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September 25, 2017

Tips for Non-Tech People Working with Developers

A large-scale web project can make even the most confident and capable marketers feel a bit uneasy, particularly if you’re working with an outside vendor or new agency. You’ll be introduced to agency leadership, account managers, creatives, designers, content specialists and of course, developers — all of which play critical roles in the success of the project, and all of which communicate a little differently. Basically, you’ll meet a team of nerds. The deeper and deeper you get into the project phases, the nerdier things get. Why does this happen? Developers. That’s why.

Web developers (aka digital developers, computer programmers, front-end developers, back-end developers, database engineers, information architects, etc., etc.) are often involved in every phase of the project, silently geeking out behind the scenes while learning your systems, drafting endless amounts of code, and using various foreign languages both within their programming and in general communications. As a client, if you don’t understand tech speak, then all their knowledge and thoughtful recommendations might soar far over your head.

“I tend to lead with a technical item, then immediately talk about how it can drive a very cool feature. This associates something foreign with something they can get excited about. Turning their tech anxiety, into realizing how tech can improve the user’s experience ” – John Weber, Director of Products, Blackstone Media

Web projects are often huge endeavors, but there are some things you can understand to front-load the process and make it more palatable, efficient and less confusing.

Who Should You Include in The Project? Get Your IT Department Involved From the Start.

At times, your project is going to be fun. You’ll get to see your company’s digital brand re-imagined with new and exciting imagery, moods, creative animations, plus get an idea of how it will all look and feel on various devices. At other times, the technical side of the project can make you feel inadequate, enough to delay the involvement of the IT team until it HAS to be done – which can sometimes be too late. Getting your technical team involved earlier will save you from all these uneasy feelings. Even though they might not get as excited as you do over the colors, imagery, and branding elements, your savvy technical team will perk up when working with new technologies, implementation strategies, and even fun devices. They’ll also know integral information that the agency needs to help kickoff the project, like hosting specifics, domains, and server limitations.

You may have to ask for them to translate what they are saying, but it’s hard to dismiss the importance of IT to successfully run a business – and their involvement is crucial to a successful project from the beginning.

How Is it All Going to Work? Technical vs. Functional Specs.

During the planning phase, your web team should provide you with two important documents, each requiring review by you and your internal technicians. Those are the functional specs and technical specs

Technical specs are almost strictly for the technical-minded. Glance at them to feel in-the-know, but they are not for the average reader, marketer, or non-tech savvy individual. This is the document that should be immediately sent to your IT team for careful examination. If you have time to go over all the included details, schedule a call with ALL technical minds on the project to help align the two technical teams involved.

Technical Spec Example: The iPhone X will come equipped with:

  • A11 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture with secure enclave to store data.
  • Neural engine with machine learning to constantly update facial features over time
  • Embedded M11 motion coprocessor to efficiently process facial data multiple times per second
  • IR Depth Sensor Camera to create a digital map of a user’s face at a resolution of 1312×1104

Functional specs are a high-level summary of the features of your website, includings both design and development elements. They help to define user interactions like mouse hover effects and or how a search function should work, even though all the action takes place entirely behind the scenes. Non-techies on your team should attempt to understand and review these functional specifications to ensure that you and your development team share the same vision for how the site will function. With careful review, both teams should be able to determine what new functionalities are possible within your current infrastructure, or whether there will need to be some organizational adjustments needed as well.

Functional Spec Example: The iPhone X will be capable of face recognition.

  • Identify the owners face
  • Have measures in place to prevent photos from being used to bypass security
  • Recognize the face as quickly as possible
  • Force the user to enter in their passcode if face recognition fails 3 times.
  • Store facial data in a secure area that is not accessible to 3rd parties.

Articulating the technical demands, details, and requirements of a project can be difficult for developers to do mid-project since the skillsets needed to complete a complex website are spread between multiple people — designers, front-end developers and back-end developers. This is why putting all your cards on the table with both a technical and functional spec at the beginning of a project is key to maximizing alignment and success.

What is Possible vs Impossible? Have IT recommend technically feasible items up front.

“Just like business leaders would work to create a website that represents your company, your IT teams designs those systems to run it the best way possible. Regardless of business speak vs tech speak, the respective team’s values and integrity should have commonality that transcends specific terminology.” – John Weber, Director of Products, Blackstone Media

From the technical specs, internal IT teams should be able to identify what is and isn’t possible within your organization’s current digital infrastructure. For example, a simple on-page blog category or tag filter might seem like a simple, common feature to a non-technical person, but the behind-the-scenes execution of this function might be hindered by backend limitations. You don’t want your digital agency to design a whole portion of your site around a functional component that is impossible to implement on the backend. This will waste precious time and money, which might be better spent finding a solution to the technical limitation at hand.

How will the creative and functional aspects work together? Design Compromises are Inevitable.

There may be some compromises in design for the sake of functionality and site speed. Technology can often dictate the ability to interpret a design at 100%. As such, it’s important to remember that website mock-ups often show the highest-quality renderings because designers have compiled the best of their best assets (imagery, videos, animations, etc.) to make a grand reveal. After all, the mock-up presentation is their opportunity to shine, and they will indeed shine as bright as possible. But this presentation is not in the same environment that your site will be within.

Videos are a perfect example of a common compromise. The implementation of that highest-quality HD asset is likely to the detriment of site-speed and overall user experience. Not all your videos need to be motion picture quality, and not all your images need to look like the cover of Time Magazine. Knowing in advance which assets have a high quality priority will allow for the development team to structure the assets for the best user-experience without taking too much away from the visual and functional representation of your mock-ups.

Why are the compromises important? A one second delay in page load time can cause up to a 7% conversion reduction, according to Kissmetrics. Similarly, Google will rank faster-loading sites above yours, negatively impacting your SEO. Understanding sites speed implications up-front will allow you to get the most out of your designers and developers and help them to temper your expectations with reality.

What happens after launch? Permissions and CMS Administrator Settings.

Your developers are likely to continue resolving any post-launch bugs or issues that arise on the site. They will however, also empower you to keep the site updated. Unless you are entering into a monthly retainer with your vendor (outside of the standard post-launch maintenance), you should already know who will serve as your website’s content manager. Similarly, you might also need an internal tech person to serve in an administrative role, and you should also be prepared to spread content creation duties across multiple contributors. Each person on your team will need specific permissions defined in advance by developers, set up, and then finally assigned. It is also a common practice for developers to ban certain types of media to help their sites maintain structural integrity.

Inevitably, there will be areas of your site that need to be updated. Whether this is done in-house or with external help will depend on the extent of your needs and the capabilities of your team. In many cases, the day-to-day management and upkeep of your site can be handled internally, but other times, you just have to call in the nerds – after all, that’s what they’re there for: To do the things no one else can.

At the end of the day, a true partnership is about maximizing each other’s strengths through complementary skillsets.