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Lessons learnt as an agency website project manager

by , Marketing Manager, GatherContent

There are lots of challenges and pains to managing website projects, and having previously spent 5 years working with clients on their website builds and redesigns, I think I’ve faced them all.

I also overcame them and here’s a rundown of the lessons I learnt along the way, to help you make sure your website projects run smoothly and stay on track:

1. Question the brief

With the prospect of new work, there’s the tendency to get excited and go full steam ahead to get that project, but before you submit a proposal, inspect that brief from every angle. Here’s a quick checklist:

– What’s the project objective? Is it evidence based (on visitor interaction and results) or pie in the sky (internal opinions or feelings)? If it’s leaning towards the latter – what data can you seek to build a measurable goal from the brief. This will show the client your substance before you’re even in the door.

– What’s the budget? There’s no point sugar-coating when it comes to cash. If a budget is wildly unrealistic you’re better off addressing it at this stage rather than down the line. You can de-scope if required, phase implementation or suggest alternative ways for a stronger financial return for your client.

– Is the deadline realistic? Same story as budget, honesty upfront will prevent stress and anxiety when you’re knee deep in the project. Start as you mean to go on by managing expectations.

– Who’s doing what? Make sure that the roles and responsibilities are clear – will the client be supplying copy and photography, if not, who? And by when? Is that accounted for in the budget?

– Does the website need to integrate with any other systems? Does the client have a CRM system or any other software/services the website needs to talk to? Make sure a developer has had eyes on the project brief and technical specification to prevent any surprises once the project is underway.

Sense checking the brief gives you a clearer picture of the road ahead and if you have plenty of questions for the client, then that shows them you’re paying attention. My most memorable experience with a brief was when I challenged the client about their objective and we ended up delivering something completely different than originally asked, but that better served their business (fun fact, challenging the brief was also what won us the work).

2. Take the time to plan

If you’re in a project management role, hopefully planning is your happy place, but sometimes you will need to convince others that planning is required and jumping right into design won’t save time in the long run. You need to know your client’s audience and business as if you were part of it to make informed decisions and build an effective website. So don’t be nervous to book discovery time into the project plan. I always found gantt charts the easiest way to plan a project so you can be clear about the workflow required, dependencies and responsibility. Team Gannt looks like a good option these days.  

3. Always agree on a scope

A scope protects you when projects start to grow unexpected arms and legs. You must be clear about exactly what you will deliver – whether you base that on a number of hours, templates or another measure, make sure your client is clear on what they will get for their money. Don’t forget how many rounds of reviews this includes! For some projects it may also be wise to include an agreed contingency budget to give everybody a bit of breathing room for creativity if another opportunity presents itself as you get into the project. Upfront contingency budgets also make your clients lives easier as they won’t need to get budget approval a second time around.

Bonus Material! Grab a PDF copy of our 13 content questions checklist and start planning content for your next website project.

Download the 13 content questions checklist for your next website project

4. Get content as early as possible

I always felt like clients got most excited by the design phase of a website but it’s important not to jump ahead without giving content the attention it deserves. Without relevant, engaging content, the website will not deliver results. It can have the most beautiful aesthetic but it’s content and design together that will drive visitors to engage.

When you have completed your content audit and audience research, you’ll need a content plan that outlines each page or content section of your site, the purpose of the page, target audience, intended actions and content requirements. The earlier you get content planned and into production, the easier you’ll make your designer and developer’s lives by giving them real content to design and build for.

Before joining the team GatherContent, I was actually a customer! Whilst this is a plug it is absolutely true that I would never want to manage another website project without this tool. GatherContent makes content requirements clear with structured templates that you can invite clients to contribute to or review for approval. My favourite feature is workflow – you can apply a status to each item in your project so you always know what stage content is at, and what’s still to be done. If you aren’t already using GatherContent, join our weekly live demo to learn How to run a successful website content production process using GatherContent.

Plug over!

5. The client isn’t always right

This one can be tricky. For a start, I’m British and we Brits do like to be polite (try telling a Brit to jump a queue and watch the look of horror spread over their face!). However, just because customer service might traditionally have been founded within a “the customer is always right” ethos, this does not apply to website projects. Don’t forget they’ve employed you as a specialist to perform a role. If your gut tells you what a client is asking for isn’t the right move, speak up.

Website projects seem to invite vanity (“but my department HAS to be featured on the homepage”, “make the logo bigger!” etc.) but it is your role as a project manager to steer the course to deliver on your agreed objectives. Techniques I found most effective for navigating beyond bad client requests would be to revisit the content plan again and again. Does the request support it? Yes, great. No, OK – use your content plan that your client has signed off to show them why not. Your job is to advocate for the end customer, not your client – because ultimately if you deliver a website that pleases your client’s customers, you will also have a happy customer yourself.

Managing website projects is a challenging task, it involves carefully balancing many spinning plates but with patience, perseverance and GatherContent (I couldn’t not!) it can also be a lot of fun. The most satisfying element I found wasn’t the relief of an on-time launch but instead afterwards, reviewing how we’d performed against the goals set. Who doesn’t love smashing a target?

Good luck with your website projects!

About the Author

Marketing Manager, GatherContent

Becky is a Marketing Manager at GatherContent. She is a business studies graduate and has previously worked in digital marketing roles in both London and Aberdeen based agencies.

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