Breakin‘ up (web projects) is hard to do
Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, making the case for breaking up web projects into more manageable chunks. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.
Kristin Van Dorn: So Joel, Why wouldn’t a university take on a giant redesign project from soup to nuts? The whole thing all at once?
Joel Goodman: You know, they always do. And I think that’s a big problem in the industry. So, Why wouldn’t they? I got a few ideas. I think one of the, one of the more interesting ones is saving money, because what happens over the course of these long projects, and we’ve talked a little bit about this in other Appendix B conversations, is you leave more room for unknowns to enter the picture.
So you may have set down a really good scope. You may have a suggested timeline, but as anyone who’s worked with an agency partner, or even just done one of these projects in house, knows the timeline inevitably is gonna shift, and the project is generally going to take a little bit longer than it should have.
So the ways to kind of combat that, in my mind, are breaking things up a little bit, and you can, you can work with the same company or you can work with different companies. I think it’s probably, I kinda like the continuity better, and I’m not just saying that because Bravery Media does this type of stuff, but I think the continuity is important and a lot of times that step one that I look at is doing the research.
So like you can take that discovery process that’s gonna come in one of those giant soup to nuts proposals and, and turn that into a separate standalone project that’s then going to lead into figuring out the scope for what your redesigns gonna be. And then after you redesign, you can figure out what the scope to build the thing out is going to be.
Big projects are so complicated and there are so many moving pieces that affect pricing that any proposal you get from an agency is generally going to be a ballpark range. And some agencies are good at pricing that, and some agencies aren’t. Some agencies see that as a industry insider secret, and see that as a good way to increase their margins, especially if they’re really fast or they’re outsourcing dev work or things like that.
But you’re always going to have padding because in a large institutional change management for the web kind of project, you don’t know what that final result is going to be when you’re going through a giant proposal. And, the best way to get a better sense of that is to, is to break that up into chunks.
Kristin Van Dorn: I think something that you’re kind of getting at is doing those iterative changes along with a new web design and content production schedule. What’s really helpful for both the client and the agency in that partnership is those iterative changes affect the source content or the source design that the agency is going to use to make your product better.
So if you start with a better starting product that those iterative changes that you’re making alongside the agency while they’re working, you have synergy in improving the content. In improving the design as you go, so it’s helpful to keep the client steeped in the work of the agency, and the agency really steeped in the work of the client.
Plus, you’re much more likely to get those early research findings embedded in the process of the new redesign and content production. If you just sit on it for eight months, then you kind of forget what you discovered or why it was so essential, and then it’s harder to bridge that gap between what you discovered and baking that into the new design.
Joel Goodman: Yeah. I wish, and maybe I can do research on this, I don’t know. I feel like I wouldn’t find anything, but I wish I knew how this whole massive research design development production process came about. Like, why is Higher Ed at this point? You know, like, oh, we wanna do a redesign, and like, that’s the starting point versus starting with, we want to figure out what is wrong with our website or what could be improved? You know, we, we could say it a little bit more positively, right? Like, we want to know what we can improve on our website and then start the process from there. Rather than this, we gotta blow it up and start all over again.
And then never really, or at least rarely really getting an end product that even fits what had been found in that research originally. It’s always gonna change the time. You know, everything that you were just saying, you end up not having as much of that original insight, as much of that original research, and those findings embedded into how you do the process.
And so, cool. You might have a pretty website at the end maybe, but it’s also gonna take a lot longer to get there, and you’re probably gonna spend more money than you wanted to. And, now a word from our sponsor.
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Kristin Van Dorn: So I think part of the reason we go for those big monster projects as opposed to these smaller ones gets back to earlier discussions we’ve had about web teams and digital strategy teams being notoriously underfunded. And so the product that they start off with, like succumbs to entropy, you get so many additional pages of conflicting content, content that’s hard to maintain, you have design components that aren’t used the way that they were intended, and now they’re creating sort of this drag on your site because they’re not communicating to the visitor what the visitor’s expecting, and they’re shoehorned in there in a way that doesn’t make sense, so you have all this buildup of gunk.
And I think what happens is, we wait till that point where it becomes unsustainable or untenable and then we say we have to blow the whole thing up and start fresh. And so then we want the big master project to come in and give us a clean slate so that we start that whole process over again.
And that hasn’t worked out for web teams for a really long time, for multiple reasons. One is that big master plan winds up running very expensive, part of it is because, like Joel, you said earlier that agencies come in and they add padding to account for the changes that are going to take place along the way.
So when something is scoped properly or broken up, you have maybe a little less of that padding, so you’re getting more value out of the process. But then on top of it, it goes so long that it just drags on an expense and you lose your market share in that process, or you lose part portions of your market share.
You have a dysfunctional site that administrators are burning out over instructing web visitors on how to use and all of that like changes the experience internally of what that web process is like. And, it takes a toll. And then you have a new fancy thing, but you don’t have the energy or the bandwidth to maintain it.
And. You go right back into that entropic slide, right?
Joel Goodman: It’s not unlike construction projects. So I think about like capital campaigns and things that happen on campuses to build, say, a new residence hall or, you know, some new classroom space or whatever. Like, you’ll get quotes, they’ll come out and, you know, given, I know the web people aren’t working with facilities and everyone else, but like, you know, they’re gonna solicit proposals from construction companies and architects and everything else.
But once those companies actually get into the ground and start doing the digging and the prep work, you know, those, those things, those prices can change and often do change because they run into a sheet of rock, the bedrock’s higher than they thought it was gonna be, or, you know, they’re running into some really old pipes and they’ve got to call a specialist plumber in, they’ve got to get new equipment in or materials costs increase, which we, you know, we’ve seen in this economy over the last several years.
Those things change and those timelines change. And so if you’re stuck on setting up a specific timeline to getting that sort of thing out, and you’re trying to kind of contain everything into one big project, you’re gonna end up paying more back in the long run because there are those unforeseen changes.
I mean, it’s an imperfect analogy, but there are a lot of overlaps with that. And given, you know, web work and things like that, like aren’t gonna cost as much money in general as actually building something in the physical, temporal world. But the, the planning and the architecture and the research and all of that stuff, those are the things that really good construction companies, really good architects, really good engineering companies, can put into place to minimize those costs.
And it’s the same thing if you break up that process for your web projects. You end up getting, as you said, a lot more value for the money that you’re spending because you’re not paying for the padding side of it.
Carl Gratiot: Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B. If you have a minute today, we would really appreciate it if you leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And if you would like more from Bravery, please check out our Higher Ed Hot Takes newsletter at bravery.co/newsletter. Thank you so much. We’ll see you next week.