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Jan 2020
1 MIN READ

Website Scoping Part 1: Preparing to Start

simon ensor

It’s a wonder how there are so many digital agencies. Yes, it’s a service that isn’t sector specific and as such the demand is high. But it’s not an easy sell. A lot of businesses and individuals have had bad experiences with SEO agencies and just about everyone knows/has experienced a nightmare website project.The designing and building of websites has become somewhat of a natural lifecycle. It’s something that we all have to do (some of us more than others), so let’s look at how and why scoping a website project can prevent the breakdown of a project.

Three major benefits of a website scope

A website scope exists principally to ensure that a website project does not deteriorate, both in terms of timescales and in terms of the relationship between the agency and the client. This is achieved through three major benefits:
  1. It creates an in depth scope of work upon which the contract can be based. In layman’s terms, the agency knows that they are selling and the client knows what they are buying, in detail. It not only prevents surprises during the project but also prevents underselling/overselling before the project has even started.
  2. It defines accountability and responsibility. It limits “he said, she said”, or more accurately, “I thought you were going to do that”.
  3. It forces both parties to really think about the project. It’s all too easy for an agency to rush towards the sale or for the client to want the project started at which point the workload is offloaded to the agency. This is where mistakes happen.
Website scopes of work are traditionally focussed on the development of the website, and for good reason. There are a considerable amount of moving parts in web development and crazy amounts of variables/options. It’s a good idea to get the website functionality in stone before you start.But do we perhaps neglect design in the scope? Perhaps. Website design can be incredibly subjective so it’s also wise to map out the design process and associated costs.

Isn’t it all about preventing scope creep?

On the surface of a SoW, yes it is there to prevent scope creep. For those who have not encountered this term before, it is usually used to describe when a client starts to ask/demand for items to be included that were not part of the original agreement, but sticking to the original price. Clearly, without a scope of work, there is very little to base the original agreement on. In turn, this means that expectations have not been set and scope creep (whether real or simply perceived) is almost inevitable.Scope creep is an incredibly important issue that completing a website scoping process can work to prevent. It’s terrible for both parties. The client feels like they are having to force through (or pay extra for) what they assumed was included in the original price. The agency feels like they are being taken advantage of and potentially staring down the barrel at a loss making project.However, the whole website scoping process actually has a whole swathe of other benefits. It provides a stronger working relationship, places emphasis on the importance of planning, it allows both parties to structure resource allocation. The long and the short of it is that without a scope of work, especially as projects become larger or more complex, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The SoW doesn’t solve these issues for you, but it does mean that they are addressed far earlier and allows them to be solved before they escalate into project self destruction. 

Documentation

Right, so we’re all raring to go. Let’s scope this thing.Hold on a second.Let’s consider what we are going to use to scope the project. There are a number of options available to you and it is often a matter of preference. You can easily scope a project on a Word document or Excel spreadsheet but where’s the fun in that? Here are a few platforms that you could use, but be aware that with a little research you might find something better suited to your needs:

Smartsheet

Best for: Excel fanboys that want to feel like they are using something a little more visual/flexible.Think of Smartsheet as Excel for the modern app driven age. It still uses the same cell based layout but allows instant viewing of your data in alternate formats such as GANT charts.

Trello

Best for: Kanban fanboys. Trello might be the OG, but is certainly one of the most widely used.Trello thrives off simplicity. Cards are laid out in a Kanban format (think Solitaire style columns), with each card representing a certain piece of functionality or problem. Drag and drop, tag, set deadlines, attach files, @mention and more within each card.

Jira

Best for: Tech fanboys. It’s all about the power of the system, aesthetics comes second.Jira is the most powerful of the three, allowing integration into third party software to expand reach. Whilst improvements have been made to the UX/UI, it is heavily tech focussed. Think of it as a pure play product/project management system angled at development.

Define the process

There will be more on this in Part 2, but before you start to scope the website it is important to define the scoping process. It actually follows a very similar format to the actual project! Essentially we want to avoid messy management and duplicating work. Some of the key definitions that we would look to agree on at this point are:

The WHY

It’s not just about ‘the what’. Yes, everyone should be clear on what they need to do and when. However, we believe that it is just as important that everyone involved has a clear understanding of WHY we are going through this process.The truth is that scoping isn’t always the sexiest job in the world. There will be a point at which people get a little bit fed up, start to lose interest or are impatient to start the project. Worse, you can get influential individuals who don’t understand the scope and start to push things through too quickly. This leads to things being rushed or half-arsed.If everyone involved has a very clear understanding of how important the scope is and how it will pay dividends in the future, you mitigate against issues.

Manage Expectations

A thorough SoW isn’t an instant process, obviously depending on the size of the project. Much like painting a house, it’s going to take longer than you originally think. Problems are going to arise which will require solutions. Decisions will have to be pondered on and made.Set out a plan for the scope, including the amount of meetings and feedback loops required so that there are no surprises.

Who and when?

This isn’t solely applicable to website scopes. It applies to any project in any industry. Who needs to be involved and when? At what point do we need to call in specific expertise to solve certain problems or sense check? Who is going to sign off on decisions or on the project as a whole?The decision maker may need to be involved far earlier to prevent duplicated work. If in doubt, it’s better to check than to get too far into developing the scope only to have it rejected.

Timeframes and Deadlines

One of the main selling points of a scope is to ensure that the website is completed on time, and within budget. The same should apply for the scope. Set clear timeframes and deadlines for each milestone so that both teams have something to work towards!

Let’s get the creative juices flowing

God I hate that phrase.Regardless, it’s going to be highly beneficial if the client is prepped somewhat before you meet to scope the site. It doesn’t need to be anything particularly arduous, but you do want to have done some thinking prior to meeting.The agency might send through a questionnaire or some example sites/designs that they think could help guide the conversation. If you already know what the main pieces of functionality are going to be, it will save a considerable amount of time if you are able to sketch this out in advance.Essentially you don’t want to be going into a meeting completely clueless (that goes for both sides of the table). In Part 2 we’ll actually be going through the scoping process and addressing some potential pitfalls. That will then lead us on to Part 3 which is the execution of the project alongside a scope of work. Hopefully you’ve found Part 1 useful!
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