Updating a website is a big project. You need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Discovery helps you determine what kind of resources you'll need for staffing, time, and content.
This is the time to set priorities. Everything's a trade-off. You have to decide what's important to you.
- Is it your timeline? Pull the resources you need to meet it or hire outsiders to help you. And keep in mind that it's almost always going to take longer to get to the finish line than you think it will.
- Is it your budget? You might have to reduce the scope of the project or adjust your goals, especially if you want a fancy technical component that we don't already have.
There might be some members of your staff who say, "We must have this or that page." Don't let them make a statement like that without challenging it. You can use analytics to make some arguments: Is anyone visiting this page? Has anyone looked at it in the last six months? In the last year?
Step by Step
There are three areas you'll need to explore.
1. Project Scope
Determining the scope will help you allocate resources.
- What will the project encompass?
- How many people can we devote to this project?
- Who will be the project lead?
- How much time can we give them to do the work?
- Who will pick up some of their tasks so they can work on the site?
- How long will we devote to the project? Can we set a deadline?
- Do we need outside help?
- Do we have a budget to hire writers? Editors? Photographers? Videographers?
- Do we need to launch by a specific date?
- Are there any events (vacations, conferences, etc.) that could slow the work?
2. Content Needs
Your existing content will almost certainly need updating, and you'll probably want to create new material.
- Who are our constituents and audiences?
- Do we have sufficient photo/video assets, or will we need more?
- Does our department frequently get calls/emails seeking the same information?
- What is our website's goal?
- How does our current site meet that goal?
- If you have analytics on your site, do you know how often people visit each page?
- What is each page trying to convey?
- Does the page effectively convey that message?
- Is the content up to date?
- Does the writing follow Mason Style?
- Do users need this content?
- Is the content unique, or can it be found elsewhere?
- Is the content well organized and easy to follow?
3. Technical/Functionality Requests
Many clients request some sort of whiz-bang functionality that they've seen on other sites. Sometimes, we can grant these requests. Many times, we can't.
Start by asking: What is the goal of implementing this function? What are we trying to accomplish? We can often fulfill their needs with an existing component. Focus on the objective they have in mind, then try to figure out a way to meet it that doesn't involve creating a new technical tool.
Building a new component is not out of the question, but we won't do one-offs (something only one site can use). If other sites across the university can use a new component, we'll take a look at what it will take to create it.
Don't Skimp on Discovery
If you don't go through this process or do a surface skim, problems can arise, leading to:
- Insufficient time commitment.
- More content than is expected or needed.
- Conflicting priorities.
- Unrealistic expectations.
But no matter how carefully you research or how deeply you go, there will be something you missed that will come up in the middle of the project. Just expect it and be flexible. We can make it work.