Have you ever worked with a developer (or you developers, with a client) and wondered, “Why is this so hard?” We’re willing to bet you have. It happens more than we’d like. Whatever side of the supply chain you’re on, hopefully these five steps will help put you on path to a better, stronger development partnership. Ideally, one that will grow with you and your digital needs into the future.
Step 1: A development partnership starts at the beginning
Whether it’s a brand new site, an old site that needs zhuzhing, a new product, an app, an API or something never seen before, get your chosen development partner involved ASAP. Involving them in the conversation right away means eliminating doubts and assumptions that can throw up roadblocks later on. Tight timeline? No worries. Let them know. They’ll tell you what’s doable within the timeframe and how to phase in other improvements in stages after that. Skinny budget? Again, getting your devs in the conversation will help you manage expectations for functionality or sophistication. A good development team won’t turn something down just because it’s a small budget. They can still do great things with smaller resources – but telling them that to start with is the key to efficiency and transparency.
The best part of getting your devs in the conversation early is that they often have a much broader understanding of what’s possible. That means they can bring great new ideas you hadn’t even thought of. Sometimes for the same or even less cost.
Step 2: Communicate everything
A vast majority of the time, this is the biggest pitfall – for both sides, if we’re honest. We see a lot of clients who are tackling a new digital project who either don’t have any real understanding of development processes or – and this is sometimes worse – they have a little understanding… just enough to make them assume they know everything. This is where it all seems to go pear-shaped.
Like the heading says, no matter how well you do or don’t know your dev team, tell them absolutely everything. Literally assume nothing. A good development team should come back to you and tell you when they don’t have enough detail about a project, but they aren’t mind readers, either. Do you think visitors don’t see links unless their underlined? If you haven’t told them that, they will have no way of knowing. Are you assuming that they’ll transfer all of your existing content from your old website into your shiny new CMS? If you haven’t said that out loud, or it isn’t explicitly in the project scope, don’t be surprised when they tell you that they will need 20% more time (and cost) to make that happen.
Likewise, tell them if you’re uncertain about some aspect of the project – functionality, timing… even not fully grasping what’s required. Again, a good team will take extra steps to bump up communication on those issues and ensure you’re on board with everything before getting too far down the path. And keep the lines of communication open throughout the project. Things don’t always go as expected. If you both feel comfortable talking to each other you have fewer surprises and more trust.
Step 3: Review, test, review
So you’re dev team has sent you a link to the staging area for your snazzy new widget with lots of fun bells and whistles. You’ve hastily clicked through to get the instant gratification you’ve been craving and you’re over the moon. In your haste, you have assured the dev team it’s just as you always dreamed, ticked the ‘done’ box, pushed to live and sent the cheque. Only to find a week later you’re getting spam, typo notifications from your colleagues, complaints about functionality and you’re on the warpath.
The truth is, a huge chunk of the responsibility for making sure you’ve got what you wanted lies with you. Don’t get us wrong, where there’s a clearly communicated and detailed list of functionality and requirements, your dev team should be diligently working to ensure they meet those specs. But unless you’ve paid them for a level of exhaustive testing that rivals the prep checklist for a shuttle launch (and we have never met a client who has been willing to do this), some assumptions – big and small – will have slipped through and the only way you’ll ever find them is to thoroughly review and test. It also means you’ll need to build in time and budget for this process – feeding back tweaks and issues to your dev partner and reviewing the results in several stages.
Yes, it’s exhausting. No, it’s not instant gratification. But you’ll have a better result and a stronger development partnership in the end.
Step 4: Adapt
Yep, it’s that simple. Just prepare to have to change. Whether it’s at the project visualisation stage or the post-live stage, tell yourself it’s not over. Technology is simply moving too fast for you to rest on your laurels for very long. Plan for a long-term partnership because your website, its needs and your users’ needs will be constantly changing. Gone are the days when you paid a lump of money to build a site and then walked away. Your site will need updating (front-end AND backend), your functionality will need refreshing, your user experiences will need to evolve. That means you need to plan for that – in both time and cost.
Like marketing, your website needs to be considered an ongoing part of your operating cost. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can solve this with a ‘one and done’ attitude. But… if that’s how you plan to tackle it, you won’t need a partner. You might need a lot of luck, though.
Step 5: Reach out
This is the most crucial step in cementing a trusting partnership with your client or your dev team: get in touch with them regularly. Tell your development agency what you’re thinking, what’s on the horizon, if the business is struggling or thriving. They may have some digital tools which can help – ones you know nothing about. If you’re a developer (or account manager for one), keep an eye on trends and view those through the lens of your clients to see what might be a priority for them. Give them the benefit of your expertise and insight. Even if they don’t take up every suggestion, they’ll be grateful knowing that you’ve got their back. In an industry with so much smoke and so many mirrors, one of the most valuable resources for development partnerships is trust. Build your foundation on that and you’ll both go much, much farther.