2.16.2009

Developing a Development Plan

The Essential Steps for Designers & Developers to evaluate projects

Often the most difficult aspects that businesses offering development and design services tend to face involves the planning stages. Because I, myself, have noticed the all too often occurrence of problems as a result of poor planning, I thought it was important to outline and discuss important planning steps for design & development projects in today's post.

  1. Step 1: Client Questionnaire. The client questionnaire is a multi-page document with in-depth questions covering all sides of the development process. This document will determine the rough scope of work and relevant information to that as well as the website budget and timeline. Aesthetics, purposes, goals, points of contact, and add-ons need to be encompassed in the client questionnaire. For assistance creating a client questionnaire, see Big Slick Design's article 46 Questions for a web design project. Also be sure to use your own personal experiences when developing a questionnaire. For example: I have encountered many people who simply did not feel capable of creating their own website or brochure content. Because of this, I included a question in my client questionnaire about whether they would be capable of creating their own content. I also gave them brief information about the fees associated with content assistance below the question so they could make an informed decision. Click on the image below to view The Design Group's client questionnaire for web development clients. The Design Group's Client Questionnaire for Web Development Projects
  2. Step 2: Brainstorming. Following the receipt of the completed client questionnaire, the onset of the brainstorming stage begins. This step involves individual brainstorming sessions. One of the most efficient ways to go about this step is to make copies of the completed client questionnaire for each person to separately read over and take notes on any questions, concerns or ideas that arise while doing so. This course of action prevents groupthink which can be detrimental to the development process.
  3. Step 3: Group Discussion. After each individual team member has gone over the questionnaire thoroughly, a group discussion should ensue. This allows for all concerns to get out in the open and tentative planning stages begin to form. No one's ideas or concerns are to be ignored or brushed off, and no one should be left out of the conversation. It is important that any foreseen issues are reconciled at this stage and all potential problems are troubleshooted. This prevents potential issues from squeezing through the cracks and prepares the team for the requirements meeting.
  4. Step 4: Requirements Meeting. The requirements meeting is a meeting where the team sits down with the client and discusses a plan of action. Each side clarifies any ongoing concerns and the design/development team begins to get more of a first-hand feel for what the client is looking for. While some discussion during the requirements meeting will come from the answers found in the client questionnaire, some discussion should be unique to develop project clarity and a common ground for the project scope.
  5. Step 5: Statement of Work (SOW). Before any actual design or development work begins, a bulletproof contract outlining the basic information about the project ought to be created. This contract should be signed by the client and kept in your files for legal purposes. The Statement of Work ought to cover the project scope, special features, basic design elements (colors, etc.), browser testing or printing specifications, schedule, hours and fees. The Statement of Work also serves as the foundational element of the Project Outline.
  6. Step 6: Sitemap. This step can be skipped in design projects that do not require any website development work. The Sitemap is simply a diagram of all website pages and a guideline for site navigation. Sitemaps can be color coded and quite detailed (which often brings the need for a key), or they can be simple representations sketched out on paper. I find that to help everyone on the development team throughout the project, a detailed sitemap is the way to go. You may review the sample sitemap below (which happens to be a sitemap I used for a client) for basic guidelines and ideas. The Design Group's sample sitemap
  7. Step 7: Design Wireframe. The project wireframe will outline the design of the project and is important for conceptual purposes in regards to both the design/development team as well as the client.The Design Group's Sample Wireframe The wireframe supplements the sitemap to create an informative bundle that allows the team and the client to visualize the website on the whole. It also brings to light those potential issues that have somehow squeezed by in the last six planning steps. This wireframe will additionally be serving as the premise for the mock-up design.
  8. Step 8: Project Outline. The project outline is based on the foundation set by the Statement of Work, but emphasizes more of the aesthetics and specific functionality of the project. It can be divided into sections, some of which ought to be included: project goals, timeline, colors, typefaces, logos, features, pages, user testing, and programming. This not only specs out this distinct areas of the project, but it also builds your SOW into a detailed project plan for the design/development team to reference.
  9. Step 9: Team Approval. Perhaps one of the most important steps in the process, the Team Approval Phase involves members of the team evaluating the sitemap, wireframe and project outline for its accuracy and documenting any issues that remain items of concern. It may seem repetitive to do this at this point, but this allows for everyone to approve all aspects of the project one final time, and identify any growing concerns before they get out of hand. This stage also presents the team with a more vivid picture of where the project is heading.
  10. Step 10: Mock-Up Design. The final preparatory stage in the design/development process involves the translation of the wireframe into a clean and accurate mock-up design. This stage is the culmination of the planning process and should accurately depict the design and functionality proposed in the last nine steps.

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