Hidden Costs in Website Development Projects: Four Key Tasks that are Consistently Underestimated

Many organizations enter into website development without fully understanding the resources required to complete the project successfully.

Vendors sell great design, or some cool software to update the site and fail to provide the tools and guidance needed before and after the contract is signed.  If you rely on your website as a central element of your marketing and communications and are driving traffic through direct mail, search engine marketing, email, social media or PR, then you cannot afford to under estimate the complexity of the project or be under sold by a vendor.

A typical project (non e-commerce) will take 400 - 500 hours of work when you take into account all of the critical project stages:  

 

  • Stage 1 Discovery and Prototypes
  • Stage 2 Design
  • Stage 3 Development
  • Stage 4 Testing
  • Stage 5 Training
  • Stage 6 Launch


Based on our experience here are 4 key tasks that are consistently underestimated when considering a website development project:

1.    Wireframes and Prototypes
Movie producers use storyboards for good reason, it is less (much less) expensive to figure out scenes, camera angles, set design, on paper first than it is to have everyone standing around on a live set while you figure out what to do. 

The same is true for your website.  Our process starts with the home page and determines main navigation elements and site features, all informed by a Discovery process.  This wireframe is developed into an interactive prototype and is our guide through the design and development process which follows.  Without this process the project is open to scope creep and cost over runs.  For complex, custom projects we won’t enter into a contract without completing a prototype and detail needs assessment first.

Time: 30 - 40 hours

2.    Content Population
In every project I have been involved with, when a client says the site will only be x number of pages, I guarantee that by the end of the process we have x number of pages times 2 in the database.  A rule of thumb for your project is that there will be more content than you think and it will take you longer than you expect to compile.

Hand in hand with content creation is content population, taking your content and placing it in a content management system (we don't believe in building a website without a data driven content management system).  Depending on the size of your site, most often this process is done manually, by creating pages and then copying and pasting content into a WYSIWYG editor.  For those of you who have worked with web editors before you will know that formatting can be tricky, particularly if you are trying to bring content in from a word document.  Most often page content needs to be pasted a simple text and then all formatting handled in the web editor. 

For larger sites you can write a import script to try and automate this process, but there is no magic bullet and this process can be time consuming.  

Time: 25 - 35 hours for content population only

3.    Testing
The latest numbers from wc3 there are 6 browsers that you need to consider as of Feb 2009:

  • Firefox 46.4%
  • IE7 25.4%
  • IE6 17.4%
  • Google Chrome 4%
  • Safari 3%
  • Opera 2.2%
  • (and IE8 will soon be in the mix as well)


And as any web developer will tell you, making sure that your website displays and functions properly in each of these environments can be very time consuming.  You may decide that for your audience, you can ignore a particular browser and that will save some time, but for most projects each of these need to be considered.

Time: 60 hours

4.    SEO
If you are investing in a content management system for a public facing website then it is impossible to ignore the implications this will have on search engine optimization.  It is our recommendation that every client budget for an SEO consultant to be part of the project, helping optimize the site from both a content and technical perspective.  You will also need to consider properly re-directing traffic to the new URL structures that can result after launch. 

Time: Depends on specific needs

These are certainly not the only tasks that can be overlooked when planning for and budgeting a website development project.  These are difficult projects to specify and manage so make sure you go into the process with a complete understanding of the resources required to do the job right.

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