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Phased Web Site Implementation
Development of new Web sites often suffer from cost and time overruns, for the very simple reason that tasks are performed in the wrong order. Many problems would be avoided if the following steps were taken, in the order listed here:
Business Requirements Gathering
The first step must be to gather together the principle stakeholders in the proposed new Web site, in order to discuss and then decide on the purpose, scope and "message" of the site. A document that sets out the results of this activity will inform all of the later steps.
Content Audit
Any Web site that is more than just an online brochure will include quantities of text and graphics, possibly derived from multiple sources, and possibly of varying quality. Content sources might include databases, electronic document collections, and data feeds from other organisations. How all this content will appear and inter-link on the web site is governed by its quality, and the degree to which it is amenable to interrogation and re-formatting.
Web site functionality possibilities may in part rely upon features and limitations of the content.
A content audit discovers the various sources of content, identifies its owners, collates specifications, and proposes methodologies for receiving, authoring, manipulating and formatting content for presentation on the web site.
Some content may be in paper form, and require a plan and costing for converting it into electronic form.
Functional Requirements Gathering
Once the business objectives have been established and the content audit performed, it becomes possible to specify the required functionality of the web site. The result of this activity should be a functional requirements specification
Site Structure Design
The general site design can then be planned. This involves planning the broad structure of the site, the content of each page and the navigation mechanisms that will be needed between pages.
The content audit will help to ensure that the site design is suitable to hold the content, and in places the design may rely upon the existence of certain content structures to provide some of its features.
Content Specification Development
The content audit and site design finally establish the exact nature of the content on the site, and this should be formalised in a content specification. This could include database schemas and XML document models.
Note that, in the case of XML structures, it then becomes possible to create templates in XML-sensitive word-processors that allows content to be edited and created before the web site publishing system is even built. This can save much time in the schedule leading up to launching of the site.
System Specification Development
The functional specification (backed-up by the business goals definition and content audit), is used to either help choose an appropriate system supplier, or help specify the system requirements. This includes creation of data models, software modules, and hardware requirements.
Site Graphical Design
This activity includes deciding on the colour scheme for the site as a whole, the font to be used for text content, and the general "look and feel" of menus and buttons. Principles that will later be applied to all of the individual pages are devised, presented, discussed, revised and then fixed in stone.
Note that an intial draft of this activity may precede all of the steps above when it is forms part of a sales pitch to develop the site, or to promote the idea of the site within the client organisation. However, this is the time to review such a draft site design and if necessary adjust it to take account of findings from the activities above.
Page Elements Design
With the outline structure of the site established, and the content specification completed, it becomes possible to carefully design each page of the site. This includes deciding how large each page needs to be, and determine where each piece of content or functional item will appear.
Page Graphical Design
While the previous two activities would determine what buttons generally look like, and then that a button of a given size is required in a specific place on a web page, this final design step involves actually designing a specific button that follows the design plan, and fits into the specific page design.
Some or all of the pages can be mocked-up for final approval.
Web Templates Specification
With all pages of the web site fully designed on paper, it becomes possible to determine what is needed in terms of HTML structures and CSS style templates. Performing this step here, after the other activities, means that generic re-usable structures and styles can be devised, thus keeping the number of structures and styles to a manageable minimum.
System Development
Finally, all of the information required to successfully build the proposed web site is present, and the tasks of building the infrastructure required to manage the site, and the content of the site, can be undertaken with confidence, and with the minimum risk of the false starts and iterative development phases that cost time and money.