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As members of Boston's Lean Startup Circle and enthusiastic practitioners of Agile development methodologies, we're firm believers in the value of the repeated, incremental "Do over." In agile software development this is usually referred to as an Iteration, while in the Lean Startup world it is hailed as a Pivot.
Both disciplines have learned the value of customer development: if you're not building something your customer wants, then every minute spent building it is a waste of time. Fallen out of favor is the idea of the "Waterfall" philosophy, where a massive amount of planning and specification is done ahead of time and then, like a canoe falling off a cliff, your product shoots through the steps of development, testing, and release full speed in a straight path. The agile alternative, using smaller feedback loops, gives more opportunity for the product to be refined under real use situations. When we developed Webiva we followed the latter methodology, often pushing one or two features per day as needed to move development forward.
On CMS integration projects where we're primarily brought on as technical advisors, it's a different story. The standard website development process still feels very much like a waterfall:
1. Discuss Client Requirements and RFP
2. Consultants Bid on Project
3. Consultant Determine Project Specifications
4. Design of the Website is Completed
5. Implementation of the Design Occurs
6. Content is Created
7. User Testing Occurs
8. Site Goes Live
9. *Client Hates Website
The clients who want to build their new websites are often not particularly versed in the area of Web development. Rather, they have looked around and know some of the features that they would like their big, new, shiny website to have. They've assembled a mishmash of various features into a Request for Proposal and then farmed out that proposal to a number of different parties for bids (See: Why quotes are a bad idea). The various design consultancies will review the RFP and come back with a price based on their understanding of the project. The client chooses and that consultancy will then write up detailed specifications.
At this point, the document created in Step 3 -- the master blueprint for the project -- progresses like the children's game "Telephone." The client has created a set of features out of a limited understanding of their problem domain and a consultancy has taken that limited understanding, interpreted it themselves, and created one document to rule them all for the duration of the project.
Is it any wonder many website revamps end up at step 9 (or fail completely)?
Website development needs to take a chapter out of the Lean movement handbook. As an industry, we desperately need a "Lean Website" methodology. Get rid of the linear flow down the waterfall towards the jagged rapids at the bottom. As a consultancy, yes you have a client, but the actual customer of the website you are building is your client's customer.
Making your client happy during the web development process doesn't necessarily translate into making your clients customer's happy after the fact. If your client knew exactly what they needed to build and how to best build it, they probably wouldn't need you after all. Creating a massive, linear 8-step process that leaves the actual customer out of the loop until the very end is a set up for failure.
Webiva (surprise, surprise) is very much built around the concept of being able to build and reimagine your website incrementally, getting both qualitative and quantitative feedback from both the client and end customer as you develop your site.
We'll be talking a lot more in this blog about how to follow a "Lean Website" philosophy. The web gives you an incredible ability to do metric-driven customer development with your Online presence, and if the Web Design and Development industry takes advantage of this, the end result will be happier clients and better websites.