We’ve been talking about ways we can have better web projects and deliver better results for our clients.
Earlier, we discussed getting all the site content at the onset of the project, because knowing what you have to say and who you’re saying it to dictates the design. Having the content ahead of time also minimizes last minute delays, and gives us more time to test real content in the site.
We also went over how the testing phase should receive ample time in a project cycle. Most of the time, deadlines and delays in preceding project stages can rob the testing stage of necessary time to test for use cases, browsers, devices, and user-friendliness.
Today I’d like to talk about something that I believe in strongly about — communication.
I’ve said before that good projects require overcommunication. The big reason is if you’re silent, if you’e not reaching out periodically, clients will assume the worst.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If the people involved in a project don’t hear anything, they are going to fill the communication void with thoughts of the worst possible scenario.
If it’s a client, perhaps they will worry about the project, and wonder if it is on track. If it is another internal team, perhaps they will move forward making their own assumptions about the project, which may be incorrect.
Consistent communication is more than a courtesy. It has everything to do with reinforcing expectations.
Before The Project Begins
If you’re a client, something is forcing you to take action, and invest time and money into solving a problem. If you’re even considering a web project, something with your website needs improving.
Investing in your website now and not later means something is at a tipping point. Continuing to work with your website in it’s current state will have a negative impact on your business.
For that investment, you are expecting a better return, and some facet of your business to be improved.
The Project Begins
It’s customary at the beginning of a project for the client and the agency to have kick-off meetings and a discovery stage.
This is where you come together to define the current problem, outline what a successful project looks like now, and in the future. The beginning phase is where communication is concentrated, as you put together strategy, and documentation on how the problem will be solved, and the steps that will be taken to get get there.
But after the discovery and research phase, there’s a trap that we have to avoid falling into. We must avoid going dark on communication during the design, development, and testing phases.
It’s good to be proactive. The consultancy should always let clients know where they’re at. Each week, they should be summarize what value they are delivering to the clients.
By reiterating what the project is intended to accomplish, and documenting the steps taken that are closer to that goal, we retain focus on the original goals. Weekly reports also show what value the client is getting for their investment, and show where resources are being allocated.
It is customary for agencies to have more than one project going at once. Touching base and letting clients know that they haven’t been forgotten about goes a long way to establishing trust.
Everyone’s Perception Is Their Version of Reality
In yesterday’s article, we talked about how clients and consultants see the stages of a web project differently — specifically, the time it takes to complete each stage.
To most clients, the perception is that web development is hard, and therefore, takes the longest time to complete. Design and discovery are perceived to take a long time, but not as long as coding. Testing is perceived as getting whatever time is left over.
In reality, these stages should be a little closer to equal than what the perception is.
But here’s a problem that’s related to perception.
You can see the deliverables of a discovery stage. You have a project brief. You have a strategy outline. You have an outline and a project scope that gives you a road map for the rest of the project. These are tangible items with things written down that are easy to assess.
The same thing applies to the design stage. You can look at the visual representation of the website. You can see the deliverables — the design comps and mockups.
When it comes to web development and testing, these things are not always easy to see.
Any developers in the house can raise their hand and give me an “Amen” to this one:
You can work all day on a web development problem and judging by what is visible on the screen, it may look like you’ve done barely anything — or even nothing. But under the hood, you may be making lots of progress and solving major problems, but it’s not always apparent right away.
With web development, you can be 80% done with something, but you can’t ship that, because it might not look 80% done.
From a client perspective, if they don’t know what you’re doing, or what milestones you’re hitting, the only thing they have to go by is what is visible to them.
That is a big reason that the communication needs to be consistent, and going dark for long stretches is not advised.
For the testing phase, it’s very similar.
A lot of quality assurance is also invisible. Because the client is not normally thinking of the different use case scenarios that might come up, this is something we need to communicate we are doing.
Browser, device, and accessibility testing are also 85% invisible to most clients, so we need to let them know when we are focusing on those areas during the project.
Most clients will look at the site on their main desktop computer, their phone, and their tablet, and that’s it until after the launch.
Since there are eleventy-bajillion devices and screens out there (and growing every day), testing for these is critical — but letting our clients know we are testing those will put their mind at ease.
Just a Heads Up — When Going Heads Down Can Be Bad
Communication becomes very vital. Many agencies like to go what we call “heads-down” in our work. But it’s a good thing to just let clients know what’s going on, what we’re working on, and how we’re taking care of their investment in their project.
Whether their project is on time, slightly behind, or ahead of schedule, it’s good to just let them know.
Trust matters because you’re not really buying a one-off project. You’re buying an ongoing relationship with your web consultancy.
In return for that investment, you have someone you can count on to help you navigate the ever-changing world of the web.
(And the web will continue to change at a faster and faster pace! From the inside, it seems to change on a weekly basis.)
Clients will continue to need a web consultant who is in their corner as those changes take place.
I encourage web studios to communicate not just at the beginning and end of a project, but all the way through a web project. Communicate the value you are providing, and what’s going on. Don’t leave your clients guessing.
We are allies together, and continual communication builds trust. Trust is something we should always be striving to build.