What To Expect In Your First Project With Solspace
Once we’ve received your inquiry, we start our process by setting up a meeting for our first conversation with you. We love to hear about how other businesses and organizations run, how they work, what their pain points and obstacles are. We begin by listening and learning.
What's important on the first call is that it includes the person on your team who owns the business problem and understands it best, so they can lay it out clearly for us. We will ask lots of questions, and try to get you to start complaining. Tell the doctor where it hurts and she can understand how to start to make you feel better.
Most of the work we do is complex. There are a lot of details that must be understood, defined, and organized before an effective remedy can be prescribed for a digital business problem. Because of this, we often propose a brief paid Discovery cycle in advance of the larger project. Discovery is an exploration, planning, and specification exercise that results in a verifiable report on the current status of the site, and a proposal and scope of work for the next steps that include firm cost and timeline estimates. This is our opportunity to engage with your team, dive into the details and gather the information we need to fully understand the shape of your problem.
Here's an example: we were recently approached by a prospective client who had a search problem. The search functionality on their website was business critical but it was also embarrassingly slow. This was a perfect example of the kind of website friction problem that we love to solve. We began a discovery process to more deeply understand where their data was stored, how often it was updated, what the expectations for search were, what the exception cases and outliers were, and what tools were available at a price point compatible with our client's budget. Once we truly understood the problem, we were able to discuss potential solutions with the client and select one that was a perfect fit.
Planning and management typically constitute about 20% of the project budget and 20% of the overall timeline. What we know from years of experience is that only well-planned projects can truly be well executed. The upfront time invested in careful planning is always very well worth the cost.
As part of the Discovery process noted above, we will develop a plan for tackling your issue. The plan will be delivered to you in the form of a detailed statement of work, or SOW. The SOW is a project proposal with a budget, spelling out in line item format what the phases of the project are, what the expected costs will be per line item, and what the expected total scope of work and timeline will be. This SOW, once approved and signed, becomes the contract for the work. A deposit for the project is then secured, and we plan for the project kickoff.
The kickoff meeting is not just a meet-and-greet, but a collaborative planning session including agreements about timeline, deliverables, roles and responsibilities. The plan is then converted into a detailed task list inside your project management tool of choice. We’ve used them all. This tool and the project task list serve as the communication hub for the project.
In the search project example above, we developed a plan to integrate Meilisearch into the client's website as a solution for their sluggish search experience. This included line item budgets for the build of the CMS plugin necessary for the data management as well as line item budgets for the front-end code necessary to interface with the Meilisearch API. The plan also included cycles for extensive and careful QA testing as well as a plan for the launch/deployment cycle. You can read more about Meilisearch here.
We've met, discussed, discovered, and planned. Now we build.
Something you should know is that our team loves to build. We're all basically Lego kids at Solspace. We solve problems by building stuff. And sometimes by taking stuff apart. By now you know, from your work with managing an important digital asset, that the beast is always moving and changing, and a website is never “done.” It’s an ongoing process.
But let’s get back to your project. So now we're executing against the plan. We’re all human, your team and the Solspace team, and though all of us have done our best to plan well using our experience and our skills, we miss stuff. Because of this, we have weekly check-ins and we stay plugged into Slack. We make every effort to stay transparent so you know what’s happening. You can watch our production cadence as we commit to your Git repo. And you can watch our project burndown from inside your project management tool, or ours if you don't have one already.
As a best practice, we bill every 2 weeks while a project is in progress, and provide an update on the status of your budget. There's nothing like receiving a bill to make you pay attention to a project.
During the course of the build, if you realize that you have forgotten something important and you need to change the scope of work, we will pause the part of the team that’s impacted and quickly re-evaluate. As necessary, we will amend the scope of work to account for the cost or timeline increase, review it with you and get your approval to proceed, and then move forward with the rescoped work. We do not run up the bill without telling you. High-touch communication and earning trust is our secret sauce.
In the example of our Meilisearch build, we maintained weekly check-ins and an open Slack channel with the client team. We structured the project so that we could show proof of life every few weeks. The build proceeded smoothly, and the check-ins ensured that the client stayed comfortable and informed throughout.
If you ever get a proposal from an agency that does not include a detailed plan and budget for launching what they build, it’s a red flag, and a sign that you are not dealing with professionals.
Most of the websites we work on have multiple client teams involved in multiple stages and aspects of the approval process. A specific series of technical steps are involved in some of the more complex launches. Launching the completed project sometimes involves a conference call with department leads coordinating across multiple time zones.
Your launch plan should include a real and coherent plan for reversing the changes as a safety net and as risk mitigation. A big fat undo button is essential for putting VPs and other executives at ease about their sign-off on the go-live date. All of these details cost money. So you should expect a budget from your agency for this. You'll definitely see one from us.
In our Meilisearch project example, “launch” included updating the front-end codebase in advance of the actual launch, as a separate, smaller project. This allowed us to smoothly roll out the new search interface and have a clear path for reverting as needed. We wrote the backend plugin for the CMS so that it could be launched into production early and left dormant until we needed to populate the search indexes. This type of phased launch approach is always reassuring and cuts through the stress of big all or nothing launches.
As we mentioned above, we're humans. Even those of us at Solspace with decades of experience. We can't ever fully predict how your customers will respond to the new things we build. So we try to design projects in phases. Each phase delivers something significant that creates clear value in your digital asset. Then we monitor it for a while and gather some objective data-driven feedback. Then we use that data to inform the next phase, and revise our plans as needed. Of course we’ll already have the next phase in mind when we are working together to plan the overall approach, but part of that plan is staying ready to iterate on each upcoming phase, once additional userdata is available.
For instance, halfway through our Meilisearch project the client was so impressed with the results to date that they decided to expand the scope and tackle a deeper keyword search capability. So that became our next iteration on the build.
When we work on a project with you, we will also be thinking about the long-term performance and value of your investment, and how we can help position you to stay successful over time. Solspace excels at building websites, but we also love building relationships. When your project is completed, you can expect us to have a conversation with you about investing in the ongoing maintenance of your website. We’ll be happy to help you make a plan for the future.