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How to brief your web developer

Change Makers

How to brief your web developer


My gaggle of creative web weavers have had the pleasure of working on hundreds of online projects but it never ceases to bemuse me as to how far the client brief often is from commercial, technical and sometimes aesthetic realities.

Websites are hardly nouveau… its 2009 people and so much HTML under the bridge yet why is it that so many brands can’t get into a realistic headspace about a) cost,  b) goals and c) ongoing commitment and investment?

It’s a little bit like dating for the over 35s; singletons of a certain age a) forget about the barrier to entry (created by the cruel passage of time), b) expect Brad or Angelina on the first date, c) want the Brangelina package, an Oscar, a Vegas wedding… as instant ROI.

Don’t get me wrong, web development is a deeply creative process, but this creativity is hinged upon some very tangible pillars.

So when dreaming up pixels of persuasion, dear marketer, please spare a though to the pillar in the IT department – the engine room of your web dreams.

Behind the doors of the mystical IT department the language of the land is uttered in strange dialects of scoping documentation, maintenance agreements, budgets, change management and ongoing fees. It is a heavy language to master, granted, but the only way to get the electric idea in your head followed through to fruition without getting lost in translation.

So let’s come to terms with the lingua franca. Firstly some definitions. The brief is not a metaphor for the scoping document. The brief is an interpretation of the project sans architecture or details of the foundation. It doesn’t give us (the creative developers) the why and how it just gives us the wishlist.

Which is great as long as the marketers understand that every project requires a scope and this costs money.

Note to marketing self: it takes time to do the dirty work that most people don’t want to do or rather can’t do.

Example: The awesome ground-breaking project goes live and is fabulous, feedback is great but then suddenly the marketing department thinks of an even more awesome idea. All the developer has to do is cut and paste a bit of code et voila. Wrong! The developer needs to design the application and implement. Outcome of more awesome tweaking: it takes time and time equals money.  

How about I give you a brief on how to conceive the brief:

1) Share the love:

 When briefing your digital agency, spend serious time on the requirements and documentation and involve all of the stakeholders in the project. This includes the IT department, customer service department, legal department, etc.  

2) Verbosity is good, specificity is better – now not later:

Describe as many features as you want, describe the customer profile in as much detail, describe the personality of the user(s), describe the feeling of the project, outline a clear budget for what you need right now and if you envision ongoing development, identify who will design the content and functionality layout, who will design the look and feel (if not your digital agency), outline if any supporting marketing campaign will be aligned with the launch of the project, provide research and statistics, give details of your IT department, who will be hosting the project, how many administrators, publishers and what reports do you require. Yes all that and much more.

3) Budget like a realist not a dreamer:

If you are serious about an online presence then you need to establish an annual budget that encompasses all the additional features, growing pains and changes that will be required during the life of the project. If the CFO can’t understand what you are trying to achieve for the company, then I recommend you spend time documenting a case and present it to your senior management team and get them to understand the benefits of an online presence.

Don’t be intimidated by the what ifs – there is nothing wrong with starting out with a small budget and building on the project over time so long as you can make you senior management understand the benefits and most importantly the ROI. Those digital guys speaking in strange tongues can help you do that too.


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