Devil in the detail of website development

Regular readers of this blog will by now know that the most expensive part of the design, content and technology pieces of the website pie surrounds technology, or its development.

The golden rule of containing website costs is the less web developer labour required, the lower the cost of creating and often maintaining your website.

This is because of all the design, content development and web development labour required to build a website, development labour is typically the most expensive.


Pre-built websites now the norm


The great news is that since the website industry has taken on more of a ‘pre-built software’ model than a ‘custom development’ model the cost of development labour has plummeted.

In other words, instead of having a web developer build you a website from scratch, nowadays much of your website technology has already been built, requiring only minimal labour to customise it to your specific needs.

Even that customisation concerns more aesthetic than functionality issues as base platforms now include more and more functionality features, requiring less and less programming or development.

These platforms include the ‘proprietary’ or company developed solutions like Adobe’s Business Catalyst or ecommerce specialist Shopify or the more community oriented, ‘Open Source’ platforms like that provided by WordPress or Drupal and its various plug-ins.


How would you like that?

However, despite the functionality part of the website puzzle becoming less complex and expensive, it can still go awry if scrupulous attention to functionality detail is not applied.

Take, for example, a retail client we have just worked with.

One of their requirements was that their ecommerce website could apply volume discounts to their product.

This was an easy ‘tick’ for the platform we identified as being the best choice for the specific needs of that retailer.

However, there was a devil in the detail.

What we weren’t briefed on, was that the volume discounts were to be applied to single unit increments of product.

So instead of discounts being applied to a threshold of say 5, 10 or 20 units, this client wanted discounts to kick in for each additional item purchased.

In well over 50 ecommerce websites I had been involved in over the years, none had had this level of discounting requirement.

Whilst our clever development team were eventually able to modify the platform to achieve this discounting regime, the additional work required many more development hours than budgeted, requiring some sensitive negotiation upon completion.

This briefing shortfall is what’s known in the industry as ‘scope creep’.  In other words, the client wanted more (expensive) functionality than was outlined in their brief.


Assume nothing

The moral of this story is that when it comes to functionality or features, absolutely nothing should be assumed.

Every single functional capability you require should be demonstrated within a site provided by your professional, even to the point of – in the case of ecommerce, purchasing a product in all its various forms, delivery options, discounts and so on, to demonstrate end-to-end technical capability and integrity.

If what you want cannot be clearly demonstrated, you may need to have a small prototype developed to fully test your requirement.  Some developers may do this as part of their pitch for your work.  But sometimes it may require so much development time, you may have to be charged for it.


Is this really your handiwork?

The other important factor when it comes to demonstrating website functionality, is to ensure your provider did actually develop the work being demonstrated.  Sometimes a developer will demonstrate the functionality on a website they had no involvement with in order to simply demonstrate that your functionality requirement can be achieved.

But it’s important that you are completely satisfied that the provider can actually deliver what they have said they could.

Otherwise you may end up with some unpleasant surprises come invoice time.

In addition to being a leading ebusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.


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