The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Website Redesign Project Lessons: Inside the Brilliant Mind of a Project Manager

Posted by Chris Bonney on Thu, Aug 11, 2016



This is a guest post from our senior project manager, Denise Pace. It's great advice for any association about to embark on a website redesign. 

The big day is finally here!

You’ve received the approval to begin a website redesign, and you’re roarin’ and ready to get started. Your Executive Director, meanwhile, is already asking when the site will be ready to launch. You understand from previous experience that there’s far more to a website redesign than a series of steps and a timeline, but you need to set expectations and deliver a successful, timely project.

Where do you go from here? 

When To Launch

Wouldn’t it be great to launch your shiny new website at the Big Conference? You picture yourself reveling in gratitude and accolades, preening over the shoulder of the Executive Director as she casually yet adeptly shows off the site to some attendees on her new tablet. It’s a lovely scene: the attendees can’t wait to upgrade their membership, renewing their dedication to your association. And all because of that amazing new website. 

But once you snap out of your vision, you realize some hard realities. Let's think about what's happening right before the conference. You and your co-workers are likely focusing on preparing for the conference. Is there extra time to also work on the website? At this point, you need the website to be a tool to assist this preparation, not for it to be yet another project to complete at crunch time. 

And your members need clear information available to them online as they plan to attend the Big Conference, not a sign that says “Don’t mind the mess! Website under construction”. 

So, lesson #1: Plan to launch well before your Big Conference (or the membership drive, or your once-in-a-lifetime month-long vacation) you and your members will thank you for it.

Launch With Care

Alright, everyone’s convinced. You’re definitely not launching the site at the Big Conference. Your renewal period has closed. The nuts and bolts of the website are complete, and tested by your web developer. You are now ready to give the website the attention it deserves as one of your association’s most public faces. So how do you know when you’re actually ready to launch? If you’re able to, try some Zen: Let the website tell you when it’s ready to launch.

Here are some of the ways your website whispers to you:

  1. You, your staff, and even some members have already tested the site. Launching with a frustrating user interface will undo every bit of good work you’ve done so their feedback is critical. Evaluate any issues as “Show Stoppers” or even “Low priority”. If your members need to login, but can’t find the login button, that’s a Show Stopper.

  2. Your staff have been trained to update the site and are confident and comfortable with the process.

  3. You’ve prepared your constituency for the launch. Has marketing held a campaign to inform members? Are any key member pieces, such as login, changing? Don’t surprise them. Prepare them.

  4. You’ve determined what to do with your old site. Archiving it even for a short time can be a simple, expedient method to create peace of mind for your staff. And a safety net if you discover you needed a piece of content after all.

Too Much, Too Soon = Not Enough

At the other end of the project is, well, the beginning!

Make sure you’re ready to start the project, and be prepared to clear the way.

If you’re changing to a different AMS, there could be components that need to be completed for the website. If you’re building a community, make sure they are supportive and aware of the project. If you’re rebranding, be aware that your website needs to support that branding. There’s no need to halt the process, just remember your website team requires time to react, decide, implement, and test these dependencies.

Also consider the impact on your site visitors. A well-executed simple site will always garner more favor than a hastily created site with every bell and whistle...that don't quite work. Plan to roll out what you can take pride in, and create a roadmap to guide you through the additions. Your site visitors will come back to see what’s new, but they may not come back if they perceive the site isn’t ready for primetime.

Bite off what you can chew, and chew it well.

Know Your Scope

So. You now know the end of the project. And you know the beginning of the project. We just need to address that pesky part in the middle.

One of the biggest drags on a project is when there is confusion over what the project entails. Make sure your project team and their sponsors are aware of what’s included (and what’s not included), but also keep an eye on your roadmap. Oftentimes the Scope of Work document encapsulates the big picture expectations, but you likely will also need documentation detailing how a form is submitted, or how the login/logout process works, or whether pieces belong in the AMS or the CMS.

And, of course, beware of vagaries. You might ask for “a membership form”, but don’t leave it at that. Ensure that your project team is clear on the details. “A membership form” can run the gamut from simple to complex, baked-in to the CMS or all custom. Be concise and lean into your CMS’ strengths, or something like this seemingly simple request will become a hefty custom build.  

Project Team

The project team truly powers your success. They should share and support your objectives and in turn you should support and enable them. Certainly projects can be completed with a less than ideal team: perhaps there are too many on the team, or perhaps not enough, or they’re just the wrong folks.

But you should know who is on your team.

Who is on your project team? Your chosen website developer likely has assigned you a project manager, and that person is on your team. You may also have key contacts for your AMS, community, job board, or PR software. These people are also on your team. Let’s call them the External Team. But you also need your organization to have the strongest voice and vision, or an Organizational Team.

Your organization’s project team can take many forms, but there are some characteristics that make a GREAT team:

  • You have a single point of contact between your organization and your external team.
  • This contact is capable and empowered to make decisions. Ideally, they’ve been through a redesign before.
  • This contact has the time to devote to the project, and engages in a timely manner.
  • This person does not operate in a void, but tasks co-workers from appropriate departments for input on key decisions.
  • Your board or other stakeholders are kept in the loop at a high level, and support the project without getting bogged down in second guessing. (Ouch)

Without the right project team, you run a high risk of developing a website that only addresses limited needs.

Staff Buy-In and Change Management

It can be surprising, destructive, and costly to find your project team and the rest of your staff are not aligned. At the same time, a project that seeks to please all, pleases none. How can you avoid this quandary?

Make sure to include key staff members at key points in the project, even if they’re not directly related to the project.

For example, solicit their feedback when you’re developing your web content strategy. Let them weigh in on your final design selections. Involve them in testing. Especially involve them in testing.

You will not only gain information you might not otherwise have had, heading off a gross oversight, but they will also feel like they’re part of the process…which they are.

By the same token, once the project is completed, another subset of your staff often becomes prominent. Make sure your content editors are comfortable and confident with how to maintain the site. Is there a workflow that needs to be followed? Do your editors know how to update the site without grief and hair-pulling? Make sure documentation and training are high up on your list.

Your launch is just the beginning for your staff.


As with any budget, make sure you include a contingency in your website redesign project. This can be used for any nice-to-have add-on to the project, to address an oversight or delay, or provide you with just the cushion you need in order to tell your stakeholders “We came in on time and in-budget”.

Along with this is to make sure your accounting department is aware of when payments need to be made, so that your project doesn’t get stalled waiting on billing. At the same time, make sure your project point person is aware of what the accounting department needs in order to release funds. Is there a detail or payment schedule? Does the payment need to be approved by a board, and thus wait for a monthly meeting?

Finally, bear in mind that “budget” not only consists of dollars, but also may impact your timeline.

Know Your Audience

We’ve all seen websites that appear to contain a wealth of information, but are rather disorganized. This causes your website visitors to hesitate, to become frustrated, and to leave the site, oftentimes within about 30 seconds or much less. And then they develop an aversion towards visiting your site, and ultimately may never return.

One of the biggest culprits: Too Much On The Home Page. The home page is your greeter. It likely is not preferable for your greeter to wear plaid and flowers and by its demeanor imply it came to work straight from the bar.

No, you want your home page to be concise, together, and ready to direct your visitor to the content they’re looking for. And pique their interest in some other relevant content as well.

That said, also be aware of how visitors arrive at your site; oftentimes, it is the result of an internet search that takes them directly to the page and content they desire, so they don’t even see the home page.

More frequent visitors likely do start on the home page, but are looking for their most relevant content, which means your navigation should be clear and productive. Make sure you’re not using internal references or industry jargon that aren’t known to most visitors on the home page; save that for deeper pages.

If you appeal to self-selection, make sure your visitors are aware of how you designate them. If you have a big area on the home page called “Engineer Tech IV”, that essentially means that every person who comes to your site immediately needs to answer the question, “Am I an Engineer Tech IV?”

Again, confusion yields hesitation yields frustration and…leaving. And you don’t want to find this out at the end of the project.

Know your audience.

In Closing

So, yes, a project is indeed more than a series of steps and a timeline, but if you are aware of the big picture, you can clear out many of these hurdles ahead of time. Which means all you need to tell that Executive Director is “We’re on time, and I’ve got this.”

Written by:

IMG_0189-6.jpgDenise Pace
Senior Project Manager
Vanguard Technology 


Topics: process, project management, CMS, association websites

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