How to work with your developer

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In December, I began managing the creation of the Carat Freeman North America Web site. With a solid background in marketing and communications, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

I formed a virtual team within the company, comprising interested employees with skills in management information systems, content and media functions.

Unfortunately, as the project began, the virtual team disintegrated, leaving me with the challenge of working with the Web site developer alone.

The vendor we selected for the project came with excellent credentials. It had created several transactional Web sites, which raised my level of confidence.

I had never worked on a Web site project before, so everything was new. As I reflect on the project, what follows are some tips and considerations that could have helped:

1. Include the following people on the team: a Webmaster, two strong content types, a project manager to deal with the Web site developer and a senior manager to set strategy.

2. Design a site map for the content. Senior management should sign off on this before beginning to find the content to support it.

3. Find all the content to support the site map. Organize it into a three-ring binder before commissioning a vendor to build the site. Get senior management to approve the content.

4. If you are missing content as you build the binder, hire a writer. Make this person part of your team to develop content before beginning the site. Do not create content once the site begins development. It will create confusion and increase costs.

5. Know where your site will be hosted. Know who will keep it updated before letting the vendor build the site.

6. Hand the content binder over to the Web site developer to determine time line and budget. Try to come to an agreement. Check the developer's references -- pricing and competency in Web design are all over the place. Make sure you have the same philosophy about the final product. If so, hire the developer but write an airtight contract.

7. Set realistic budgets and time lines before you begin. If the vendor wants 100% attention for four weeks and you think the team can work with the developer part time for eight weeks, you will be over budget and frustrated. Clearly work out the terms before starting.

8. Get the developer to show you a project plan and time line for the site. You need to understand the scope of work and commitment necessary. Communication and planning are key.

9. Get the design concept for the Web site approved by senior management before allowing the Web developer to begin. Make sure you can turn around all your decisions within the time allocated, because the clock will be ticking.

10. Be clear on the Web site test period and "bug reporting" before the launch.

Designing a Web site is not like any other collateral project. You must set clear objectives, and be ready to scrap the whole thing within a year.

The Web is moving at warp speed, and what worked in December 1998 probably won't in December 1999.

Gwyn Thakur is senior VP-corporate communications for Carat Freeman, Newton, Mass. The company provides media and marketing strategies to clients in print, interactive and face-to-face media.

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