Many web projects either run over time, over budget or both. There are a range of strands involved in building or migrating a website including different teams, different systems and different processes. And these need to align to make the project run as smoothly as possible from kick-off to go-live.
As a live project runs alongside other business responsibilities, it’s likely the scope of your website will change, and deadlines may move along the way. However, changes in deadlines can impact your objectives and, more importantly, your budget.
As the most common web project pain point, we’ve gathered the thoughts of our teams as to why websites don’t go live on time so you can avoid this happening to you.
A good contract is critical to getting things off to a smooth start. We recommend allocating additional time for contract negotiations between stakeholders prior to project kick-off as it can often take longer than expected to come to a final agreement. Business Development Manager, Eleanor Papadimos, provided her thoughts on the subject:
“Contract negotiation takes time, and clients almost never factor it into their timeline. They envision selecting an agency and then immediately starting work. This never happens. My best advice is factor the legalities into your timeline and get those terms and conditions with your legal team ASAP. Or at least warn them they’re on the way so they can put time aside.”
2) Poor Prioritisation
You can’t have everything at once. Many businesses begin a web project with unrealistic expectations which makes prioritisation even more important. Failure to prioritise can result in scope creep as every aspect remains a priority rather than being worked through and completed in phases. This approach can also create an endless spiral. Businesses end up trying to do too much at once which uncovers even more complexities and delays the project further.
Jonathan Healey, Managing Director, believes this is one of the largest hindrances for web projects: “The more stuff you build, the more complex the solution, the more risk and the more delays. Delays increase exponentially with increased scope. There’s nothing wrong with launching something small and continuously iterating.”
UI Engineer, Amit Singh, also agreed that project prioritisation is one of the most overlooked elements of a web project:
“One of the biggest reasons go-lives are delayed is due to poor prioritisation. Scope will always end up changing during the build of a project. It’s inevitable. But it’s prioritising these changes that makes all the difference. Instead of believing everything is super important and has to be completed before go-live, in reality, some things can be completed post-launch, or in a second or third phase.”
An effective way to prioritise your project is in phases, considering the must-haves and nice-to-haves. Focus on the must-haves in phase one and add additional features, functionality and refinements in future phases or within your retainer.
3) Content Management
We all know content is King, and if the main purpose of your site is to share relevant and valuable content, then you should consider it long before embarking on your web project. All too often, we see businesses waiting until the later stages of their project to sign off content which inevitably creates new challenges to overcome. A major issue we contend with is clients creating content that doesn’t fit the design. This then results in change and reworking of what has already been built. Eleanor highlighted a number of content mistakes businesses make which can cause project delays including:
“1. People plan on creating new content but don’t start early enough
2. People plan on reviewing their content but don’t start early enough
3. People don’t factor in enough time to actually enter the content into the new website”
We advise businesses to take a content-first approach to their web projects, but due to objectives and timescales, this may not always be realistic. Amit gave some words of wisdom on content:
“If content first isn’t realistic, constant content creation is! It’s very rare a business will have the entirety of their content ready and available before the design even begins. An easy way to manage this is by having regular content catch-ups and setting deadlines for important pages. This way, when the back-end build is coming to completion, the content will be ready to add.”
Scheduling in dedicated time for essential pages such as Home, About and Services helps keep your website on track.
4) Third-party Integrations
Integrations are complex and require constant communication between stakeholders and the agency. Jonathan noted the complexities of integrations in his recommendations:
“Integration! It’s hard enough to integrate into a static, stable, standard system. Integrating into one that’s still being built takes even longer. Make sure the provider of the system your website is integrating into has direct dev to dev contact with the agency and is contracted to support them.”
Not only are integrations an extremely complex part of web projects, but last-minute changes during this time can lead to significant delays. Ensure your internal team are set on their solution and don’t try to make any changes during this critical project time.
Our Head of Client Technology, Alix Taylor, has plenty of experience dealing with infrastructure challenges:
“When third parties are involved in infrastructure, such as an internal IT team, that are separate to the usual team we communicate with, issues can occur. Sometimes, we get down to the wire and then plans change or the essentials aren’t set up. Without the infrastructure in place, it’s impossible to launch.”
For businesses who host their own site, server access is essential to prevent delays. Ensuring the correct permissions are set up and that your internal IT team is liaising with your agency ensures all necessary information is shared ahead of your deadline. Ben Stephenson, a member of our Development team, reinforced the importance of internal teams consistently communicating to keep things running smoothly:
“One issue that is likely to emerge when clients are hosting their own site is having the correct access to the servers needed. This could be something as simple as not having the right permissions to move certain files, but sometimes it can extend to logins, particularly for stricter systems. Clear communication between the internal IT department and agency to gather necessary details will prevent this from happening.”
6) Finding the right approach
There is no perfect approach to project methodology. Whether it’s Agile, Waterfall or Scrum, certain approaches fit certain businesses better than others. Be flexible and tweak the process until you find the one that works best:
“As the project progresses and evolves, be open to adapting your methodology. A more traditional structured process like waterfall suits some businesses better than others. While others thrive on the dynamic, fast-paced nature of an agile approach. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of each approach and work hard to develop the right balance for your project and business needs.” – Jonathan Healey, Managing Director
7) Scope Creep
Change is inevitable throughout a web project and can happen for a number of reasons. As requirements change, setbacks can occur. This can be a result of the design, discovery or specification phases as new functionalities are uncovered. As well as timescales, it’s important to consider the financial impact this will have too as any additional functionality will be outside of your agreed cost configuration.
As defined by developer Ben, scope creep is “the elements of the site which weren’t scoped out during the design, discovery or specification stages. Depending on the complexities of the new features and how vital they are to the project, other aspects of the site may need to be pushed back to make the changes.
Change is a natural by-product of a lengthy project, especially within complex industries and businesses. It’s important to keep this in mind in terms of budget and timescales when embarking on a web project.
8) Allocate plenty of time for Quality Audit
Many clients underestimate the amount of time required to review, test and feedback on their new website. A month may seem plenty of time but with day to day responsibilities still to fulfil alongside the project, this time can quickly slip by. The NetConstruct team see this is a major cause of delay in many web projects with Client Services Director, Claire Taylor, commenting on the subject:
“Time generally labelled as QA is so much more than simply, ‘does this thing work?’ There is a huge difference between reviewing a set of flat designs and reviewing the full living and breathing site. There will always be tweaks you want to make, and time taken to ensure the site has the finish you want before launch. Quite often, businesses are keen to keep the go-live date ‘soon’ to please the stakeholders. But by doing this, they find themselves short of time.
We always advise clients on the amount of time and consideration they should be dedicating to this stage. It’s not about lengthening the timescales, it’s about ensuring your colleagues aren’t away during that time or that you can have dedicated work hours to concentrate on it.” - Claire Taylor, Client Services Director
As Amit said, “Deadlines are a two-way a street! Businesses sometimes forget if they miss a sign off deadline by two weeks, the project go-live is delayed by at least two weeks. Plans need to be in place to make sure deadlines are met on both sides to ensure on-time project go-live!”
Remember, deadlines don’t just fall to the agency to deliver the project, it’s important for the business to take responsibility in some areas too. Missed deadlines can create a domino effect that impacts other areas of your project so ensure you allow plenty of time to action any tasks allocated to you.
Always expect the unexpected and allow for contingencies. This will help soften the blow on time-critical projects. A contingency can also apply to budgets too. If your project scope changes throughout, additional time will likely be required which will impact your final bill. Setting aside additional budget will mean you can avoid awkward, unexpected conversations with your finance team. Visual Designer, Helena Sandles, noted the importance of extra time in web projects:
“It’s important to allow extra padding in the schedule to allow for the client to gather feedback from other stakeholders. We aim to give clients visibility of future dates when we will be providing key deliverables so they can prepare to gather feedback. Businesses could even try formalising a feedback process to make any changes as efficiently as possible.” - Helena Sandles, Visual Designer
As did Jonathan, who sees contingency as a must-have in any web project: “No contingency in project plans. Getting this right is hard. Something will not go as planned so demand contingency in the plan, even if you don’t like the output.” - Jonathan Healey, Managing Director
In the fast-paced, demanding world of web, delays are inevitable. But you can make every effort to minimise the impact even before your project begins. Remember, a milestone missed by a day in one area can easily mean a one or two-week delay to the overall project.
As a web development agency with over 20 years’ experience, we know a thing or two about reaching project launches in timescale and budget. Following these top tips will help you begin your project in a managed and prioritised way. Reach out to our team if you need more advice on getting started with your web project.