The way we work
If you're choosing a web design agency, it helps to know more than just the costs, their clients and the work they'd do for you. So here are a few things about the way we work.
How we run projects
We don't adhere to formal, complex project management systems, but like most IT companies we loosely follow the 'agile' model. This means that rather than spend a long time planning the project to the last detail, and then sticking rigorously to that plan throughout the whole process, instead we conduct an iterative process, constantly amending and responding quickly to feedback and ideas from our clients, their users and other factors that require change.
Another guiding philosophy is David Allen's Getting Things Done, in which a central thesis is that, while our brains are good at making decisions, they're not so good at remembering things we need to do. So using systems and tools to aid our memories, and ensure that things aren't forgotten, ensures that decisions are put into practice and projects completed.
In our case, we use the leading project management and collaboration tool Basecamp. It was designed by a web agency of around our size with our kind of needs, and we've found it a natural fit. We don't force our clients to use it, but they're all welcome to, and most see the benefits immediately.
Checklists and threaded discussion
Basecamp has many benefits but the most important is the attractive, easy-to-use interface for checklists and threaded discussion. We ran many projects for years conducted entirely over e-mail where one request from a client would be in one e-mail and answered by us in another; and long lists of unrelated questions were met with longer lists of answers in an overwhelmingly long thread.
The checklist system means: each individual request you have for a website, however big or small, can have its own place on a list of things to do. Questions about that item can be asked in a thread attached to that item and not mixed up with others. The item can be assigned to an individual person and have a deadline attached to it, quite apart from bigger project deadlines. And when it's done, it gets checked off. Clients and developers login to see and comment on the same checklists and everyone can be sure that nothing gets forgotten and everyone knows what the latest is.
We don't spend a long time developing wordy project specification documents, adding the time to your estimate. We agree a clear, concise list of the things you're asking for in a project, and set up Basecamp checklists will all the details that are needed to provide them. So the Basecamp checklists are our project plan - one that is flexible, collaborative, ever-changing, but ever-accurate.
Websites must be tested before they're launched to make sure that: they display well on all leading browsers, on different platforms and devices; that users find what they're looking for and don't get frustrated with registration forms; that hyperlinks work and code doesn't fail; and so on. There are many different ways of organising testing and we're comfortable with most of them: using external companies, planning in-house testing at our end, or using you and your colleagues to test our work. The one thing we believe is that the best testers are people who think like your website users, not like web developers.
We always plan for a 'sacred' period of testing at the end of the project, after all possible changes have been made to the site, all content added, and all design polishing complete, giving us good time to run a series of automated tests and have human beings sense-check the site pages. It's perfectly possible to test everything as you go along, after every significant addition or change is made to the site, but it adds to the time and the cost of the project. Most of our clients prefer it to be done in one distinct, blocked-out period.
You will have a direct relationship with someone working on your website, so they can answer questions and explain details without needing to consult anyone else. Each client will have a project manager responsible for overall evaluation of the workflow, ensuring that tasks are completed, deadlines are met, and determining how new requests can be incorporated.
Most of our communication with clients is written, either by e-mail or using the Basecamp comment system. This enables things not to be forgotten and to be shared with other team members, and in particular is useful for reporting bugs or requests where we can refer to exact page URLs, messages, share screenshots etc. But we also recognise the value of a good phone call to discuss the big picture, or to give advice, and you are welcome to call us on 0844 804 0682 at any time (weekdays, 9am - 6pm).