Wonder who’s building your new website? At hesketh.com (and most web design agencies in Raleigh and elsewhere), it’s a team effort — typically with at least a dozen different roles ranging from marketing to design to development.
This article focuses on building websites in the Drupal open-source content management system (CMS), but it applies to other CMS’s like WordPress and Sitecore. Roles and skillsets often overlap between team members — and it doesn’t happen entirely in sequential order — but here’s a general overview of the people and processes in our office, a renovated 1890s factory building in Raleigh, NC.
Smaller agencies might have the same person doing online strategy, information architecture, and UX design, or have the same person doing both back-end and front-end development, or might not have a dedicated project manager. That can certainly work, but I find having more specialization lets people focus on doing what they do best — for instance, our programmers don’t have to code while being on standby to take client calls.
Before Beginning the Web Development Project
The business development executive collects information about a client’s needs and initial requirements, and helps ensure we’re a mutual match. The project manager (PM) creates an initial project plan, which include details on task estimates and budgets. Other team members may help during the proposal process.
Elaboration: Planning the New Website
After the PM-led kickoff meeting, the online strategist does stakeholder interviews and user research. Tools may include ethn.io, CrazyEgg, UserTesting.com, and the Google Docs suite.
Based on that information, the information architect (IA) creates the sitemap, along with wireframes (for key pages or sections) and workflows for site administration. Tools may include OmniGraffle, FlairBuilder, Balsamiq, or Visio.
The user experience (UX) designer then creates full-color design mockups (composite designs, or “comps”) to meet users’ needs, based on the wireframes and user research. They use tools like Fireworks, Photoshop, and paper sketchbooks. The creative director (CD) ensures the design is on-message, and may be involved in client presentations. We may also do additional user testing, depending on the project.
The system architect works with the IA and PM to identify how to structure the back-end of the new site, including content types for Drupal and any data migration needs from a client’s old systems. After creating a Development Plan (aka Tech Specs), we’ll compare projected estimates with projected budgets — if the estimates are higher than the original budget, the PM will discuss with the client — this usually requires getting a change order for additional budget, removing lower-priority features, or a combination of the two.
Development: Building the Site
The back-end developer (BED) creates the functionality, working with the system architect, IA, PM, and online strategist to ensure the functionality matches the specs. Most of our projects uses PHP as the programming language, although some web apps use Ruby, and iOS mobile apps typically use Objective-C.
A quality assurance (QA) engineer — often a front-end developer or project manager — ensures the functionality works as expected. We also do cross-browser testing, to make sure the site looks right in everything from Firefox to Internet Explorer.
A web content writer often creates new content, based on guidance from the IA, online strategist, and content strategist. The content migrator (sometimes at the agency, but often from the client’s team) loads content to the new site.
This content-creation process often happens in conjunction with our Writing for the Web training workshops on writing and search engine optimization, led by an SEO trainer.
Along the way, the project manager keeps things organized and moving along, eliminating internal obstacles. The PM also manages the budget, runs weekly project meetings, keeps the client updated, and builds a loop for feedback.
When it all comes together, the site’s ready for launch! After testing and client signoff, the system administrator runs through our go-live checklist, updates the DNS records, and takes the site live.
As a living tool, a website is never done — after launch, it’s on to Phase 2!
Any other roles I should add to the list?