How to Plan a Website Project: The Step-By-Step Guide
Building a website is a complex endeavor that can yield excellent or poor results. Seasoned professionals understand the importance of preparation and plan meticulously. Without a detailed roadmap, your project is likely to go awry.
When teams get consumed by day-to-day challenges, they lose sight of shared goals. Failure to plan results in scope creep and overspending. Decisions are made on wrong assumptions. Deadlines are missed. Back-and-forth with clients causes frustration and further delays, which ultimately leads to failure.
You need a thorough plan that will help you deliver the project successfully. Follow our guide to schedule, track, and get things done properly.
Do the Initial Research
Every successful website begins with an in-depth study of the client’s industry, competitors, and audience. The buying process is in the hands of the customer, and personalization can double the conversion rates. Audience analysis is the first prerequisite for the engagement of potential customers.
A target audience can be defined by age, gender, income, location, and other factors. What demographics will your website target? What occupations, interests, and beliefs do these users have?
Some projects target a niche audience, others focus on broader segments of the population. For example, a shoe brand could target children and adults (male and female) of all ages. On the other hand, a company producing running shoes could narrow down its focus to elite athletes under 40 years old.
If your project targets several groups of consumers, develop a detailed audience persona for each of them.
Clarify Constraints and Priorities
Move on to the limitations — most commonly, time and budget. Some projects have additional constraints, such as the use of specific fonts or colors. These restrictions are not adverse to creativity. On the contrary, they help teams clarify the scope and set correct priorities to meet their clients’ expectations.
Finally, sharpen your focus by prioritizing key audiences. This is a crucial precaution against scope creep. The target audience personas, constraints, and priorities must be included in your project proposal along with the goals. Here is how to identify the right direction:
Define Project Goals
Every website project is unique. Companies may launch sites to sell products or services, showcase portfolios, manage publications, etc. The purpose is just as critical as the target audience. Set SMART goals — specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
On average, the goal-setting stage should take 1-2 weeks. Common questions include:
- How many visitors does the company expect per month?
- How many of them will take a specific action (sign for the newsletter/place orders/contact the company, etc.)?
- How much revenue is expected?
The client’s answers give a clear direction and purpose to the project. They determine and influence the rest of the steps. Typical objectives include getting more leads, boosting lead conversion rate, improving sales flow, or boosting sales from returning customers.
All goals must be aligned with the company’s marketing strategy. After the website is launched, its admins will be able to use Google Analytics to evaluate performance.
Plan Project Phases
Once the project proposal is approved, the development team can start mapping out all the phrases and activities required. Some tasks are typical for most projects. Based on the unique needs of the client, developers add extra assignments.
Every project is divided into phases. They may be executed one by one or iteratively, depending on the methodology. The Waterfall approach is sequential — developers complete one phase at a time without revisiting the previous stages until completion.
Agile is flexible and adaptive. The project is divided into ‘bursts’ with separate deliverables. Each sprint is executed, tested, and evaluated over a period of time (typically, a few weeks). Generally, this approach to web development is the most popular.
You could work on each web page separately: prepare content, design, develop, and test. Alternatively, the team could generate all content first, then move on to the design, development, and testing of the entire website. Typically, the phases include:
- Branding, Infrastructure & Layout:
This stage includes creating the global elements for the design foundation. They include title and tagline, logo, colors and fonts, sitemap, domain, and hosting. Each of these components must be approved by the client.
As we have mentioned, they may have specific preferences in terms of colors, typography, photography style, illustration, etc. This stage is finalized with the creation of a sitemap showing all pages and the connections between them.
- Content Preparation:
Based on the approved sitemap and layout, the team creates content for the entire website or works on each page separately. The result must correspond to the audience personas and prompt desired actions — for example, sign-ups or sales.
This phase is closely connected to the approved layout, sitemap, and content. The team gets down to work, creating everything from buttons to CMS integration.
Once the website is ready, it is vital to confirm compliance with web standards, ensure accessibility and bug-free performance. The team checks how the website looks, feels, and behaves on all devices — desktop and mobile. The assessment covers multiple facets: functionality, usability, interface, compatibility, performance, and security.
- Going Live:
Finally, the website is deployed on the hosting server. The team creates website documentation and hands it over to the client. Their in-house staff sre taught to manage and update the website. Developers create a robots.txt file and XML sitemap, which help search engine crawlers to navigate the site.
Prepare General Website’s Design and Development Plan
Design and development involve an array of activities based on the agreed layouts and sitemap. The tasks include:
- Creating page elements like buttons, calls to action, and testimonials.
- Designing pages as per the approved styles, layout, and content.
- Establishing a sandbox server (this is an isolated environment where the website is tested before it goes live).
- Converting UI design mockups into code (widgets and pages). To speed up the process, the team may use AI-powered tools like Microsoft’s Sketch2Code.
- Developing specific functionalities like a CMS, blog, or store.
- Arranging and linking pages as per the sitemap.
- Conducting page reviews and getting approvals.
Prepare the Content Plan
The content of a site must correspond to the sitemap and the desired styles of layout. It may be partially available, but external creators are still needed. This stage may be completed simultaneously with other phases, but it requires a lot of expertise.
The target audience is your starting point. It determines the vocabulary and voice that will resonate with users and bring conversions. All content must be written in a language that appeals to them. Titles and headlines must draw their attention. Your plan must cover:
- Content types:
- Choosing creators and providers:
Content may be developed by internal or external specialists, as well as the client’s own staff. Your project may require input from technical experts, freelance copywriters, etc. These must be selected carefully.
- Content flow:
Specify how you will create, update, and receive content, including text and graphics.
Web content must be organized in a content repository — a special database with access, search, and management methods. It allows editors to modify the content from the back end.
Before the website goes live, all content must be proofread, validated, and finalized. It is crucial to include effective calls to action. Make sure users understand what you want them to do — for example, sign up or buy something from your catalog.
Schedule Project Steps
All activities and phases must be time-bound. Assign a start and end date to each of them. The end of each phase is a milestone on the project timeline. Your schedule must correspond to the following:
Some projects have tight deadlines that may not be extended. For example, an event site becomes useless after the event. When the team is falling behind schedule, the client may agree to drop some requirements, but the goal is to do everything on time.
Public holidays and vacation days can interrupt the workflow unless the schedule is built around them. Otherwise, you may discover that the lead designer is absent for the design phase.
Team members may be busy with other projects. Make sure they will be able to devote all of their time and attention to the website on hand. Examine their workloads to make sure everyone is available and not overworked.
Software for project managers lets them visualize availability and workloads. In case of changes, they can adjust the schedule easily.
Once the general schedule is ready, zoom in on each of the tasks. Assessing them one by one is quite difficult, and even experienced managers make mistakes. There are just too many variables and contingencies.
For example, a force majeure event can throw your project off track. A developer or designer may call in sick. A content creator could miss the deadline. The client may be late with approvals.
Unfortunately, there is just one way to plan this phase correctly — by drawing from personal experience. It is also advisable to include buffers. Make sure there is a recovery time if something goes wrong.
Assign Team for Your Project
A web development team must include experts with relevant experience and strong hard and soft skills. Crucial competencies include:
- Planning and strategizing
- Project management
- UI design
- Graphic design
- Web technologies
- Site production
Preferably, members should have at least five years of professional background in custom web development. In small teams, some members wear different hats. In large projects, you need a separate expert for each role.
Some areas are just too specialized to allow multitasking, so it is crucial to find the best candidates with relevant experience and work ethic. Every project is different, but the key roles include:
This member works with stakeholders to clarify and prioritize the requirements. They clarify their vision, goals, and expectations and convert them into technical specifications. This information is then passed on to the web development team. In smaller teams, this role may be played by another employee.
Like the conductor of an orchestra, a project manager coordinates the entire process, setting goals and deadlines for each phase. They are responsible for collecting requirements, formulating tasks, prioritizing them, and keeping track of deadlines. Your project manager must ensure the end result is satisfactory, gets delivered on time, and matches the initial requirements.
In web development, an architect is responsible for organizing the structure and content, primarily during the initial phases. They draw site architecture diagrams to illustrate the plan to the stakeholders and the team. In collaboration with project designers, they also build wireframes showing how every page will function.
Most teams include designers with comprehensive expertise — professionals who build both user interface and user experience. Sometimes, these components are developed separately by different members.
Web developers (Front-end, Back-end, or Full-stack)
This “behind the scenes” dimension of your website is vital for its existence, let alone proper performance. The back-end is like the foundation of a house. It is built using languages like PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, or .NET. combined with frameworks and other tools. Here are the top 10 frameworks in 2021 according to Statista:
Quality Assurance engineer
Before your website is released to the public, it must be subjected to repeated and rigorous tests. QA engineers are in charge of designing and executing these evaluations throughout the development process. They work on bug prevention and spot faulty code early, which saves time and money.
User acceptance (beta) tester
This expert is engaged at the final stage of the project. Their role is to make sure it is fully functional, so the result should meet the client’s expectations. Do not rush this stage, as it is absolutely crucial.
Finalize the Plan With the Team
Communication is essential at every stage. Starting from the kickoff meeting, where the project plan is presented, everyone must be on the same page. Make sure all members understand their personal schedules and expectations. For example, your UI designer must know when page layouts are due, and what is the start time.
It is not enough to give teammates a checklist and expect them to work through it. Have a special communication plan with specifics of reporting: templates, frequency, and other details. Plan how meetings will be organized. Have a clear strategy for conflict resolution.
Some projects are executed by team members who work in different time zones. In this case, meetings must be held during schedule overlaps. Plan every conference call in advance and in detail.
Choose a single communication channel for everyone, so no information gets lost. For example, Slack, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are all suitable for team management. The Google tool even allows users to stream their meetings on YouTube and record them on iOS and Android.
Modern video conferencing software can transmit audio, video, text, and files. One or two other methods may serve as backup for specific occasions. Note that older tools like Skype are not suitable for meetings including 8+ members.
Monitor the Performance
Tracking performance is crucial to ensure that your team is on the right track and all milestones are reached on time. The project manager must constantly monitor any variations between the actual and planned cost, scope, and schedule. These deviations must be reported to primary stakeholders and corrected as soon as possible.
For example, programmers may run into problems that delay execution. In this case, their tasks may be reorganized or shortened. You could hire an additional programmer (if the budget allows it) or reduce the scope in other areas.
Web development agencies may use Gantt charts to analyze team performance and tie loose ends. Special project management software like Trello helps members collaborate and get more done. Effective tools have such features as:
- Time tracking
- Progress per task
- Deadlines and timelines
- Workflow automation
The project manager is the crucial liaison between the client and team members throughout the process. They are always in touch with the stakeholders in case they want to discuss any questions, ideas, or new tasks. Following these interactions, the project manager communicates any updates to team members.
The best practices in project management speed up progress and ensure the best chance of success. The AppKong team will turn your vision into reality — an aesthetically pleasing and effective website that will fuel sales for years to come.