A few years back at Chicago Digital, we were having several problems managing our web design projects.
I had the mindset that certain issues were just a reality that we needed to accept. We didn’t know there was another way and it wasn’t until I started redesigning our own company website, that I began to demand we do things differently, and better.
At the time we were primarily using Microsoft Word for storing content and Basecamp to organize tasks. I started researching other tools that might help reduce some headaches. When I came across GatherContent I found what has become one of my favorite tools over the past 7 years. The best thing about discovering GatherContent wasn’t even the tool itself, although I will go into more detail on how essential it has been, but it was the idea that we should be gathering content before we begin building out the site. Taking our projects content-first. This was a game changer.
Four project management problems
The main problems we needed to fix are likely things you have experienced as well, especially if you work with a web development team.
1. No central place to store and find information
Without an established central location for ALL project details, mistakes and confusion are inevitable. Our team was regularly having to depend on the project manager for information regarding specifications, which limited our ability to get things done efficiently and painlessly.
2. Confusion over the project goals
When those working on the project were not clear on our client’s objectives, opportunities were being missed to deliver the best product possible. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and a synergistic team almost always creates a better product than a fragmented team.
3. Maintaining long-term support
Once a website has been deployed, and the client has been handed over the keys to run and manage it however they wish, our clients depend on us to help guide them in the right direction if they steer off course. Unfortunately, if the website’s documentation isn’t consistently being created and centrally stored, our ability to easily resolve issues deteriorates over time.
4. Excessive revisions for the development team
Designing and developing a website without having the content ahead of time is essentially creating a template and then jamming the content in. Not only does this reduce the value-add of creating a custom site for a client, it increases the chances they won’t be fully satisfied with the end-product. This of course meant we were spending more time on revisions, which was eating away at profitability.
Restructuring our process
I don’t want to claim to have some universal truths on how a web design project should be managed, some problems are going to be unique to the way we run our business. But I will say that after implementing a new approach to project management, we have seen a significant difference in the profitability and team morale.
The Waterfall Model
We use a somewhat traditional approach of project management called the Waterfall Model. Like an assembly line, one area must be completed to move on to the next. The restructuring that opened my eyes to how much better project management could be, was pushing the Content Phase before the Development Phase.
Regardless of whether you follow the Waterfall Model or a more agile approach to your projects, where you have smaller, more iterative cycles, you will see the benefits of pushing your content to the beginning of the project.
How we use GatherContent
GatherContent has given my team a central place to organize all the information we need to build a website. It has also reduced team confusion and has helped us provide better long term support for our clients.
Using GatherContent has resulted in some key benefits:
- Makes the project process more enjoyable
- Reduces the amount of revisions to the website after the website is developed
- Makes it easier for the developer to build the website by having final content, meta info, and implementation notes for every page
- Holds the client accountable for providing the final content and signing off on how the functionality should work for every page
- Keeps the project team more organised across multiple departments (sales, project manager, design, development, marketing, and support)
- Provides complete documentation for projects which assists in the support team handling requests after the site is built
- Makes it easier to minimise scope creep
The Content Phase process requires heavy collaboration and a skilled project manager. An overview of the steps involved are as follows:
- After mapping out all the site pages, we work with the client to store all relevant content within the outline.
- Once we have collected all the content, we review it with the client to make sure we understand fully how we want the site’s functionality.
- GatherContent makes it easy to add all information your team needs to complete the project. We attach the design mockups along with notes on the content pages for the development team so they can understand the client’s objectives and project requirements.
Example page content (left) and implementation notes (right) for Young Chicago Authors Project.
Website Guide (left) keeps all the information our team members need to know about the project organized. Project Profiles (right) is a collection of the questionnaires we fill out with the customer during the discovery phase.
Cash flow and profitability
Back loading the project timeline hurts cash flow
When working on a web design project, we get a certain percentage of the payment at the beginning and the remainder after the site is deployed. Say you get 50% payment up front and have completed 95% of the work, with the remaining work waiting on the client to deliver their content so you can go live. This could take weeks, months, or even years! This can create a major cash flow issue. Putting content ahead of development ensures that when we complete the design and development (which is the majority of costs in a project) we are able to collect the final payment shortly after.
Don’t forget your fixed-costs
We often overlook how our fixed costs eat away at our profits the longer a project is stretched out. For example, a 40-hour project that takes 1 month to deliver has ¼ the overhead costs of rent, utilities and software licenses than a project that took 4 months to complete. Once it is established that your team does not begin development until all content is provided, a funny thing happens psychologically with your client and you often end up receiving the content much faster than you would otherwise. The less time is takes to complete, the higher profit margins for the project.
So, what is the key to saving your sanity and bottom line? Collect all your content at the beginning of the project, and keep it stored in a central place, like GatherContent, that is accessible for both the client and development team.
To learn more about our approach to managing web projects, check out my recorded webinar for Adobe Business Catalyst.