August 15, 2012

Content Centric Design Part 1 - Avoid Website Development Delays

Published: 15 August 2012 

Will this Website Ever 'Go Live'

If your experience of building websites is anything like mine, on many occasions you've found yourself in the critical final days of development only to be hamstrung at the last minute by a large, seemingly immovable obstacle - content, or lack thereof. "Will this site ever go live?" you may have asked yourself. I know I have.

At Matter Solutions we've got our in-house project management processes well established, although of course they're in a constant state of review and improvement.  Turn around times could be as low as a couple of weeks for a basic WordPress site but can extend out to around 6 weeks or so. Why? I'll address the answer as it relates to content centric design.

This blog post is the first in a series in which I will explore and share some ideas about content centric design focusing in Part 1 on the project management side of things.

What is Content Centric Design?

As it relates to website project management, it is simply a gateway process whereby the actual website design and subsequent build phases are delayed until the website content is finalised and signed off by the client. By 'content' we are talking particularly about copywriting and images or other multimedia assets to be included in the website.

The not so Good Way

When analysing processes, whether they be project management or other business processes, I like to look for the 'pain points'. This means identifying the most important stages in the process that are causing pain to both our internal productivity and externally from a client's view point.

In the case of some of our not so good experiences building websites the 'pain point' has repeatedly been identified as the lack of content to finish off the site. It's extremely rare that we're delayed by technical hurdles of internal scheduling bottlenecks. Client provision of content can be considered a bit of a black hole as there is really no way of quantifying what you're going to get and when you're going to get it. Examples of this are copywriting not provided, not finished or of questionable quality, images not provided or being changed at the last minute or keywords being changed and in turn copywriting being re-written etc. Some may argue that this is just part and parcel of building a website and that's true to a degree but the negative consequences to both the client and productivity are too great to ignore.

It's not good from a client point of view because it brings an unexpected degree of frustration during what is already a relatively stressful time for clients in the lead lead up to go live. It also brings delay into the equation and this may result in negative business impacts for the client! The difficulty in sourcing and finalising quality content I feel is often underestimated by clients, and the realisation that things are not up to scratch usually only comes once the pressure of launch is imminent - hence the last minute changes.

From a productivity point of view the negatives are pretty obvious - delayed launches that have a ripple effect, lost time having to re-do the same task several times and additional time spent liaising with clients. It really does all add up.

The Better Way

By bringing the 'provision of content' pain point forward in the process it forces a better result for clients, our productivity and typically should result in a better website, which of course is that main goal in our line of business.

Delaying the build proper until the content is signed-off forces clients to think about the requirements and put in more effort up front. It's tough love in a way. This may result in the content creation responsibility being handed back to us, which is preferable for a number of reasons.

A major advantage of finalising content upfront is that enables the website design process to be tailored perfectly around the content rather than trying to shoehorn content in after the fact. It also allows us to more accurately anticipate the development timeline (from build to launch) as we move the content 'black hole' forward.

While you can never entirely eliminate some of these hassle, it is preferable to bring them forward. As Brian Tracy would describe it  "Eat That Frog!".  Tackle the biggest, most unpleasant challenges that will deliver the most benefit, first. We've only recently started to include this content centric approach in our project management methodology and we're already seeing improved results.

Ben Maden

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