What Causes A Website Redesign To Go Over Budget?

Emily Townswick
Written by Emily Townswick
What Causes A Website Redesign To Go Over Budget?

There are several common reasons why a website design and development project can end up exceeding the budget outlined in the initial project proposal.

Although these issues pop up frequently in website redesigns, being aware of them will help you protect against unexpected cost increases and ensure your project runs smoothly.

In this article we will look at a list of factors that can cause a website redesign to go over budget. After explaining each challenge, we will put forth strategies you can follow to minimize the risk of going over budget.

Unclear feature definition (MoSCoW)

The degree of feature definition in the initial proposal/contract will vary depending on your website redesign partner. Some prefer to spell out highly detailed feature lists, with the goal of defining all planned features and functionality up front, to avoid unexpected costs later in the process. The potential drawback of this is limited flexibility if changes are required farther down the road (see the “Significant mid-project rework” factor below).

Other partners will create contracts that build in more flexibility. This can be done by proposing a “features and enhancements” budget to be finalized in strategic planning sessions during sitemap and wireframing phases. The potential drawback of this approach is that it may be difficult to feel confident entering into a website project contract without each feature being defined ahead of time. Our recommendation at Windmill is essentially a hybrid approach—where a project follows typical patterns and much is known at the outset, a “features and enhancements” budget is typically the best approach. However, with a large project, a lot of unknowns, connections with other systems or other complicating factors, a good first engagement is a strategy and planning scope of work, where the project teams that will be building the website devote time to planning, strategizing and documenting features and scope for the subsequent build project.

How to combat unclear feature definition

When planning features, we recommend using the principles of MoSCoW, a prioritization methodology that focuses on identifying “must-haves, should-haves, could haves and won’t-haves” as they relate to your website redesign. Going through this exercise internally with the main project stakeholders, prior to starting a project, can clarify your organization’s priorities and help you explore different options with your web design partner.

When evaluating a potential web design team, talk through their (and your) preferred method of feature and functionality prioritization. Going through the MoSCoW exercise in the sales and intake process can get you to a much more realistic estimate. Then, you can clarify at what point in the project you would expect to see a final list of features and functionality. Ask your potential partner how they would deal with unexpected changes that come after this point. Is there a formal process for scope changes? Does the total project cost include a variance of a certain percent upon completion? Make sure you are 100% clear on how the project will be defined and how unforeseen changes will be handled, in order to manage the agreed-upon budget and timeline.

“Design by committee”

Design by committee refers to the phenomenon of a large team of stakeholders each providing individual feedback that is treated equally and expected to result in tangible revisions. An example of this is a marketing manager leading a website redesign and knowing they will have to get feedback from a large board of directors that expects to be involved at each step of the planning, strategy, design and development phases.

To avoid falling into the trap of design by committee, appoint one person who will be in charge of all project communication and day-to-day decision making. In an ideal, high-efficiency project, there will be one project owner on the client side who is responsible for organizing all of the feedback and distilling it down into specific revision requests that are then communicated to the production team.

Discuss your approval process internally prior to kicking off the project. What are the high-level milestones that will need to be reviewed and approved by the highest level of your organization in order to move forward and minimize rework later? The most successful projects are those where the decision-making power is centralized in the main project owner, and all other approvals are predefined in the process to allow for constructive feedback without halting the project in its tracks because of miscommunication.

Content preparedness, organization and finalization

One of the most common reasons we see our projects go over their initial budget is content— specifically, how prepared our clients are with their content when entering into a redesign project, how they continue to organize it throughout the process, and their ability to hit deadlines for finalizing content in time to coordinate the successful migration of the content into the new website.

How to set yourself up for content success

This issue has come up frequently enough in our projects that we wrote an article about it: “How To Perform a Content Audit for a B2B Website Redesign.” Although the article addresses B2B and industrial websites specifically, the recommendations are applicable to any organization that wants to embark on a website redesign.

The top takeaway from this article is to do a comprehensive content audit prior to kicking off a redesign engagement. Once you’ve completed this task (which coincidentally will help you in your MoSCoW exercise), make sure you are clear on the content responsibilities for the project. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Who is responsible for writing new content or editing existing content? Is this a service I want to include in the website budget, or do I have the bandwidth to do it internally?
  • Is there a way to programmatically migrate content that doesn’t need to be changed? Is that included in the scope of work?
  • What tool(s) will be used to facilitate the aggregation of content?
  • Who is responsible for content migration? If it is a shared client-agency responsibility, what does that look like?
  • How much time should I budget for my team to invest in content editing and migration efforts?
  • How much training will my team need to facilitate content entry, and what additional training resources will be provided under the agreed-upon scope of work?

Significant mid-project rework

Perhaps one of the more obvious reasons a website redesign goes over budget is when major changes are requested once designs have been finalized and website development has begun. Some examples of what might be considered major changes are:

  • Introduction of a new, required third-party integration (i.e., with a CRM, ERP, marketing or accounting software)
  • Discovery of new dynamic content types (i.e., find a distributor, advanced map functionality, dynamic job applications)
  • Other major interactive functionality requirements (i.e., advanced search capabilities, language translation, inventory management)

To avoid significant project rework, you can follow the previous recommendations to ensure you are doing your best to capture all of the requirements BEFORE getting to a point where rework will significantly impact the budget and timeline. Alternatively, if these changes can be relegated to a subsequent phase or project, after the launch of the initial website redesign, they can still be accomplished with little impact on the original budget.

As much as we can plan ahead to mitigate risks, there will always be unforeseen challenges that come up during a website redesign. Talk with your redesign partner to fully understand the scope-change process, in case a change has to occur. How will you evaluate and manage the budget and timeline implications of a major mid-project change? Knowing ahead of time what that process might look like will be helpful when evaluating potential solutions down the road.

Extended timelines and overhead

The last factor on the list is an extended project timeline and the extra overhead costs that can occur as a result. When you embark on a redesign project, an initial project schedule with major milestones will be created in order to plan out your approvals process and manage resources most efficiently. This initial timeline is an estimate, but all parties will work to the best of their abilities to hit the outlined milestones and keep the project on track. However, there are often unforeseen client challenges that can pull the project off track and off schedule.

When a project goes significantly off schedule (meaning by more than a couple of weeks), there are intangible costs that begin to be incurred. An example is start-and-stop “ramp-up” time for project resources. During a long project lull, designers and developers who initially planned to work on your project will pivot to other client work. Hopping back into design and development on your project after a long break can lead to additional ramp-up time that wouldn’t have necessarily been required if there hadn’t been a delay.

Another example: management and overhead costs associated with the project while it is on hiatus. There’s a difference between time spent managing the project and time spent managing the creative process. When the project is put on hold, client correspondence continues to happen in the background (such as checking in on the stalled project and formulating new project plans and timelines). Overhead time is also spent on internal resource planning as new deadlines are created and then missed.

In order to avoid extended timelines and overhead, talk with your design partner about missed milestones and project delays. How could these potentially impact the overall budget of the project? If the delay is on the behalf of the agency’s design/development team, what steps will be taken to resolve the delay and shore up the overall schedule?

Prevent your project from going over budget

By following the recommendations listed above, you will reduce the risk of going over budget in your website redesign process. When choosing a partner for your project, it’s also important to make sure you are confident in your website redesign agency’s ability to proactively manage these risks in tandem with your efforts.

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