Prescient has a five-phased approach or methodology that our Internet consultants use to creating highly effective websites. The first two phases are Assessment and Planning.
Prescient understands the importance of strategy, planning and measured success. Our five phase approach enables us to offer tailored services to each client and develop successful strategies, create effective plans and deliver measured success in every project.
The Prescient methodology is a collection of tools and techniques that enable each project to benefit from previous experience, successes, and leading best practices. Key advantages of our methodology include consistent terminology across projects, streamlined and repeatable processes, and most importantly, predictable results. The methodology is built upon the understanding that initiatives must often run concurrently to meet immediate needs. There are generally five major phases:
Prescient's unique Internet and intranet planning methodology
Despite the traditional focus on technology and integration, the most critical phases are the initial ones: Assessment and Planning. At the heart of a website's success is the strength of the plan that governs it.
Before undertaking any website plan or build, an extensive needs or business requirements assessment is necessary to identify, develop, prioritize, and document goals and current practices.
The assessment should include stakeholder interviews and input, as well as user research, and possibly stakeholder workshops. When building a leading-edge website, a detailed strategic blueprint can be crafted with the acquired data and knowledge including:
- Information architecture
- ROI plans
It is recommended that any organization consider engaging a third-party or consultant to conduct the assessment. While the cost may be prohibitive for organizations with tight budgets, a third-party may be more successful in gathering sensitive opinions and feedback as a third-party, unlike stakeholders, have no personal attachment or stake in the website and do not have any political agendas.
It is important to gather the needs and requirements of stakeholder and users. A representative sampling of user opinions is crucial to gathering an accurate reading on user needs and requirements.
Engaging Users, Identifying Needs
The first two phases, assessment followed by planning, are perhaps the two most important phases: without undertaking rigorous and thorough assessment and planning stages, the subsequent three phases will not realize their potential.
The purpose of the assessment is to identify the organization’s needs and requirements. Steps in the assessment phase should include:
- Current state evaluation
- Business requirements interviews
- User surveys
- User focus groups
- Review of existing research (surveys, etc.)
- Benchmarking (best practices)
- Usability testing
Business and needs assessment
The assessment serves two important needs: it documents the needs and requirements of the user population, for the purpose of answering those needs.
Before undertaking any site or portal design or redesign, regardless of the size of the project, a requirements assessment is necessary to identify, develop, prioritize, and document goals and current practices. As mentioned above, each engagement begins with an assessment that concretely identifies and documents the project’s goals and objectives, aligns those objectives with those of the sponsoring department and the enterprise as a whole, as well as documents the needs and requirements of the user audience and stakeholders.
Armed with the acquired data and knowledge, a detailed strategic blueprint – including creative, information architecture, and ROI plans – can be crafted to build a leading edge site. Individual modules in the Assessment Phase may include Stakeholder Engagement, User Research Review, User Survey, User Focus Groups, Benchmarking (sometimes conducted in the Planning Phase) and the delivery of the Key Findings Report.
Benchmarking & Best Practices
While the assessment phase identifies and documents requirements of stakeholders and users, benchmarking and best practice research documents the practices and success stories of competitors and leading companies. User and stakeholder input is critical to a site’s future success, but it is also invaluable to learn from the success stories and best practices of other organizations that are leading the way. Together, the combined knowledge from both stakeholder/user requirements and the best practices of competitors and leading companies can provide a powerful amalgam of insight that is ideally suited to drive a highly valued site plan and design.
At the conclusion of the Benchmarking module, Prescient will produce three to four page reports on each company and incorporate those best practices into specific recommendations of the final blueprint as well as include each benchmark as stand-alone case studies.
Once the needs and requirements are identified, the planning – or the response to the expressed needs – may begin.
The planning phase is intended to map out the strategic and tactical approach to building or redesigning your website. Once the planning phase is complete, the end result should be an expansive strategic plan with many elements including:
- Strategic planning
- Functional brief and plan
- Change management plan
- Marketing and promotional plan
- Funding model
- Business case and potential ROI
- Information architecture
- High-level wireframes
- Design concept
- Governance and organization recommendations
- Content management plan
- Strategic planning
- Information architecture
- Content management
As defined by renowned authors and leading strategic planning experts Leonard Goodstein, Timothy Nolan and J. William Pfeiffer in Applied Strategic Planning (1993, McGraw-Hill), strategic planning is defined as “the process by which… an organization envision(s) its future and develop(s) the procedures and operations to achieve that future.”
This stage is unquestionably essential to the site’s future success as it provides the strategic direction for building, governing/managing and measuring the site/portal after the launch. The strategic plan provides the high-level direction including the mission and vision of the planned portal. It also determines the goals and the critical success indicators or benchmarks for success.
The end result of this stage, for inclusion in the final blueprint, will be a defined vision and mission, and definitive goals. Included in this stage will be one to two half-day workshops to develop the vision and mission statements as well as critical success indicators for measuring the future success of the site. Prior to these sessions, each stakeholder participant will be expected to complete a short questionnaire regarding their requirements and vision of the site/portal.
A common, unified look-and-feel and content experience is vital for improving the user’s experience. Information architecture involves the design of organization, labeling, navigation, and indexing systems to support both browsing and searching. It plays a central role in determining if users can easily find the information they need.
Many of today's Web sites and portals lack the effective foundation of an intuitive information architecture. Despite attractive graphic designs and a solid technological base, these sites fail to provide intuitive access to the site's content.
The process of information architecture design begins with research into mission, vision, content, and audience during the assessment phase. This initial strategy consulting provides a foundation for the development of a successful information architecture design that supports long-term growth and management. A well-designed information architecture minimizes the time that users spend looking for information.
Finally, if properly planned, an initial investment in a scalable architecture (one that can adapt easily as the site grows) will prevent costly redesigns in the future.
Content management is simply defined as the means by which content is created, stored, accessed and reused to accomplish corporate goals. Effective content management requires:
- Defined rules (taxonomy)
- And the appropriate technology to support content processes and workflow
An effective content management process is critical to optimal, structured and timely web publishing. Since this process can only reflect and automate human workflow, it is vitally important that it be considered carefully both in terms of usability and the means in which it improves or reinforces business processes. Content management planning takes into account:
- Content publishers, needs and content types
- Content structures and current practices (workflow)
- User requirements and access/rules (e.g. customization/personalization)
- Content processes and guidelines for management, review, and development
- Content storage/retrieval mechanism and review software (e.g. content management system)