Here's a dirty secret: If things aren't planned well, your website project likely isn't going to be finished within the original timeline...and everybody knows it before the project even starts.
I get it. The boss (or you, if you're the boss) wants to know how long this thing is going to take. Building or redesigning a website is not that different than say a typical home improvement project. They always take 50% longer than you thought and there are six extra trips to Home Depot, right? And those delays aren't necessarily anyone's fault, it's just what happens when you have any project with lots of moving parts and unforeseen issues that pop up.
The goal shouldn't be to plan to such an extreme level that you eliminate all uncertainty (that's not realistic), but rather to minimize as many risks and surprises as possible and be prepared to address and deal with those that remain.
While a good web design agency will help set expectations, manage timelines and project deliverables, there are plenty of ways that clients can make the project as successful as possible. Here's what you can do to help your website project.
Communicate your goals clearly to the entire project team.
What do you want to get out of this project? What does success look like to you? The key to knowing if the problem was solved is knowing what we're solving for.
Articulate who your target audience is and how your company solves problems for them.
That's the best way for your website team to translate that to the content, design, and features of your project. Who is using the website? What are they trying to do? How does your company help them do that?
Keep your internal team small.
More internal stakeholders = longer time to make everything happen. It's ideal to designate one person from your organization to be the lead and keep the decision makers list short; think 1-3 people tops.
Bonus Tip: Approach a website project with an open-mind and collaborative personalities. You may discover and identify designs, content or features that you hadn't even thought of.
Bring your best subject matter experts to the project interviews.
Having your internal subject matter experts share their knowledge of your company and industry are very valuable to the project team. Help them understand the expectations of their role within the project as a subject matter expert, not necessarily a designer or project manager. Keep them focused on sharing their knowledge of the business and customers.
Deliver feedback clearly and quickly.
A common challenge that companies run into early is losing valuable time by letting everyone in your company give their opinion. Feedback is one of the things that organization's can often overlook in terms of website design projects, and can be one of the foremost offenders of extending a project beyond it's original timeline. Plan time organizationally to review, provide feedback, and provide approvals and your project will move along at a good pace.
Also, consider the best way to deliver quality feedback to your design and development team. Telling the designer to 'make the logo bigger' or the developer to 'make it work like Amazon' doesn't give context as to why those requests are being made. Talk about why you feel the solution presented doesn't solve the problem, and ask what other ways it could be solved.
Make your website project part of your job.
We get it, you get pulled back into your regular job and let the website project site for a few days, weeks, or even months in some rare cases. This is another common issue that organizations have when approaching a redesign, is not allocating the appropriate resources internally to work with a web design partner. Instead, think about how you can assign a project lead within your organization, and quite literally make this project part of their job description for the duration of the engagement.
Be realistic with people's schedules.
It can be challenging to get everyone's calendars to align for a meeting. If it takes an extra three days to meet about something important, consider that those days get added to the project timeline. If scheduling conflicts are happen consistently and often, a project could be extended by multiple weeks.
Phase it out.
If you decide to wait to launch until every last little thing is 100% complete, those last couple of days can turn into a last couple of weeks or months. Instead, talk with your team about establishing an MVP (Minimally Viable Product) that you would feel comfortable launching, and tackle the rest in phased, future releases. Consider that your users don't know that you were planning a new leadership bios section. Roll that out next month and tout it as fresh, new content.
What else influences the timeline?
It's good to have an understanding of what determines a project timeline for a website design project. Here are some considerations:
There is a big difference in having an existing, professionally designed logo/identity and just handing your web designer a logo the marketing intern made herself in MS Word. The better and more defined the brand standards, the less work your web designer has to perform. With a well-defined brand and identity, web designers can dive right in; without it, you'll likely add a significant amount of time and even budget defining these items.
What image assets do you have?
Do you already have an extensive library of images that meet your brand standards? Or does your web design team have to hunt for stock images without much guidance? Do you need to hire a great photographer for a photo shoot first? Are those images clearly organized and labeled? Poor quality images or no images at all don't just affect the look, they affect the timeline.
What state is your content in?
More often than not, the content is the part that needs the most help. Creating good website content that is going to rank well on Google, but also convert visitors to leads takes skill and time, and everybody underestimates this part. Budget time for just dealing with your content - what you have, how much needs to be written and edited, etc. Then, double that estimate to be safe.
That's a lot of stuff.
You're right, it is. Nobody expects you to get the entire list 100% right. Shooting for 80% of the above will go along way towards success. Here's to your future website project happiness...