Quality process is part of any successful Web development project. Too often projects go over budget or past deadline because the developer hasn't adhered to a quality development process. Good processes are processes that are consistent, predictable and results oriented.
Any time you evaluate a Web development partner you should always review their process and the tools they provide to facilitate that process. In this paper we'll outline some of the basic elements of a Web development project, and what you should expect from your developer.
First and foremost, your developer has to understand your business. In some cases this is a fairly simple task. In others it's a great challenge. At ITG we like to conduct an initial assessment so that we ensure our understanding of our clients basic elements of brand characteristics, business goals, target users and potential features and functionality-topics that should be covered in detail before development work begins in earnest.
ITG believes that time spent in the Discovery phase, learning your business model and internal systems is critical to the success of your Web site. At the close of the Discovery phase, you will be provided with a road map for your Web development project.
Step 1: Define your brand identity and business objectives
The first things we will identify are the unique characteristics of your brand and your overarching business goals. If you have existing marketing collateral that distills this information well, it will be referenced at this phase of the process. It is critical that your Web site integrates well with the rest of your materials.
Step 2: Identify your target audience
The next step is to identify the primary users of the site and spend some time outlining their priorities and general characteristics. This data will help to hone the look and feel of the site, and begin to determine the information architecture.
Step 3: Identify the features and functionality
Documenting features and functionality, and prioritizing them, is the final step in pre-production planning.
Step 4: Review the technical environment and define development approach
Establishing site hosting environment and preferred technologies helps to determine both the programming strategy and the development timeline.
Step 5: User Validation Testing
At this stage you might want to do some cursory user testing, to reinforce the ideas brought out during Discovery. Though very early in the process, this kind of upfront sanity check may help you avoid mistakes further down the road.
- Business Objectives and Brand Identity
- Outline of Unique User Types-characteristics, goals and objectives
- Prioritized Feature and Functionality List
- Overview of Technical Environment and Development Approach
- Content Matrix
- Project Plan and Budget for the rest of development
Design & Plan
Step 1: Create the Site Map and Navigational Schema
First we organize and group content into logical groups based on user types and needs. The result of this exercise is a site map, or visual representation of the information architecture that will allow you to see how accessible all of your content will be on the final site. Included in the site map is the navigational schema or the "pathways" that the user will use to access the content. The site map also identifies all of the unique pages on the site which are then created in the design mock-ups (Step 3: Create Visual Design Mock-ups).
Step 2: Business Process Flows
After the site map is agreed upon, we create process flows for all of the functionality on the site, such as login, registration, shopping carts, info request forms or online calculators. These flows are created based on the information gathered in the Discovery Phase about your internal systems and business logic.
Step 3: Create Visual Design Mock-ups
Finally we come to the real design work. Once the site has been completely mapped, we have the information we need to build the site the right way, using colors that might appeal to your target audience, utilizing design themes that reinforce your brand characteristics and laying out content in a manner that will speed the transfer of information and make interacting with your business easy and pleasant.
We produce design comps, to give you a few different look and feel options. Each comp takes the users' needs and brand goals into consideration, but expresses them in a different way. The idea is to find the design that most accurately expresses your unique business personality and values.
Step 4: Create the Interface Design
Once we've settled on the look and feel of the site we begin designing the unique pages of the site. The most detailed pages are done first and the Homepage is the final page to be designed. This allows us to bring together the overarching theme of the site at the end.
Development, Test & Launch
Once the Interface Design is well under way, the programmers begin to give life to the interactive elements of the site, and designers move into Production Design where they flesh out each section and hook together the pages to bring the site to life. This is the exciting part of the project where you get visual representation of the ideas you came up with during Discovery.
When the site gets to the point where it is functional as a prototype, user testing commences. It is invaluable to have your users click through the prototype, and a simple and inexpensive test plan can be formulated so that you're absolutely certain that the site is going to meet their needs. This will be our last chance to make significant changes to the information architecture and to alter the flow of the site before we move into final testing and quality assurance.
A professionally produced Web site will always have a minimum of testing and quality assurance performed on it before it is launched. The kinds of things that will be reviewed include: browser compatibility, proofreading, checking for dead-links, assuring the proper function of any dynamic or interactive elements, gauging download time and stress testing to be sure the site can handle an established volume of traffic.
At last it's time to launch your new Web site.
As part of our monthly maintenance service, ITG provides clients with 24-hour online Web site tracking reports that allows you to monitor user statistics. You can effectively measure your site's performance through this quantifiable data. Additionally ITG staff are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure site up-time and proper function.
Finally, we review all client Web sites periodically and propose upgrades and enhancements based on the emergence of new technologies, greater user connection speeds and Web marketing innovations.
Our commitment to the success of your site never ends.