Too many web projects don’t meet their goals. The project could be the wrong solution for the right goal, the right solution for the wrong goal—or, perhaps worst of all, a shiny solution for no goal.
The problem is that it’s too easy to plan out a web project in terms of technologies rather than solutions. In other words, it’s too easy to decide what you want to have built, and then have someone build it—only to find out that the plan itself wasn’t well thought-through.
The basic solution is to get both yourself and your web team focused on solving problems in pursuit of concrete business goals. Your choice of technologies should be totally defined by a careful, critical look at their ability to bring the specific results you’re looking for.
Here are four steps for building out a project this way:
1. Identify the business goal you’re looking to achieve with your web project.
Businesses have a lot of goals: Increase leads, conversions, overall sales, customer retention, or market awareness; penetrate new markets; test new products or offerings; learn from existing customers. What are you trying to do with this web project? What are you hoping will happen? This is a crucial question. Before you do anything else, make sure you have a specific answer for it.
2. Tie all details of your own planning back to your underlying business goal.
Nothing should be done for its own sake. If you think your site should have an online forum, take the time to connect that back to your greater goal—maybe “building a community of loyal customers”—and the high value of such a community to help you grow by word-of-mouth, learn through user feedback, retain existing customers, and enhance the value of your brand. These are what you really want. If an online forum can help you achieve them, you’ll want it built; otherwise, you may want something else.
3. Find a web team that thinks strategically.
The right web team will want to partner with you to solve your business problems. The wrong web team are “builders” who will build whatever you tell them to. It’s really important that you be able to tell the difference! The right team can help point you to solutions you may not even have considered; the wrong one won’t hesitate to waste your money on projects that do nothing to improve your business.
When you’re looking for a web team, don’t focus too much on “what languages they know” or other technical vetting (although this is important too). Rather, try to assess their ability to think strategically, with your interests in mind. You can ask, “What would you do in my position?” “Here’s my goal; what do you recommend to meet it?” If the answers sound interesting and well-considered, you may have found a winner.
4. In discussions with your web team, communicate your underlying goal clearly, and be willing to listen to alternative approaches to meeting it.
Once you’ve found a web team who is actually a strategic partner, you want to approach them primarily with goals, not methods. Communicate your ideas for methods too, but make sure you stay open for feedback. For example, in the “online forum” example above, your web team might suggest that your users are more likely to connect on a company Facebook page than on an online forum—after all, they already use Facebook, and your forum is hidden on your own site. If you create a problem-solving environment where suggestions like this can come through, you’ll save hundreds of dollars in development costs, and won’t load your site with a clunky, unused solution.
Getting this kind of feedback requires: (a) Empowering your web team to think strategically along with you, rather than just being there to “build what you want built”; and (b) Having the right web team in the first place—one that thinks about delivering business value, not just making software work. If part (b) is missing, repeat step 3 as many times as needed.
If you take this approach, every dollar you spend will be in pursuit of a clearly defined goal. This will also have the side effect of finding you an outstanding web team, since the best web professionals are the ones most concerned with delivering actual value to their clients. Try this with your next web project! You’ll be surprised how well it turns out.