Let's face it: The world of website development and marketing as a whole has gotten quite complex. There are more disciplines and specialties than ever before, numerous programming languages, and countless content management systems available – making it hard for one person or even one agency to be a master of all. So, if you’re faced with a situation where you need to evaluate outsourcing all or a portion of a web development project (depending on the scale or complexity of the project needs) don’t fret.
Here’s some steps that our own team has learned along the way when outsourcing certain web projects that will help when planning to outsource a project of your own, managing it once you do make the hand off, and monitoring it so it stays on course until completion.
1. Properly Scope the Project to Determine Client Expectations
With any web project, your starting point should first be determining the scope.
Is your client looking for a simple refresh of his current site with an updated design and a more streamlined page structure? Or is he looking to do a complete overhaul that will take his current 30-page site to three times the size?
Understanding the scope and what your client is envisioning for his new site allows you to properly estimate how much time and resources it will take to complete the project so you can avoid any surprises later. You don't want to go back to your client and ask for more budget. Let me tell you: This never goes over well!
The scoping phase is also the right time to determine:
What internal resources does your client have to help administer the site once it’s created?
Does the company have a preferred content management system (CMS)?
What content assets (copy, files, photography, etc.) exist that can be repurposed?
How much, if any, is the client team wanting to contribute as far as writing page copy or uploading content?
What types of custom functionality does the company need that will require custom programming?
You get the idea. Dig into as many upfront details as you can with your client. It will prevent problems later on in the project.
2. Pick the Right Outsourced Partner Based on Project Scope
Once you know the scope and what your client wants and is expecting with his new site, you can better evaluate what type of resources you need to deploy. In the case of an outsourced web project, you need to be confident that you’re picking the right partner that has the needed capabilities to successfully complete the project.
Of all the steps listed, this is the most critical. Picking the wrong partner falls directly on you as the project lead and the one who owns the client relationship, so choose wisely.
If you’ve never worked with the partner before, be sure to speak with some of the company's current clients, request to see examples of work, and pick up the phone to have a live discussion (if they’re not located locally) to get a feel for who they are and how they operate. This is the perfect time to review and discuss the project scope with them to see what questions and ideas they bring to the table. You’ll be able to sense whether they’re excited about the project, disinterested, or intimidated. I think you know what reaction you’re looking for.
3. Be Realistic When Estimating Project Cost
Once you’ve built out the project scope and have your outsourced partner selected, you need to start talking numbers. You may have given your client a ballpark estimate up front when discussing the scope of the project, but don’t feel tied to that number. It’s better to be honest with your client and yourself on what it’s going to take to complete the project.
Since you’re relying on your outsourced partner to keep the project within the estimated budget, be sure they fully understand the scope and are very detailed in estimating their time – breaking it up into sections so you can easily get a feel if their costs seem realistic. If you’ve never worked with this partner before, it may be wise to pad the estimate some just to be safe.
4. Be Precise With Your Direction
Once you get the estimate outlined and approved by your client, it’s time to kick things off with your outsourced partner. Take the necessary time to be as detailed as you can to give them the direction they need as they get started. Showing them examples of certain design elements and programming functionality, as you or the client envision it, is always a good idea. And if they have examples of their own to share based on their understanding of the direction, encourage them to contribute.
5. Set Proper Expectations With Your Outsourced Partner
Whether you’ve worked with this particular partner before or not, it’s important to set expectations up front. Be sure to outline and discuss:
The overall project timeline and the target date for launch. Be careful here on what you commit to with your client.
How often you prefer to receive updates on site progress and when you would like to have live calls/meetings to review the site.
What you require for timely follow up if you or your client have specific questions.
How you would like to be informed if things are beyond the project scope or time is nearing the original estimate.
6. Encourage Consistent Touch Points Throughout the Project
Similar to No. 5 above, part of setting expectations up front is communicating with your partner how often you would like to connect throughout the project. This may be twice per week as the project gets initiated and then scale back to once per week or once every other week. Whatever the frequency, make sure your partner is aware and on board with the frequency. Then, make sure both teams stick to it.
Waiting too long between touch points can result in missteps that lead the project in the wrong direction.
7. Be Polite, but Blunt, When Needed
You obviously don’t want to offend or tick off your outsourced partner in this situation. You’re relying on them to complete the project for your client. That said, you still need to remain firm — yet polite — when discussing scope creep or missed deadline.
If you see certain aspects of the design they created or a programming feature that isn’t working in your opinion, speak up early. Most designers and programmers will appreciate the input before a lot of time is invested. Also, if the timing and turnaround of things are slowing down and impacting the overall timeline, have a discussion before the relationship sours.
8. Watch for Red Flags
A big part of avoiding a disaster with an outsourced web project is your ability to manage the project, which involves watching for and identifying any red flags. This could be a lack of response and follow up from your partner, possible irritation in their voice or emails when you two connect, or signs they’ve misunderstood direction when you have meetings to review progress.
Addressing these situations promptly and calmly is always best. Use these as a way to solidify your relationship and showcase that you appreciate open communication.
Maybe your agency has never outsourced a web project before, or you have, and things fell short. Whatever your situation I hope these best practices allow you to outsource with confidence.
What suggestions do you have for outsourcing web projects successfully?
Originally published Aug 7, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017