Waterfall ModelThe Project Plan

Planning the build of a web site is really not much different from planning any IT project. This is particularly true if the web site has a lot of code, in the form of server-side and/or client-side scripting.

Stages in the Project

The traditional IT development method involves iterating over something called the waterfall model, where you work your way through distinct stages, revisiting earlier stages as necessary. Those stages are shown in the diagram (which also links to the Wiki page).

This diagram only shows progress downwards through the stages - hence the name. However, in reality, on any large project, you will almost certainly need to revist earlier stages when you encounter problems in later stages. For example, a problem when you are building the site might force you to redo part of the disign. Or, worse, a problem when you are testing the site for usability (called "verification" in this diagram) could force you to redsign part of the site and then re-implement that part, before redoing the verification stage!

Clearly, the better your planning skills, the less likely you are to encounter these kinds of problems. However, in software development, more flexible development processes are becoming common, where analysis, planning, design and development are all interleaved. This gives less scope for such problems problems to arise. These techniques are known as agile development. They require more involvement from the client than traditional software design techniques, but this is often less of a problem with creative projects.

The excellent diagram shown below takes the basic waterfall model and specializes it to the kinds of tasks that are typically performed in a web project to give a very comprehensive structure that you could adapt for specific projects:

A Web Project Plan

You can click on the diagram for a full sized version and you can also find some discussion about the plan on the JourneymanPM site here.

Additional Resources

There are a lot of good resources on the web to help you develop your planning skills.

The always excellent Smashing Magazine has A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide that takes you through all the stages in a project. Written in non-technical language, it includes an amusing example illustrating the importance of planning, a brief critique of the waterfall model mentioned above, and much other useful information.

If you prefer a printable document, you can download a comprehensive guide as a PDF document from the designbyfront people. This is in the form of a workbook with questions for you to answer to help you find out what you want from your website. This is aimed more at the client, but you can use it as a good resource for learning how to work with your clients.

Hobo, based near Glasgow, also have a good checklist of things to consider before you start building a site. Organized as a numbered series of points it provides clear, concise series of questions. You might recognize some of them from our discussion of how to analyse a brief.

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