Establish measurable goals
As a website developer I may build an incredibly popular website which receives tens of thousands of visitors a day but if those visitors fail to make purchases, when this is a key success criteria for the client, then I have failed in my job. A clearly defined set of success criteria will help to ensure a website is built in the most appropriate way as well as make sure goalposts don’t move too far through the lifespan of the project. In practice it is all about communication. Like most projects, if goals are not clearly defined up front and a mechanism is in place to measure if those goals are met, a website project can soon turn into a battlefield. The client is left disappointed with the end result which hasn’t lived up to his or her expectations while the developer is exasperated believing the client asked for one thing but in reality wanted another.
Dealing with multiple objectives
So when I talk about success criteria what exactly is it that I am referring to? Well to some extent that depends on the individual website. A community website is going to have very different aims and objectives to say, an e-commerce site. Often it is impossible to define a single criterion but rather there are a number of factors that the client wants taken into account. In these kinds of situations it is important to prioritise the criteria. For example, I have recently been involved in a lot of work for the National Trust. Like most client they didn’t have a single aim for their site. They wanted to disseminate information to the public and to their members. They also wanted to increase the number of people becoming members through the site. Moreover they wished to make their site visually more attractive and easier to use as well as meeting the need of visually impaired users. The list went on. It took sometime of working with the client before I felt confident in the priority of these goals.
It is important to note that broad goals for a website, such as those mentioned above are not the same as success criteria. Success Criteria need to be more specific and more measurable. For example my interpretation of a site being more usable may have been different from that of the Trusts. What were needed were tangible goals we could agree between us. Instead of a vague goal of improving usability it would have been better to specify a percentage increase in the number of users moving deeper into the site or staying longer. Equally talking about increasing membership could mean very different things from one person to the next. As a developer I may have believed a five percent increase was reasonable while the Trust may have expected something much higher. It is vital to be specific and that all parties involved are fully in agreement with any criteria set.
The final point worth making is that it is extremely important that any success criteria set are realistic. A one hundred percent increase in company turnover within a fortnight of the site going live just isn’t going to happen! No self respecting development house is going to sign on to that. Success criteria should be set at a realistic level and achievable within a realistic timescale. I also don’t believe that it is particularly appropriate to make success criteria a contractual obligation on the development house used. My reasons for this are the client often hugely affects success criteria themselves. The development of a website is a partnership between the developer and the client. The client obviously has a huge impact on the final deliverable and so cannot blame the developer when not all the success criteria are met.
The blame game
It is an inevitable part of web design that not all your objectives are going to be met in the first pass. The trick is not to turn things into a blame game but rather sit down and analysis why things didn’t work out as expected. Where your criteria unrealistic in the first place? Where there factors which you could not have predicted at the outset of the project? There is a whole host of reasons why objectives weren’t met. Once they have been identified the next step is to either set new objectives or look at new ways of addressing the existing ones.
I strongly believe that establishing clear success criteria in the early stage of any web development project will facilitate the smooth running of the project and ensure better communication between client and developer. However it is important that any success criteria laid down remain flexible and don’t turn into a club to beat each other around the head with!