Your website is essentially your organization’s digital home, your main headquarters. And making major changes gives you a huge opportunity to reorganize, rebrand, redefine your value and prove your continued relevance. It’s also a huge undertaking—one filled with trials and tribulations, emotional highs and lows and a resounding sense of accomplishment when you cross the threshold of your new home sweet home.
As you read this, Filene Research Institute’s new website is launching into the universe! In fact, to celebrate the momentous final push across the finish line, the team working on this effort over the past 12+ months is celebrating by smashing open a rocket-shaped piñata filled with tiny bottles of…well, I’ll get to that later.
First, I want to share what I learned as one of the key architects of this project from a marketing and branding perspective while it’s all still joyfully/painfully fresh in the mind. Anyone who has gone through the process of a full-scale website re-do will agree with many of these points, but it’s a good reminder if the memories have since been purged. And anyone thinking about or ready to embark on such a journey can benefit from this as jumping-off point.
The 5 stages of a successful website redesign project:
Build a solid team
This was really a key element for a successful working environment for the duration of the project. We enlisted internal players from key areas – IT and Marketing, for us. We’re a small but mighty organization, so we knew we needed outside help in the design, functional and technical side of the work. We vetted agencies, designers, developers and people who do this work exclusively–and assembled the best darn team we could. Plus, interns…thank god for interns! I knew we had the right team when I noticed how quickly everyone would say “I’ve got that!” when we ran through to-dos and priorities.
A key learning here is that picking vendors you’ve worked well with before–who know your voice and brand, know your target audience and understand your goals and objectives–can get you to the finish line quicker, especially if you have an aggressive timeline. But be careful about any imbalances in workloads—a dependency on any single person can cause roadblocks.
Stretch and visualize
Before undertaking any big effort, you must be sure you’re adequately prepared and ready to set out. In website redesign planning, this entails not physical stretching but mental stretching– to imagine your beautiful finished website and describe what it looks like and what makes it successful.
To do this, our core team set rules and roles: Who would make what decisions, who would project manage, who would coordinate vendors—essentially, who would be responsible for what and when. We also spent a lot of time in the beginning defining and setting goals and expected outcomes. I urge everyone to do this! It would become our guiding light and helped make difficult decisions easier by always referring back to these definitions and goals.
Run…keep running…don’t stop running
Okay, during this phase, just tell your friends and family you’ll catch up with them later. This is the time to work! You’ll get tired and cranky but push through it because it will be done eventually. Here’s the bad news: I’ve worked on these types of projects many times over the years, and never once has one finished exactly on track with the initial project plan. You can never plan for the unexpected—from major setbacks to minor hiccups—but what you can plan is that there will be something that goes wrong. Provide for contingencies in timing, your team roster, budget and the unknown. Leaders: Don’t expect it to be a totally smooth ride. What fun would that be anyway.
My advice here is to remember that it will not be like this forever–just like when you’re running a race and you want to stop, sometimes you just have to trick your brain into keeping going, one mile at a time, one day at a time. Keep leadership apprised to things that come up and how you’re handling the work.
If your organization is like Filene, you’ll also still have your regular work to do on top of it all. And you’ll have to find balance, so you don’t pull your hair out, try to quit the project or drop a bunch of balls in the air. You’ll find that you can only look at and work on the website project for so many hours of each day until you can’t really see what you’re looking at anymore. How might you know you need a breather? Well, one key indicator is when you start dreaming about the project. I had one where I was trapped inside the site…
Never underestimate the importance of a set of fresh eyes. Now would be a great time for asking members, friends, peers to jump in and do some vetting and testing and provide feedback – does the design/navigation make sense, is the copy clear, is the general flow what you want and expect from this website? You’ll also want to have someone check every page 5 or 6 times-over for broken links, typos, bugs, graphics that don’t appear or look right, and much more. So. Many. Details. Again, so thankful for our most helpful interns!
Seriously, you need to stay hydrated! It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Did you think I meant something else? Well, it is important to celebrate milestones and successes and if you choose to celebrate with a few drinks, good. You and your team definitely deserve it! Also, who are we kidding…there is no finish line in websites – it’s a living, breathing, running beast that you created and now you must keep it tamed! Despite my dreams, I do think the piñata filled with mini bottles of alcohol and candy was real…or maybe I’m just sleep deprived.