Hello friends. I have been developing websites for quite sometime now but my approach bothers me. Let's say I get a project to design an ecommerce website, I design a basic sitemap and develop each aspect on the fly. The implication of this is that I start development having only the required sections and pages in mind but during the development process, other sections and functions I never thought of starts surfacing and develop each part as it surfaces. That's what I mean by developing on the fly.
If ordinarily I planned 15 files initially, I always end up more than double the files I planned for.
If you understand me, I will like to know if there is a way to plan a website development project such that every single aspect (pages,sections and functions) are planned out before commencing. The aim is to ensure orderliness and make development to be systemic - step by step.
Any ideas/suggestions will be appreciated.
This should be a foundation of your web design business! What you are describing is not so lovingly called project creep. What it means is that you haven't done the proper planning work to develop your scope for the project, budget, and terms. You mentioned that you're frequently working on NEW sites, so this is even more of a problem because the client probably has no idea what they want and will keep asking for more and more and more and you haven't put in place the checks and balances that will prevent you from doing free work.
You need to look at some professional examples of scope of work documents for web site revision and design projects. Even for a modest 10-page site without a lot of features and functions, you can easily be talking about a very lengthy planning document that includes whose responsibility it is to populate content and how you will know when you are done. It will also limit the number of changes, give waypoints to know that you are on the right path and don't have to re-work something, and set up a billing structure that compensates you for the time that your cleint causes you to spend, not just what you predict.
Unfortunately, anyone who has worked with a cheap designer before will have a bad experience in memory and be a less than ideal client. They won't want to pay a lot of money, and ultimately they do NOT believe that the work you do is valuable, because the crappy design they had before didn't have any chance of delivering the results they hoped for.
A lot of your work is really to educate the client on the right way to do something and the reason that cheap sites are crap is because you get what you pay for. Your time isn't free. and anything more than the first hour you meet with a client to sell your services should be chargeable. Never take projects on a flat-fee basis. You might have to scale up your client qualifications and not take the lowest hanging fruit, or you will be perpetually frustrated by the factors I mentioned above.
Someone else mentioned wireframes, that's one of the stages of development, like a mood board, that keeps you from re-work because it takes your client's temperature before you get too far into coding. Talk to bigger design firms as if they were going to design a site for you and find out what their process is. You don't need to have them do any work, or even prepare any comps for you, just ask them about their process and what you should expect.
1. Get wire frames built for each page. This gives you very clear idea of what you are going to do and what functionalities are going to be included.
You said that almost pages double which is really high. I mostly keep 25% buffer for unforeseen stuff.
I spend a large amount of time getting to understand their business strategy and what they see in the future. We then usually discuss what value they want to deliver. From there I do a technology assessment to see what functions, applications, pages, and sections will be needed to achieve that.
Once I gather these I fit them into their business model in the future and indicate how the website can affect their revenue streams. After discussions of merging the current technology available with their business model, I finally begin working on wireframes.
As you may know, the website is ultimately tied to their business strategy. Get to know what they are planning to do, so you can anticipate the technology to support it.
Very simple solution
1. Write down everything on word or PowerPoint as a scope of work. It's very important to close the scope of work (assuming you are not going into MVP model which is totally startup model)
2. convert your scope into screens
3. Design screen
4. Development would be much easier after all this.
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So I read every reply here and everyone made an excellent point.
What I want to add is that when planning the website project with your client, you try to use a collaborative approach to it. That means that as you are putting down what needs to be done, they are seeing it and well, making contributions.
From there, you can easily draw out what would go to modules, classes, methods and stuff like that. It becomes like a map with everything you would need to do as agreed on by all parties involved.
You can follow it up with wireframes and all the other good stuff everyone has talked about.
Finally, I'd recommend you use a project management tool to develop your solution. Think of each module as a project and then list everything needed to finish down as task. Tasks typically have descriptions and stuff, so you can detail more there. You would also set times and be more organized.
Not that you would not have certain things come up, but it should really be rare at the end of the day.
If you don't have a particular project management tool you use, you could try Factory. My team build Factory, so you can reach out to me if there is anything you need. You could even request a feature, we are that generous :)
Don't forget to let us know when you find a trick that works for you.
I'm writing a short ebook to cover this exact process. I will just place an answer here so I don't forget to update it later once I have it done.
I totally agree with what Joshua Morales said in the reply section.
Form ever follows function
You should have the design & features follow the goals of the project, not vice versa.
The reason why you start seeing more things surfacing after planning, is because you haven't done proper researching for the project goals,
Most website agencies start with design
We used to have the exact same issue before. I strongly suggest you to take the Web Design Content First Approach
I have also prepared a list of over 25 questions to ask for any website project, check my Website Questionnaire
Once you clearly define your goals, your buyer personas, and your user flow, you will be able to map out all the content & feature you need to support your goals.
I suggest create a check-point questionnaire with your new clients. Let's connect I will show you a few sites that could give you ideas where to start the action :)