Website Planning for Non-Web Managers
Program directors for nonprofits, associations, and NGOs (non-government organizations) often are tasked with launching websites. These websites are meant to represent, not the organization, but to serve as a platform or showcase for the accomplishments of a specific program or set of programs. The problem: program directors often do not have much experience planning the build and launch of websites.
Moreover, these program sites are usually not backed by leadership, allocated a share of the organizational budget, or staffed with specialists and managers who have web expertise. Also, the program director cannot assume the site, once launched, will be supported and maintained by the IT or the Digital Communications department. What can a program director do to ensure a successful launch of their website in this situation?
Lack of Web Experience Can Lead to Challenges
Challenges program directors face in building websites often boil down to lack of experience. Lack of experience, in turn, can lead to inadequate planning, inadequate budgets, and inadequate staffing. Each factor feeds into and affects the other like dominoes tumbling.
Challenge 1: No experience can lead to inadequate planning
Program directors are typically advanced subject matter experts. An economics-focused program will be staffed by economists. Public health programs will be led by public health experts. Rarely will these directors be experienced web managers. Problems arise when inexperienced people oversee the build and launch of a complex, technology project such as a website.
- In the best cases, program directors seek and receive help and guidance from colleagues who have launched websites. Problems can be mitigated with proper information, cost estimates and frameworks for planning
- In the worst cases, program directors soldier on without proper consultation and proceed to plan their way in unfamiliar territory, making plenty of mistakes, and making decisions on costs for vendors, staff, and technology without a solid foundation rooted in facts and experience
Challenge 2: Inadequate planning can lead to inadequate budgets
Many programs, especially in nonprofits, are funded by grants with a defined, overall amount. A percentage of that amount will be devoted to website build, maintenance, and staffing.
- In the best-case scenario, the program director would have defined a technical scope and gotten feedback on budget and other issues prior to applying for and being awarded a grant and establishing a budget
- In the worst-case scenario, budgets are determined and allocated without a realistic scope for build, long-term maintenance, and staffing
- Improper estimates can lead to overspending for the website build, being unable to hire proper staff and being surprised by unplanned costs for long-term support and maintenance for the lifetime of the website
Challenge 3: Inadequate planning and budgets can lead to staffing problems
As with leadership, programs tend to be staffed based on subject matter expertise. Program staff are often hired based on criteria and experience unrelated to web management.
Well-funded programs for large organizations will have budgets for varied roles in their operations and may employ web managers. For those that do not, program will rely on existing staff to execute and manage major projects.
- In the best cases, proper training can overcome skills gaps and deficiencies
- In the worst cases, inadequate planning on staff, skillsets and long-term support needed can lead to chaotic and inefficient backend web operations
- Chaotic web operations can lead to frequent staff turnover and management problems
A 6-Step Roadmap to a Successful Website
The good news: with proper preparation, guidance and planning, a program director with little to no web management experience can still lead a successful launch of a website and avoid the problems associated with inadequate planning, budget, and staffing. This is how to do it.
Step 1: Develop a Technical and Design Scope
A documented technical and design scope at the very beginning helps everyone—staff and stakeholders—get on the same page about what is going to be built. A scope will help the team get a better idea on the required budget and deliverables and can help identify firms which specialize in the work you need.
A scope will contain the following information:
- Website project overview
- Required functionality
- Required design elements
- Clear and measurable goals for the website
- Approximate schedule/timeline/milestones
- Design and development budget
|How to Write the Perfect Web Redesign Scope of Work|
Step 2: Conduct an RFI and RFP Process
Shopping the scope to multiple vendors in an RFI (request for information) process to get price estimates and initial feedback from vendors if your budget matches the scope will save time and money in the long run. An RFI process will let you know if there are gaps that need to be filled and can help identify vendors who have the expertise and experience to do the job you need.
You can shape the final RFP (request for proposals) document according to the feedback received from the RFI. You can also limit the RFP to vendors who will be a good fit to execute your vision for the website based on contacts you made in the RFI.
|The RFI: A Good First Step Before our Next RFP|
How to Write a Good RFP
Step 3: Hire a Project Manager
Someone needs to lead day to day communications and coordination for your site build. This person needs to be experienced in building and managing websites and have the time to represent your team and organization in dealings with the vendor. Program directors are usually too busy to handle this well. Hiring or designating one of your existing staff to be the project manager for the website build can go a long way towards a successful launch.
Project Management Keeps You on Track
The project manager should lead the development of the technical and design scope. Being familiar with the scope, the project manager can work closely with the vendor to execute its vision and keep you informed of the progress of each stage of the project.
The project manager keeps you updated of status of key elements such as the timeline, important milestones at each stage, and budget remaining. They also will inform you of issues and problems and let you know how they are working with the vendor on resolving them.
Project Management Keeps You on Budget
The project manager keeps you informed on how much time is being spent (and billed) by the vendor. They will keep you informed of any problems or unforeseen circumstances that can lead to development work out of scope of the original budget and plan.
If all goes well, the project manager and vendor will deliver a website designed and built according to the specifications drawn up in the technical and design scope on schedule and on budget.
|How to Find a Project Manager |
Ask your organization’s IT, Communications or Digital department
Ask other projects or programs who have built websites
Current web managers or webmasters
Web consultants or consulting firms
Step 4: Utilize the IT Department
Your organization’s IT Department will not have the staff and skillsets in-house to custom build a website for your program. Unless the program is central to the overall mission of the organization, your program is usually on its own as far as managing the process of building a website. However, IT can still play an important role.
Step 5: Hire the Right Vendor for Your Scope
Companies who build websites for clients generally fall into two categories: digital agencies or freelance web designers and developers. Selecting the right vendor to fit your scope will be crucial to keep costs reasonable and meeting your timeline to launch.
When working with a digital agency makes sense
Digital agencies are businesses who design, build and sometimes, maintain websites for clients. Many agencies specialize in serving clients from specific industries and have deep expertise and experience in building websites geared to the needs and audiences of that industry.
When working with freelance web designers and developers make sense
Freelance web designers and developers are individuals who work full or part-time to build websites for clients. Many specialize in specific technologies such as content management systems and working with clients in specific industries.
Step 6: Plan for Post-launch
Many programs make the mistake of budgeting and planning focused solely on the build and launch of their website. It is very important for program directors to also plan for what is needed post-launch for the lifetime of the website. The items on the tables below all need to be part of the overall budget and scope after the website launches.
Proper Planning Leads to Success
Launching a website with no web experience can go one of two ways:
- The website launches over budget and at a delayed timeline. The site ends up costing a lot more than it should for build and design. Inadequate budget and planning for post-launch have resulted in chaotic backend operations. The web manager is asked to perform miracles on a consistent basis with insufficient resources. This situation leads to staff morale problems and frequent turnover.
- The website launches on time and on budget in a relatively smooth process. Well-executed plans for staffing and budgets have resulted in stable and predictable operations post-launch with minimal headaches and problems.
By systematically working through the proper steps, program directors can overcome problems that come with no experience to successfully launch a website. It is a great achievement to launch a major technology project on time, on budget and provide a stable foundation post-launch for staffing, support, and maintenance needs.
Moving forward, not only will the program director have a great website to showcase their program, smoothly running operations post-launch means they can focus attention and efforts on the mission of their program and their primary expertise.
This is an original piece by Redante Asuncion-Reed, B2B writer. Learn more abotu Redante on LinkedIn.