Research forms an intrinsic part of any website project. We’d never dive into a design, website build or replatform without doing some level of research to underpin our efforts. Often, these research and discovery activities form the first phase of a whole project. By this, we mean one that consecutively follows the generic project phases of:
- Research and discovery
- Go live
- Ongoing support
However, when a project follows this path, it’s usually because a business has an idea of what they want to achieve. But what about those businesses who have no idea what they want from their website?
In this blog, we discuss how a phased project approach can solve this issue from the outset, allowing you to create the solution your business and users need while making the most of your budget.
What is a phased project?
A phased project is as simple as it sounds. Instead of signing off on every project phase at the start, the project is split into standalone phases.
For example, you sign off on a comprehensive standalone research and discovery phase before signing off on the full project. This standalone phase reveals the insight needed to move onto the next phases of designing and building the site when you’re ready to do so.
Why is a phased project sometimes needed?
There are a few occasions with unknowns around what a business needs from their website project. These can usually be split into two categories:
1) Working on an existing website
You have an existing website, but it's not performing how you need it to. You might understand the challenges you’re facing but you’re unsure of what changes need to be made to the architecture, design, functionality - or all three - to fix the problem.
Maybe you have multiple brands or service offerings, and you don’t know whether to consolidate them under one domain or create multiple sites. Perhaps you’ve recently implemented a new CRM system and you don’t know how it needs to be integrated. Or possibly you just simply don’t know what tools and resources you need to give your user to offer the optimum experience.
A standalone discovery phase can help you get the answers to these questions so you can enter the rest of your project when you’re ready and feeling prepared.
2) Building a new website
The other occasion this approach works well is when there's a brand-new offering to translate in the digital space. In this case, you will likely know you need a new website and what you want the website to do, but you've yet to explore how this can be done.
If these examples reflect your scenario, how do you know what your project will entail? How much budget will you need? What CMS will be best suited to your goals? How long will the project take to complete? This is where a standalone research and discovery phase comes into the picture.
What’s involved in a standalone research and discovery phase?
The best way to help you reach the decision that’s right for your business is through research. As part of this process, it’s important to reach a clear understanding of what drives your organisation and your customers. Our research and discovery phase usually revolves around three core areas: your business, your audience and your technology.
With commercial objectives at the core, it’s crucial to figure out exactly how your website will support your business. The research on your organisation creates an understanding of your current digital presence and the challenges you’re facing.
Business discovery exercises could include:
- Aims and objectives workshop
- Prioritisation workshop
- Stakeholder interviews or focus groups
- Business and process mapping
- Competitor analysis
Removing the guesswork, we think the best approach is to gather insight direct from your users. With this research, you can develop a more extensive understanding of your audiences’ needs, motivations and frustrations, enabling you to build a website suited to their requirements.
Thinking about the end-users of your website is imperative and audience discovery exercises can help you do just that:
- Persona workshops
- Content audits
- UX audits and analytics analysis
- Remote user interviews or focus groups
- User testing (such as tree testing or first click testing)
Deciding on the right technology for your business can be difficult. For some organisations, technology is a secondary concern. But if your business is more risk-averse, you may want to know what technology will best fit your needs before signing off on a full website build or replatform.
During our technology review, we break down your requirements to inform your technology selection. This includes considering factors such as:
- Integrations with third-party systems
- Internal users
- Strengths and weaknesses of your current technology
- Required features and functionality
- Future roadmap
An approach we took with The Business Continuity Institute, technology reviews can be extremely beneficial to understand what technology you need before jumping into the rest of the project.
“The workshop was very valuable and shortly afterwards we were provided with an analysis of the options and a recommendation on the most suitable approach which enabled us to prepare a costed proposal for consideration.
NetConstruct were approachable, knowledgeable, responsive and also demonstrated that they placed a lot of emphasis on the needs of our organisation rather than their own convenience.” - David West, Head of Communities & Operations, The Business Continuity Institute
It is only through an extensive research and discovery process that you can really understand the breadth of a project to determine proposed budgets and timescales.
What’s the benefit of a standalone research and discovery phase?
A proven approach that we’ve deployed many times, a phased project is often well suited to organisations with:
- A complex offering
- Unknowns around content and site structure
- A risk-averse nature
- Different user types to accommodate
Using this approach to work around these challenges can create a range of benefits.
A phased approach is one way of mitigating risk in your website project. If you sign off on a full build with lots of unknowns, there inevitably will be a level of scope creep and, as such, reprioritisation, which could result in extended timescales and more money being spent. Many businesses aren’t equipped to deal with this and so there’s a risk involved in a project where change could occur after the discovery process has taken place.
Instead, it becomes a much safer option to initially sign off on a standalone research and discovery phase. Once the discovery has taken place and you’re armed with all the knowledge you need, the build can then be scoped more accurately. This ensures the end result will be more aligned to your vision and actually do the job you need it to.
Make the most of your budget
Working through one project phase at a time is beneficial for making the most of your budget by splitting down expenditure. Even better, the insight that comes from the discovery phase can then be prioritised and an MVP (minimum viable product) can be agreed upon allowing you to reach the market faster in a way that still hits your primary objectives.
We can help you create a roadmap of priorities that include quick, high impact fixes. As such, your website issues can be split down into actionable pieces of work in order of priority. By rolling out iterative improvements across a retainer plan, you will benefit from each investment faster.
Soft committal to the agency
Committing to a website project is a big investment. You’re not only signing into a project that will cost money and take time, but you’re also signing into a relationship that could span a number of years.
It’s important to select an agency that’s suited to your business and the objectives of your project. But even when you think you’ve found ‘the one’, how can you be sure until you actually start working with them?
A standalone research and discovery phase allows you to get a feel for how the agency works without committing to a full project. Once the discovery has been completed, you may choose to take what you’ve learnt elsewhere or stick with the same agency to complete the next phases.
Strengthens your wider digital activity
A comprehensive research and discovery phase won’t just be beneficial to your website. All the insight that’s gleaned from this research can be used across your whole business such as audience targeting, brand work, product development and digital marketing tactics such as PPC and SEO.
Your website and digital marketing activity go hand in hand, and both can significantly impact your digital success. Jonathan Healey, Managing Director at NetConstruct commented on this:
“At the heart of every effective marketing strategy is a compelling message, carefully crafted for maximum user impact. But over the years we have watched as marketers focus so much on the success of a particular channel that they seem to forget where that channel leads. No matter how good your SEO, PPC, CRO or email marketing strategy is, without a great website that’s easy to use, you’re always going to be limiting the potential of your campaign.”
Consider your website as part of your digital marketing strategy and use the insight from this standalone phase to inform your wider efforts.
How we can help you create the solution you need
By delving deep under the surface to understand your internal business needs, external user needs and technology requirements, you’re in a strong position to progress onto the next phases of bringing your website to life.
A phased project is an approach we’ve taken with many of our clients and the benefits have been clear. Providing you with greater control over how a project runs, phased projects have been successfully completed by the likes of Geological Society, Salary Finance, The Business Continuity Institute and Ongo.
Read a summary of Ongo’s phased project in action and if you want to find out more about how this approach could benefit your organisation, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Ongo’s phased project in action
Ongo was initially overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin with their website project. Having only rebuilt their site three years earlier, they didn’t have the budget to start over, but they weren’t satisfied with the onsite user journey.
Investing in a technical audit first, we helped them gain insight into their biggest challenges, identifying accessibility issues that were holding them back, which then fed into prioritised recommendations.
Their internal team were able to restructure the navigation as the first port of call, making changes themselves with our guidance and only a few hours of developer support. Doing so enabled them to fix their navigation in-house while preserving their budget to make further improvements across their prioritised roadmap.