This is a talk I gave at WordCamp Manchester in October 2017.
The slides were intentionally succinct – I find them distracting when speaking so prefer to use notes and follow-up with a post such as this. On the day I had to use the iPad for the slide speaker notes as I’d not checked that they would show on the 2nd monitor – so one to note for next time; I think I got away with it, even if I did get a bit flustered here and there.
With any project, big or small, we need to know what the client expects.
What will satisfy them? What are they expecting? And in order to know that, we first need to understand all the things we have to work with, all the tools and resources that need to be considered.
This discovery process really is essential; sometimes simply rolling with it, winging it, trusting that of course all will be fine can sometimes work without a hitch, other times it can result in a nightmare.
The client will hold us responsible for the project, regardless of what they have or have not provided – so it makes sense for us to pin this down at the start:
While researching for this talk I came across familiar references to a simple questionnaire document still available from about 10 years ago on my website – mainly focusing on the marketing side of things and certainly pre my WordPress days, and so to this I’ve added all kinds of other stuff that make the difference between success and us having to work way more hours than is sensible or allowed for or having an unhappy client.
Each point covered here is added to a shared WordPress Project Discovery Questions Document that you can use however you want to, using bits that are relevant to you and commenting with items I’ve missed either there or here, so between us we can build the most amazing resource that helps us all be better and manage our projects better. I want this to simply be a really useful resource for all of us.
As well as knowing who pays the invoice 😉 we need to know who is involved with the decision processes. Whose input needs to be heeded, considered? And who has the final word? If you can have an actual discovery meeting with all concerned, that can potentially save a lot of your time (and theirs). If you cover this discovery process in person or by phone, be sure to record everything.
Who else in the organisation needs to know what’s happening? Who takes priority?
If there is a company organisation chart – you want to see that too.
Get a feel for the company’s tone – stiffly professional, relaxed, laid-back, polished, authentic, young, not-so-young, vibrant…
How many locations, and where? Different products or services for each? Language – within the UK too sometimes. Will you need to include a Chinese version, for instance – this adds a whole extra package of work that you need to know about sooner rather than later so you can design around this.
Which competitors do your clients keep an eye on? Who are their most important competitors (not necessarily the most obvious)? How are they different to their competitors?
And of course their clients and customers – who are they, and don’t accept “everyone” – we all have our ideal clients. Who are they for your clients? Where do their clients/customers hang out, online? What kind of websites appeal to them? This may well not be what your client thinks 😉
What’s the budget? I know some of us don’t like talking about these things at any stage, but quite frankly that’s potentially wasting everyone’s time if the client thinks their shiny new website is going to be £500 when what they’re asking for is £5000 worth of website. If your client won’t talk money, offer some ideas of what they get within different price ranges. There are a lot of people who want a bespoke, designed website for under £1000.
The tools and resources you need to work with:
- Branding – colours, fonts, logo
- A sitemap?
- Social Media activities
- Newsletter subscription or other offers
- Contact forms
- You need their full product/services list
- What’s their best product or service? Get them to “sell” to you – this is likely to bring some enthusiasm to your client which will bring out more of the feel for things or even something they’ve forgotten about before.
- Marketing resources – get copies, even if they are rebranding – you never know what nuggets you can pick up, and it does give you a feel for the client to that point, at least.
Indeed the marketing – what are your clients doing now, do they use tag lines or slogans, do they have a mission statement?
What is their marketing plan?
What do they expect visitors to their website to do? Why? What then happens?
What’s the sales process?
What do their website visitors want when they visit? What are they expecting to find (easily!)?
What are your client’s business goals?
What does your client expect of their new website?
What challenges – for both your client and their clients?
Ecommerce! There’s another few dozen things to know and not be afraid to ask about – a veritable minefield.
How many products to sell, types or categories of products, how do customers pay, how is postage calculated, who is loading all the products and image, are photos or images ready and optimised? This really is a whole extra layer of potential scope-creep if your client is not clear about who is doing what – be as specific as you can be.
Kathir Sid Vel gave a great talk at Manchester around the Ecommerce process for customers – that included a lot of things you need to know about, to discover, if you’re working with a client that wants an awesome online store.
And what is your client’s discovery process? That may be relevant for some. And if they don’t have one you can be even more useful and share yours…
Why do they want a new website? What’s wrong with their old one? Do they really need one or just want to do it because they think they should? You can apply this to Twitter or Facebook or other social media toys tools – if they’re not actually using them then there’s no point.
When do you want to start? When would they like to go live? This month is not going to happen – so manage the expectation carefully here, and add in some wiggle-room – time for things to change.
Are there any significant dates to be aware of – are there marketing dates to know about?
When will the content be ready, or any other items essential to the project?
The high-resolution logo, images to use (or do they want you to source these?), photographs, the content, blog posts or articles, podcasts, videos, any literature whatsoever – brochures, presentations, even a business card, case studies, testimonials, any notable dates, or sponsorships. When can you have sight of all this?
How will everything be provided – will content be in a format that you can copy and paste or in actual paper form (it happens) with you expected to type it in. Really pin this one down… Will they add the content directly themselves? Is training needed and to what level?
How do people find their website now? What does your client think they search for? Do they want to know more about this – if not as an upsell for you, hopefully you know someone who can help them with this.
How many people visit their website now?
What Google webmaster and analytics data is available – if you’re met with silence, set this up so you can see what’s going on from that point on.
How will your client attract people to their website?
How does the client expect or want to communicate with you? With so many options now we should not assume they’re happy with email! They may want to call you or text you or use some new-fangled app… Set this expectation now so they know when is going to be most useful for the success of the project. Bring it around to that. Of course if your client expects you to bend to their will – you need to price for that.
The Tech Stuff…
Hosting, DNS, data – oh the data… Assume nothing – including that your client knows what any of this is or even where it is!
Who is their current website host? Can that support WordPress? You may well need to guide them with this – to find out and of course to provide what’s needed. If your client is moving to a new host – do they know what to do and where?
If data is involved – request sight of it – really – one person’s “yes that’s easily available” “it’s just a simple Excel spreadsheet” can be your nightmare; I know of which I speak. It may not be in a format you can easily work with. Numbers may actually be in text format. And if it needs time and attention to resolve so it works with the new website, you need to know so you can accurately schedule this, and ensure it will work. Or so you can tell the client what they need to do if they’re not keen on paying you to get it sorted!
You cannot be too thorough. Be obvious. Know what is expected. Then be clear about what is reasonable to be expected. As few surprises as possible. Allow some wiggle-room but also include in your proposal just what happens to scope creep items. Anything not discovered. Be clear why you’re exploring so thoroughly – so they can have the best experience as possible.
Share your discovery document after it’s been completed by the client – keep it available for their reference at all times. Hopefully you won’t need to refer to it, but… stuff happens. Change is inevitable.
Being clear at the start is essential. If we do this, document it, get the client to confirm that this document is what they want and understand what they are getting for their money, then we’re winning and so are they.
All the work that is needed for the project needs to be discovered before you commit. And some clients may not be keen for you to discover everything. With those it’s up to you. My suggestion is to kindly say “No thank you”. Such projects invariably hold you back as you work to provide what the client wants through change – yes, that is poor project management, but it happens. And we feel responsible to resolve things – we want happy clients, after all. But this won’t always be the way. By discovering as much as you possible can in the first place you and your client have the best chance of a successful project. Be clear that all this is not for your benefit, it is so that you can do the best job possible for the client.
Please share things you’ve wished you’d discovered on the post or with us now – the more we bring together, the better we can all be, and the least creep can be made from the scope.
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