Recently, I was involved in creating and launching a brand new platform for one of my clients, alongside an in-house scrum team.
It’s fair to say that we learnt a few important lessons along the way, but it wasn’t until we were reviewing the website at a wash up meeting that it stuck me:
Businesses don’t often build a new piece of functionality entirely from scratch.
It’s only projects that fall outside of BAU that have to go through rigorous testing, meaning that in-house teams don’t usually get the chance to go through the whole process from beginning to end.
So, if you’re thinking about creating something new, something that falls outside of your usual technical constraints, here are our top five tips:
When you first design a new website, it’s hard not to get carried away, planning the best functionality and UX journeys to wow your users as well as your stakeholders.
But when you present your first demo, make sure that everyone in the room is clear about what they’re about to see.
It sounds simple, but you really need to manage expectations, because non-digital stakeholders don’t always understand the digital process.
If you’re stripping back your website to a minimum viable product (MVP) for a quicker launch – explain to stakeholders why you have removed certain features or design elements, and when they can expect to see them implemented further down the line.
There is nothing worse than going into a demo feeling excited and proud, only to be faced with a grilling because what you’ve built doesn’t meet with their (quite often, unrealistic) expectations.
You have been warned.
“While you’re at it, please could you add a link to our newsletter here, and a paragraph about our new launch, and a handy form so we can capture everyone’s data, and….?”
2. Beware of scope creep
New, exciting projects don’t come along every day, so it’s common for people around the business to take an interest in what you’re creating – which is a good thing.
However, it’s important to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of trying to please too many people.
A passing comment from a well-meaning colleague can send you off down a different route entirely, and before you know it, you’re including ‘essential’ elements for other departments that don’t meet your original criteria.
If you’re working on an MVP, stay strong.
You know exactly why you have chosen to build your site a certain way – hopefully with the input of key stakeholders.
Other colleagues can’t see the whole picture like you can, so don’t give them too much power.
By taking on suggestions from every interested party, you risk losing the purpose of your MVP, as it becomes mishmash of different elements.
As someone once said, if everyone adds his or her own splash of colour to a project, the end result will be grey.
3. Get your documentation in order
It’s not the most exciting part of the job, admittedly, but if you need ADA approval, make sure you get all your documents in order way in advance – it will save a lot of arduous form filling and waiting when you’re ready to go live.
Need a pen test? Plan ahead to work out when this will need to take place so you can get everything in order in plenty of time.
If you’re building a brand new piece of functionality or an entirely new website, make sure you know what’s needed in advance – around the time the first designs are agreed, if possible.
Have all relevant conversations early on to make sure you don’t get any nasty surprises that will compromise your launch date.
“Erm… what happened to the user-friendly form we were going to put in here…?”
4. Never sacrifice design and UX for functionality
Although it may not seem like it at the time, prioritising what can be built in the time given, over what the customer wants, needs or will respond to, can be disastrous.
UX and functionality need to complement one another, so it’s worth a lengthy conversation about exactly what’s needed and how it will look – before you get too far down the road.
Stripping everything back to a functional site is tempting to ensure you meet your launch date, but you’ll risk losing the impact and usability of the original designs.
Launching something that ‘works’ is one thing, but at the expense of the website being well received by the end user? Risky.
Remember, if you’re building an app for a human being, it’s nice if they can actually engage with it.
5. Do your research
Make sure you know what technology you need and work out how you will build your website before you start.
It might sound obvious, but you should really look into which CMS you’re going to use: what are its limitations, and how does it fit into your long-term plans?
If you’re starting small but aim to build new functionality over the next few years, make sure you choose systems that will support you at every stage.
It’s important that whoever will be using your CMS on a daily basis also feels comfortable finding their way around. A poor choice at the beginning of a project could have huge ramifications further down the line.
High-fives all round.
Being part of a brand new launch is exciting, but it can easily become overwhelming.
By keeping your goals in sight and lines of communication open, you can tread the fine line between keeping your stakeholders happy, giving the customers what they want, and making sure your team stays motivated.