Breaking the perfect Web mentality

August 4, 2009

Too often, large Web projects are treated like traditional print or television ad campaigns. A large team will work tirelessly for months on end, honing and polishing the new site, and pushing to achieve elusive goals that were established long before. Arbitrary launch dates come and go.

Photo by Traveling Fools of America / CC 2.0

Once the Herculean effort is complete and the site finally launches, everyone celebrates, takes their vacations, and believes their job is done - "mission accomplished."

The Never-Ending Project
This approach - getting everything perfect before launch - is necessary for traditional mediums because once released, the content and message are set in stone. Therefore, it needs to be as perfect as can be on day one. The Web, however, does not have the same constraints as traditional media. It was built to be organic, to be continually improved upon. No decision is final and new paths can be explored quickly. If you make a mistake, you don't have to reprint thousands of brochures - you can simply update a Web page. Your Web site is, in essence, a playground for continually perfecting the value that you provide your audience. Launching a Web site doesn't mean the job is over. It is just a starting point. This reality requires a shift from the traditional mindset and process for completing a project. To help with this transition, here are some ideas you can incorporate into your own process:

If it provides value, launch now
Rather than letting your project lag months past a promised launch date, if you have something that can provide value to your audience, launch with what you have. You do not need to wait to incorporate all of the ideas you had planned.

Simple foundations are easiest to build upon
Needless complexity hurts you in two important ways: 1) It will, by definition, take longer to build and therefore launch. 2) Complex foundations are hard and expensive to change. Since changes on your Web site are inevitable, start by finding the simplest solution to your problem.

Break larger goals into many smaller ones
The best way to continually improve your site is to keep your goals lean. For example, on a contact page you may need to guide your audience to contact the person representative of their local area. Your ultimate goal may be to provide an easy to use map that people can click through. However, rather than waiting for the map to be completed, you can easily list all of your representatives in one place that your audience can scroll through. The information provides value, and you can always add the map at a later time.

Spread budgets across multiple deliverables
Make sure that your budget coincides with the smaller goal strategy by spreading it out over a longer time period. Traditionally, budgets are allocated for large projects, and once the project ends, so does the money for any incremental updates. Separating larger goals into smaller ones will allow you to more easily estimate what you will need for your budget, while at the same time helping to prevent any surprises going over budget. Letting go of the notion of the perfect launch is a liberating feeling. However, do not mistake this freedom for a license to produce shoddy work. On the contrary, by launching with less, you have the opportunity to increase your focus on the quality of each feature of your release. This strategy will allow you to slowly build a relationship with your audience over time. If you produce excellent work, your audience will not notice if your vision is not fully implemented. They will, however, appreciate rapid advances toward that vision, and it will keep them coming back.

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