The Importance of Solid Project Planning
Written by Tim Anderson
In the twenty years since the commercialization of the web, websites have evolved. No longer will a simple template, plain text, and a single page do. In fact, these "homebuilts" actually detract from the impression you want to make.
It's not possible to have a serious online presence with a collection of disconnected pages. A modern website has a sense of place and theme — it's an integrated whole.
To create something attractive, functional, and professional also requires a great deal of planning and revision. The end results are well worth the effort – a solidly planned and executed custom website enhances your image, instills trust, and increases confidence in your business.
The elements of a good plan
- Brainstorming – What is the site designed to accomplish? What is the theme? The tone?
- Resources – What software will be used on the site? Even off-the-shelf solutions will require some customization.
- Integration – How will different pages on the site interact with each other?
- Plan major functions and develop a wireframe for the entire site (see below for a graphic depicting a wireframe for a custom PHP web development project).
- What custom functions will have to be coded?
- How will multimedia be incorporated?
- Map out the database – what information will be collected and how will it be handled?
- What is the priority level for each step?
- What are the budget goals, and what can be accomplished within these limitations?
- How will the site be maintained (scalability, adding content, admin functions, etc.)?
These basics must be discussed, and will then be used to construct a general plan and wireframe. The process is flexible and designed to accept modifications. But planning well has its own costs.
Costs and benefits
Planning takes time and time costs money. However, a solid structure prevents the kind of scope creep and modifications that blow up budgets. It is much easier to move boxes around on a diagram than to recode an existing site. The problem stems from the way each part of a website ties into another and how the whole site is managed from the back end, or the admin side. Every change to what a visitor sees can entail multiple changes in what they never see – the underlying PHP or Flash coding required.
Flexibility can and should be built in, but that too must be planned. Content is managed in containers and categories. These changes are ongoing and part of keeping the site fresh. What shouldn’t have to change much (if at all) is the structure beneath, the programming that keeps the site up and working. Planning is especially critical for large projects. Size matters -- the larger the site, the more functionality and the more planning needed. One example should suffice...
Against advice, one client insisted on skipping the two months suggested for planning. After eight months, we had to redo the entire Flash interface, add features, and so on. It ended up setting the project back an additional four months and increased its cost by an estimated $50,000.
In short, proper planning pays for itself many times over.