Leave it to the Experts

Now that you’ve passed on your requirements and expectations, it’s time to let your production team get to work.

Give Them What They Need

Do they have everything they need? The first step in their design and planning process is information architecture. This means content. You need to provide them with all the content that your site or app needs to feature before they can start. They may be able to work with you to produce this if they have a dedicated content manager or copywriting team. However it’s a great opportunity for the person in your team who will be responsible for maintaining the site or app once it’s live to take charge.

Maybe your organisation or business already has promotional material with copy that you intend to use. But online copy is different and has to be tailored for the web, in which case it may be useful to try and categorise your copy requirements and re-write it from scratch.

What is important though is that you have real copy for your production team to get started with. If you make them start without copy, due to deadlines that you yourself have imposed, then they will be forced to use placeholder content and their design will be unrealistic and not representative of the final product. They will have to hack it later to accommodate the final content, which will invariably create unforeseen problems and make for a lot more work for everyone. They may even charge you extra for the additional time and effort required to make the necessary design and technical changes. In a worst-case scenario, they will just replace the placeholder content directly and fudge your final content into place without making any of the necessary changes or adjustments. The result may be ugly, broken, or unusable, or at best less than optimal, and you will only have yourself to blame.

When it comes to content, what parts of your organisation need to be represented? This will inform the design of the structure and navigation. Do you require additional language translations? This will inform the technical architecture. What kind of media will be featured? Images? Videos? Tabular data or charts? Animations or illustrations? For all your media requirements you should at least be able to provide the team with example or placeholder media if you don’t already have media prepared.

Don’t Micro-manage

Unless you’re single-handedly covering all the roles involved in producing a web-project yourself, you’re working with other people who have their own responsibilities, skills, and expertise. Maybe you’re paying them to work on your project, be it an internal team in your organisation or an outside agency. Either way you need to let them do their jobs. It’s not within the scope of your role to do the day-to-day project management, make design decisions, or interfere in technology choices. Your production team are the experts so give them detailed requirements and then leave them to it — that’s what they’re there for.

You also need to listen to them. Chances are they know more than you do about web design and technology so heed their advice and listen to their concerns; it’s all part of their service. Continue to support them by providing them with anything they might request in order to do their jobs, be it requirement details, content, feedback, or time. Of course, if you disagree with them on any point or are unable to meet their requests, then you should ask them for clarification and explanation, and come to a mutual agreement. Similarly, if you don’t understand a particular design or technology decision then ask them to explain and discuss it with them. Perhaps you will agree with them, or perhaps you may find an angle to convince them of the merits of your own ideas or preferences.

Avoid Design by Committee

The worst thing you can do is enforce arbitrary decisions on your production team. That will leave them resentful, feeling their skills and ideas are unappreciated and unvalued, and less likely to happily accommodate further requests. If you do have a committee of stakeholders that need to be informed of the production team’s progress then make sure they are all presented with the ideas at the same time in the same meeting. If this arrangement cannot be made — perhaps all stakeholders are not in the same location — then a great idea is to ask your production team to prepare some sort of presentation, perhaps a video, explaining their decisions openly and clearly. This forces the production team to think about what they want to communicate to you. Feedback, however, should be passed onto the production team individually. If in that meeting all feedback is laid out on the table then there will be pressure to reach some consensus, making those unwanted arbitrary decisions to try and resolve problems on the fly. It will be easier for your production team to gather and organise everyone’s feedback separately so that they can make their own informed expert decisions. Ultimately, as the project owner, you are responsible for approving these decisions. Your role will be undermined if your team or committee end up being the ones responsible. If the decision turns out to be incorrect, who is still responsible for remedying it? You are.