Recently I spoke at a Nonprofit Communicators Workshop hosted by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the International Association of Business Communicators Minnesota Chapter. The topic was what to expect from a web redesign. Scott Anderson, one of the co-presenters, shared five things to know about working with a web developer. I caught up with Scott afterward to ask a few more questions and share his wisdom with Idealware's audience.
You said it can be useful to meet with a consultant or web developer prior to defining the web redesign project. Why is that helpful?
There are a couple of big reasons to engage a developer or technology consultant early in the planning process.
First, it can sometimes be hard to guess the level of complexity--and associated cost--of certain requirements you may have. Two tasks might sound roughly equivalent but in fact be vastly different from a technical perspective. So it can help you make informed decisions about which "wish list" features to keep as you narrow things down.
The other benefit is kind of the flip side of that. A technology expert may know of possibilities you hadn't even considered. That could be either slight twists on your original ideas that are simpler to implement, or it could be completely new ideas that extend beyond what you may have thought possible.
Could you share a specific example of what an organization learned or changed from meeting with a consultant early on, before staring a web redesign project?
We had a client who really wanted to create a seamless integration between the WordPress website we were building and an industry-specific software tool they were using in their offices. They brought us in during the planning phase as a consultant, and we worked with them and the software vendor to determine that the seamless integration wasn't technically possible without a huge expenditure for custom development. But we were then able to suggest a hybrid alternative option that, although it was somewhat less than ideal, met their requirements and was substantially less expensive.
You also talked about a Request for Information (RFI). How is an RFI different from an RFP, and what should be in it?
An RFI is sort of a "pre-RFP." When you get to the RFP stage, the assumption is that you've already done your homework; you have a basic plan in place for the project and you're looking for a partner to help you implement it. With an RFI, you're saying, "We don't have a plan yet." It's about exploring ideas, and getting suggestions from tech experts to help you to refine what you're looking for.
In my experience an RFI takes a fairly similar form to an RFP. In terms of overall structure the documents are virtually the same. The key difference is in establishing expectations: 1) that respondents are simply providing information to help in the planning process, rather than a bid for the project, and 2) that there is more flexibility for (or an active solicitation of) input and suggestions on scope, platform, budget and timeline.
What are the most important decisions to be made before starting to work with a web developer?
The most important thing is to understand what your ultimate goals are--but also to be open-minded about how you get to those goals. Recognize the strengths you bring to the table, as well as those of your potential development partner. Focus on identifying the problems that need solutions, and work with the developer to figure out what those solutions are.
Beyond that, it's about establishing realistic expectations, specifically on budget and timeline. Have your internal processes worked out so your time with the developer can be as efficient as possible.
Any other advice to add?
Don't be afraid to ask questions. And don't be afraid to push back if you don't like the answers! But be realistic and understand that the developer is there to bring in expertise you don't have internally. I often refer to an experience a print designer friend shared with me. A client had asked for a seven-page brochure. Of course this meant a blank page at the end! It took considerable effort to explain that such a thing was physically impossible. So, recognize that there are practical limitations to everything. But since the limitations aren't always that clear cut, it never hurts to ask.
For more guidance on how to plan your website redesign project, download Idealware's free workbook.
About Scott Anderson
Scott has been a web professional since 1996, working in a variety of industries including nonprofits, publishing, travel, e-commerce and client services. In 2008 he established Room 34 Creative Services as a way to focus on working with clients whose work makes a positive difference in the world, especially nonprofits and cooperatives committed to environmental sustainability and social progress. Scott believes in using the Internet as a tool for empowerment and engagement, and achieving these aims through easy-to-use content management systems and responsive design for mobile devices.