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How to get the best out of your website design agency

How to get the best out of your website design agency

By Martin McNulty, Forward3D

The traditional agency / client relationship is flawed, especially for companies working in the digital space. In the past, building something like a website was seen as expensive but delivering great websites that do not cost a fortune needs a different working style.

 When it comes to building websites, planning and implementing search campaigns or engaging with social media channels, traditional project management techniques are out of date. For example, if you are building a house there is an order you have to follow. You start with a vision and you begin with plans. You create the foundations, walls, then the roof. Between the time of agreeing the vision and the day the build is finished, the environment does not really change.

When it comes to projects involving the internet, between the day that you decide what your vision is and the day you complete, anything and everything can change. The way that consumers use it changes, the technology develops, platforms move on making it even hard to decipher a passing fad from a genuine shift in consumer behaviour. In this kind of environment, a new approach is needed because traditional roadmaps are about as reliable as crystal balls.

When it comes to the web, you need a new plan every day – learn to work the AGILE way.

Also known as ‘lean’ or ‘just in time,’ agile working is a concept focusing on delivering value where it is most important. Going against traditional project management techniques, it encourages enhancements, and project revisions on a daily basis. There is no start, middle and end but instead daily iterations that help inform next steps.

Because the agile way of working encourages feedback every day, it ensures that decisions are always current. It also ensures that poor decisions are spotted quickly so ‘waste’ is minimised. The net result is a faster development cycle that produces a more relevant product at a lower price.

This approach may seem like an obvious way of working with the internet but it can create tension between clients and their agencies. Most client agency relationships begin with a ‘Statement of Work’. This spells out who does what and for how many hours. These documents are designed to ensure clients get value for money and the agency knows what is expected of it. However, clients, who may have limited experience in the digital space, may not know what they want upfront and, on the other hand, agencies are terrified of having to over commit resources, penalise clients if they deviate from the initial limited scope.

Traditionally, a project would be scoped out to take place in three phases. The build would take between four to sixteen weeks, the beta phase would launch in week 17 and the new website would be delivered in week 20. But there is so much potential for the project to go wrong:

• There is a discussion by all parties on site functionality, but no real prioritisation, meaning the project starts with a muddled initial scope that can only lead to further confusion down the line

• New competitor launch offerings mean that the original scope needs to be altered at an additional cost

• A tweak request from the marketing department six weeks into the build gets rejected on the grounds of budget

• The project runs late and the scope is cut to meet the deadline

• The beta site has bugs in it

• The project is delivered late

• Changes in the market over the last five weeks require a new set of website features which render the site conversion lower than expected.

While this may sound like a pessimistic version of events it is actually extremely common. What starts off as a well-intentioned project becomes an exercise in project management rather than an exercise in problem solving. People work to the initial limited scope rather than addressing the real business need.

Approaching the same challenge, the ‘agile’ agency would address the need as follows:

 Agency: “Why do you want a new website?”

Client: “Because we need better conversion rates.”

Agency: “On all products?”

Client: “All would be nice, but we really care about Widget B – it is 62% of our sales”

Agency: “Ok – let us fix that page first.”

And so on.

 In this case a new website has not been built because it was not necessary. The agency and client have worked together from the beginning to ensure the specific needs have been addressed.

As a first step both parties need to be clear on the project aims from the outset. A client has to understand why it wants to change its website. An agency has to be prepared to be flexible and review the project scope on a daily basis as the internet environment changes. Both parties have to be clear on the need to test constantly, encouraging fast failure to get it right, even if this means starting from scratch every day for the first three weeks.


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