How to Create a Website Project Management Plan

April 20, 2015

One of the most important parts of launching a website is the project management plan. This plan will guide the site, from the first meeting through launch day. Creating the website project management plan will also cause the project team to think through the entirety of the site, ensuring a smooth build and launch process.

Identify the Need

A website without a purpose is nothing more than a poster on a wall: It may be pretty, but it doesn’t *do* anything. Make sure that the project management plan captures the purpose of the site: What role does the website serve? Is it a lead generation and gathering site, funneling users through landing pages and contact forms? Is it an educational site, meant to share information with the visitors? Is it an eCommerce site focused on selling things? Each of these types of sites will have different design needs, content management system needs, and skill sets required to build them. Discussing and capturing this upfront on the website project management plan will ensure all team members are in the loop.

Align on Scope and Budget for the Project

There are two axes to look at the resources for a website: Scope and Budget. Budget is fairly simple: How much money will be spent on the site, and where will that money (which normally translates into hours) get spent? Scope is a bit more ephemeral, but at it’s most basic, scope refers to the included feature set of the project. Knowing how much can get spent – and how much can get built – at the start of the project will keep all future discussions grounded in the financials of the project, preventing any surprises from happening later.

Assess the Design

The design needs of a site are dependent on a few things: the type of site, size of site, the industry the company is in, and the style of the designer. Since you know the need of the site from step #1, and have an idea as to the size of the site from step #2, this step involved mapping out the pages needed, and aligning the pages with the design templates. The outcome of this step should be the number of templates needed, including those that are shared site-wide (header, footer, sidebar), those that will be full-pages, and those that are discrete sections (i.e. a “corporate” section of a site that has it’s own branding).

Take a Deep Dive into the Project Schedule

At this stage, you will have collected a lot of info in the project management plan about the size and scope of the project. Now, it is time to figure out how the time breaks down. Starting with the site’s due date, work backwards through each milestone. As an example:

4/1 Launch Process Ends
3/21 Launch Process Begins
3/7 QA Begins
2/21 Content Entry Begins
2/20 Code Complete
2/1 Receive Design from Designer; Development Begins
1/15 Brand complete; Begin Design
1/1 Begin Branding Process

This method ensure that each stage of the project will have enough time allotted to it, and that no stages were skipped. It also highlights hand-offs between the client, developers, and designers, which will help to keep everyone accountable. Having the master schedule alongside the website project management plan will ensure that anyone is able to find it at any time.

Ask the Right Questions

There are hundreds of considerations that could go into any given website. Not every website needs to think through each of these considerations, but we at fjorge have identified the 18 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Website Project. Working through the guide will make sure the right questions get asked, and all of the necessary project information will be captured in the project plan.

Identify Blockers

While many parts of a website project can run in parallel, there are a few stages where a task can block other tasks. Identifying these, whether found during the discussion of scope or the creation of the schedule, will allow the blockers to be properly prioritized and resourced. Some example blockers include:

  • The point at which development MUST have design files
  • The content-managed pages that must be complete enough for someone to add content to
  • When is the point at which each stage MUST begin?

Assign Accountability

For most web projects, there will be several groups involved. Regardless of whether they are all internal resources, or if there are several agencies collaborating on the project, people need to know what they are accountable for. Break the project up into the main building blocks to assign the owner:

  • Design
  • Branding
  • Back-end Development
  • Front-end Development
  • Content Creation/Addition
  • Launching
  • Hosting
  • Marketing

Make sure that everyone knows what they own, and what is needed for their piece to be “complete”. Review this part of the website project management plan on a regular basis.

Share, Follow, and Update the Plan

This plan should be one of the main documents referenced over the course of the project. It is a living document: If reality shifts away from the document, update the document to reflect reality. While this doesn’t apply to the budget/scope aspect (since you can’t just make more money appear), it will prevent the plan from falling by the wayside, or from a team member working off an outdated plan. The project management plan is only useful if it can be trusted: As soon as it is out of date and out of alignment with reality, it becomes more of a liability than an asset. 

Websites are large, complex projects that span multiple disciplines (and often companies!). Failing to adequately plan at the beginning of a project will almost always lead to wasted time and money, which in turn threatens the quality of the finished product. Creating a website project management plan will lower this risk, and result in a better site, which gets delivered on time and on budget (or even early, and under budget!).

Want to know the questions to ask before starting a website project?

Download our guide:  18 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Website Project

Download our guide:  CMS Selection Guide

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