The process of planning and designing a great online website that is unique and tailored to a clearly defined business model, can be an intense experience. This article covers some key things to consider when planning to embark on launching your own web site or new start-up. As a client or entrepreneur with a great start-up idea or online concept, you want to ensure that your vision for your product or service is realised within three key parameters.
Commonly we refer to this part of a project as Phase 1 – Launch (or MVP launch, Minimum Viable Product launch). This phase is all about getting the core MVP foundation laid. You have your concept, you know what you want but you cannot see at the early stages how everything will pan out.
In the world of online, I always say there is no such thing as a finished website. The same can be said for a house, when does a home ever not need maintenance or updates and fixes? No matter what the purpose of any website, the moment that website is done, there will be more to do. I have learnt over the years to communicate to potential clients what to expect in the project life cycle. Here are some of the key things to keep in mind:
Even with careful planning and design approval, the alpha and beta testing stages can kick up all sorts of feedback. Bottom line, nothing is easy in this world and if you want to create something meaningful and with the best chance of success you need to work your butt off. When we create a site we have a close working relationship with our clients, with a single focus, that our clients vision needs to be made a reality. With all the planning, designing, testing and feedback it really kicks up a lot of dusty activity. This reference for me refers to the hands on nature of what we do, just like baking a cake (which I personally have attempted) there is no way to avoid getting cake mix and dough or icing sugar all over the place. Decorating that cake gets even more messier, but the end results are fantastic.
Once the master piece is completed and you have cleaned up the mess and you survey the amazing site (or cake) that you have cooked up, you start to see it in a new light. What you start to see are areas that can be immediately improved and the more people who see the site, the more you find areas that can be made even better. You will also discover areas that you had carefully planned and got completely wrong.
Through the process of actually completing what you set out to do, you can now take advantage of exploring new ideas and better approaches that have only arisen due to the, actual, process being completed. Completing what you set out to do is always a better place to be in than still way back at the starting line. None of us learn anything by standing still, but learn only by taking action.
During the project life cycle new ideas will emerge all the time. Ideas from our side and the clients side. These are kept in what we call a Phase 2 – Ideas list, where we document the new ideas and leave them ready to review. These ideas will need to pass the core objectives test and be evaluated to weigh up whether or not they are in fact good ideas. We have learnt even with our own start-up, Yappie that you can spend a lot of time adding new features that once launched you find that users do not use. All the features that fail are the ones that do not support the core objectives.
You have a great new product idea for bacon flavoured ice-cream. Your core objective for launch is to promote and sell your new product. A bad idea would be to add a forum, why? Well…
A better solution that will support your objectives is to provide a simple easy feedback option. This will allow you to learn what visitors and customers have to say, giving you clear data to make better decisions on where to take the site and product (bacon flavoured ice-cream).
Sticking to the plan can be difficult, it’s one of the most common problems in any startup or web-based project. The simple problem here is that as the project progresses, the goal post gets moved because new features and extra functionality keep getting added. Commonly known as feature creep. The number one rule in any project is to stick to the launch plan, the launch plan always contains the core objectives or MVP. Staying on track means the project stays on track.
The first danger is your project will start to be affected in regards to your original three key parameters for your project. Which are to complete the project:
When this happens you could also lose your mind, relationships sour, you start to go over your budget and expectation on delivery start to slip further and further away. The quality of the project can be affected if the changes involve going against the sites core offering or MVP, or if those updates go against good UI and UX design. If you over-complicate things your users will not know what to do or where to go. The results can be disastrous.
The benefits are simple, the budget stays intact, the time frames are achieved and the project is delivered to the highest quality. There is a lot to be said for momentum, staying on track means that the project plan remains intact and therefore the momentum on all fronts remains intact.
When both client and team become unsure of where the goalposts are, due to the plan being altered, this I believe is the main cause for expectations going pear-shaped. Losing faith in either the team or the team losing faith in the client will result in a loss of momentum. This is when good project management and lots of experience play a key role is avoiding such scenarios. Life is not perfect and in these situations, good communication and honesty are the only policy.
Nothing beats getting good advice from others with lots of experience. Those who have paved the way before us can provide a good steer for any project. There are many excellent books that one could read to get an insight into the process. A good friend of mine (and a client who launched a fantastic start-up called www.refera.com) recommended, Running Lean by Ash Maurya. It focuses heavily on startups but the principles within the book are an excellent steer to ensuring a successful methodology, or at the very least a great insight allowing you to shape your own strategy.
It’s a great feeling when the dust settles and you survey and enjoy the end results. Just keep in mind that any successful enterprise or undertaking will always require post-launch love and attention.