Website development plan writing - part 1

Efficient website development plan writing

In this series we’re your going to learn website development plan writing. The right plan makes all the difference. Sure you’ve it before at every stage of your career. Building a business? The right plan makes all the difference. Building a digital based business, or setting up the foundation for your digital marketing? The right plan makes all the difference. Let’s be clear though, planning takes time. And time costs money even if you the business owner do most of the work. Over planning can not only delay you, but even freeze you. It’s important to plan efficiently, and be clear on what the goals are within the planning phase of your project.

Goals of writing a website development plan

Website development plan goals

You have goals for your website, and these need to be identified and recorded in your plan. We’ll cover that part later. But what about right now as you start planning your website? What are the goals of the planning phase itself and what should the outcome be? Well the reason we started talking about efficiency in the planning process is exactly because planning should actually move us toward the launch of our site. Not just in the sense that “the plan is ready”, but in the sense that the project resources needed are reduced relative to the quality and scope of the website we build. Not all plans are created equally, not all meet this criteria. A lot of times, website plans are so ineffective that they are ignored during the project leading to a myriad of problems and inefficiency. This not only impacts quality, but can rapidly raise the cost of the website build.


Goal #1 in website development plan writing

Communicate clearly and concisely to all project stakeholders

As a business owner or project manager you have the vision for the project. And perhaps consultants, partners and others will help shape that vision for the website. Your job is to write a website plan that communicates this vision to the project stakeholders. As with any writing task, we must first ask who is the audience? Then we must ask what do they need from a website development plan?

  • Business partners, investors. They need to have confidence that you’ve got the project under control, that your vision is sound, that the website your building will meet business objectives. A purely technical plan won’t satisfy them, they’ll be left asking “what’s the bottom line”?
  • Designers, marketers, content managers. Lumping these people together might be a bit unfair to their specialized roles. But we do want to at least distinguish them from web developers. What a designer needs to know about the website is vastly different from what a web developer needs to know. Same is true for a marketer that is thinking about your social media integration and search marketing. Content management often is not mentioned at all in website development plans, and even agencies that do otherwise great planning will often say “client to provide all content”. If you want to make a separate plan for any of these areas (branding plan, marketing plan, content management plan) that’s fine, but we recommend a more holistic approach because there is a lot to be gained when you have a unified plan for a website that covers every aspect.
  • Web developers. Nowhere is precision more rewarded or a lack of it costly than when writing a plan for web developers. The difference in costs can be astounding. The same site built from a highly detailed plan that costs 5K, could cost 25K from a poorly detailed plan. Developers loathe lack of clarity. Professional development firms and project managers are skilled at clarifying and consulting to solidify requirements. Freelance developers on the other hand, vary greatly in their skills in this area. It’s not unusual to have a situation where if your plan leaves the door open to vastly poor development decisions, then what can go wrong often will. A website plan that is effective for web developers must not only be detailed, but organized in a manner that reflects the workflow that developers face. This is one of the reasons the best website plans are written by people who have experience managing web developers. You don’t have to be a developer, you just need to understand the processes in development.

Goal #2 in website development plan writing

Identify measurable website requirements

It’s not uncommon to see a “website plan” that is nothing more than a list of features. While we won’t applaud this as good planning, sites do get built based on nothing more than requirements. And in the case that the stakeholders are you and a single freelance developer, then you might have actually achieved the goal of communicating to the audience. The question is, do you know how to write clear requirements? You can think of a requirement a bit like a goal/objective, except that it should simpler and very specific. The answer to the question “is this requirement met” must be something you can measure easily. This is much easier with development features than it is with design, content etc. That’s why the use of requirements is more suited to developers than it is to the design aspects of your site.

Let’s start by looking at some badly written requirements. At first glance you might not think these are requirements, but these are real examples taken from a WordPress website development project listed on Upwork.

Web 2.0 look

Really? You don’t a web 1.0 look?

Reporting

I regret to report that “anything” vaguely resembling a report meets this requirement

Merchant Integration

What would help is knowing which merchant, and how to integrate their service into the website. Aside from providing no information, this is very informative

Now let’s look at the same type of requirements written in a detailed and measurable way:

Custom theme based on our branding guide

Referring to a branding guide, or ready-to-build design. If you don’t already have these elements, you might start with a reference to a similar theme or website. Bear in mind the requirement isn’t about the design itself that’s secondary to the purpose to give context, it’s the instruction to the developer about the need for a custom theme that matters to the cost/schedule and workflow. As opposed to a website that would be built using an off-the-shelf theme. This can be measured by asking “does this site have a custom theme”?

Automated report generation on number of properties and types in the system

Although you might not have guessed from the initial requirements, this project was for a real estate management portal. Each type of unique report should be listed as a single requirement. Yes it’s a lot of work listing them all, but you need to list them if a developer is going to build them. If you’re using an existing system with built-in reporting, you can forego the details on existing features. Focus only on what needs to be added.

Integration of Stripe checkout to bill agents for property listings

While not entirely scoping out the work this requirement provides the developer with the merchant so they can consider how that might fit into the website, and whether other parts of the site support/integrate it. Knowing the purpose of the integration (bill agents) also gives some insight into how the integration should work. 


Goal #3 in website development plan writing

Set your budgets and map out schedule

A very important aspect of planning is to define your budget and schedule. This can also be called resource allocation. From a business perspective, and this is especially important for any partners/investors you have, the goal is to be clear on what the investment will be and when will it be ready to start generating a return. You also need this information to make a lot of the decisions about the scope of your project.

Budgeting adds realism to your website plan and helps avoid unrealistic ambitions. Of course we don’t tend to like limits/constraints when we’re dreaming about what we can build. The difference though between dreams and plans, is in having the resources to achieve them. By setting a budget early you can save time planning features that won’t be built in the current version of the site. Ideas for future features of course can be saved for later, but being able to focus on what you can achieve right is what makes for effective planning.

The schedule should take into account phases of the project, such as the planning phase, design phase, build phase and launch phase. Larger projects may have development broken down into multiple milestones. This helps measure progress and also focuses development on hitting targets, usually by pairing milestones to meeting a segment of the defined requirements.

 


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