Podcast 23: Defining your project

Paul Boag

This week on boagworld.com Paul and Marcus discuss the need to define clearly the scope of your web project before rushing into the build.

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TechnoBuster: Semantic code

Semantic code is a term that is thrown around a lot at the moment, but what is it and why should you care? I try to explain to Marcus in very small words what it’s all about!

Check out our article on this subject

Main feature: Scoping your web project

Carefully planning your website before you start to build might not sound like the most exciting theme for a podcast but it is fundamental to a successful website project. I know from bitter experience that not doing so can lead to a world of pain for both the developer and the client. In this weeks show we share loads of tips that we have learnt over the years. Here are just a few of them:

Take the long view

Many clients force agencies to start projects before they are fully prepared, either because they are unwilling to pay for a scoping phase or because they have a tight deadline to meet. This kind of short-term view does nobody any favours. If a project is not properly defined at the outset, it will inevitably lead to slippages and additional expense. A developer needs time to understand the requirements before they begin to build. If they don’t, they will be unprepared when they encounter unforeseen technical issues.

Everybody has to sign off

Having a statement of work that everybody has signed off on is a great way to ensure client, developer and designer are all singing off of the same hymn sheet. It avoids miscommunication and misunderstanding by clearly defining what is going to be delivered.

Do you really need that?

The scoping phase should not only identify what tasks need to be done, it should also take a long hard look at what functionality is being considered. If you are not careful, your statement of work can turn into a wish list of functionality rather than a considered document which factors in return on investment. Ask yourself, if I spend all of this time building a certain piece of functionality, will it pay dividends for my organisation.

Be specific

It is easy to be vague about your scope, but if you do, there is room for confusion. The statement of work should cover everything from how many design iterations there should be, to what browsers the site is going to be tested on. Make sure your list of tasks is as detailed as possible, that way you will avoid any nasty surprises half way through the project.

Phased development

Don’t be afraid to phase a project especially when faced with a tight deadline. If your website has to be live by a certain date, it might be wise to leave out some of the "bells and whistles" until post launch. It is easy to forget that your website should be an evolving animal that can grow over time. After all, saving some of the functionality and rolling it out later gives you a good PR opportunity.

The hidden technology killers

Beware of those little technology issues that are so easy to overlook. For example, pay particular attention to which browsers you are going to support and what accessibility level you will be conforming to. Finally don’t forget to factor in time to deal with those extra style sheets for print, mobile or low vision users.

Web resources: Getting your layout right

This week I picked two sites that help designers develop the perfect layout.

Web Design Practices
A great site that shows you the trends in layout based on an analysis of several hundred websites. This site answers invaluable questions such as; "where does the search box normally appear" and "do most sites use side or top navigation?"

Although slightly out of date and centred largely on ecommerce sites, this is still an excellent resource. However, remember, just because a lot of sites do something a certain way doesn’t make it good practice!

Layout cookbooks
Have you ever had a client who knows what they like when they see it? If so, send them over to the layout cookbook and get them to look through the hundreds of different screen layouts available there. It’s also a great place to get some inspiration when you feel like all your designs are using the same basic layout!