Are you preparing to redesign your Website? If so, you are probably reaching out to a number of development firms to get competing bids. This method seems to make complete sense, as it allows you to carefully consider various alternatives before choosing a development partner.
You may find, however, that the responses from development candidates are less than helpful. Even if you provide a list or an outline of items to be included in the site, each candidate will respond based on his or her personal understanding of what you want. In essence, you are like a homeowner who has said, “I want to build a house. How much will it cost?” Each developer has a different picture in mind of what should be in your house and what it should look like, so bids can be all over the map. There is simply no way to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
Of course, anyone who actually builds a house doesn’t go to a general contractor first. Instead, he or she hires an architect to develop a detailed blueprint for a dwelling that will achieve the fundamental objectives of the homeowner.
Once the homeowner has the blueprint, he or she can take it to as many general contractors as desired, to get a direct comparison of available options. The homeowner can then evaluate these alternatives with a high level of confidence, because the contractors are all working from the exact same blueprint.
A design study for your Website is like a blueprint for your home. It is a detailed technical outline of the goals, structure, layout and content of your site. Any two developers, faced with the same comprehensive design study, can produce comparable sites. As a result, you can compare their bids in a true apples-to-apples fashion, because they are working from the same design.
Preparing a proper design study takes time, but in the end it will save you both time and money. The person preparing the study will need to interview the various stakeholders in the project, to make sure he or she has uncovered all the goals and agendas the Website needs to serve. Sometimes this means that you will need to evaluate priorities and reconcile competing objectives. You would have to do this eventually, anyway—it will be both faster and cheaper to do it during the design phase, rather than during development.
Developers who bid using the traditional model are in essence guessing—they are bidding based on their best understanding of what you have told them you want, but without the deep investigation and analysis a design study requires. Inevitably, all the finicky little details will emerge during development. If you wait until then, however, these changes, clarifications and revisions will mean missed deadlines and blown budgets.
Do yourself a favor—the next time you decide to redesign your Website, hire someone to prepare the design first, make sure it is exactly what you (and all the other stakeholders) want, and then hire someone to build it. You will be far more satisfied with the finished product, and far less frustrated along the way.
Brian S. Pauls is the president of PerAspera Consulting, LLC, providing comprehensive technology solutions–from the Web, to mobile devices, to the desktop. He tries to always measure twice and cut once.