Saturday, March 1, 2008

Site Re-design = Site Re-write = Lots of Time

I like to keep up with my friends in the Web agency world to see how life is back on that side of the fence. Everyone I talk to these days is doing a site re-design of one kind or another. The opportunities to build a brand new big, enterprise Web site have passed. So now it’s all about re-design and re-launch.

The thing that they all seem to be having trouble with is forgetting they also have to re-write. A typical re-design is not just a graphical facelift; it’s a fresh look at customer needs and a changing competitive environment. So a great deal of time is spent on analysis and figuring out how to best address a complex series of user needs. And rightly so. But what frequently gets lost in the project plan is adequate time to re-write the entire site.

As you change design, page layout, and information architecture, you insure that it will be impossible to have any kind of automated script run to migrate existing content into the new design. Content will be chunked in new ways, with new pages, and new WCSM content templates (or even a completely new content management system). This is not a cut-and-paste exercise.
In every case I’ve been exposed to, the content re-loading has completely blown out the project plan. What was planned to take two weeks takes two months and twice as many writes/editors as planned.

Think about how long it took to write all the content in an existing site, it’s probably years. You simply can’t re-do all that work in a few weeks. Every piece of content will have to be looked at and restructured to fit in the new page layout and templates. New pages will have to be created, new messaging will need to be written, and new index pages will have to link all this together so that new navigation systems can be coded and generated.

Add to this new content management functionality, that may or may not work properly at first, and you are looking at project plan nightmare.

I see this all the time and the solution is really simple math. Take the new CMS, figure out how long it takes to build a new module, estimate the number of modules on an average page, figure out how many pages have to be generated and start multiplying. It’s not difficult, but the numbers are so terrifying that planners and managers just don’t want to think about it.

I speak from experience here as I was involved in a complete site re-design that was completely derailed by the time it took to re-write all the site content in a new WCMS. In the end, it took a full year get the new content written in the new WCMS, translated, and generated out to working HTML.

If you are in this kind of project, step up and talk about the 900 pound gorilla in the room. I know it’s big and scary, but feed it now or feed it later. Either way, it’s going to eat a ton of time and money.

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