You need a web project plan for the same reason pilots need a flight plan. Without one, you might waste fuel (budget), hit avoidable hazards (risks to the project) and delay arrival (launch date). In the worst case scenario, you might not finish your journey at all (project abandonment) but even if you make it, you’ll probably lose passengers (customers) for future flights because of their experience.
So, what are the key components of a website plan?
Reviewing goals and internal capabilities
Researching competitors and audience
Writing problem statements
Creating project definition
Scheduling time for tasks
1. Reviewing goals and internal capabilities
Working with all key stakeholders to define clear goals for your website project means:
Less time spent correcting assumptions ‘in-flight’
Reduced risk of wastage if crucial business functions haven’t been consulted or considered
Thoroughly reviewing your existing resources before a project also means:
You won’t be left frustrated if less experienced employees aren’t able to deliver against an ambitious vision
You can book external resource in advance, budget for it and draw on it effectively; you won’t find yourself proceeding to the next phase of the project without the right skills available – particularly crucial disciplines like UX/UI, Digital Strategy and Data Management.
To clearly map out your goals and internal capabilities, every good website project plan should start with questions like these:
What are the current and future priorities of the business?
What are our revenue goals?
How does our current website perform against expectations?
Who internally will contribute to and manage the project?
Do they have the capacity to drive the project to completion in a timely manner?
What level of skill in specific roles does this project require?
What other work needs to be done at the same time as the website project?
Are there any other project deadlines dependent on the website project?
What is our total budget?
What documentation do we need?
Who are the stakeholders and when do they need to be involved?
2. Researching competitors and audience
Your customers won’t just see your website when they’re looking for the products and services you offer. That’s why it’s important to define your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the audience that you want to visit and use your website.
If you’ve identified the key businesses you’re competing with for your target audience’s time and money, here are some things to take note of when reviewing their websites:
The language they use – do they use a lot of specialist or colloquial words to impress or show they’re in tune with their audience? Or do they aim to simplify things to make users feel empowered by their choice to visit them?
How much and what content they have – content is king when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO), so you can learn a lot about a competitor from how much content they have and the subjects or questions they cover. You can use tools like Screaming Fog, MOZ and SEM Rush to analyse competitor websites and find out:
What content drives traffic for them
Which keywords they rank for
How competitive those keywords are
Which websites refer to them
What marketing channels they’re using
This information will help you structure and focus your content strategy, particularly around users with buying intent.
How they represent prices, discounts or offers – having competitors who always centre large discounts or generous offers on the website needn’t force you to do the same, but consider what else would entice a customer to stay longer and consider you.
The overall user experience – is your website easy to navigate? Does it take long to find the products or answers your visitors need? Can you complete simple tasks like finding contact information or current offers? You’ll usually be able to tell where great design and UX/UI skill has been employed based on browsing alone.
Where and how they use data capture – white papers and gated content, contact us forms, online surveys, gamification – these are all techniques that engage with users and capture valuable data. Observing when your competitors are asking for user data and what information they’re asking for indicates opportunities for you to do the same. Your competitors may have run tests to find out what works and what doesn’t, which you can learn from, then run your own tests to optimise fully for your specific audience.
3. Writing problem statements
Problem statements are (unsurprisingly) statements that capture the problems your website is trying to solve. Strong statements follow these rules:
They’re simple – keep a similar structure and avoid jargon. This will help all project team members understand what they’re working towards.
They should not try to define tangible solutions – your statements should serve as prompts for designing every aspect of the website. By adding a solution to the problem statement, you’ll limit its relevance in some parts of the project.
They should acknowledge a specific audience – centering a specific audience in the problem statement will make it easier to write. It will also be more useful to project team members when crafting different parts of the user experience like navigation, page layout, colour palettes and content.
Here are some examples of problem statements, written in different formats:
For young film fans, the cinema is no longer the best place to watch the latest releases. At home they have big sofas they can stretch out on, their favourite takeaway to hand and they can freely discuss that big plot twist live with their friends.
I’m the Marketing Manager of a small but successful regional restaurant business with national growth plans this year. I think it’s a good time to invest in PR and OOH, but I’m worried about the budgets needed by big agencies, and the lack of reach of smaller local ones.
4. Creating project definition
Project definition uses all the context from the previous 3 steps and sets out goals specific to the website. Your Project Definition should be the keystone in your web project planner and be accessible to all members of the team, answering questions like:
What does the website need to achieve for the business (SMART KPIs)?
What will the final website do for or offer to users?
What are the key project milestones?
What are the deadlines?
How much is it going to cost?
Who’s going to work on it?
Who makes the final decisions?
What processes will be used?
How will we manage data to ensure compliance and security?
What are the contingencies for delays or additional costs?
5. Scheduling time for project phases and tasks
If you’re working with a digital agency like Monogram, we’ll have a good idea of the average time that each phase and individual task will take. Our experience and insight can optimise the process and flag potential delays, making cost efficiencies in advance. Talk to us and you’ll have a timelined view of your project in no time.
If you’re doing it yourself, you’ll need to work closely with team stakeholders to understand the approximate time it will take for their tasks to be completed and then build in contingency for delays in other tasks or with sign-off. Once you have your list of time for tasks you’ll be able to start adding up and mapping out phases onto a timeline.
6. Assigning responsibility
This is one of the simplest ways to increase the efficiency of your website project and ensure it’s delivered on time. It means no-one on the project is in any doubt about what their role is or who needs to be involved at any given time.
Assigning responsibility can look as simple as a RACI matrix for each phase of the project plan:
R (Responsible) – this person/team delivers the work in this phase; they have the best skillset and available time to deliver the work needed
A (Accountable) – this person/team makes decisions about the work in this phase; they are ultimately accountable for the successful delivery of this phase of the work
C (Consulted) – this person/team is asked for their input to the work or decision-making in this phase in order for the project to progress; their skillset is required and their insight, feedback and guidance is beneficial to this stage of the process
I (Informed) – this person/team is updated about the work in this phase (because it has an impact on their roles and responsibilities) but their specific input is not required for the project to progress
How can you ensure your website project goes to plan?
There will always be things you can’t account for or anticipate in your web project plan, but following best practice will increase your chances of success:
Use a project manager and agree a project management methodology – a good project manager will add value to your project by managing teams, balancing stakeholder priorities and catching delays or mistakes before they happen. The right project management methodology also defines how work happens and how teams work together, making projects more efficient.
Communicate clearly and regularly – encouraging team members to communicate openly and frequently about work status and issues will help avoid crisis situations that cost significant time or money.
Select the right tools – there are thousands of project planning and management tools available, with many that could work for your web project. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve shared our Top 5.
If you’re ready to start planning your new website project, you can download our free website project plan template here. You can also get in touch with the Monogram team to talk about how your new website can meet both commercial and sustainability goals when you work with us.