Every project should be preceded by strategic planning; think of it as similar to drawing up your shopping list. However, determining the scope of a web development project is not really as simple as drawing up a bulleted list of wants (Video? Check. Ecommerce? Check. Blog? Check.). What's missing from this list is a guiding strategy. So far, I've been using a grocery store analogy, but my next point is best made from the wood shop.
That was one of Bob Villa's (of This Old House fame) mottos, which was printed on a mug my step-father used to hold pencils in his garage woodshop. Whenever I think of him, I think of that motto and appreciate the value of carefully considering something before you do it. Villa held to this motto because lumber can't be un-cut; once you've started sawing through wood, there's no turning back- that is unless you have an endless supply of wood. In the same way, once you start the development phase of a website, it's very difficult to start over without significant schedule and budget losses.
This is why we hold firmly to the belief that beginning any project with a strategic phase will ensure that realistic goals are set, a manageable scope, budget and timeline are established and an appropriate content strategy is planned. Without taking the initial time to do this, it's likely that some aspect of the project will not go according to the expectations of those involved. In fact, we would confidently affirm that spending time on strategic planning will actually save time and money in general by preventing unnecessary revisions and potential road blocks.
Our approach to a strategic planning phase takes three particular steps: The first involves an interview, during which we spend time with our clients asking lots of questions. The information we receive in this interview helps us to be aware of expectations, fears, limitations and other factors that often do not present themselves until much later. It's not an interrogation, but a thorough diagnostic of business, marketing and technological factors. After we've gathered the information we need, we prepare a written report which covers positioning, goals, current perceptions of strengths and weaknesses, functionality recommendations, search engine optimization, and content strategy. Once this report has been completed, we regroup with the client to review it in detail and take questions. This is often the most productive portion of the strategic phase as a greater sense of goal-oriented unity surfaces and the team gets excited about the project they are about to begin. Additionally, it's at this point that we can most accurately establish a budget and schedule for a project.
To be clear, not every project we're involved with needs a "Newfangled" strategic planning phase. Some of our best projects have begun right out of the gate because our clients have already planned extensively before we became involved. In these cases, it's not that strategic planning isn't needed, it's that one has already been done, just not by us. However, if, during our sales process, we sense that an internal planning phase has not occurred, we will enthusiastically make our case for a "Newfangled" strategic phase.
Once a strategy has been developed, we can begin prototyping.