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9 Ways Website Projects Get Thrown Off the Rails

Web development projects are not easy. Websites are a big investment and often the centerpiece of a company’s digital footprint. The stakes are high, and yet, new website builds go sideways all too frequently. But why? Clients blame agencies, agencies blame clients, and everyone blames the project manager. But really, website projects get thrown off the rails for a number of reasons, most of which can be mitigated by effective communication and a collaborative client relationship

Websites are a big investment and often the centerpiece of a company’s digital footprint.

Early stage red flags and speed bumps

Many website projects hit rough waters long before the first wireframes are built out. When scoping a new project, agencies are trying to build a proposal that wins business, often with little up front discovery. This can lead to a building a statement of work with a favorable price tag, but also impossible, potentially irrelevant, deliverables and our first way projects get thrown off the rails: 1. Mismatched expectations. 

A thorough statement of work (SOW) written by an experienced project or account manager can go a long way towards kicking off a successful project. And how does an experienced project manager know how to scope out the perfect SOW? Asking questions and actively listening. The next two signs of a project going south 2. No clear goal and 3.It’s not incorporated into a broader corporate strategy.

If your agency team is diving into a website project without asking thoughtful questions and spending their time researching your company and industry, your project will likely end in an expensive disappointment. 

Why do you want a new website? What story should it tell? Do you have resources to maintain content updates? These are three of the million* questions to start asking at the beginning of a successful project. 

Another thing that can throw a project into madness is 4. Unclear ownership.

Who is responsible for making the final decisions? Timelines and budgets get blown up when decisions get dragged out or made by too many people. A crystal clear, in writing if possible, understanding of all stakeholder’s responsibilities will help everything continue on a path to success.  

Going off the rails deep into the project

If you start your development project with the firm foundation of clear communication, setting goals, and building around a holistic strategy, the risk of a project gone wild is significantly lowered. Still, things happen. And when things do happen, you need to be prepared instead of being stuck with a 5. Rigid roadmap.We’ve written before about how roadmaps need built-in flexibility or they’ll fail. 

It’s unlikely, even with the fine dining approach to planning and client relationships we take at Br8kthru, for a project to start and finish exactly as planned. You need a team of experienced developers, project managers, and strategists who can roll with the punches and work closely with the client to adapt and solve as they go.

Another way to reach an unsatisfying outcome is 6. Settling. When stakeholders span across multiple internal teams, you end up getting decisions to avoid making someone upset, rather than making decisions to make someone happy. Compromise is healthy, but too much compromise can really hurt a website’s ability to wow, to convert. On the flip side, agency partners can slip into the old adage “the customer is always right.” Also healthy, but there are times to push back and use specialized experience to create an end product that pushes the client further towards their goals. 

Fumbling the ball on the goal line

The code is finished. The staging site looks great, and everyone has signed off. Nothing to worry about anymore. Before you launch, make sure not to 7. Skip the double and triple checks. 

The post-launch life of a website is dependent on both the client and the agency to work together to make sure it’s ready to go. Technical quality assurance (QA) is largely on the agency’s plate, but the client’s eyes will be instrumental in making sure everything functions as expected. Have we mapped out all the necessary redirects? Are SEO elements in place? Is Google Analytics set up and ready, or have you decided to 8. Skip reporting? Whether it’s to save some money, or is just an afterthought, some level of post-launch reporting will help make sure the site is on the right path to achieve the goals set out in the beginning of the process. Post-launch reporting can also help verify the QA step or find unforeseen gaps and opportunities.

Beyond reporting, the biggest post-launch issue web projects run into is 9. Thinking the end is the end. Websites are living, breathing things. They can, and should, change and evolve, preferably based on data and analysis. Think in terms of continuous improvement, not set it and forget it. The end of a website project is simply the beginning of your next stage in your holistic marketing strategy. Continue to tweak, adapt, and feel happy about your website that stayed on the rails.