January 15th, 2019

How to Create Custom Web Development Project Plan

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

What does it take to move your website off a generic theme and onto a custom site?

When our clients come to us, their websites are usually in one of two states: either they have a custom-built website that’s beginning to show its age, or they’ve purchased a theme and are finding ways in which it no longer serves their purposes. Maybe they build their website in-house, or maybe they have prior experience with a web design agency. Either way, they’re often unsure what to expect from the custom development process.

It’s understandable that these clients have questions. After all, every agency has a different process, and part of a successful project is finding someone whose workflow matches your own needs and expectations. We can’t speak for every web development agency, but when we develop a custom website with our clients, this is the process we follow.

1. Needs analysis and proposal.

The first step in any custom development project is to work with the client toward a mutual understanding of needs and scope of work. This process begins during client meetings, when we review the current website, discuss requirements for the new site, and create a timeline for deliverables.

If you’re considering working with a custom development team, they should discuss the rest of the project plan for your website with you during these meetings. These meetings are usually held with principle decision makers, and conclude with the signing of a contract. After this point, the rest of the team joins in to go over specifics.

2. Discovery phase and mock designs.

There’s a lot of overlap between the needs analysis and discovery phases of a project. Usually, the person who conducts the needs analysis will hand over their findings to the rest of the creative team during the kickoff meeting. At this time, our project team meets with the client to learn more about their business, ask questions, and determine next steps.

Next steps typical break down into two areas: more research and discovery, and a delivery of mock designs. This usually takes a couple weeks, although it can be done in more or less time depending on the complexity of the project.

The additional discovery work usually involves competitor research and client interviews. This is especially important for branding and marketing research. For the web design team, the next step is either to deliver a wireframe or a design mock. Wireframes are an intermediate step that are most useful for complex sites, while mock designs are a fleshed out version that shows how the main pages and child themes will look once developed.

3. Content development.

For some website projects, our clients are willing to handle content themselves. They want to use the copy from their old site on the new, or they have an in-house content specialist who can do the copywriting and content generation for them.

However, many websites require extensive copywriting, marketing downloads, or custom graphics. This can take a while to complete, but fortunately, it runs in tandem with the website development stage.

4. Website development.

Once mock designs are approved, we send the designs to our developers. The time it takes them to code a website can vary based on the complexity of the designs and any custom functionality that needs to be built into a site. If you only need a simple marketing website, then this project doesn’t take long. However, a complex e-commerce project with special product integrations can take longer to work through.

5. Content migration.

Once the website is built, it’s time to load content. Our team replaces any placeholder text with final copy, imports content from the old site to the new, and creates user accounts for your team, so that you can upload content on your end as necessary. At this point, the website project is reaching its final stages, and it only requires testing and client approval to wrap up.

6. Testing and pre-launch checklist.

After content migration but before launch, we run the site through an extensive quality control checklist. That means checking it on different browsers and across mobile devices to be sure it works, proofreading all live copy, removing lorem ipsum text, making sure we’ve purchased all images and taken down any with watermarks, and testing for broken links. This is also the moment we send the site to the client for final approval. With the official sign off, the site is ready to launch.

7. Launch.

The actual moment of having a site go live can be a little underwhelming. After all the work that’s been put into it, there’s not much new to see except that the client can now access the site by its official domain name, rather than through the development portal. However, it can take a while for name server changes to propagate, which means that your new website might not appear to everyone the moment you launch. Because of this, it’s not a good idea to plan a big launch party around the exact second your new site goes live.

8. Support and marketing integration.

Finally, after the site goes live, we always plan additional time for support and marketing integration. While we don’t expect anything to go wrong with the new site, it’s impossible to test for every factor until it’s in a live environment. Furthermore, we often have training to go through with the client, to be sure they understand how the site works and feel confident using it themselves.

Custom development is about more than just installing a theme. That’s why the results pay off.

Yes, custom development is more expensive than out-of-the-box solutions. But it’s only through custom dev work that your website can perfectly match your business’s needs. A comprehensive web development project plan needs to account for each stage in order to be successful. The good news? That’s something we can help you with.

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