7091839A-73F7-2107-E280-56574800AC7F Website Development Project Scoping Guide by Nick Carpenter 2 0|0|0|0

by Nick Carpenter

About this document

  1. Purpose

    This project is based on a template that I developed for use when meeting a new client or potential client for the first time. I've tried to include all the things that I've learnt I needed to know in that first meeting and maybe forgot to ask. Using this template ensures that I capture all the essential project information which in turn makes it easier to fully understand the requirements, come up with a quote and write the proposal.

    In addition to this, I've found that this structured approach helps to win the client's trust and confidence through demonstrating good organisation and knowledge not only the intricacies of website development, but also the wider role of a website the development of the client's business as a whole.

    This document isn't going to help you design, code, project manage, communicate, account manage, test, deliver or credit control. What it will do, is help you get off on the right foot and hopefully avoid some of the traps and pitfalls that I have fallen into over the years in the web design industry.

    The language I have used is pretty informal and relaxed and mostly non-technical.

  2. Audience

    This document will make the most sense so someone involved with web development; however anyone involved in planning a web project (client or supplier) should find it useful.

  3. How to use this template

    The best way to use this document is to expand it to Level 1 and then explore the branches as you see fit.  You don't really need to go in any particular order. Please read the notes attached to many of the topics for further information and guidance.

    If you are using this document in a meeting with a client I would expect you to be adding in the clients responses by adding in extra nodes in the appropriate sub-topics.

    In some cases, you may be deleting nodes which aren't relevant (or maybe marking the appropriate node with a flag or marker), such as in the Hosting goal, where I've listed the common server types and hosting packages.

© Nick Carpenter

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My name is Nick Carpenter from Oxfordshire, UK and I've been involved with the internet for almost a decade.

I've developed web sites and consulted for a wide range of clients from 'one-man-and-his-dog' outfits to international blue-chips, pure e-commerce businesses to third-sector organisations.  In each case, I have worked hard to truly understand the needs of the client and delivered tangible value to that business through my work.

These days I'm mostly consulting but with a little bit of design and development every now and again just to keep me on my toes!

I'm also involved in a number of organisations helping to cook up great ideas for new, innovative web sites.

web: oxfordnewmedia.com

email: nick@oxfordnewmedia.com

phone: +44 (0) 1869 357116

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What is the client aiming to achieve with this web site?  Here are a few common answers:

  • To increase sales
  • To add value to my existing customers
  • We just need a web site because it's expected these days
  • We want our contact details available on the Internet

I've had many clients that mistakenly think that building a web site is a 'silver bullet' that in one go will quadruple their sales and allow them to retire early!  With the right planning and execution that is, of course, possible!

Its important that you do understand what the clients expectations are - they may well need to be managed.  Six months down the line Its easier for a client with an under- performing web site (or under-performing business overall), to blame somebody else (the web designers!) rather than admit the responsibility themselves.

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I've put this right at the top of this section as it is by far the most important thing to establish from the outset. Unfortunately, its one of the most difficult things to get the client to tell you as a very high proportion of people think that if they tell you, then you'll just give them a price to match their budget and deliver them something worth a lot less.

Personally, I have never 'priced to opportunity' in that way. If you can make your client understand that even telling you just a ball park figure enables you to do a sanity check on their expection / budget alignment.

I have had my fair share of false starts by not asking this question early enough.  Its frustrating to spend half a day with a potential client discussing all the great things that they plan to do with their site, only to discover that they're expecting to get it all for a few hundred quid.

Having said that though, it all depends on your own pricing structure and the perceived value in your service as to what you're happy to work for.  I have known one- man-band bedroom web designers that will happily work for £50 per day. At the other end of the scale I have worked with top end web agencies in London that charge in excess of £1,200 per day.  Both are busy and are winning new business all the time, as are all the individuals and companies in between.

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Most of the time, when I ask this question, the response is 'yesterday' or 'as soon as possible'. I still get this with clients that I have 'educated' and I have to admit - its very frustrating.

For some reason, provision of a new website seems to be treated like a print-run for the corporate brochure - where you give the raw copy to the printers and in 10 days you've got 50 boxes delivered to the stock room!

Encourage your client to plan in advance and be realistic about time scales.  We all have our own schedules and commitments, it unreasonable to assume that the web agency is sitting waiting for the client call with the schedules free 'just in case'!

So, think about the following:

  • Is the timescale realistic?
  • Does is match the requirements? You may not be able to answer that until the end of the scoping session.

Remember, people always want the following three things. They want it:

  • They want it GOOD
  • They want it FAST
  • They want it CHEAP

In reality, its only ever possible to have two of those three things.

If they want it GOOD and FAST, it wont be CHEAP.

If they want it FAST and CHEAP, it wont be GOOD

If they want it GOOD and CHEAP, it wont be FAST

Its quite simple really....!

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  • Business to Business?
  • Business to Consumer?
  • Market sectors
  • Corporate image projection
  • Target audience for website
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In my experience, the effort required to create content for a web site is greatly underestimated. I've had projects stall for more than 6 months because the client was unable to get content written due to lack of resources. Please also look at the Internal Resources goal.

  • Is a CMS required?

    If the client is planning on updating the content frequently, then it may make sense to deploy the site using a Content Management System (CMS). Using a CMS can speed up the build of a site, but may also impose restrictions on functionality. It also has an impact on the roll-out plan as the client needs to be trained on CMS usage.

    I would say that 80% of the time - handing over a CMS to the client opens up a massive can of worms. I could do an entire project on the traps and pitfalls associated with CMS deployments. That's for another day I guess.

  • Is a professional copywriter required?

  • Does any content already exist or is it all to created from scratch?
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This also ties in with Site References.

  • Are there existing brand guidelines that must be followed?

  • What creative assets are available?

  • Vector format logo?

    You'd be surprised how many companies don't have the original artwork files for their corporate branding. Try to get a vector version, or at least a hi-res version of their logo. Ideally they'll supply you with a vector version (.eps or .ai) which should be on a transparent background or background independent.

    However, in reality, you could get anything sent over to you. I've had a 72 dpi scan of a newspaper cutting of the company's logo saved as an eps and sent for me to use for the main banner! Madness.

    If you end up having to rebuild a logo from scratch, make sure you tell the client in advance and that you'll charge them for it.

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  • Newsletter subscriptions?

  • User registration and login?
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This subject is too big for this project. If the site must be fully accessible then this project just got BIG.

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Are there any existing internal systems that the web site needs to talk to?

If so, are there any import routines on the internal systems that can be used for flat file imports?

Is there a direct database connection?

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Are there any longer terms plans for the web site that provision should be made for now?

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  • Sites the client likes and why

  • Sites the client doesn't like and why
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I use MindManager to build the basic site wireframe. I used to try and do this in Microsoft Visio (which was a real struggle) until I was introduced to MindManager in 2006. The joy of this is the ability to move sections around with ease.  If you do this with the client, they can gain a real feel of how the structure and navigation is going to work.

Usually, I would create the wireframe in a separate mmap file. I switch the subtopics layout to Org Chart mode so you get an understanding of the hierarchy in the site structure.

I've added in a typical example site wireframe for a very basic generic company web site.

I would expect to modify this wireframe many times during the course of a project as the build progresses.  Its your call as to how you monitor (and maybe charge for) these changes during a project.

I always allow projects to 'flex' - its just the nature of the business we're in, but project 'creep' can really catch you out and you'll lose money, so keep a close eye on this.

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  • Current news

  • News Archive
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  • Company History

  • Management Team

  • Recruitment
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  • Product listing

  • Product Documentation
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  • Feeback Form

  • Map & directions
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  • ASP
  • ASP.NET
  • PHP
  • Coldfusion
  • JSP
  • Flash / Actionscript
  • Ruby on Rails
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  • Server platform
    • Windows
    • Linux

  • Package type
    • Shared hosting
    • Virtual server
    • Dedicated server – Managed or Unmanaged?

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  • SQL Server

  • MS Access

  • MySQL

  • Oracle
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If the client has an existing web site that is to be replaced, please explore this section.

  • Are there any current issues that should be resolved in the new site?

  • Are there any features to be carried over to new site?

    This could be anything, but here are some examples:

    • Flash demos
    • ROI calculators
    • Entire microsites

  • Switching over from the old site to the new site

    If the client does have an existing website, then the change over to the new site will require managing through and a fair amount of tidying up afterwards to minimise confusion for users who may be referred via out of date links from search engines and other websites. Do not underestimate the work involved in this section and factor this into your overall project fee.

    • Update robots.txt file to remove old pages from Search Engine indexes.
    • Use Google Webmaster tools to request removal of old URLs quickly
    • Create sitemap.xml file and upload to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
    • Custom error page for 404 Page Not Found errors that informs visitors that the site has changed. This is dependent upon the type of hosting that the new site is deployed on. Not all shared hosting packages will give you access to use custom error pages. If the site is hosted on a dedicated server then this should not be a problem.
    • Change the DNS for the domain name to point to the new site's location.

    Please see the DNS Changes goal for more information.

  • Measurement of success of new site vs. old site

    If its not in place already, its a good idea to get Google Analytics installed on the old site. It can gather data on current traffic trends to the old site while the new site is being developed.  This way there is a benchmark with which to measure the effectiveness of the new site compared to the old site.

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  • Registration details Important - potential problem area!

    If the client has already registered a domain name that they are using or intend to use, you need to establish if the client has full control of the domain name. The common problem areas here are:

    1. The domain was registered by a member of staff who has now left and no records were kept.
    2. The original e-mail address used for registration may no longer exist, so transfer authorisation requests and other communication may not arrive.
    3. The username and password for the domain registrar's online control panel have been lost (this problem is often compounded by the point above)

It is essential that you discover any problems early on. If you leave it until the last couple of days before the new site goes live, you may end up having to delay the launch because you cant make the required changes to the domain DNS settings.

A useful site to help you discover where a domain name is controlled is Domaintools.com. Do a Whois lookup for the domain then look at the name servers section and go from there.

  • DNS Changes

    If you're planning to make changes to a domain name that the client already has to point to the location of the new server or hosting package, remember the following:

    Its simplest to only alter the CNAME or A records for the web traffic (usually the www CNAME)

    You may also need to alter the @ record. This is commonly used if a visitor omits the www part of the url e.g. http://mydomain.com instead of http://www.mydomain.com

    Unless you plan to take on the e-mail hosting for the domain DON'T perform a name server change. The chances are that the client will suffer great inconvenience doing this. Here's why:

    1. You'll need to set up new mailboxes for all existing mailboxes.
    2. The POP3 and SMTP server settings will change as will the mailbox username (and probably password unless you got hold of a list of the existing ones from the client)
    3. Each and every computer that the client (and the client's staff) uses will have to have the e- mail settings altered in whichever e-mail program they use
    4. Everyone will have to be informed of the new webmail address and login details (if webmail is provided)

If you are planning to do this (or something similar by tinkering the MX records) just make sure you've got it right first time. You wont be popular if you get it wrong and the client loses emails for a day or two.

Don't forget, DNS changes take time to propagate, so it can take a while for problems to surface/get resolved.

I use http://www.dnsstuff.com to diagnose DNS issues.  Its worth paying to register to get full access to the powerful toolset on offer.

In my experience, clients would prefer to continue paying for both the e-mail hosting from one provider and web hosting from another to avoid these issues.

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Who to use for domain registration

I recommend using www.123reg.co.uk for domain registrations.  Not only are they amongst the most competitive, the control panel features give you all the control you'll ever need for things like DNS and Name Server changes.

Also, I have found it very useful if a client chooses to switch to a different web agency, you can simply get the client (or new agency) to open a free 123reg account, then do an internal 123reg transfer of the domain name to their account.  It gives them instant control over the domain without any complex transfer issues that can occur when clients move on.

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  • Minor updates & support

  • CMS training / re-training
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There are many different options and packages

  • Of course, pretty much the best package here is Google Analytics. It's immensely powerful, completely free of charge and takes just a few minutes to get going.

    Cookie-based tracking relies on a browser setting the cookie. If cookies are disabled, cookie-based analytics programs (such as Google Analytics) will not count the visit. This would exclude, for example, hits from a robot or spider.

  • Server Log Files

    If you have access to the server logs too then its worth running analysis on those too.

    IP + User Agent tracking typically uses log file analysis for its data. This may report higher numbers than reported by cookie-based tracking because of dynamically assigned IP addresses and spider and robot visits.

Don't ever launch a site without some kind of stats package - you'll never know if the site is performing as it should.

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The subject of search engine ranking or search engine optimisation is too large to tackle in this document.

When I have time, I'll create another project to impart all I have learnt about this 'black art'.

However, you can get the basics in place from the start by ensuring the technical build for the web site is good quality. Make sure your HTML and CSS pass all the W3C validation tests. And whatever you do, don't use tables for layout!

If you are using tables for layout, I suggest that you brush up on your HTML and CSS skills before charging your services out to clients - you're not up to date!

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Ensure client allows sufficient time and staff.

Find out what resources the client is planning to assign to the project.  This is normally underestimated and sometimes given to junior staff members to handle, which can be tricky near the end of the project when more senior staff decide it time to 'get involved'.

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  • Does the person you are talking to have the power to engage commercially with you?

  • Who else will be involved in decision making for the website project as a whole?

  • What is the decision making process?

  • What sort of proposal is required?

    Not everyone needs a bloated 30 pager. Sometimes a single page with bullet points and costs will suffice. It really depends on the amount of paper the client wants to see and how much detail you need to put in to feel comfortable!

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