This article is about starting out a website project and asking the most effective questions. When you’re doing anything online these days, there are a lot of online channels to consider (websites, apps, social platforms, newsletters, …), the website still remains one of the central ingredients for doing anything online.
I’m going to try to be as complete as possible with the least amount of questions (4 max per topic) and work the way up from basic IT to content and purpose of the website.
It’s easy to cover a lot of ground like this in a short time. These questions are directed at whoever has the senior user role in the project, in many cases that role can be filled in by the business.
Before we start … let’s say that you already have some PM stuff covered already. You have a list of people and know who’s going to review, who’s going to sponsor and who’s going to execute the work. You also already have your high level budget and planning indications. It’s clear that the business case requires a website and there’s a general idea of how big the website will be in terms of content.
Technology and IT:
- does the website need to be integrated with an existing technology, website or system? (hosting, domains, …)
- what kinds of technologies will the website be developed in and hosted on? (server specifications, programming languages, network or firewall restrictions …)
- to what level is email used in support of website functionality? (no mails, only functional mails, mass mailing, …)
- is there a testing or acceptance environment or do we need to provide one?
Design and branding:
- which features are primordial for the website design to work? (the form follows function principle)
- are there any brand guidelines or standard (proprietary) digital assets and how do we get them?
- are there any examples you’re looking at, any inspiration you’re thinking of? (look at competition, similar concept websites, …)
- is there a need for a specific mobile website design? (mobile, tablet, …)
- how much content in how many languages will the website support and, if multilingual, where do translations come from?
- are there cultural and geographical constraints, will different content be shown based on this? (ex. different prices by country)
- who will provide copy, translations and digital assets? (texts, photography, video, …)
- how much content will be generated by visitors/users and will there be moderation?
Maintenance and Metrics:
- who will maintain the content and what is their level of technical knowledge?
- who will do the technical maintenance, do they have specific needs?
- are you using tracking services? (Omniture, Google Analytics, Clicky, …)
- are there special reporting needs the website has to provide? (easy database exports, dashboards, …)
Website launch or Marketing (say marketing strategy isn’t part of your deliverable):
- how will the website be launched? (phased launch, big bang, public beta …)
- are there associated offline media campaigns (TV, radio, print, …) and what kind of visitor impact is there to expect?
- are there online marketing campaigns? (activity on social networks, bannering, email marketing, …)
- how SEO does the content need to be? (if SEO is important, which keywords?)
Purpose and Usability:
- what’s the main audience of the website?
- which information should be in the website, how will people navigate the content? (information architecture, content prioritization, …)
- are there specific accessibility needs? (the illiterate, visually challenged visitors, …)
- how will the website be visited most, is a mobile or tablet version a priority?
Expert tip, start your questions on the topic you feel is unlikely to change when you’re doing your interview and work your way up from there. I’ve put the checklists in a rather bottom-up, technology first order but there’s no particular reason to follow that order in your interview.
After having a sufficient level of detail, you can start discussing milestones and working on planning and resource allocation.
Never forget that one of the first things you should find out from a client as a PM is “Why are you doing this project?”, if you don’t know that, you can’t do your work.
Did I miss any essentials in the lists? Please let me know in the comments!
Photo courtesy: Pol Heymans