete discovery process almost always leads to an incomplete final product.
Photo by Climate KIC
How do you make sure your discovery reveals everything you need? It starts with the kickoff meeting.
Just as it sounds, the kickoff meeting is the official start to a project. In order to set yourself up for a smooth discovery, it’s critical to have the right people in that kickoff meeting. Who are the right people? You should always have at least one representative from the marketing department and IT. Each plays a critical role in a website’s existence. You should also consider what additional key stakeholders your business or organization has and whether they should be involved from the outset.
Let’s use a university as an example. Oftentimes, you will have someone(s) from marketing who does the management of the site, while someone on IT is responsible for the more technical aspects of the site. Both are actively engaged with the site, though. They know what works well with the site, what challenges exist and where improvement can be made. Ignoring one of those perspectives from the outset is asking to fail.
That being said, you should also consider involving someone from either the faculty or the school’s administration. Each of those audiences is pivotal to the university’s success, and their opinions should be heard.
I once worked on a site with a law firm that only brought representatives from the IT department to the kickoff meeting. They did not engage either the marketing department or any of the firm’s lawyers in any part of the discovery process. My colleagues and I warned against this, but the firm didn’t budge.
Once we were well into the design phase of the site, the team requested we make a formal presentation to some of the key attorneys, the marketing department and representatives from human resources. Throughout our talk, you could have heard a pin drop. Afterward we heard at least half a dozen people ask why they were never asked to be involved with the project.
People get outraged when they are primary users of a site and their thoughts and opinions are not considered. Additionally, when someone is involved in the kickoff or planning process of a website — or really any sort of project — they psychologically develop more of a responsibility or ownership of the project.
In the kickoff meetings, we have a series of questions that we like to ask, but one thing I always like to do is a collaborative sketch session. This helps us not only hear people’s opinions, but it allows us to envision things from their perspective. Without fail, every time I’ve introduced this exercise, I’ve heard from at least one person that they don’t know how to draw. The important thing to remember, though, is the exercise is not about drawing. It’s about getting ideas down on paper any way you can.
Soon after the kickoff, we like to host key stakeholder interviews. While this may seem repetitive since we already talked to people at the kickoff, the reality is there are almost always people who prefer to be quiet in a group setting, and others who may not be willing to share their complete thoughts in front of others. These one-on-one interviews offer the chance for stakeholders to speak candidly about the site and the processes behind it.
One of the most important details we learn during discovery is who does the day-to-day management of the site. We get to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and we can take that information into account as we build the back end of the site. One of the great things about Drupal is that you can set the backend up with key stakeholders in mind. For example, we had one client whose site admin was not “a Drupal guy.” We worked with him to understand where his skills were strongest, and then we were able to build a solution that was based on his skillset.
- As you can see, that initial kickoff meeting is crucial for the fate of the project, but there are three other points during the course of the project where everyone from the initial meeting should check in:
- After the sitemap has been built so that everyone can confirm that content is structured correctly • After design so that everyone can approve the visuals that will be used
- Before launch so that quality assurance can be conducted and confirm that the site fits everyone’s needs
If you’re in the early process of a website build or redesign, think about your key stakeholders. Were they in the kickoff meeting? Have their voices been heard? If not, push pause on the project and get them involved immediately. It will definitely be worth it in the long run.