Over the past few years, I’ve put together website project plans for National Councils and committees that details our path to a successful website build and launch. I worked on the designs for the current Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma national websites. Through those experiences, I have discovered a process that works well for me. Creating a plan and presenting that plan is important to do before starting any massive project. It is especially crucial when working with multiple people. The general 5 steps that I typically lay out are the following: setup/strategy, content gathering, design, testing/approval, and launch.
First and foremost, it is paramount that everyone involved know the purpose of the website and the target audience. None of the remaining steps can even begin until everyone is on the same page. Here is where the north star is established. The particulars will need to be discussed. What content will the user need to be able to access? What content is of highest priority? We need to create and agree on an initial sitemap. The sitemap establishes the hierarchy within a website. This helps in creating the menu and information structure. Speaking of structure, I usually suggest setting up a Content Management System (like WordPress, for example) at this stage.
Once we are all on the same page, we can begin gathering content. You know what you want to display on the site. Now, it’s time to get all that information. Making content gathering its own stage allows you to do inventory and double check the accuracy of the information. It’s much easier to correct any mistakes here before getting lost in the fully designed website. Also, content doesn’t just refer to the information but also any visual assets that need to be gathered or created.
This is where we finally populate the site when all the content that has been collected. We’ve set the table. Now, it’s time to put the food on it. You’ll be designing the website with the sitemap in mind as the structure and populating it with the content collected. Obviously, outside of launch, this is my favorite stage. It is here where the aesthetics and functionality are put together to create something great.
After everything has been designed, it’s at this stage we test everything. We’ll need to click all the links, make sure everything works properly, and make sure nothing crucial is missing. At this point, we may show additional parties the website to see if it works as it should. At this stage, it’s often necessary to get fresh eyes on the site. You’ll want some people who haven’t been looking at this project for months to give it a look. It might be good to get a sample of your target audience to see if it works for the user you had in mind.
We have finally arrived! This starts the official countdown to releasing this thing into the wild for the world to see. For the Kappa Kappa Psi national website & the Tau Beta Sigma national website projects, this is where we transferred our work from development to the live server. Once we confirmed everything was working to our liking, we took off the countdown/dev splash pages and went live!
The best way to lay out this process is to work backwards from the desired launch date. Give each stage more than enough time to be completed. It’s always better to finish early than to be scrambling late. Laying the entire plan, with dates attached to each, is great for tracking progress and accountability. Plan, prepare, and present like a professional.