Find Web Developers
Find Web Developers

Do You Have Your Custom Web Development Risks Under Control?

September 10th, 2018

Managing custom web development is managing a software project. More and more, average people in average businesses are managing software projects in the form of customized blogs, websites, and e-commerce shopping carts. Even more so, if they are trying to deploy a custom intranet application, for internal use by their company’s employees, or an extranet application, for use by their customers and corporate partners, they may find themselves faced with developing a fully custom software system.

For example, one project I recently worked on is a custom extranet application that a certain company’s clients use to submit jobs to the company. As each job request goes through the system, a number of people in the company need to add information and sign off on it. This automated system was thick with business rules for this particular company and as a result was almost completely custom, because no off-the-shelf software got even close to doing the job the way they needed it done. It was expensive for them to develop, but it allowed them to automate a process that previously had been manually intensive. (Before this, they would email Excel spreadsheets around. Now, the computer handles all the grunt work, and frequently, all a human has to do is click “Approve.”)

This is an extreme example, but more moderate examples also exist. For example, a Gilmore Girls fansite I put together years ago had custom database features in order to store memorable quotations from the show with fan commentary, linked to episode and topical guides. That’s something that has not to my knowledge been done before or since. It required custom programming and configuration to process user submissions, store the data, and display the data in the right format.

Unfortunately, if you’re facing this type of project, many of the consultants and service providers you talk to will not be aware of the software development issues involved and how to manage the software-development risk. They may try to shoehorn your problem into something off-the-shelf software can accomplish. Or they may just “hack together” custom programming, without managing the complexity of the underlying software design. Or they may want an up-front specification of everything your project needs to do and may want to spend months working out these details, under the guise of good planning. But how can you plan a project you have zero experience with? You can’t. And neither can they.

Now, this is not a problem if all you need is a stock installation of off-the-shelf software. For example, if all you need is a WordPress blog with off-the-shelf plugins and an off-the-shelf theme, the traditional approach is the right one. Figure out what you need, install it, make sure it works, and release it to the world. Even if all you need is a custom theme for a stock website, the traditional graphic design approach–3 mock-ups, choose one, then implement it in code–may be the best approach. Even if you have a semi-custom installation of a more complex web application, like a content management system or an e-commerce shopping cart, the traditional approach may be acceptable.

But the more customization your project requires, the more software engineering concerns will impact it, and the more ignoring these concerns will put your project at risk. This is especially important in a financial squeeze, where you need to maximize what you get for your software-development dollar and minimize the risk that the project will go off track or bust.

If you find yourself faced with this prospect, here are 13 “lucky” software development tips to planning and executing your next web development project, briefly:

  1. Resolve to take tiny steps. Don’t develop and deploy the system in one big leap. Rather, do it in small chunks so that you can monitor its progress and adjust its direction each step of the way.
  2. Find an expert you can trust, then trust him. Don’t just look for someone to bang out code for you, but for someone to advise you on technology and on the software development process.
  3. Don’t commit to which features you want until you need to develop them. Wait until the last responsible moment before committing. That gives you more time to gain the experience at each step to choose the most important features to add next.
  4. Make sure the contract allows for changes, and make changes before committing, but not after. Work with a development team who will allow you to make changes to the plan, up to the point at which they begin actually implementing your requests.
  5. Provide software requirements in the form of objective test procedures. Go step by step through a typical usage scenario so that the developers can understand what you envision, and so that your in-house testers can know that they implemented what you asked for.
  6. Set objective acceptance criteria for each feature. Be as flexible as you can without giving up your core requirements. Think through ahead of time what you really need and what you can get away with. Then talk to the developers about what they can do to give you the former.
  7. Ask the developers how long each feature will take to implement, and whatever they tell you, trust but verify. Many developers are over-optimistic in their estimates. So depend on their expertise in estimating time-to-completion, but verify it with your own measurements.
  8. Make an “expert user” available to advise the developers. Good developers will ask you questions about the system that you probably never thought of. Assign an “expert user” to answer these questions, someone in your company who can represent the users of the system to the developers.
  9. Get regular status updates. Have someone in-house look at each release. Meet with the development team leader every week to address issues. Stay in constant communication.
  10. Expect the possible, but not the impossible. If your developer says such-and-such a task will take a month, don’t argue him down to a week. Rather, talk about what parts of it you can leave out to reduce the time it will take.
  11. Be prepared to choose which features are more important, and which are not. If the developer asks you to choose which of two features is more important, don’t insist that both are critical and must be done next week. Make the hard choices. Pick one to do this week, and leave the other until next.
  12. Expect to fail in the short term, even if you’re optimistic in the long term. Microsoft didn’t get Windows right until version 3. You also may need to wait until the third monthly release before you see anything usable in your application.
  13. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug. At some point, you’ll find that all the most important features are already working and that the ones that are left aren’t actually worth what you’re paying for them. At that point, stop buying new features, and move onto the next project.

Not every development shop will be able to work within these bounds. These tips do come from many years of experience, failed projects, and successful ones. But there’s also a certain amount of faith involved, because despite the years of experience, we still have scanty scientific data to prove which software-development practices are most effective. That’s why some developers may not be used to working with the kind of process I’ve outlined here and may even refuse to. So you may need to shop around a little to find a developer who can. But at least now you know what questions to ask.

Change Your Web Development Company Or Be Ready For Less Traffic to Your Site

September 9th, 2018

When we are designing a new website for our company, we are always thinking broadly and apply all what is new and what is good. But as soon as the time passes by, few of us start thinking that we have done enough on our site so why shall we change. That is true for your web development company as well. But actually that should not be the case in today’s changing world. Your website should change something in look and feel as well as content couple of times in a quarter.

Suggesting a change in site and suggesting new technology upgrades to the site is a job of the web development company you have hired. Because you must be busy at business while their business is your website development and upgrades. So they must suggest something that could give you an edge over the completion. Find out here what you should expect from web Development Company of yours.

Have you implemented Div based Design?

It’s proved that div based sites load faster and search engines crawl them easily compared to tables. If your site still runs tables, you might be missing few of your possible leads as it has less Search engine exposure. Ask your website developers, when will they do it for you?

Have you implemented AJAX on your site?

AJAX refers to Asynchronous JavaScript, a dynamic effect that can give a great look and feel to your site, that is also called web 2.0 standards. Such standard describes how you can keep your customer focused on landing pages; see lot of things on one page with loading effect and not taking user on different pages for various actions. Find out if your web company knows this?

Can you add your content and images on your own?

If you have a defined content management system for your site, you certainly have a good web developer with you. If your site doesn’t allow on the fly changes, you have not hired a good web designing company for you. Change them now.

Do you have Product reviews, Blogs, Forums on your site?

Normally Product reviews, blogs, forums kind of features increase user participation.  All modern sites love to have such features on website. But you might not be aware of such trends, while web companies are. So they should suggest that it’s time to change, let’s move on.

Outsource Your Website Design and Web Development Needs (Safely)

September 8th, 2018

If you’re like most business owners you know that you need to have an internet presence in order to reach a more expansive audience. The problem is that you probably don’t have an unlimited budget with which to build your internet presence through avenues such as having a custom website designed, hiring a search engine marketing / optimization (SEM / SEO) expert, and paying for pay per click (PPC), blogging, article posting or banner ad marketing.

Well, the good news is that needing more services than one can afford in the general market is a very common issue. And like most common challenges in the business world, there are at least a few ways to get around this problem.

First, before you even begin searching for a web development or marketing firm you need to take the time to think through your precise needs. When looking to promote your business, information or services online some crucial questions you must ask yourself are:

1) What exactly will the main purpose of my website be (deliver information, increase local on-site sales, generate internet based sales, sell advertising, save money by enhancing the efficiency of your current site).
2) What size budget are you working with? Later in the article we will suggest a range of reputable providers who’s services range from very inexpensive to relatively costly. We’ll also note some of the differences in quality you can expect based on what you pay.
3) Have you thought through your service needs well enough to explain them to a competent designer or developer? Clearly understanding what you are looking will significantly increase the odds that you actually receive it. If you want a website developed, take the time to actually find similar sample sites you can send your web team to so they have an idea of what you want.

Because this holds true for just about any graphic design or website development services an employer (you) would need, most professional website design firms should actually provide you with a questionnaire or “creative brief” that will help you think through and then clearly state what you are looking for. Such briefs should ask you about your company, other designs you like, color schemes you prefer etc.

Secondly, now that you’ve thought through the services you require, it’s time to start looking for a suitable provider.

The good news is that there are literally thousands upon thousands of website design, graphic design, search engine marketing and SEO companies out there for you to choose from. Oh wait, maybe that’s the bad new… With so many providers in the market you might need some help finding the best web service provider for you.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you identify a company to start your design project with:

1) Check out Craigslist.org. Craigslist is the most active internet based classified ads website in existence. Because this site is free to use, and it receives literally billions of page views each month, a good number of national and local service provider advertise their services on it. Website design, graphic design and web development service providers can generally be found in the “Creative Services” or “Computer Services” sections on Craigslist.
2) Run a search for “XYZ directory” and you find websites that maintain extensive lists of whatever service providers you require. Note: replace the “XYZ” with the type of service you need. For example, you might search for “Website Designer Directory.”
3) If you’re not in the mood to do the research for yourself here are some reputable, and national, web development providers:

Logoworks.com : This firm is a well respected website and logo design firm. Their prices are on the high side but if you’re not too budget conscious you’ll find that they produce quality work. I’d probably go with them for medium scale jobs in the range of $5,000 to $10,000.

InkBlotDesignStudios.com : Ink Blot Design Studios is a national web development company that established itself by providing premium quality website and logo designs at wholesale prices. If you’re budget is between $39 and $5,000 then they are a great choice.

Volusion.com : These guys are for the big boys. Their logo designs alone cost around $600 (vs. $39 Logos from Ink Blot Design Studios and $299 Logos from Logoworks) and their template based websites can cost $3,000 (vs. $400 from other companies). However, if you are looking for prestige (a perfectly reasonable desire) and you’re willing to pay for it then this might be a no-brainer.

Of course, there are other options for outsourcing your design projects (guru.com, odesk.com etc) but we didn’t include a review of them here because of the frequency of complaints they receive from past clients who tried to hire really cheap workers from overseas and ended up getting burned out of their money. That’s not to say that you can’t find great service providers on sites like those; you can. You’ll just have to be extra cautious so that you don’t end up losing your money and/or being disappointed with the product you receive.

Final note, I didn’t talk specifically about SEO services much in this articles because you can find those same services from via the means suggested for finding website developers and logo designers. You can also check with the companies I mentioned above because some of them provide SEO and SEM services as well.

Good luck with your new website and/or graphic designs!