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The Website Planning Guide: Chapter 1 (Before the Project Begins)

“Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower


As an experienced COO and Project Manager, with 15 years of experience working with B2B clients of all sizes, I've encountered numerous website planning projects that have many of the same challenges in common. These are big, highly visible projects, both internally and externally and it is vitally important that you set yourself on the right course to succeed. We have decided to create a guide that will assist our clients as well as organizations going through a project like this to plan and execute successful web projects.

Throughout my career, I have witnessed how the absence of a well-thought-out plan and preparation at the outset can lead to project failures, missed deadlines, and increased costs. Often this happens with the best of intentions as once a project is signed off, everyone wants to jump in and get going. With this guide, I aim to address many of the common pitfalls that often go unrecognized as you embark on a project of this sort (or are only recognized when it's too late). The idea being that this will help stakeholders navigate the complexities of web development, identify potential pitfalls, and ensure that their web projects are delivered on time and within budget.

This will be the first chapter of three on the topic…


Preparation and alignment of expectations:

One of the biggest risks to a web development project is the potential for scope creep and misaligned expectations, both internally and with your agency. This can happen when your team's expectations for the project change over time, resulting in additional work for the development team. This is why it is incredibly important to speak with your agency to make sure you are aligned on expectations from the outset.

Personally, I have always appreciated the illustration below when we think about the quality, cost and speed of something. The idea being that you can have two of these, but never all three. So if it's fast and good, it won't be cheap, if it's fast and cheap, it won't be good, and so on. Being honest with yourself on this principle will serve you well in this process.

Some common issues that are worth keeping in mind:

  1. Aggressively negotiating on price whilst trying to maintain the same level of functionality rarely ends well for either party. It sometimes gives you the sense that you “won” but in reality it sets you on a path where it is an imbalanced partnership at best. It is better to be fair and realistic up-front so everyone knows where they stand.

  2. Same goes for timelines, be realistic and honest about your timelines and even more important, about what is driving them. Often clients do have justifiably fixed deadlines, with good cause. But equally there are often those who make up deadlines and make a project timeline needlessly tight which creates all sorts of knock on problems. We would much rather be honest up front and deliver on a realistic timeline vs. agreeing to an abbreviated timeline knowing there is a high risk of missing it, leading to some very awkward knock ons.

  3. If an agency's proposal seems surprisingly inexpensive than the others you have engaged in the process, this should also be carefully vetted to make sure they will deliver what you believe you need - “the poor man always pays twice” very much applies in this realm.


To mitigate this risk, it is important to clearly define the scope of the project in a project proposal or contract. This should include a detailed list of the features and functionality that will be delivered as part of the project. It can also be a wise idea to include within the estimated cost a contingency fund that is held separately that can be used for any unplanned changes to the scope so that cost is already factored into your marketing budget. 

It’s the classic, the more work you put in at the start, the easier it will be in the end. And we can help guide you through this. What often will set you up to fail is a poorly defined idea of what you want and then only starting to understand what you do want, when you see what you don't want.


Managing internal communications and buy-in on your team:

Another risk to a web development project is the potential for team members to become disengaged or lose motivation. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as unrealistic timelines, conflicting priorities, or a lack of clear communication. To manage this risk, it is important to ensure that team members are fully bought-in to the project from the outset and feel like they are consulted or informed on what is happening (RACI can be your friend here). This can be achieved by involving them in the planning process and keeping them informed of progress and any changes to the project.


Managing risk and common pain points:

There are many other risks that can arise during a web development project, such as technical issues, budget constraints, or changes in client requirements. To manage these risks, it is important to have a robust project management process in place. This should include regular check-ins with the whole team to ensure that everyone's needs are being met and any issues are addressed in a timely and direct manner. It is also important to have contingency plans in place for unexpected events, such as the loss of key team members or delays in the project. This is something our Project Management team excels at and will be key to successful delivery.


Validating and mitigating risk in your CMS decision:

One of the key decisions that a web development team will make is the choice of content management system (CMS). There are many different CMS options available, each with its own set of pros and cons - and many people have strong opinions on the good and the bad. 

To validate and mitigate the risk of selecting a CMS, it is important to do thorough research and consult with experts in the field. This may include reviewing case studies, speaking with other organizations that have used the CMS, and testing out the CMS in a development environment. Whatever CMS is chosen (we at Marcel are big fans of Umbraco), you should make sure you have consulted with all those within your organization that will touch the new system once it's in place. People have strong opinions about these decisions and the choices made will impact the organization for years to come - so worth doing the due diligence up front to make sure what you are doing is fit for purpose and those that influence the use of the system are consulted.


Maintaining clear communication:

Effective communication is key to the success of any web development project. To set expectations on both sides, it is important to have regular meetings with the whole team to discuss the progress of the project and address any concerns that either side may have. It is also important to be clear and transparent in what you know and what you don't know, and to be upfront about any potential issues that may arise.


Creating the right client team for delivery:

Finally, it is important to ensure that the right team is in place to deliver the project. This may include designers, developers, project managers, compliance and quality assurance specialists. It is important to have a team that has the necessary skills and expertise to deliver the project on time and to the client's satisfaction.

In conclusion, web development projects come with a range of risks that need to be managed effectively. By following the tips outlined in this article and partnering with a team you trust, you can help to minimize these risks and ensure the success of your project.


If you have an upcoming web development project you would like to speak with us about, please contact Kyle Brigham.

  • Web Development

  • Digital Strategy

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About the author

Tom Kelly

Tom has worked in digital marketing since he started his career over a decade ago, working across the project and account side of the business.