I see it time and time again, organizations of all sizes decide they are going to launch a new website so they jump right in. They hire their web team varying from one to several people to handle everything from planning to design to development to launch. Those that hire larger firms are often provided with a project manager who’s job it is to lead the design / development team as well as the client with the goal of staying in scope and schedule. It’s important to know that a project manager is a very different role than a web consultant.

What is often called the discovery phase is the phase of the project that follows the signing of contracts and the pleasantries of deciding to work together. You have chosen who will design and build your website and now it is time to start the project, right? Back when I was building full sites, I loved this phase; the project was of course ‘on schedule’ the client was excited as were the designers and developers for a new fresh project.

Web Consulting, What Consulting?

The problem with this all too common scenario is that typically an agreement is in place, a scope has been defined and a price settled on, but wait… How can a final project and scope be defined if we haven’t gone through the discovery phase?

Sales Pitches are Not Substitutes for Solid Web Consulting

When interviewing firms and developers, organizations will typically outline what they are looking for. However during the shallowness of the sales pitch phase not all details are flushed out, not all technical issues sorted… and yet we have an agreement and scope and we have started our project. Even if we don’t have a defined scope, we typically have a defined budget at this point which means the development team certainly has a project scope in mind.

Do I Sense Disappointment?

So the initial discovery meeting is going great and the client is throwing out ideas, features, functions they have for their grand new website. I have been in very few discovery meetings where a little piece of the client’s dream isn’t shattered as they throw out their idea only to be told it was not included in the scope, project plan, budget or agreement. Granted, I have also heard some crazy requests, so this kind of discovery is not always bad.

An Example

A good example is a client I recently did some web consulting for, they hired me after signing their web development firm. As the project progressed, they were disappointed to learn they had not included a mobile friendly (responsive) design in the agreement and budget. It was assumed by the client that all modern websites work on mobile devices. This resulted in a longer development time, unexpected budget encases and of course frustration on the side of the client and the development shop. If I had been involved at the time of scope development, I would have advised the client nothing can be assumed and you need to make sure a responsive design is a distinct line item in what you request and what is proposed to you. This is a definite case where web consulting would have kept this surprise from coming up.

Hire a Consult, Isn’t That Expensive?

I can be. Sorry maybe that is a little too ‘honest’, but I can tell you its generally a lot less expensive than getting started on a project only to learn that you and your development team did not plan or account for everything you need. Web consulting does not have to be a huge line item and a large expense. It really depends on the level of involvement your particular web consultant will have in the project. I have worked on projects where I only contributed a few hours for planning and review and on projects where I have done everything from writing the proposal, reviewing RFP responses and helping the client manage the project.

Where to Start

It’s my recommendation that any non-technical client looking to invest in their online presence with a website or custom application seek the consultancy of an expert if at no other part of the project, the very beginning. The beginning, as in before you talk to your first potential developer / designer.

Have your consultant listen to what you are looking for, go through your own discovery process, let them raise flags as needed and discuss what each one of the challenges could mean to the project. Have the web consultant ask you some questions, to start a conversation. I promise you that you will be surprised to where it leads and how much you will have learned about your own project.

Once this exercise is complete, your should be positioned incredibly well to be happy with the designer, developer and/or firm you choose, the product they produce and even the proposed budgets you receive.

Who Does This Consultant Work For?

You of course. However a good consultant will balance their understanding of technology, best practices and how websites are built to guide you through the process. There may be times they advise that what you are asking for is not reasonable or even possible given the constraints of budget or technology. This is their job.

photo by Matthew Burpee / cc