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First of All Ask Why?
Don’t just redesign because you want it to look different – but define some specific things that a new redesign is going to achieve. It might be to generate more leads or revenue. Or, it might be to save money on customer support issues. Or, it might be a new business altogether. The key is to define a set of strategic goals that determine the compelling reasons for why the site will be redesigned.
Once you’ve thought this through, consider developing an “official” document which will explain the project and its desired outcome in detail. This Project Definition will be your requirements document as you gather all of the desired outcomes and new capabilities, and start to map them against a set of features, functions and services that you’ll require from your chosen solution. Many larger organizations choose to outsource the Project Definition phase to consultants with either vertical expertise and/or previous site design experience.
* The Scope of the Project: What this project will entail (wholesale change or design tweak).
* The Business Goals of the Project: What we will achieve from a business point of view and how we will measure the success of the project.
* The Key Deliverables: Is there a new Web site and a new CMS, or just a new site, are there other functional items?
* Key Assumptions Being Made: What key assumptions need to be made and dependencies outlined in order to satisfy the above deliverables.
* Key People Involved: The key people and their role on the project.
* Functional Business Requirements of the Project: These are the key benefits, not specific features. (e.g. “drive more leads and Search Engine friendly pages” NOT “XHTML compliant output”)
* Functional Technical Requirements of the Project: Keep these high level for now – but capture any critical items (e.g. must be Microsoft based, or must be able to scale separate of Web traffic).
* Cost and Duration of the Project: Your budget and time line.
Once you have developed the Project Definition, there will typically be a natural prioritization in terms of the features, functions and services that your organization will require. Separate these, both in the document and in your selection process, into “product features,” and “services/vendor” requirements. For example, you may have a strong need for implementation services, because your IT team has limited bandwidth or, in the case of some smaller organization is non-existent. Or, you may have strong product feature requirements such as workflow and auditing needs because you are in a regulated industry.
When You Hire Your Vendor – Get Ready to Do It All Again
Most web design vendors will want to walk through some version of what they call “discovery.” This will be a very similar process to the one you’ve already been through internally. But it’s good to do it again for a couple of reasons. The first is that you’ve missed something – guaranteed – and the design agency will help you find it. The second, is that you’re about to embark on a long journey with your new partner – and making sure that you are 100% on the same page is a sure way to make sure your project is successful.
The deliverable from this process will be a final statement of work, timeline and budget estimate from your vendor. This shouldn’t be a 500 page document – but it should be an agreed upon framework of solutions and tactics for how to get there. It should detail the breadth of scope and priorities for phase one.
Don’t Skip the Information Architecture Phase
There is a very large tendency to skip the Information Architecture phase in any redesign project. The thinking typically goes “well, our current content works now, so we can just apply that to the new design.” Don’t. It’s key to developing a site that scales well, can be implemented into a CMS well and that performs well over a long time.
You certainly wouldn’t redesign your house without researching construction permits, or hiring an architect to draw out the blueprints for the renovations. The information architecture is a key piece of a web redesign project. Find out what’s going on with your web site traffic. Examine the traffic patterns and look at your content. Match up the IA with your business goals and don’t skip this very important step.
Develop a Close Relationship with Your Content. It’s Quality not Quantity
A website redesign is the best time for a content audit. Once you know more about your users’ expectations and needs start to review and reorganize your website content. After you start auditing your web content, you’ll be able to assess the gaps between the current state of your website and the information architecture that will best serve your users.
Don’t Try to Launch Everything the First Time
Learn from Google, and launch small, iterative functions for your site frequently. New features and ideas will come up during the design process, and resist the urge to add to the scope at this stage. Get something up and live – and then go back and start to work on the next iteration.
Plan for Life After Launch
A well-implemented, but poorly maintained web site redesign will lead to a bad Web site over time. For sites that change frequently, this can happen quickly. It’s sadly ironic that the reasons for the web site redesign – to be more ef¬fective and easier to manage can also be that site’s eventual degradation.
Imagine an IT department who has a dedicated group of web experts; always ready to respond to any request by a Web site manager to adjust the CMS, fix the lead management, adjust the SEO, fix the design, and so on. Unfortunate¬ly, in most cases, this simply isn’t possible. Having an expert integration firm hanging around and writing a new scope of work for every system change can be untenable as well – even if you can find one willing and available to work on a site over many years.
An internal service is often used, but as we’ve said, it can be difficult for an internal group to develop expertise in the application and find free developer time, especially when rapid changes are required over and over again. But wait, didn’t we just say it’s a requirement to have good support and maintenance, of course, these problems are solved to a great extent by the software as a service (SaaS) model. But most organiza¬tions haven’t moved in that direction yet, and need to find a balance between internal service levels and cost/resource availability.
All too often web site redesign projects are taken way too seriously. This should be a fun and interactive process for everyone – and can be extraordinarily successful for the organization. If you set expectations early, manage the project closely – and make sure everyone communicates – the process can be a really enjoyable one.
Choosing the software and services solution will truly strengthen your business. It will not only create efficiency for the Web site management process, but (depending on your business) provide you with a number of opportunities to create competitive advantages, revenue opportunities and new avenues for customers and partners to communicate with you through your Web site.