(Part 3 of 3) Website Blueprints: Invaluable Website Consulting
Today’s post is a the final part of my interview with our lead Website Blueprint consultant, Rob. If you’ve not already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview, I recommend you do that first before reading today’s post.
How much time and energy is required when investing in this type of Website Blueprint consulting?
Erin: Let's say a company is thinking about investing in a Website Blueprint or a Blueprint for an app. How much time and energy should they expect will be required of their team? Does everybody on the team need to be involved? Is it usually one or two people? Is this something where they have a big work session upfront and that's all they need? What is the amount of time and energy that a company is going to need in order to have a really great Blueprint deliverable?
Rob: What we like to do is hear every voice but, at the same time, have a leader or a point of contact who is going to work directly with me and be the person who helps synthesize all the ideas, if you will, at least in terms of feedback and in terms of an efficient communication process with us during the process of doing the Blueprint.
That being said, typically we do three to six hour-long phone calls over the course of two to four weeks to really get that brainstorming process figured out, and to allow me to get all those thoughts and ideas down on paper.
What that usually looks like is we'll do a call and we'll say, okay, the agenda for this call is going to be X, Y, and Z. We'll talk through those things. I will speak with you and your team to pull those ideas out of you as best as I can. I may come back after that session with some follow-up questions, or some "homework."
Then, during our next call, we'll move on to several other topics. For example, the first one might be the way your e-commerce process works. The second one might be search and design. The third one might be some other functionality, like user sign-ups or membership database or something like that.
Usually we'll break things up into a few phone calls. Usually we do those for about an hour. That's typically a sweet spot for a meeting length. I think longer than that, you start to have everybody getting worn out. So we break those up into three, four, five, maybe even six phone calls. That will happen over the course of a few weeks and, during that time, I will also be exchanging emails with you to get everything synthesized and prioritized so that I can then sit down and essentially build your Blueprint for you.
Erin: So, outside of the three to six phone calls, in general, sometimes there's more, is that all that's required then, of the team, and then all of the other work is done for them? Is there anything else? You said there might be a bit of homework for them sometimes. Is that right?
Rob: Yes. There are times when we'll work with organizations where, basically, the CEO can answer all of the questions for us and then there are times when we work with organizations where it's actually a much more collaborative process.
So, there may be three, four, or five stakeholders in different areas of the organization who need to answer and consider different points and different questions. What we look for is engagement from everybody on the team who is going to be a stakeholder in this process, because we want to make sure everybody's voices are heard and everybody has set aside at least a few hours to give us the time and answer these questions, and the "homework assignments," or discussions, that we'll need to build the best Blueprint that we can.
We try to do it in a way that is not cumbersome on you, as the client. We are here because it's our job to give you a forum to discuss all the goals, requirements, and needs for the project. But it's our job to then take that and then turn it into an actionable, clearly written, easily digestible plan. So, the bulk of the work is going to happen behind the scenes, after our discussions with you. I always try to make the discussions very casual and very conversational.
So, we almost don't want you to over-prepare for them because we just want to hear your thoughts and your ideas in a very simple, authentic way. There may be times when I go back and I ask for a specific statistic or a specific answer to a certain question. We try to keep it very accessible for everybody, and I welcome as many team members as want to be involved to be involved in those discussion processes.
Would a Website Blueprint benefit OUR business?
Erin: So, something we let prospective clients know is that Blueprints are definitely not for everyone. That they sound like this great idea and people get really excited about it, about the clarity they get and the planning that happens, but they are not for everybody, and we don't recommend them for all of the businesses that think they might need them. What types of projects or businesses are definitely not good fits for our Website Blueprints?
Rob: There are projects that simply are not complex enough to require a separate phase of Blueprinting. There are many projects that fit the mold of your typical small to medium business website. We have great systems in place and great experience in place for that.
Usually, you're not going to be throwing us any curve balls if you need a site that has an About Us page, and a Contact page, and a News page, and a nice design. So, thinking about something like that, that kind of project where it's just purely a small business site that acts as your internet contact point or brochure, those projects are not complex or unique enough to require a Blueprinting phase.
When it starts to get more complex, like you start to say, “We want people to be able to log in and do X, Y, Z, or I really want to build something that connects with this outside software, or allows members to do these various pieces of custom functionality,” then you're talking more about moving into the world of web applications, or more complex websites. And that's where we like to recommend Blueprinting because usually what we see there is a lot of great ideas, but not enough clarity to really act upon those ideas until we do the Blueprint process.
What are common client frustrations solved by Website Blueprints?
Erin: So, if someone is out there on the fence and they're not sure if we should just go the standard proposal route, then we'll have things to compare against each other. Obviously, we want to make it clear that we're always open to a conversation to see if a Blueprint would be a good match, and it may or may not be. But, if you had to summarize and say, okay, these are the top frustrations that businesses come to us with, when they are a really good fit for Blueprints, what would those top three frustrations be?
Rob: The first thing that I think is a sign of a project that would really benefit from a Blueprint is if you're running into confusion, whether internally or with other agencies that you're working with or with other technical programmers/developers that you're working with. If there's confusion about the high level goals or needs of this project, to the point where you're getting multiple proposals that don't really match up with one another or maybe your designer and developer are confused or different team members are confused about exactly what needs to be done.
What we do with the Blueprint is we provide a clear action plan that everybody can follow. So, if you're hitting that sort of confusion or that difficulty comparing quotes or difficulty getting multiple different stakeholders on board with the project, that is often a sign that your requirements and your scope and your plan for the project are not clear enough that they can be easily communicated to everyone else.
There are often times where we sit down as individuals and write something out and it makes total sense to us and then we start to shop it around to agencies or we start to show it to other people at the company and those people end up either making a lot of assumptions or just not totally understanding what we're trying to convey. One of the great things about the Blueprint is we put a lot of work into making sure that this is a portable document, so everybody can read it and take the same information from it, and know what the action plan is going to be. So, that plays into the idea of trying to go right to the proposal step.
What we often see as a huge pain point for that is, basically, you're getting a bunch of proposals back that are not offering the same services, or even recommending the same course of action. And, even for someone like me, who has spent 15 years building websites, it's pretty hard to compare those types of proposals to one another and tell you, oh, this is what you should be doing, this is the best value, because you're not comparing apples to apples. It's a big risk to go to those agencies and ask for proposals before you have full clarity on what you need, because you're going to get a bunch of quotes back that are basically quotes for different things. It's really hard to compare those in a way that allows you to make a smart business decision.
So, we talked about having confusion about what the action steps for the project are going to be. Often times, we'll hear people say, I have all of these great ideas, I just don't know what to do next. Or we'll hear people who are a little bit confused as to what their goals or what the next steps even should be for the project. We'll hear people who come to us and say, I got three different proposals, and they're for three totally different things, and they seem like these agencies kind of gave me a boilerplate proposal because they weren't really sure what I was asking for. That's a big red flag that your specs are not quite clear, or that the agency has not taken the time to really engage with you and figure out what will perform well for you.
To hit on another risk, let's say you go through the proposal process, you decide to go with one of those agencies, even though you maybe have not figured out exactly what the requirements are, and maybe things are not totally clear between you guys, but the proposal looks good enough. What we'll often see is that, as you get into that project with that company who is doing design, development and anything else that is required, all of a sudden those disconnects during the proposal process turn into really big financial disconnects when they start to deliver stuff that's not to your liking or not what you expected. All of a sudden, either you're way over budget or you're not getting what you wanted for your budget, and it all goes back to sitting down and doing those few hours of planning upfront.
The way I like to look at it is you are investing some extra money and some extra time at the beginning to save yourself a lot of pain and confusion and heartache at the end of this project or in the middle of this project. If you don't do this and you just dive in, hoping for the best, the chances are that there are going to be quite a few things where the developer hasn't quite got a full understanding of what you're aiming for, or maybe there's just some honest confusion. Those kinds of things are a lot easier to alleviate on day five than they are on month five after a ton of time and money has been invested in the project.