It all starts with a conversation. Often people won't know exactly what they need, so it's our job to ask the right questions to help you work it all out.
We'll have a good chat on the phone about the project and we'll then either go away and produce an initial written proposal or - for quite big projects who don't yet have a technical brief - let you know if we think a workshop to expand on your ideas would be beneficial.
When we do your proposal, we'll include as much detail as possible about the deliverables and costs involved. We'll also discuss the best development methodology to suit your needs. Sometimes that might be using a piece of off-the-shelf software such as WordPress, or sometimes it will be a bespoke build.
Project Management Methodology
All projects, whether they are tiny one page websites, or huge technical systems need to be managed effectively. The aim of a project management methodology is to maximise the use of resources and time.
There isn't such a thing as a 'right' methodology, the choice really depends on the project and needs of the client. We typically adapt a variation of either the Agile or Waterfall methodologies as we find they generally suit our projects.
What happens next really does depend on the project. On larger projects we would typically have a kick off meeting where we all get around a table at our offices, and with the aid of chocolate biscuits and bottomless coffee (that's real coffee), we'll discuss the project in it's finest detail. So much communication is non-verbal, so we always like to meet you in person if possible, (especially small businesses and startups), before starting a project. It really helps us understand the people behind the project, what you're hoping to achieve, and deliver something you'll be truly happy with - which is very important to us, both on a professional but also a personal level.
Smaller projects, (or if we're geographically dispersed), can just be organised via phone, email, Trello, Skype, Slack, Basecamp or whatever we all feel is the most appropriate. We're big fans of Trello and if used well, can really help with project management. Slack is also a great collaborative working platform.
Planning and Wireframing
Depending on the scale of the project we might suggest we now produce wireframes of the system. Wireframing is a form of prototyping, enabling us to visually demonstrate how a system will work before spending time writing code. This typically cuts down change requests, helps iron out navigational kinks and brings to light all the little details that can be the key to a project's success.
Wireframes are like scaffolding diagrams, and the wireframing process is an iterative one between us and you. After various rounds of feedback and amends we'll ask for the wireframes to be signed off. It's very important that any features or development required is included in the frames as this forms part of the functional specification for the project and basically outlines what we've quoted on and what's included in the build. Anything not listed, or any changes to the spec at a later date, may incur additional costs.
If it hasn't started already, we'll now start working on the visual design for your site. If you have branding (i.e. a logo and corporate identify), we'll use these as the inspiration and basis for the site design. If you don't have branding yet our in-house design team can come up with a few ideas. It's also really helpful if you can provide us with links to other websites you like to help us understand the sort of look you're hoping to achieve.
At this stage we'd expect to have a fairly clear understanding of your company and brand, but tastes vary hugely and can sometimes be quite surprising! One persons idea of a 'radical' design, might be far more conservative than they think in the grand scheme of things.
Depending on the site and what's been agreed in the brief, we'll design various page templates for the site. These might include a homepage, product details page, about page, contact page etc. Obviously the exact page designs required vary hugely depending on the project.
After various rounds of feedback and amends, once you're ready we'll ask you to sign off the designs.
Now we know exactly what you want (the wireframes) and exactly how it should look (the designs), it's over to our development team to build your website using the latest available technologies and make it work on all the agreed platforms.
It may be that during the build we've agreed to do incremental hand overs so you can see how it's progressing, or it may be that it suits the project for you to just have a "grand reveal" at the end (as by now you'll already know how it's going to look and how it'll work). But either way, we'll keep in touch with regular project updates - perhaps weekly calls or whatever suits you - just so you know things are on track.
Hosting your Site
Your website will need to be hosted somewhere and we can help you organise this or organise it for you if you'd prefer. We don't host websites ourselves but have a huge depth of experience with many different platforms. We typically host all our websites on Linux based VPS servers. We work with a variety of hosting providers, setting up all kinds of hosting, from basic shared hosting to complicated, load balanced, auto-scaling, self healing, multi-environment infrastructures using Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Content Population and Handover
With the site built, we'll now proudly show you your new site in a staging environment. This enables you to take a good look through and get familiar with how everything works before we actually 'go live'.
You'll typically need to supply the content for the site (the words for every page). If your site has a CMS (and the vast majority of the sites we create do) you can populate this yourself, although we do prefer to do the initial population so we can give you the best possible first impression, rather than hand you an empty site! All our sites are designed to be really easy to update, with intuitive user interfaces, but we also provide user guides that explain how everything works.
The process for putting your website live varies hugely depending on whether this is a brand new site or a new version of an existing site. Also the hosting and deployment infrastructure can make a huge difference. We've got decades of experience between us of creating the right DNS strategy for getting your site live with minimal disruption to you and your business so we'll carefully plan the launch process and ensure it all goes smoothly.
Now the fun really starts and for a lot of clients, when the work really starts. Launching a website isn't just a one-time thing, and for many growing, evolving businesses it requires frequent updates and improvements with us as your technical partner, helping you every step of the way. Ongoing support, updates and future development can either be charged for at our hourly rate, as part of a support retainer, or on a fixed cost based on agreed milestones.
Hopefully this article has shed a little light on our world and how we work. Software development is a very intangible thing and we use a variety of technologies, methods and approaches to ensure we deliver exactly what our clients need. However at the end of the day, whatever development approach is taken, we find that friendly, helpful and diligent communication is key to ensuring our projects are always delivered successfully, on time and to budget. Which is why we've been working with many of our clients since we started 18a Productions, way back in 2007.
We really hope you choose to work with us on your next project and look forward to hearing from you.