Website Fail

3 reasons why website projects fail or are so damn hard

Avoid these mistakes to create a website in time and in budget with a happy team!


Reason #1: The project has been set up wrong from the start.

Starting a website project is a journey. And if you don’t know where to go, it’s hard to reach a certain destination.
This is why, the beginning of a website project is so important. Both the client and the agency must share the same view and expectations about what they want to to achieve and how to get there.
If you don’t share the same information, you will likely run in different directions at some point and this is when the chaos takes over.

Here are 4 topics to cover at the beginning of each website project to make sure that you start this journey the right way.

Topic #1 for a good preparation

Define a clear plan about what needs to be done and what the website should achieve

AKA: Don’t skip the discovery or kick-off meeting.

This discovery meeting is the moment when all team members gets together and talk about the project in detail. This meeting should take place after the budget is signed but before the project starts.

The agenda of the discovery phase should cover the following points:

  • Website users
    Who are they, what are they looking for and how can the website help?
  • The user journey
    How will the visitors use the website? Which steps should they take and what content and functionalities are necessary to create a good user journey.
  • The website goals
    What do you want to achieve with the website? The goals can be “soft” goals like “great user experience” or “more brand awareness”. But there is no way around SMART goals, defined by KPIs.
  • The requirement list
    The requirement list is crucial for the website project. It defines what the 100% solution should look like in the future. This is often the easy part as everybody in the meeting can wish for something. There is no right or wrong. Everything gets noted down.
  • The prioritisation for the requirement list
    After the list is created, the hard part start. Prioritizing them to find out what really matters for the first website version. Together, you should define the must-haves.

Topic #2 for a good preparation

Make sure that the client is aware of their tasks and responsibilities.

I don’t know how often I hear that at one point the client keeps pushing the deadline over and over again because they are so busy and can’t work on the website project. Been there, done that. The problem is that the the client might not even be aware of all the task they will have during the website project. I mean, they have an agency to do all the work for them, right?
No, wrong. A website project is team work and the client is part of them and they will have a lot to cover as well.

Make your clients aware of their tasks.

For instance:

  • Getting input or approval from within the company.
  • Collecting and sorting through marketing material to use on the website, like images, downloads, videos, etc.
  • Creating or approving text and content for the new website.
  • Communicating the new website internally so that everybody is on board.
  • What about a launch campaign?

My tips

When you create the timeline, make sure everybody understands how approvals will be handled. This is often one of the biggest issues because the client might not even have the authority to approve the website. If this is the case, plan for the approval moments and what might happen if the boss is not happy with the results.
Also, plan for the internal launch! Your client should be able to get some input from other teams in the company. Discuss together how this should be done, how they want to communicate it and how you as the leading agency can help.
To sum it up: Don’t only write down the agency’s to-do, write down the client’s tasks as well and plan them out.

Topic #3 for a good preparation

The timing doesn’t have a buffer

I launched so many websites in my life, and I can truly say that it doesn’t matter how much detail and thought you put into your timing, if it doesn’t have enough buffer, you will run out of time. This is just how life goes. You can’t plan for everything and stuff will happen. So save yourself and your client the nerves and just add 20% buffer to your timing. You don’t need to hide this. Au contraire, tell your client why this is necessary and that it’s not optional but a mandatory way to make sure to finish the project in time.

Topic #4 for a good preparation

Talk about what happens if there is a project pause

Talking about stuff that might happen. Sometimes, the importance of a website launch can suddenly be diminished. Maybe the launch of a new product is just more urgent. Or there is a budget-cut so there is not enough money to finish the project. Again, that’s life.
If this happens, the agency will be left with a team they planned with that suddenly has nothing to do anymore. If you are lucky, there are already 5 other projects lined up and you can just shift the team to another project.
But sometimes, there is not backup project and then this situation becomes the agency’s problem. I say, don’t make this your problem if the client caused it.
And the only way out of this situation is to make sure that the client understands that you are planning with your employees or freelancers to do the tasks in a certain timeframe. If they postpone the timing and you don’t have another project you can switch to, maybe there will be costs involved and your client should be aware of this. But most importantly, talk about about this situation before it happens.


Reason #2: The project is too big to plan and manage.

Website projects can get very big, especially if you are an enterprise. But this also happens for small and medium sized businesses. The reason for this is that your client wants it all at once. The website should be perfect, have 100 new functionalities and be the best version it could ever be.
Well, I am sorry to burst this bubble for everybody but this is how projects from hell start.

Instead of trying to launch this gigantic website in one piece, try to think smaller and – sorry to use this term here – more agile.
A website is not like a print product. You shouldn’t think that once it’s launched, it’s done. And neither should your client. A website can and should grow and improve.
My tip is to launch the website with the most important parts and functionalities (that you defined during the discovery meeting) and continuously grow and improve from there.

Here are some advantages for a growing website instead of a gigantic 100% solution:

  • Launch faster with the most important parts and functionalities and focus on what matters the most
  • No big upfront investments, but smaller investments while generating revenue
  • Learn from real data and improve or update the right things (be user centric)
Help Junior Website

Reason #3: Your project manager has no idea what they are doing (guilty as charged)

I will confess: When I started my job as a project manager, I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn’t written one line of code or managed a website yet. Luckily, I had great colleagues, both project managers and developers who helped and explained a lot for me to understand what it means to create a website.

The problem is that young project managers are often left alone with a budget and a timing. Suddenly they are in charge to mange the whole project without prior knowledge. A project manager’s job is so much bigger than just knowing what the next step on the project map is.
They need to anticipate what might go wrong, where there is a misunderstanding between the requirements and the budget or if two team members just don’t understand what the other wants to say.
And this knowledge only comes from experience. You can read a ton of project manager books (and you should) but it only helps you so much. The experience is what makes a good project manager.

My tips

This doesn’t mean that you can’t work with junior project managers in your team. It just means that you should keep a couple of things in mind when working with junior staff:

  • The initial set up should be done by a senior project manager.
    It is just too risky to set the project up the wrong way. Of course, the junior PM should be part of the set up, but not the person in charge.
  • Don’t overwhelm your staff.
    Junior PMs should not be in charge to manage too many projects at the same time. Keep in mind that they will make mistakes. They should have the time to do that without totally screwing up the project.
  • Always have a senior PM as part of the team
    They are not the once doing the day-to-day work but they know what is going, will check in on a regular basis and guide the project as a safety net.

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