Web project

A friend who owns a software company specializes in developing Website asked me: “I thought only large and complex software projects often fail but I found that small projects such as website development could also fails too. Most of my projects are small with three to five people, even we complete the project on time with all functions but our customers are NOT happy, do you know why?

I explained:” Small project fail, not because of big mistakes such as changes in requirements or bad hardware interfaces but because of mistakes that programmers do not think they are important. Most failures were NOT about technical issues such as coding HTML, applying graphics, or the usage of software tools but about lacking knowledge of the “dynamic nature” of the web environment. Many programmers are technically good but may NOT understand the business of Website or Portal which are NOT the same as typical software project for product development”.

My friend seemed surprised: “Why Web development differs from other software projects? I think software is software regardless.

I told him:” Not all software is the same. Typical software applications are about solving problems or automate a process. However, web and portal applications are mostly about user interface and user interaction. A typical website provides information that user needs or advertise a business. It is similar to “open a store” to sell things so it must bring results. You can have a web project that meet schedule, meet cost and look nice with all functionalities but if it is difficult to use, users do not get what they want, they never use it again then the project is NOT successful. Most failure in web application is often about “business issues”. Just like you open a store, it looks nice with good merchandises but if there is no customer come in, or no one buys anything then you are not successful. A successful web application must bring business value, it must be easy to use and can be validated by metrics such as number of people access to get information or number of merchandise sold.

A typical mistake that many people made in web application is to focus too much on technology but not spending enough time to define a business value, user scenarios, market share, and measurements, etc. Most projects start with a choice of technology, such as using “Flash” or “Silverlight” without the understanding of user needs and business strategy. Actually what they are doing is to create a “Solution” before they understand “The problem”. Many decisions are based on what technology is available and what programmers want to do rather than the objectives of the project. Some managers even prefer to use the latest technology just to impress customers without knowing anything about them.

A good web application must be simple, easy to use, and easy to get information. A website must provide enough information to obtain a “business result”. Many programmers are too focus on adding “animation”, “cute pictures”, “beautiful color” or “splash screens” to make it attractive without understand that it may confuse users or slowdown the access flow. Many programmers believe “more is better,” so they add more features to the website and make it difficult to find the right information. The golden rule in web development is “Simple and easy to use”. In web application, “speed” is the most important factor for user, especially people without good network connections. A fast and simple website design is much better than a heavy decorated and slow to response website. Of course, a fast and better design is possible but the nature of website application is about changes and update frequently so the golden rules are “Easy to use’, “Easy to update”, and “Fast download”.

The best web designer always put themselves into users’ position by asking “What do users want by access to this website?”, “What kind of information are they looking for?” “How often they return to this website?” and “How often should we update the website?” these questions has nothing to do with the technical aspect but it is the most important because the ultimate goal of website is to bring result. A good web designer always understand how users navigate the website to get information by creating scenarios so they can make the web navigation easy to use and speed up the flow. For example, Google home page has dozen words but only one single text-entry box. A websites cannot be successful unless it is being update constantly to bring people back, “a static website is a dead website” so after create website, you need to update it as often as possible. You also need to measure the number of people use it and occasionally have feedback survey to ask users what they want to see or what information is helpful to them. A good website is about good interaction and constantly changing to meet demand.

Sources

  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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