While no two web projects are exactly alike, there are some familiar beats and steps that each of them goes through. Here’s what to expect when engaging a web agency to build your site.
Step #1 — Estimate
The first step in any web project is determining a client’s needs, an agency’s capabilities, and making sure that the two are mutually compatible. During the estimate process, a client will typically describe what they’re looking for and ask whether or not it’s realistic.
If someone is looking to make their own version of Amazon.com on a shoestring budget, this is where the agency will typically either try to scale down or reframe unrealistic expectations, explain in depth the sorts of technologies at their disposal and come to more of a common ground.
The estimate process is crucial for several reasons: First, it helps the agency and the client determine if they’re a good fit and if they’re comfortable working together. Second, it helps to chart out the full range of a client’s needs. Timeline, budget, method of communication, and the scope of the project are all detailed in this step in as much detail as possible to prevent any surprises from arising further on in the process.
Step #2 — Allocation
Once an estimate has been created and a client signs off on it, the next step is to turn it into the roadmap for a project. This is typically done by a Project Manager, who is responsible for matching each relevant task to a suitably skilled developer, determining a reasonable date for targeted completion, and making sure all parties involved are comfortable and familiar with how the project will go.
Many web projects depend on receiving assets from a client, including content, design preferences, and access to relevant accounts including domain names, email servers, etc. While the goal for a Project Manager is to have as much of this in hand prior to development as possible, it’s not unusual to continue to check in with a client over the course of the project to get more assets as needed. This process can and often does require adjustments to a project’s timeline.
Step #3 — Development
Once estimates are accepted and a project is fully assigned, it’s the job of the developers and designers to get to work. An initial kick-off meeting is typically held to make sure everyone has a solid understanding of what’s involved and expected for a satisfactory outcome.
It’s this part of the project where teamwork is most important. If a developer is struggling with a certain task, they can rely on the pool of knowledge created by other developers in a team. Being able to consult with colleagues can help drastically cut down on development time and is one of the primary advantages of working with a web agency vs. independent contractor.
As the development process can take time, it’s here that communication between the developer and the client is key. Clients should be kept up to date as to the overall progress and status of a project, and informed if any new complications or limitations come to light.
Step #4 — Quality Assurance
Following the completion of development, the next stage is an internal review of the work performed. This is best handled by another developer or QA engineer, who knows to look for common sources of errors, including checking a site in multiple browsers and screen resolutions, giving a run through of any new functionality, and generally interacting with the site in the same way a user or client might in a live setting.
Even the most detail-oriented developer runs the risk of missing something in plain sight after working on a project for an extended period of time, so having another set of eyes on a project helps reduce the risk of major unforced errors upon the launch of the site.
Step #5 — Launch
After development is complete and both the agency and the client approve the finished product, it’s time to launch. Launching a new website is often as simple as redirecting a domain name from an existing site to the new developed site, and in an ideal world, it can go off without a hitch. As a precaution, the launch process is typically performed during a low-traffic time for a site in the form of a “soft launch,” where a few sample users are able to give the site a test drive, often over a weekend.
Once the site is launched, all of the above planning and hard work pay off!
Step #6 — Site Maintenance and Review
Once the site is up and running, the agency and the client typically agree to a regular round of maintenance to make sure the site is performing as expected. Plugins and software are updated, error logs are checked, security scans are performed and traffic to the site is checked to make sure there aren’t any surprises.
While there’s a lot of room for variety in the above, it helps to explain the life cycle of a web project. Larger sites entail greater complexity and maybe introduce several extra steps along the way, but the primary beats are consistent across six major stages.