Effective planning and management for website projects is what makes the difference between a resounding success and a neverending project with an unsatisfied client.
Keeping a project in check and on schedule isn’t easy, especially as you have more than one website underway at once. This is a given. Things get more complicated as you grow, but it goes far beyond maintaining a high standard of work.
You should expect clients themselves to present challenges.
Working with clients always introduces uncertainty and additional complexity. This is part of what makes running an agency an interesting challenge, but – unless you get the right systems and processes in place – you’ll also quickly lose control.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about planning and managing website projects, including:
- The Role of Project Management In Web Design & Development Projects
- Project Management Methodologies
- Defining Your Method
- The Phases Of A Website Project
- After Action Report – Put These Strategies In Practice For Your Next Project
The Role of Project Management In Web Design & Development Projects
Nobody is questioning the importance of the role of project management in web design & development projects.
With the complexity involved, any project that proceeds without proper planning, systems, and processes is guaranteed to either fail or be a success only at the very end of a long, excruciating process.
Although project management aims to achieve a number of critical elements to success, including:
- Breaking down requirements into an initial project scope.
- Defining timelines and milestones.
- Resource allocation.
- Setting expectations surrounding feedback workflow.
- And more…
What it can’t do is fix people problems.
If you take on a project that your team doesn’t have the skills to deliver on, no amount of project management is going to save you from that situation.
You can’t project manage yourself out of a business problem.
In short, project management is what will allow you to:
- Scale your business (team and revenue)
- Remain profitable and improve profitability as you scale (revenue per employee)
- Reduce the number of responsibilities that fall entirely on one person (i.e. often the owner and increase peace of mind)
In order for that to be possible, a prerequisite is that you hold an incredibly high bar for your own work (and that of your team) as a byproduct of which you will be able to deliver on the expectations.
Project Management Methodologies
Anyone who’s been in project management for a while will have heard of the different frameworks & methodologies there are. This most commonly includes:
There’s no denying that familiarizing yourself with these is important – if you haven’t already.
They’ve set the foundation for a ton of the principles that incredible companies use. Basecamp’s Shape Up methodology is, in many ways an adaptation of agile designed to fit the way they do their best work.
Note: We find it very important here to consider that all of these methodologies are generic rules and guidelines. No company is the same as the next – you want the way you work to suit your company, your clients, and, of course, the people that you have on your team. In fact, a big part of why certain companies are considered incredibly successful in project management is because they don’t label themselves as “an agile company” or a company that is “obsessed with kanban”. These are just tools they may lean on, and the bigger methodology, approach, and mindset should be an adaptation of what enables your team to do the best work, all while working closely with clients to keep them happy.
Method #1 – Agile
If you’re unfamiliar with the Agile methodology, you’ve likely come across the concept of breaking down projects into cycles or sprints. This is very common and how most companies with an engineering & product division operate, including us. Beyond this, the original manifesto also outlines four core values and twelve key principles:
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiations
- Individuals and interactions over tools and processes
- Prioritize responding to change over following a plan
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
The high-level overview of this which is directly applicable to website projects is taking a customer-first approach.
Although prioritizing responding to change over following a plan is more nuanced when clients and budgets are involved, ultimately managing this expectation and working with clients to make sure that despite changes to plans, the end result is still something that meets the requirements.
Method #2 – Scrum
The Scrum framework also breaks development cycles into sprints. Each “sprint” is of a specific length – such as two weeks. A leader, often known as a Scrum Master, breaks tasks down and assigns them to different teams.
They are responsible for delivering something during each sprint. This is a more collaborative approach since developers are required to discuss:
- Exactly what they are going to work on each day
- What they completed yesterday
- An update on what (if anything) is blocking progress
This concept of check-ins is one that most companies have adopted, especially in the context of distributed teams (where people work across time zones). We highly recommend implementing a system that involves checking in daily (in written form, not meetings).
Method #3 – Kanban
Kanban is another popular method that most teams adopt as a part of how they work. The name is a Japanese term for the word billboard (or signboard) so as you may expect – this approach focuses on dividing work into stages and visualizing them as distinct columns:
- Backlog / Triage
- In Progress
Most project management software makes it possible to track the progress of work using kanban. We’re big believers in this approach purely from a management perspective to have a high-level overview of the status that all work is currently in.
Tracking tasks through the stages in a kanban view is something that can be done directly in Atarim.
Defining Your Method
The three methods covered above are only three of many more project management methodologies out there.
The three methods covered above are three of many more project management methodologies out there.
Others include: waterfall and critical path.
But giving you an overview of each high-level methodology isn’t particularly useful. You really want to look inwards as you plan to improve processes and systems and make changes that suit the way you are able to work not the way that companies with potentially 10x the headcount work.
To do this, let’s break things up into what is going to be characteristic of every web design & dev project you’ll ever work on or be a part of in some form:
The project is going to change as you go.
This is a given. And it’s so common there’s even a name for it – scope creep.
We have a complete guide on how to address scope creep & minimize it that covers everything from how to communicate changes and deal with clients when things start to take longer than initially planned.
In short, the most important takeaway is: scope creep isn’t bad unless you allow it to be.
You should never approach new ideas or extra work with negativity, regardless of whether you’re working with clients or on an internal project. Ultimately scope creep arises as a result of changing requirements. Your end goal shouldn’t really be a completion as fast as possible at all costs.
Your end goal should be achieving a balance of completion, efficiency, and satisfaction.
To actually operate in this way (especially when working with clients) – we always suggest starting scoping based on what is considered absolute must-haves.
If clients aren’t sure of this, this is your role as the expert to advise them on. Letting them know that defining something as an absolute must-have doesn’t mean that anything that isn’t considered an absolute must-have won’t happen.
And then add any ideas that come up into an icebox for future implementation if there is scope left at the end.
It’s very important to make sure that you document the nature of the request at the time it is made because this is when they are going to be most relevant to the person requesting them. Meaning, make a note of what they were thinking and why they originally made the request.
Towards the end of the project, regardless of whether there is scope left or not, refer back to the icebox – leading with:
Here are some of the requests/ideas/suggestions that we documented throughout the project for consideration.
We currently have scope left to tackle approximately 5 of your choosing – let me know if you have any thoughts.
- Have an open discussion with your client (or the stakeholders for the project).
- Share the document (or present it in a meeting, depending on the type of client relationship).
And the chances are if you’ve done a good job of working with them so far and they have been pleased with your process. They’ll actually turn around and say:
Actually, we’re interested in doing 15 of the 30 on here because we consider them important – could you send us an updated quote for tackling these 15?
- Idea #1
- Idea #2
- Idea #3
Notes / thoughts / considerations:
- Don’t do this for every small, minuscule change, as clients will just see it as you being inflexible and very exact with the amount of time allocated, which they’re definitely not going to appreciate.
- Use it as your opportunity to showcase how well you were listening to their requests and documenting.
- Use it to set expectations surrounding how long some of the things they requested take – breaking down what initial implementation can look like, etc., to show that you’re capable/ready to take them on.
- Don’t shoot down ideas that clients have for no reason.
You will never achieve 100% certainty surrounding what the end result is.
Just because 100% certainty isn’t guaranteed doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive toward it.
It’s a given that there is going to be changed along the way so make sure you have the process to document that.
And, work towards defining as complete of a scope as possible initially. Gathering all requirements upfront and consulting with the people that will be responsible for the design and development on any potential concerns.
Note: This is a common mistake we see where agency owners/CEOs run sales calls but don’t have the technical expertise to consult on what exactly the implementation will look like. You need to include your team in discovery.
Your stakeholders need to be involved at every stage.
The best designers and developers also excel at communication and dealing with people.
However, in reality, lots of you who run or work in an agency may be exceptional at producing the best possible work but not truly enjoy communicating with people.
And this shows. If you work on projects that aren’t your own, i.e., with clients or with a team, this will affect the end result.
So, as much as you want to work in isolation, fight that urge.
Communicate with transparency and be candid from day 1.
In fact, open up your process to clients or other teams in your organization who will have input on the end product early on.
The more feedback you get, the better.
Now, if that sentence sounds overwhelming to you at all – it means that you don’t have the right system to deal with feedback. Collecting feedback should never feel like something you have the urge to avoid doing for as long as possible.
This is one of the reasons we created Atarim, which makes it possible to visually collaborate on any website in the world.
Processing dozens of requests shouldn’t involve the havoc of:
- Jumping across email, WhatsApp, Google Docs, Messenger, Slack, and every platform you can imagine.
- Asking what device someone was using.
- Asking what browser someone was using.
- Asking each person what screen size and resolution they used at the time they encountered whatever they saw.
It should feel effortless. And with Atarim, it does.
Centralizing communication to one central source of truth (that works visually in the way Atarim does) makes a huge difference in your ability to collaborate with clients early on and for you to focus your resources on making any changes instead of on needless back & forth communication.
Things are going to take longer than you expect them to.
In any project, there is always uncertainty.
This is particularly true for web design projects, especially when they involve working with clients.
Plan for things to take longer than you expect.
And take every measure possible to minimize uncertainty as early as you can. One of the easiest ways to do this if you feel that uncertainty is the key reason you find executing successful web design projects difficult is:
Aim not to take on projects where more than 20% of what is being done is something that you haven’t done before (and that 20% should also still be stuff that you are comfortable and confident that you are going to be able to do).
For some designers & developers out there, 20% may sound on the safe side. And if you’re confident that you can deliver, sometimes going for the project anyway is the answer – we obviously can’t make that judgment call for you. But the more you can eliminate uncertainty in your business, the sooner you’ll be able to improve your agency’s profitability.
And the other controllable element here is ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of your process which should cover that:
Feedback and improvement are continuous.
That you strive for V1 and iterate vs. perfection from day 1. This is again a balance and strongly depends on the nature of work, but you generally want to make sure that your vision of how the project will be approached in terms of considering something “complete” is aligned with the other people that are involved and ultimately paying the bill.
Prioritize efficiency over perfection and iterate.
The 6 Phases Of A Website Project
Now that you should have some clarity into how you intend to define your approach to work – let’s break things down further into the individual stages of a website project:
Phase #1 – Discovery & Scoping
The first step, regardless of whether you’re working on an internal project or a project with a client is getting as clear of a picture as possible of what you’re working towards.
Now, if you work with clients – your onboarding process may include paid discovery. Though, in any case, the general direction you want to take with this conversation is to start with these simple questions:
- What is the goal of this project?
- Are there any examples that you’d like to share with us from competitors or similar companies in the industry?
- What is the budget?
- What is the ideal deadline?
From there lead the conversation towards documenting as much of the known unknowns as possible. Get as much as you need to be able to go away and proceed to the next stage, where you plan and define the project’s scope.
We also highly recommend roughly aligning on expectations at this stage. While you can’t perfectly align until the project, scope is defined – there should already be a good sense of:
- Preferred deadlines
- The client’s budget
- What’s the client trying to accomplish?
- Do they have specific examples?
- Your process, how you work & communicate
Remember: at this stage any communication is going to set the stage for client expectations surrounding how frequently they should expect updates, etc.
Phase #2 – Planning
If you’re giving estimates on timelines/schedules, you should be basing this on experience in past projects.
Set out the timeline for the overall project so you know when you will have the capacity for more work – this is crucial for you to be able to plan properly.
Divide the project into milestones (also tied to payment terms). There are a number of approaches to this and the way you do it will depend on the size of the project.
Underpromise. Overdeliver. It’s effective, but it carries a risk. If the client finds another agency that does the same job quicker, they’ll probably take their business elsewhere.
That’s why the best approach is to be as transparent as possible and define your delivery estimates at the start. Before you begin the project, you should know how many resources will be allocated, any tools required, and any content or deliverables that you’ll need from the client.
Factor all of this into your project estimate.
You will want to consider any past projects that you’ve completed which are similar to this one. And it always pays to add a buffer in case of budget overruns instead of having to approach the client again and again to explain the increase in initial expenses in order to complete what was originally planned as work that is in scope.
Phase #3 – Building
Now comes the exciting part.
This is where you and your team do your best work.
Throughout this phase, you want to be very open in communicating when something is:
- On Track
- At Risk
- Off Track
The earlier you do this, the more respect you are going to earn from clients. They don’t expect you to be perfect but they expect you to know how to deal with things when they aren’t perfect & be transparent.
Note: we also suggest that in order to make it possible to track the profitability of your agency over time that you have people on your team (including you) track time on individual things they are working on specific to the project.
Phase #4 – Improvement
At this stage, you should be 80-90% complete with everything that was in the initial scope.
Simply adding the finishing touches and allowing all stakeholders to leave any feedback.
And getting ready to pick stuff up from the icebox for future implementation if you have the ability to tackle any of those
Work on maintaining the momentum & pushing the project the extra 10-20% of the way there.
Phase #5 – Finalization & Launch Preparation
Now that the site is considered ready to launch – you should run through your list of final checks. This will vary based on your tech stack but should include:
- Testing. Checking everything on the site, contact forms, etc.
- Client and team training. Training the team/people that are going to be using the new site on how it works.
- Analytics setup. GA, etc. Or preparation to launch tracking on the new site once it is pushed to production (if this is a redesign/rebuild).
- Conducting an SEO audit. Good solutions for this include ContentKing, Sitebulb, and Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
Phase #6 – Ongoing Improvement
The final phase, which carries onward into any ongoing engagements that you have with clients, is – improvement.
This is your opportunity to get the best clients onto a retainer where you continue to work with them, in the form of advisory, managing their hosting, and continuing to work through the list of requests out of scope with the capacity to tackle a certain amount per month.
After Action Report – Put These Strategies In Practice For Your Next Project
The management related to website projects doesn’t stop once a site launches. In fact, this is when the big progress really happens – once it is in the hands of real users.
We highly recommend using a system specifically designed for the purpose of working with clients and then continuing to make it easy to gather requests all in a single place.
This is why we built Atarim. A visual collaboration platform designed to help designers, developers, and clients work together more efficiently. Learn more & get started.
Think of it as a project management platform designed specifically for website projects connected to a frontend visual feedback system that simplifies the process of gathering requests into pointing & clicking for your clients.It’s about time to eliminate the back-and-forth communication and streamline your operation. Any questions? We’re here to help – simply email email@example.com or chat with us using our on-site messenger.