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Getting the go-ahead for a new digital project is exciting. Here Katie Moffat lays down the ground rules to ensure progress is smooth.

Hand drawing a site map for a website

Kelly Sikkema

Often a new website build comes after years of living with a site that is well past its best, with those responsible for managing it frustrated by how difficult it is to update or how it’s not particularly user friendly. You probably had to make a business case to get approval for a new site, you’ve been through a tender process, appointed an agency and it’s full steam ahead. 

But while it’s undoubtedly positive when a digital project gets the green light, it can be underestimated how much time and effort needs to go into the process, on both sides. Those who have been involved in commissioning and managing new website builds or other digital projects (for apps or online purchase paths for example) will know that there are certain things you need to consider before you start for the whole process to run smoothly. Here then, from the agency side of the fence, are the common characteristics of a digital project, including a new website build, which runs like clockwork.

Prepare the groundwork

Although you will undoubtedly go through some form of discovery process once you kick off your project, it is a good idea to do some work beforehand to inform your objectives. Do the team understand the business case for the new website or project? Do they understand how it slots with the overall strategic plans over the next 3-5 years? Have you discussed what the key criteria for success will be? 

Ideally you want to enter the project with everyone on board and keen to provide their input, rather than having to reluctantly drag some people, or teams, along with you. And if you have clear priorities for your project then you can be more certain that it won’t be derailed midway through by staff or a board member suggesting something should be presented in a completely different way.

Dedicated project management is vital

It will be no surprise that the topic of project management comes up in a piece about effective digital projects. It’s as important to have an excellent project manager on the client side as it is on the agency side. For the vast majority of organisations, this will be someone also doing their day job, so there needs to be recognition at a senior level that a new website build may mean that less critical issues might be temporarily delayed.

The other important element is thinking about how you will collect and collate feedback from across the organisation and funnel it back. The agency can help but having a clear timeline from the outset of how the website will be delivered and communicating this to internal teams is crucial. 

Cultural organisations are busy places so it’s important to ensure the relevant people have the time and headspace to input to various stages as the project progresses. It is usually sensible to have one or two people who act as the main point of contact, rather than trying to spread the overall responsibility across multiple people or teams. 

Content is (much) more than migration

Ideally, you will have done some review of content prior to the start of the project (although most agencies can help with this). Certainly, you should have a clear sense of your content strategy and the priorities for launch. 

Sometimes, with new website builds, organisations simply request ‘content migration’ but a new website is the perfect opportunity to review existing content, to discard outdated content and align your content with your current priorities. Clients often find this process cathartic and it delivers the best outcome in the end - quality content clearly tied to users’ needs and motivations. 

As part of your internal project management you’ll be considering what new content has to be created – be it copy, images or multimedia. Think about who in your team can lead on this and how to ensure it will fit with your brand and tone of voice. Taxonomies and how supplementary content - blogs or news - are organised and offered to the user are services an agency should provide advice and support with but knowing if something is relevant and meaningful is a matter for the client and their team.

Populate then review

With a new website build, it is likely that you will have a new CMS. Even if it is built using the same software as your existing CMS, the tools will vary. If the project timeline can accommodate it, it’s useful to get staff building pages using the new tools and features and then to run a review to check they are being used consistently and with as much impact as possible.

Bringing a new website, app or other digital ‘thing’ into life requires a lot of work but is hugely rewarding. Doing a bit of planning before will pay dividends to ensure it’s a smooth process. If run well, it can be a process that brings teams together and gets them working in positive collaborative ways. So you may find on launch day that, as well as a new website, you have a newly invigorated, energised team.

Katie Moffat is Director of Sector Strategy at Substrakt.


This article is part of a series contributed by Substrakt exploring the many ways in which arts and cultural organisations can embrace the world of digital.

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