We love redesigning client websites. This has been our bread and butter for the last 15 years. It is incredibly gratifying to bring life to ideas and illuminate the path to previously unattainable possibilities.
While we have many past clients, we rarely publicly discuss what our process looks like. This blog post seeks to inform about the typical order of operations for a website redesign at COLAB.
Where to Start
Redesigning a website starts with a conversation. Often, a marketer reaches out to say: “We are redesigning our website. Can you provide a proposal?” or “We are releasing an RFP for the redesign of our website, and we would like you to submit a response.”
Our response to requests like this is, “Yes, absolutely, but let’s have a conversation or two before we do that.”
Why? It all starts with understanding. Not just understanding the immediate pain points, but understanding the bigger picture.
- Do you have a vision for your redesign?
- Do you have objectives for your redesign?
- Is this effort tactical or strategic?
- How are the business’s digital practices?
- Do we agree on the fundamentals of digital marketing?
- Do we both believe the website is a key to digital marketing efforts?
- Is there a desire for results beyond a shiny new design?
- How are you going to measure those results?
The question we want you to be able to answer by the end of our conversations:
- Are we the right team for you?
If we’re not right for each other, the best outcome is for both of us to realize this and move on to a partner better- suited for the work.
If it’s a good fit, we both will know it, and there is often a palpable vibe. Not only are our conversations productive, but it’s through these discussions that we provide a better, clearer vision of the possibilities and impact your website can have on your organization. That’s when the excitement really begins.
We’ll get into our sales process in another blog post, but let’s say we decide to work together…
Organizing for Success
Throughout our sales process, we bring in expert team members to weigh in on the proposed approach for the work. Our team leaders weigh in and help us put together our contracts and statements of work. As we work through contracting, we map out which team best suits the job and when we will begin. You can read about our teams in our blog post on team structure.
Once we are all set, we onboard the assigned team by preparing a sales briefing including work details, critical points in our conversations to date, desired outcomes and vision we’ve captured, and finally, what is included in our agreement. The leadership team sets an executive sponsor for the work based on who is most well-suited to help shepherd the process. Based on our discussions, team members ask questions, poke holes, and work with their team to understand as much as possible.
Team members then do independent research on the website we are designing to understand the current state. This is often done through exploratory navigation of the existing website, review of materials provided (marketing assets, brand guidelines, technical specs, etc.), google searches, or tooling like a site crawler.
This understanding is vital as they bring their expertise to bear and can anticipate issues we may run into as we get into the work.
- Product Managers may find opportunities to establish calls to action to drive better results.
- UX Designers may notice issues with the navigation or content that needs to serve a clear function.
- UI Designers may identify problems with how the existing website gels with the brand.
- Developers may find hidden pages or features that must be considered during redesign.
- QA Analysts may see opportunities for testing automation that will need to be validated.
- Software Engineers may notice slow infrastructure performance that must be further investigated.
Once everyone’s done due diligence, the team returns to prepare for discussions with our client. This usually happens just before we kick off officially.
Introducing… A Great Relationship!
One of the first things we do is a meeting with our client and assigned Product Manager to review how we work and what our clients can expect from us. This is typically presented in a client guide designed to spur discussion around communication, scope, and timeline and answer any initial questions about our work together.
We share access to our Client Resource Center (“CRC”). We use the CRC to document activities and deliverables and post our progress against the work remaining, timeline, and budget. This tool is beneficial as it can be shared with other team members. We’ve found that this level of transparency promotes a successful working relationship and allows us to have excellent communication throughout. Want more? Give us a call or join our Slack and ping us whenever you’d like! The more direct contact we have, the better.
This first introduction typically occurs soon after we have signed contracts and the team has been prepped.
Learning More About The Business
Our next few meetings are with subsets of the entire team in what we call Discovery. Discovery looks different in every organization. At COLAB, this is a series of conversations led by the project team to better understand the desired outcomes of our work together. They are the foundation for our work, so they are essential.
- Business & Marketing: We understand the business goals from a marketing and broader organizational perspective. This helps ground us to focus all of our efforts on achieving the desired results.
- Tactics & Features: We discuss the audiences’ needs to effectively serve them. This ladders up to the business goals and helps identify new features.
- Content & Administrative Experience: We talk about what is and isn’t working from a content perspective and what controls are needed to effectively improve and produce content over time.
- Design: We review the brand and help determine an appropriate site aesthetic. While we don’t do designs for pages in this phase, we do explore visuals/imagery, comparable websites, or best-in-class websites.
- Technical: We talk through infrastructure choices, meet with your technology people, and identify probable complexity in execution.
Often, people say: “Do we really need to do Discovery? We’ve already done a Brand Discovery. Isn’t that enough?”
The answer? Yes, we still need to do Discovery. Our Discovery is entirely focused on what is needed to redesign the website and achieve measurable outcomes. Any research or Discovery artifacts that you already have collected or have done are appreciated and always used as input. However, these deliverables rarely fully cover what we must understand to achieve great results. If you have materials close to what we need, these act as accelerators, allowing us to make recommendations more quickly and efficiently.
Once kicked off, this process, on average, takes between four and eight weeks to complete, depending on the size, complexity, and your team’s availability.
Planning for Action
Once we have wrapped up our Discovery, our team will understand what needs to be built and how we will approach the work.
This knowledge allows us to assemble a Product Roadmap that outlines how we will execute the work at a high level and approximate when we tackle each part. This deliverable helps document priorities and clarifies what we will be doing and when we will be doing it. The Product Roadmap is a source of truth that outlines a product’s vision, direction, priorities, and progress over time. It’s a plan of action that aligns the organization around short and long-term goals for the product or project and how they will be achieved.
We like to do our work in an interactive format, bringing our clients in every few weeks to view our progress. They, of course, always have access to our Client Resource Center to understand our progress, but we also like to show what we’ve done. This helps maintain alignment and transparency throughout the process. This is what we call an iteration of work. It culminates in a client demo.
An iteration is a short, time-boxed period when a dedicated team works to complete a fixed amount of work. Iterations break down big, complex projects into bite-sized pieces. Iterations help ship better software with less pain for us and our clients. They allow our teams to ship high-quality work faster and more frequently and provide flexibility to adapt to change. Flexibility is key for our high-growth, marketing visionary clients that have big demands on results.
The roadmap points out key milestones along these iterations. A milestone is an important event during a project’s life cycle. At COLAB, our key milestones are:
- Demo Day: A review of work with the client stakeholders to gather impressions and feedback
- Alpha Release: A URL with features prepared for review and feedback from client stakeholders
- Beta Release: A URL with finalized features prepared for a sign-off from the client stakeholders to release to the public.
- First Public Release: A website that is ready to be launched to the public
- WebOps Releases: Ongoing deployments of features following the First Public Release
Not every project has every milestone, but this represents the average project.
Once we finalize the Product Roadmap with our client, we determine the first priorities we will tackle and assemble a granular list of deliverables for the first iteration that we will complete over the next few weeks.
The Product Roadmap typically falls at the end of Discovery and is included as a final deliverable in that phase of work.
Doing the Work
In each iteration, our team is focused on the priorities that have been either set in the roadmap or reprioritized after the previous iteration. An iteration can look quite different depending on where we are in a project. Team members may be working independently or collaborating to produce a single deliverable. The majority of our iterations include:
- Product Management: focusing the team on the next set of priorities and contextualizing them in how they contribute to the greater goal of the website
- UX Design: planning and prototyping what user priorities need to be addressed through analytics, research, and wireframes
- UI Design: extending the design system through component design that serves the user needs in an aesthetically pleasing and brand-aligned way
- Software Engineering: architecting how data will be structured to ensure platform longevity and application performance
- Development: bringing designs to life through responsive frontend code, feature development, and CMS creation
- QA: ensuring that requirements are met, function consistently, and are accessible
When we complete an iteration, we present our work to our clients with demo URLs so they can see what we’ve been working on. We discuss any issues we encountered during the iteration and any changes we should plan on in future iterations. We’ve found that this can be rewarding as our client now has a more contextual understanding of our progress and something to review.
Internally, the team discusses stumbling blocks and things we could do differently for future iterations. This helps us gain traction as we go through the build process.
For redesigning a website with a few hundred pages and a couple thousand blog posts, the work typically takes six to eight iterations, equating to a total project timeline of six to eight months (coincidence, not a rule). This completes the work at a comfortable pace. However, our clients often have a specific timeline in mind, and we can shorten or lengthen our timeline for completion depending on the desired launch date.
🚀 It’s Go Time!
When we are close to wrapping up our iteration work, we plan for the First Public Release milestone. Since our clients have been seeing the work along the way, they typically have higher confidence in what we are prepared to launch. We work with our clients to either control and manage the launch process ourselves or walk through it with appropriate IT staff who will assist.
We have a detailed set of deployment checklists and prelaunch activities that we execute before the launch schedule. This ranges from final compliance checks to page redirects to small details like favicons. This ensures that the launch day is focused and goes smoothly. Most of this is to benefit our collective mental health as it keeps everyone’s anxiety at bay.
The day we launch the First Public Release, we coordinate with our clients and any technical staff to ensure that the process is painless with minimal disruption to customers and business functions. Once launched, we run through immediate post-launch checklists, which include celebrating with 🚀, 🍺, and 🙌 emojis in Slack (and sometimes real 🍺 or 🍷 so we can get together IRL).
We’re relationship people. We believe ongoing client relationships are the way to achieving real business success over time. In most of our engagements, we’ve built in a few months of enhancements and improvements.
During our iterations, we likely identified “nice to haves” that we would like to prioritize. These priorities are balanced against the incoming feedback from users of the website. This honest user feedback is critical to our understanding of how we can improve. We work with our clients to prioritize the most important based on what will move us toward business objectives.
Upon completing the website redesign, we typically continue working together with our clients in the capacity that best suits their needs. This can look different depending on our client’s internal team and their desired growth trajectory. We strongly discourage a “launch it and leave it” mentality and typically only take on clients who are interested in long-term partnership, as that’s where we find the largest ROI for our clients. It starts with our very first conversations – what does success look like and how will we measure it? Then we go achieve it. Read more about how we work with clients in the long term in our blog post on support and maintenance.
We hope this helps explain what it’s like to work with us. The processes described in this article are the methods established through our experience that have proven to get the work done effectively. Effective relationships and trust are built through delivery.
In a website redesign, this is:
- Expectation alignment
- Understanding the business
- Clear vision setting
- Smart planning
- Effective execution
- Excellent communication along the way
- Consistent measurement
- And ongoing improvement