It Takes a Team to Create a Website
A potential client recently asked me, "Why does it take a team and sometimes even a significant budget to build a great website?"
Without hesitation, the answer was simple: There are simply too many moving parts for any one person to handle. If your business requires only a basic website that simply shares 'about us' and contact information, then anyone that can figure out basic HTML or utilize one of the standard blogging platforms can create the site you need. However, once the business requires more than a few static pages and a contact form — you are ready for the assistance of a team of professionals.
The goal of this article will be to explain the various roles and experience levels required to create a website that serves the full needs of the business today and for several years to come. This won't be short, so grab some coffee and let's dive in:
Architecture and Planning
The proper planning and architecture of a website lays the groundwork for the success or failure of any project. More important to the question this article seeks to answer, this is why many in-house web individuals or teams may fail in their attempt to create the right end product.
It begins with having an experienced website architect identify all the goals and requirements of the project. This person will interview as many of the business stakeholders as necessary to gather a wide base of requests. The architect then applies their knowledge and background in web strategy and large-scale project planning to document the true requirements of the project. This usually results in a very different project definition than the original business team had anticipated.
Why would the web project definition be different when created by a consultant?
Simply put, the web architect does this all the time and can apply their past project knowledge to the issues of the current project. For most organizations looking to build a significant website project, their experience only goes as far as the horizons they've encountered in their current role. This may be the most important role within a web consulting team and will almost always be forgotten or poorly executed with an in-house web developer.
The right website design goes far beyond creating a beautiful set of images; this is why a web team will use more than just a graphic designer. Similar to the project as a whole, the design should be well planned from the beginning. Using the skills of the web architect, paired with a knowledgeable web user interface (UI) designer, a series of wireframes should be defined that seek to define:
- General Page Layout
- General Site Architecture/Map
- General Navigation Scheme and Levels Required
- Any Issues or Risks Associated w/ Stated Requirements
These wireframes are typically black and white, line representations of what would appear on a screen. There is no 'graphic design' applied at this point, think if these documents as the blueprints for the website.
Once the wireframes are complete and the client has approved the direction, the project now moves to utilize the skills of the web graphic designer. Surprisingly, many projects are started at this point — we have defined several steps required just to get the project to this phase.
Depending on the scale of the project, the designer may create a single 'concept' design that illustrates the color scheme, font usage, general layout and begins to define the 'look and feel' of the site. Once approved by the client, the designer will layout all of the different areas of the site to ensure all parties involved understand the nuances of how this design concept will be realized.
At this point, the project has a solid set of definitions and an approved design — now the development begins. In most projects, there are at least two separate roles required to successfully complete the web project: a front-end developer and a web applications developer.
Front-end Web Developer
The world of visual web design and development grows more complex every day; the front-end web developer has a passion for staying on top of the current trends, best practices and future directions that will keep his/her work as fresh and relevant as possible. This is only enhanced when the developer works in an agency or consulting environment as they are exposed to new challenges on a daily basis — this is a benefit that an in-house web developer does not always enjoy, or seek to enjoy.
Web Application Developer
Often referred to as the 'back-end developer', this individual — or team of individuals — is responsible for developing the functionality that was defined in the project documentation. Any request that is beyond the definition of layout is in the hands of the application developer; almost every site built requires the skills of an application developer to some extent. The more complex the site definitions, the more this role is heavily integrated in to the development of the website.
This role is quite possibly the most unseen by typical clients. In short, they are making the magic happen behind the scenes. Their skills are grown daily by using a select set of languages and platforms as the ingredients to the final recipe. But much like a great chef, their skills are only maintained by constantly utilizing and pushing their abilities across many various projects.
Although quality assurance (or QA) is a specific phase in any project, the roles involved and required tasks are involved from the first day of the project. Generally speaking, the roles associated with QA are the project manager and the quality assurance team.
Web Project Manager
The role of an experienced web project manager is often dismissed as someone who monitors checklists and simply drives the project forward; many times even questioned by a new client as a viable member of a consulting team. This could not be further from the truth on a web project of any significant scale.
The project manager (PM) must have the knowledge of all phases of a web project and the experience to see when any area is off track. This individual begins the project by working with the client and website architect to properly define all aspects and layout an achievable timeline for the project. The PM will be involved in the wireframe and concept design process to ensure all requirements are considered — continuing this task through the design and development phase. All the while, the PM has the requirement of keeping the client communication as active as necessary and facilitating collaboration between the various moving parts of the web project team. This is no simple set of tasks and a significant role in the completion of any website project.
Quality Assurance Team
Within our consulting organization, the QA team is uniquely defined for each project. Smaller projects simply need a person unaffiliated with the design/development of the project to run through all pages and ensure everthing works as it is defined. This must be done on various computer platforms (PC and Mac) and across the wide range of popular browsers available today. Upon completion of this testing, the QA team reports to the PM and developers on any changes or issues that have been identified.
In the case of a larger project with more significant functionality, all functionality must be checked against the initial requirements set forth by the initial project documentation. The project docs, as defined by the PM and web architect in the first phases, will be the testing criteria used by the QA team. The primary goal of the QA team associated with a larger scale project is the same as in a smaller project: report to the PM and development team on any issues found against the initial project documentation.
Hosting and Deployment
As with the project manager, a member of the hosting and deployment team will be involved with the project from day one. Typically defined as a server administrator, this goal of this individual is to ensure that the end product will be optimized for the web host's server. A website that is properly optimized will run smooth, with a better end-user experience as they navigate through the pages and sections of a website. Moreover,
The server admin will work with the developers (many times sharing similar skillsets) to properly define, architect and develop solutions to requirements that will remain functional long after the team has passed the project over to the client to maintain. A poorly optimized site may work well for days or even months, but the omission of this role's participation could lead to serious complications down the road.
As the site is complete, tested and ready to launch, the hosting and deployment team ensures that the project is moved from the development environment to the final web host server. Another step that can be easily overlooked in its significance, the deployment team must make sure that the site is running as efficiently as possible and that no functionality has been compromised in the migration.
After the site is tested and proven to be in perfect form, the deployment team moves on to enabling redirects of old web pages to maintain the site's search rankings and then sets up any necessary tracking or analytics software.
At the end of the deployment phase, the site will be working as initially defined and ready to handover to the client for long-term maintenance. If necessary to the project scope, the PM will now be able to complete any final communication requests, facilitate any necessary training and close out the project.
What Makes a Web Team a Strong Web Team
This answer is simple: Experience and passion for the art and science of making the web a better place. However, this is no simple task to build and maintain a team with this driving focus. A strong web team is comprised of all roles defined above, but the complexities of each individual make this a target that continues to move with every passing day. In addition, there are other roles that should be considered for many projects. Some additional roles might be: Flash developers, online marketing experts, ecommerce developers and a host of other individuals with specialized experiences.
As skills, trends and best practices change over time, the interests and expertise of each individual will change with them. It is the job of the teams leaders to keep the right people on the right project tasks, leading to the most successful outcome time after time.
So if you're still awake and reading this manifesto on why a team is required, let me know how your experiences have gone. Are you part of a team? Do you see things differently? I look forward to any comments.