How do you know you’re hitting your marks in a Web project?
The goal of this series is to identify how different subspecialties in UX can inform each other about their own well-developed processes so we can create some best practices around Web projects. You can read Part One, which focused on best practices in general, and last week’s column “Web Engagement Strategy: Aligning Deliverables to Project Goals.”
My panel includes:
- Chris Moritz, Content Strategist/Information Architect (@chrismoritz)
- Jeffrey Rum, Visual Designer (@jsrum)
- Daniel Eizans, Content Strategist (@danieleizans)
- Alice Coleman, Information Architect
- Randall Snare, Content Strategist (@randallsnare)
- Michael Hogenmiller, Visual Designer (@mhogenmiller)
You’ll find my takeaways at the bottom of the panelists’ answers. Thank you to my talented and fantastic panelists.
Q: What benchmarks do you use along the way to insure the project is going well?
Chris Moritz, Content Strategist and IA
Chris checks in with different specialists on a project to make sure things are running smoothly.
Working in a great team of kick-ass specialists has its benefits -- the account supervisor tends to client politics, the project manager to time utilization, the finance manager to billing and burn rate, the analytics specialist to performance dashboards, the social media analyst to sentiment analysis reporting, etc. Along with staying abreast of these and other outputs from other colleagues, I check in with key team members throughout the project lifecycle to see how he or she is holding up. Is she still excited about the project? Did he find the up-stream deliverables useful? What has she been hearing from the stakeholders? These “sense of the project” inquiries give me a better feel for how things are going than a quantitative regression analysis. I leave that in the capable hands of folks who didn’t pursue the humanities in school.
Jeff Rum, Visual Designer
Benchmarks are different for each project. Typically, though, the following deliverables must be approved by the client. In my book, each approval is an important milestone.
- Project Summary and Technical Specifications -- These help reduce the “I was under the impression that…” discussions later on in the project. I’ll never forget a client that once told me right before launch, “When are we going to see the Chinese version of the site?” This was never discussed and I was able to go back to the specifications to prove it.
- Information Architecture
- Wireframes -- the wireframes are where many designers fall short. I like to design wireframes that are not only basic framed outlines of the web pages, but identify and show the client some imagination and vision of how the site will look, feel and function -- without spending a lot of time in Photoshop.
- Visual Design -- Finally, the client must approve a visual design direction before we can develop and start coding the site. I refuse to start coding even if the client is still debating the color of the logo.
Daniel Eizans, Content Strategist
Daniel believes in testing at the beginning to avoid pitfalls in the middle.
I’m a big fan of testing strategies, even if a professional usability lab isn’t the one conducting those tests. Gut checking strategy, wireframes or early versions of content is absolutely crucial in grabbing first impressions. I’ve had several experiences where a gut check test has a radical impact on the final product.
If I’m not seeing users react to a piece of content or a design in the way I expected, or if they’re missing what we thought would be obvious clear calls to action, we know we need to revise.
Alice Coleman, Information Architect
Good project plans hold a project together and outline benchmarks from other project specialists as well.
The project plan, if written well, should outline reasonable deliverable due dates and the appropriate number of internal and client deliverable reviews. Meeting these “formal” benchmarks helps determine if the overall project is on track but setting interim benchmarks for the getting inputs to and creating UX deliverables as well as benchmarks that evaluate how well I am working with other key team members -- visual design, copywriting, technology, who have input or benefit from my work are essential to project success.
Randall Snare, Content Strategist
Randall knows that there are always two clients in every project: clients and users.
To make sure the project is going well we need to make the clients happy and the users happy. Those are two different benchmarks:
- For the clients, there's the rigmarole of content feedback and sign off. But because we work with them in every step of the project, we make sure they are never surprised. That makes this benchmark a bit easier.
- For the audience, we use the really standard benchmark of user testing, usually in three stages: 1) the old site or app, 2) the prototype, 3) the new designs.
Michael Hogenmiller, Visual Designer
Michael checks in regularly, using a variety of techniques.
Deadlines seem to be the obvious choice, and they work great provided that the client was patient enough to endure a diligent discovery process. Short-changing the discovery process so often leads to mid-project pivots and changes in scope. I often spend projects gauging the client's level of understanding of the decisions we're making, their own enthusiasm when we discover solutions to their problems, and their motivation to continue asking questions during the project, so that I can sense whether or not the process we're working through is providing value to the client. Assuring that the client is getting value out of the experience at each stage of the project seems to be the best benchmark I've come across so far.
- Check in with your project team to ensure things are running smoothly.
- Use different project benchmarks and deliverables to set the stage for running the project well.
- Test strategies early so you’ll avoid pitfalls in the middle.
- Understand that there’s ways to check in with your clients that the project is going well, and ways to check in with the intended user to make sure the project will satisfy their goals.
- Use a gut check on a client’s enthusiasm and level of effort throughout the project to make sure it’s running well.
Editor's Note: Read the entire article series:
- May 9, 2011 Web Engagement Strategy: Aligning Deliverables to Project Goals
- May 2, 2011 Web Engagement Strategy: Creating Deliverables that Deliver
- Apr 25, 2011 Web Engagement Strategy: Best Practices in Web Projects: Starting Well
- Apr 18, 2011 Web Engagement Strategy: Best Practices in Web Projects: Gathering Information
- Apr 11, 2011 Web Engagement Strategy: Best Practices in Web Projects: A Panel Approach