The fun way to build a website specification document
Without a website specification document you are running the risk of a big fall out with your client. Everyone needs to agree on what will be built, the timeline and the cost. Without these projects can often breakdown or become unprofitable. The problem is, creating a specification document is super boring, and it’s difficult to make sure you’ve covered everything.
We flip the script today, and Andre from Project Huddle interviews Lee on their unique premium website specification service that turns a boring document into a fun story that everyone can get involved with.
Episode 78: Done is better than perfect – click here
Connect with Andre:
Lee Jackson: Welcome to the Agency Trailblazer Podcast. This is your host Lee and on today’s show we have, it’s the one, the only Mr Andre from the Project Huddle. Is that how you say it?
Andre Gagnon: Yes, that’s right. The Project Huddle. Yup.
Lee Jackson: Okay, cool. The Project Huddle. I really wish it was. That’d be absolutely phenomenal mate. It would just sound more classy, wouldn’t it?
Andre Gagnon: Yeah. You guys throw a weird accent on it. Yeah, perfect.
Lee Jackson: Yeah and then no one didn’t know how to spell it and your visit rates would go down and actually it would be the demise of the product and you’d blame me and we’d probably fall out. This was awful advice. I’m really sorry.
Andre Gagnon: As long as there’s someone to blame, I’m fine with it.
Lee Jackson: Where there is blame there is a claim. Do you guys have that one out there in the States? Where there’s blame there’s a claim?
Andre Gagnon: No, I’ve never heard that.
Lee Jackson: All right, so essentially if you like stub your toe, well you can sue the council because the pavement shouldn’t have had that bump in it or something like that where there’s blame, there’s a claim. If you fall off a ladder and it wasn’t your fault, then there’s a solicitor who will help you sue.
Andre Gagnon: That sounds super American for some reason.
Lee Jackson: It does, It is. We’ve taken all sorts from you guys black Friday as well. We’re doing it now as well.
Andre Gagnon: Black Friday is like worldwide now it’s crazy.
Lee Jackson: The only thing we’re not doing, which I wish we did would be Thanksgiving cause that looks freaking awesome. It’s like Christmas dinner before Christmas. But we’ve not yet done it and I’ve not quite understood why.
Andre Gagnon: Go for it man. Nobody will stop you.
Lee Jackson: Well that’s true. All right, thanks. I’m just going to say if anyone has a question, I’ll just say Andre said it’s cool.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah right, I’m the authority on all things Thanksgiving season just run it by me.
Lee Jackson: So cool folks, if you don’t know who Andre is, sorry that was a bit random. Me and Andre have been mates for literally ever. That’s actually a lie for quite a long time and the last time he was on our show was back in June of 2017 that was a 9th of June. I had a whiskey in my hand, this time I have a coffee I blend and that was episode number 78 Andre came on the show and shared with us all about his wonderful new product at the time, which was Project Huddle. It’s still Project Huddle which is also wonderful and I still use to this day and we also talked about Themeforest as well because he had a great time and was very successful in Themeforest and I think I remember I was using one of your themes from years ago on one of my old sites as well. I think that that’s just come to come back to me like grid something.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, yeah. I think it was Grid Stack.
Lee Jackson: There you go. Grid stack. That was my favourite theme. We used that for our original agency in like 2011 or something like that before I ever knew I bought it on ThemeForest.
Andre Gagnon: That’s my favourite theme too. That’s awesome.
Lee Jackson: It is. It’s really nicely coded nice and fast and it actually still works. Do you want to know why they’re still using it?
Andre Gagnon: You still use it? No way!
Lee Jackson: I checked the other day, I was like, Holy crap, they’re still using the original theme and it still works with WordPress and they’re still updating WordPress.
Andre Gagnon: Oh man, that’s insane.
Lee Jackson: There you go there is value for money. Sometimes you can find gems on Themeforest. So today folks, we’re going to do something a little bit different. Andre has been on a mission to talk with agency owners around the world. That sounds good and he wants to find out really how they are getting feedback, how they are managing change controls and all that sort of stuff. So I have given Andre permission to hijack this show and interview me instead, which should be fun to find out about our system. He watched the video that we did probably a few months ago where we talked about how we get the user journey et cetera, using stories and creating an imaginary book and having fun with that and he was like, cool, I want to talk to Lee about this. So Andre, I guess let’s flip it and you become the host.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, thanks for doing that. I mean, so the whole reason I wanted to interview agency owners is I think the longer you’ve been doing this kind of stuff, the longer you realise you’re not the smartest person. There’s really smart people out there that have solved these issues in interesting ways that you didn’t think about before. So my mission is to just interview a bunch of agency owners about their client feedback process and see what’s working for them. Just because what works for one person might not work for another person and every client is different and everybody’s system is different. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your system and your client feedback process. So what is your current client feedback process? Maybe just walk us through your current system.
Lee Jackson: Sure. So for everything, for us, we always have to start with the spec. So it’s like a product spec that’s going to be what the design is going to include, et cetera. But it’s also what the build is. So we’re a development house at our core, that means we’re building WordPress themes for design agencies. In most cases they’re going to come to us with some sort of brief, but you can kind of imagine that that brief is not really going to be very detailed. It’s kind of a high level we would like a eCommerce website that will allow us to sell this digital product and also have a membership area. So that will essentially be the brief. Then what we need to do is kind of really get into that and work out what it is that the client actually wants. We can’t just say, Oh yeah, that’s going to cost you X grand and let’s get started. Then as the project builds, they’re like, Oh, okay, so where’s the membership section and the dashboard that will show them all of the courses that they’ve signed up for, et cetera. This is the sort of thing that will obviously happen if you just go ahead and get excited and start doing a build and throwing in loads of WordPress plugins. So that was the process we used to go through years ago and we recognised that we had to build some sort of system. That was A a system for gathering that information but also a system for doing the development and holding everybody accountable to the actual specification document that we had made. So there’s quite a lot to share with you and I don’t want to chew your ear off.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, can we start with I really liked that specification document. Can we start with that part? Cause I feel like that, at least in my experience, like being super clear with the client and communicating these details is often really hard because they don’t understand a lot of the terminology we use. They don’t understand how long stuff takes. So I, that is probably a huge pain point for people is communicating those things ahead of time when they build proposals or estimates. So why don’t you tell me a little bit about that specification document, how you created.
Lee Jackson: Sure. Well let me tell you first about the whole project and then I’ll tell you about that discovery document and why that’s really important. So the way we roll is we will have a discovery meeting. So we’ve got this potential project. It’s an eCommerce project. That’s all we know about it. We know there’s budget, we know that the client is interested in going ahead with us. So we are now going to have a discovery meeting. The first thing we’re gonna do is go through and just define some terms because when we’re having a conversation we hear the client using phrases and we’re like, Hey guys, what does it mean when you say that phrase? What does it mean when you say that phrase? Or what does reconciliation mean to you so that we can make sure we’re understanding those phrases. So we do a little bit of that cause you can always hear those in any sort of client meeting right from the get go. Then that’s a project that kind of carries on throughout the discovery process as your clients says another word that you’re not really a hundred percent sure on that gets thrown into the terms document and you can then work out why that is. So for example, there was one client we had a, what’s called a call for entry and we didn’t really know what that meant and they were talking about the recruitment process. So we had to put that into the terms library. So we knew every time we were talking about a call for entry, then we had a paragraph describing what that meant, et cetera. Then we could also link things to that later. So once we’ve got that kind of set up, what we like to do is talk about all the uses that are going to be involved in the process. So if you imagine this is an eCommerce website and there are going to be people visiting the website and they’re going to take a look around and they’re going to go, so what do we want to do with these people? What’s their journey going to be? We’re also going to have someone who can rock up to the website and they’re going to be converted as it were, into a subscriber of some sort. Maybe they will download a lead magnet and then that will be, you know, they will give us their email address. So there’s that journey, someone else might come along. I might peruse the website and have a question about a product. So what are they going to do? How are they going to ask that question about a particular project? Then another person might rock up as well and actually go ahead and look at the product, select a few products, customise some of those products, add them to the cart and checkout. So if you imagine that we’ve already got a few characters and we like to call these people characters and we like to give them ridiculous names for fun because it’s really boring. I got to admit a discovery process and writing a document to tell your developers what you want to build is one of the most boring processes in the world. Unless you can make it fun and for the poor developer, it’s one of the most boring documents to read as well. Whereas if you can now, you know, give people goofy names, give them a little bit of a backstory if you really want to just for fun and you can just build quite a fun document that everybody can read, but we also get what’s going on so I can tell the user journey of someone who hits the site, takes a look around and then goes away. The one thing that we might have captured from them would be a pixel, so we have at least told little story there and we know what we’re doing with them. But equally as we talk about the person who is going to select those products et cetera, we’re actually going to describe the process they go through. Let’s say that’s Bob who’s buying the product and we’ll go through that process and say, Bob will now click on the categories list and select the category that he wants and he will then see a product that he wants to look at and he will click on the view product and see the full product page. After scrolling up and down, he will click add to the basket. You know, you can just kind of, you can throw a few funnies into that, but at this point we’re just describing the process that Bob is going to go through to go ahead and purchase that product. What we also do for Bob as that’s kind of a bigger scenario because he’ll also be receiving emails. He’ll also be receiving updates. He’ll also have other processes that might come with that, like he might have to do a return or might have to submit a complaint or all sorts of stuff like that. We can then create chapters of Bob’s story, so it’s almost like lots of stories with little chapters so we can describe all of the different actions and activities that are going to happen with Bob. It’s all as a narrative. We’re all storytellers. As kids, we’ll use to tell stories. I’m sure, I know my kids certainly did. So we’ve got that skill built into us and it’s just a natural way of using the English language to create all of those user journeys and essentially create a book. Now, the way we do that is we’ve established all of those users, so we’ve got our users we’ve got all of the different journeys that those users are going to go on. So they’re almost like your chapters of your adventure. Then we also have the actions in that which is the story inside and at the end of that we will bring out the key actions or activities from that. Does all that make sense?
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, that’s super interesting. I think as designers and developers we immediately want to jump into like wire frames or design tools and it’s really, you almost need to describe what you’re going to do beforehand because I think what happens with scope creep especially is you make a bunch of assumptions based on what’s in your head and what the stories in your head. So I think it’s genius just writing it down and so you have these stories out for everybody to see so you are all on the same page before you even touch a designed to. I think that’s incredible.
Lee Jackson: It kind of is inspired by pseudo code. So years and years ago I was taught when I was doing programming to do what’s called pseudo code, which is in English what you would want your programme to do before you then actually commit it to code. So it’s very similar sort of process, but we just then made it fun by making it a story.
Andre Gagnon: Has it ever happened where, so you develop these characters based on, I’m assuming a a meeting with the client or after the meeting I’m not sure.
Lee Jackson: It’s a combination of both cause some companies will take a really long time so we’ll establish the characters with the client, et cetera and do the general journey, but we might have to go and deep dive in it and then get the client to read through and sign it off later.
Andre Gagnon: Got it. That makes sense. Has it ever happened where you’ve put together these stories in the client’s like what about this character? Has that ever happened where there’s, Oh, we didn’t take into account that person when we originally scoped out the project.
Lee Jackson: That’s not happened. It’s happened where we’ve started all of the other characters journeys and then during that we’ve suddenly said, Oh, wait a minute. Who’s this person you’ve just randomly mentioned that we’ll go ahead and process or reconcile that payment into the accounts programme? Oh, we’ve got a new character, let’s add them and do their journey later. The process of doing this and the process of working out everybody’s journeys, it means that they’re going to meet other characters naturally on the way as we write the narrative, they are going to be touched as it were by those other characters, so it naturally comes out that actually your accountant is going to get involved at some point and we need to tell Lisa the accountants story of how they are going to receive a notification of every time a payment comes in, they’re going to log in, they’re going to check that transaction against the bank account. They’re going to reconcile the payment, yada, yada, yada. So naturally it helps you weed out if that’s the right word or the right phrase, all of the characters. So we’ve never had a point where we start development and we’ve not covered everybody off. That’s never happened yet. But it has been a case of we will discover some of those characters that we didn’t all think of whilst we’re writing the narrative for the ones that we did.
Andre Gagnon: Okay. That makes sense. Cause I’ve had clients where it’s like, Oh and by the way, you know you have those, by the way emails that happen sort of later on.
Lee Jackson: We actually say right up at the front as well. That by the way is also translated in our terms has changed control. So we establish that right up front. It’s like seriously try and tell us everything cause if you say by the way or Oh and please remember that is tantamount to a change control.
Andre Gagnon: Awesome. Okay, I have a question. So when you go through these characters stories and you build this, at what point are you doing this? Is the client already agreed to like a ballpark budget or do you charge for discovery? How does that work?
Lee Jackson: So we’re charging for this entire discovery process. So if you think about this, the client will approach us and they will have an idea of what they want, but they don’t have the skills to create that document nor do they have the technical expertise to describe or understand how something should work. They just know they need an eCommerce site and they want to do a whole range of things. We therefore have that technical expertise to do all that and what we’ll do is have a conversation with them and say, look, what we will do is for X amount of money over several days of work or whatever, whatever the deliverables are going to be, we will help you create this document. We’re going to make it a fun process. We’re going to make it a process that you can understand. At the end of that you are going to have a document that if you decide, actually we don’t really want to work with you guys in the future, we find you a little unprofessional, that’s fine. You can take that document. Lee was drinking whiskey during the meeting. You can say that document and you can go and give it to another development company and say, Hey, this is what I want to build. Now we’ve kind of done all the groundwork. Could you guys go ahead and take this over? So the client understands that they’re getting something valuable here, which is a roadmap to how to actually achieve what they want to achieve. Obviously for well in all cases a client has engaged as at that point and then we will send a proposal along with the document and the client has always done said, yes, let’s go for it. Sometimes a client may say, ah, that’s a bit too much. That’s higher than I anticipated. So what we can then do is strip things back and say, right, well why don’t we split this out into a few phases and let’s do the minimum viable product. You actually just need to be able to sell digital products right now the membership idea is something you want to do in a year’s time, so let’s do MVP membership can come in phase two. So if we take those elements out, your price is now X and then at that point we’ll convert the client.
Andre Gagnon: Perfect. Yeah, that makes sense. I think cause I’ve seen some people where they would do like sort of a ballpark price during the meeting before they even scope stuff up. But if you’re charging for scoping out the project that totally makes sense that you’re not wasting any time then.
Lee Jackson: We’ve stopped doing that as well.
Andre Gagnon: Is that something like a scoping on a project or creating these characters, is that something that’s hard to sell to a client? Or are they on-board with it pretty much right away when you explain it?
Lee Jackson: Well, what we’ve stopped doing is giving people a ballpark in general at the very beginning, cause that’s something I used to do. But like yeah, it might cost you 20 or 30 grand, you know, just literally plucking numbers out of the air and that would instantly either put them off or it would set their expectations and they would ask us to build the Sistine chapel for 30 grand and we’d be like, guys, this is ridiculous. You want so much, but they’ve already got this 30 grand figure in their head and you’re kind of trapped with it. So we refuse to give people any sort of numbers. We certainly ask if they’re able to provide us any sort of budget ideas that will go along with the idea that they’ve got, we can instantly tell them whether or not we think they’re on cloud cuckoo land and whether we’re the right fit because we have a rough idea. You know, if they’ve got two grand to build the Sistine chapel and we’re obviously not the right company for them, but what we do, the way we explain this to clients is that we are giving you a document that you can take anywhere and everywhere, but we’re also giving you a document that means you can get the best and the right budget or price for this project. If we all engage in just making it up as we go along with a rough plan, then we’re probably going to fall out and we’re probably going to cost you an am and a leg. We’re probably going to have to keep asking for more budget. We might have to rewrite things. Things might not work the way they should. If this is a really important part of the process, we would not build a house with the builders with just a rough, Hey, build me a three bedroom semi-detached house please. Go, here’s a few bricks, I’ve got this money. Go, go, go, go, go. Is it ready yet? Can I have a look? I don’t really like the way you’ve built it. Could you add another room over there that’s not going to work? And that’s exactly the way we describe it to people. They get that you go, you pay an architect to make the plan, and then the architect gets given to the builders. We just happen to be the architect and the build is at the same time. That’s the way we use that language with them to describe the architect and the builder scenario. So they understand that they’re going to get a plan for, they’re going to build and that their house or their website is not going to cost more. It’s not going to cost less. It’s going to cost what it costs because we’ve got a plan and he’s going to do what we all anticipated because that plans on paper.
Andre Gagnon: Right. That’s a great analogy. You know, if you’re building a house, you’re kind of creating characters stories. Like my daughter needs a place to sleep, so we need a bedroom for her. Sometimes my, my inlaws come to stay, so maybe we need a guest room, et cetera. So I think it’s a spot on analogy.
Lee Jackson: Dude we’re about to take architects lives by storm right now. Let’s proposition them with this, guys have you ever thought of this? User journeys, what happens when the in-law’s stay? Well I’d like it dungeon.
Andre Gagnon: A dungeon right. Perfect. So you have this document and you use that to put together a proposal, I’m guessing based on just the amount of time it takes. You do like time-based estimating?
Lee Jackson: So in most cases then yes we will practically work out. Then we have this document, all of the chapters and all of the sections essentially form the outline. So you can see from kind of a very top level perspective all of the different modules and all of the different elements that might be needed. So this is going to give me a very good understanding of the amount of time that might be involved cause we do have to at least cover that time. Now we’re also aware though that there are going to be advantages to the client. This is going to have massive value to the client as well and we’re also aware of the years and years and years of experience that we have and some of the frameworks that we have where we can add value as well. So the price will be a combination of we need to make sure that obviously as a business we cover our time, but we also need to ensure that this represents the value of the development that we’re doing for somebody as well.
Andre Gagnon: That makes sense. Awesome. So the client agrees, okay, I really liked your proposal, they sign off then. Then how does communication work going forward? Like as you’re building, what’s the next step I guess?
Lee Jackson: Sure thing. So we would actually then split this up into sprints. My favourite thing is to do sprints. So we’ve now got this entire story. These are all based on chapters and in each chapter there’s going to be quite a few different users who are involved in it. But what you can do is you can break that down now and you can say, all right, well everybody’s going to hit the website. So obviously, we are wire-framing the core area of our website, we’re going to then build those core areas in the backend. We’re going to need to do these relevant activities, so these are all the people that are going to be involved. These are the first three chapters that that involves, so that’s going to be sprint one and that could be, like I said, the front end of the websites. Perhaps it’s going to be your login section. Perhaps it’s going to be the account management area and it’s also going to be the product list and then that’s all wrapped up into sprint one. With sprint one what we do is we start that off then with the wire framing, so we’re going to wireframe everything that we’re going to do. We’re going to do relevant designs. That’s wire-framing the front and the back end, so that’s both experiences and with those wire frames we can then put them saying to Project Huddle sometimes with screenshots so that people can go and have look around and make comments and then we can edit those. We’ll then do the designs if we’re doing the designs for the front end. Otherwise we will just do the designs for the backend that’s the user interface. Eventually when all that signed off, we’ll then do the actual build and the core interactivity, et cetera. So we will make sure that everything that needs to happen within the scope of sprint one and the scope of the chapters that we’ve circled for sprint one will be actioned and signed off. So all of that is done, signed off so that only then can we move on to the next sprint where we tackle the next group of chapters. So the client is aware they’re only going to get X amount of modules or X amount of pages for that sprint and they have to sign that off and then nothing changes on that. That’s done. So for example, we built a CRM system in 2015 Oh, that’s a long time ago. It still powers this company that we worked with. Wonderful company. We still work with them all the time and we did the exact same process. You know, we had all these user journeys, we had these chapters, we worked out that we needed to give them three data sets first so they could get started with the first sprint. So we did those three data sets. We designed all of the screens and how that was going to interact with the front end of the website. They signed that off as done so that we could then move on to the next three areas of the database and we carried that on. That was a project that took over a year because it was such a huge database. Then they rolled that out eventually a year and a half later to their entire team. So this is a rather large CRM system that we built. Since then because they understand that the sprint model, we can actually add new chapters on new sprints because they realised at some point they wanted to do more complicated reporting. So we created a story guide for that and we added a couple of other sprints for reporting, et cetera. So they still work with us in that sprint format as it were and they’ve connected with us recently to actually start a range of new sprints as well.
Andre Gagnon: Sure, that makes sense. So it’s like the original project is kind of practise for continued development.
Lee Jackson: Absolutely.
Andre Gagnon: After you launch a site, you’re going to want to monitor things, improve things, change things atc.
Lee Jackson: Exactly and in fact in most cases as well, you’ll find, or we found at least that the client’s budget doesn’t really represent what they want to achieve.
Andre Gagnon: I would say in about 5% of cases they have the budget for what they want.
Lee Jackson: In most cases they definitely don’t. So that means that when you’ve gone through this whole chapter process and you’ve then established what the cost of all these sprints are going to be, then the client says, right, let’s engage in the first five sprints and then let’s push those other sprints off into quarter four or next year or whenever they want to do it, et cetera. So that they can make sure they validate and also build up the funds to keep going and that tends to be the case in most projects. We do have some projects where we will put everything out there, massive price and the client will be like, great and I’ll be like, Oh crap. We’ve got to build all this now.
Andre Gagnon: Exactly, which is great for your business. But I think, you know, cause I’ve been building products for a long time and let’s say it’s for a long time, it’s almost like you need the users feedback. You need people to use it before you develop all these features. $100, you know you have all these things in mind, but until you test it, put it out there. You don’t know what phase two should look like, you know, ahead of time. So at least when I would work with clients, I would say let’s purposely save stuff for phase two stuff that we’re like questionable about that are maybe nice to have because you might just end up wasting money on something you’re going to rip out anyway. Again, you probably would be talking down here, your price in the end, but I think the client would be happier, you know and it’s your job to look out for their best interests.
Lee Jackson: Also, you avoid kind of biting off more than you can chew because although this story scenario is great for actually getting your entire product spec down and nailed and knowing what you’re going to do, actually the art of predicting how long things are going to take, I’ve never nailed that. For me it’s looking at past projects and thinking, okay, I think this is going to take several weeks for that section, you know of resource and if I look at holidays that we’ve got etc. If all goes well then this is going to takeus, this is this project is going to go over say three months for this particular sprint, but there are still all sorts of other things that can happen. The client might take absolutely ages to feedback which drags it on and then you’re starting to merge with other projects where I’ve got to put resources on other projects but we’re still actually making edits to something that we’re doing with the client on a previous sprint so that can cause problems as well. Obviously that adds cost because then you’re thinking, Oh, do I do I get one of our extra? Because we’ve got other contractors who will come in. If we’re finding it difficult on time, then we’ll bring more contractors in to help us. But obviously then that erodes the profitability of a job, et cetera. So there’s still all sorts of stuff that you do have to juggle. You kind of have to have a crystal ball and hope for the best.
Andre Gagnon: Right. I think it’s a myth to think, and this is something that I talk to clients with ahead of time, is you know these are all time estimates, right? Some stuff will take shorter than we thought. Some stuff will take longer. With technology, there’s always problems that come up and you try and budget for them, but you never know what could happen. So I think in my experience, just keeping that communication channel open. I know there’s a great book by Nathan Ingram about how he’d send a Friday email no matter what. Like here’s the stuff we accomplish this week. If you’re behind these are the things we wanted to do to accomplish. These are some problems we encountered and so we’re a little bit behind but we plan on making up for next week based on X and Y. Right? So it’s, it’s, I think it’s when you, at least when I would send that stuff or, or talk to clients about timeline, I would put those caveats in there. Cause I think everybody understands that technology doesn’t always work 100% the way it should and there’s always things that come up, you know, but you try and you try and stick to the timeline the best you can.
Lee Jackson: I’m glad you raised the technology aspect of things. In a lot of these projects that we do, there is a reliance on integration with third parties. So we might have to pass information over to QuickBooks or Zero or we might have to use the third party for integration like Zapier or Integramat or whomever. We will always include some sort of line that says, we understand that we should be able to do the following workflows using these tools. However, as they say, is controlled by a third party we cannot control how they operate, how they have set up their interface, what services and features they offer that we can not be locked into the price on those particular elements as well. So it’s very good practise to make sure that you are putting out there very clearly to your client what services you’re using and what the limitations might be as well. So for Zapier we will always say, Hey, we’re using Zappia for this. We believe it will work with minimal code, but be aware that if it won’t, we might have to write something first before it goes to Zapier, et cetera. So that might add a little bit extra to the cost, et cetera.
Andre Gagnon: Right, exactly. You know, cause I’ve been in Zapier where it’s like, Oh it’s not sending this information and I thought it would.
Lee Jackson: Yeah, exactly. Cause you think logically it will don’t you like well that’s just the way it goes and then it will process that and blah blah blah. And then you’ll go to the interface and it, and there’s no kind of, and then you’re like, Oh no. Right, exactly. Oh, I didn’t think of that. Or the one thing I found with a WordPress integration years ago was that this was very early on. It wasn’t allowing you to see multiple post types at first and then actually finding custom fields was complicated and it was just a hot mess at first. I did not like it and I was getting stressed out trying to do integrations with Zapier back then.
Andre Gagnon: Yup, exactly. So I guess we’re kind of, I think we’re probably running short on time here, so I kind of want to just touch on just a general question. Like what, what was one of the biggest overall lessons you’ve learned since you started running an agency? Usually people think about some of the biggest mistakes that they’ve made. At least for me. I mean, I’m sure you didn’t make any mistakes, but some people do.
Lee Jackson: So dude, we’ve made so many, I mean this whole discovery process, the whole user journey process, the whole getting everything documented, the whole going through sprints etc etc, has come from a history of not doing that, of doing tonnes and tonnes of free discovery as well and free strategy because we weren’t valuing the service that we had to offer in that. So we were, you know, we’d had bad experiences by taking on projects and then losing tonnes of money because we hadn’t gone through the due diligence. So then we started doing the due diligence for free, but then people were taking that and taking it elsewhere. So we were losing money there, which was stressful. So eventually, all those mistakes are what led to us making sure that we document everything that we can. I hate that you have to do that, but also you have to do that because it protects you. It also protects the client because the client’s got to trust you with an awful lot of money. A lot of the things that people will approach you on not going to be cheap. And they are at much at risk as you are in this process. So if you can enter into this discovery process, they invest a bit in you, you’re investing in them with your time and expertise. If that works out, that’s a good start to the relationship, then you know that you can build on that and start to build whatever it is, whatever their dream is, you can help them build that then for the future. So my biggest obviously lesson has been from all of those mistakes to make sure that we engage in discovery every single time to make sure that we document everything every single time and also to make sure that we get sign off. Especially on things like designs. We used to go through say 99 revisions on designs, whereas nowadays we will limit you to two revisions. You’ll get two concepts or three concepts depending on how much you’re paying, and then you’ll get two revision rounds as it were, or three revision rounds. Again, depending on how much you’re paying any other revisions on that are going to be extra because the client has to respect our time as well. So all of those sorts of things have been really important for us.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah. I think especially with those, you know, design revisions because design is tough. I think sometimes design takes you 20 minutes and sometimes it takes you like six days. Right? Cause it’s, it’s one of those, at least for me, I don’t know. I think like especially like how you start with wireframes I think really helps. I think there’s a tendency as designers to not want to show wireframes and not want to do wireframes. Just because when you send a client a wire frame it’s not going to wow them. They’re not going to be like I can’t wait for my website to look like this. Cause their wireframes, they’re really boring looking sort of like, I dunno maybe looking at a house blueprint or something. But I think it’s super important not to go down too far down one avenue before cause that’s what can happen when you get too far down and then you get trapped and you have to redo a whole bunch of stuff that you weren’t planning on. I think that’s when scope creep happens in the design phase, especially
Lee Jackson: With regards to those wireframes when a client has been through the journey with us of creating this story, we will often refer to the wireframes as that really cool map that you would see at the beginning of a chapter. So if you think of the JR Tolkien books or the Narnia books and you look in, they show you this entire map of the entire world that you’re reading about. We will often refer to our wireframes is that ‘Hey this is going to be the map’. So this is not the line drawing of what your site is going to function like. Your user is going to need to know how to get around this and we need to make sure that there’s map works before we actually colour it in and make it a beautiful website. So that really just helped people get the concept that we’re actually doing a map first of the user’s experience of this user’s journey that is matching the story that we’ve created because the story is all about the journey of these characters.
Andre Gagnon: Right, exactly. I think like when I first started doing wireframes, I was maybe too specific with the wireframes anyway. Like I would, I think it’s okay to send something like a whole section blocked out. Like this is what we’re going to say in this section and why. You don’t necessarily need specific layout stuff unless you have something in mind. I think it’s okay to send something like this is the plan for this part of the page with no design yet figured out and then you can kind of increment on that.
Lee Jackson: So we’ve, we’ve done wire frames as generalised blocks as well, so we might do detail in the header because we want to show the login and et cetera that this is where you get to log in. This is the cart icon, et cetera. So this isn’t the final design, but obviously this is the roof positions because that’s where the eye is naturally going to go. But we might also have a block that will just signify the product information page with just a bulleted list saying this will contain, and then we’ll pull the bulleted list from the story that essentially lists out all of the fields that are going to be in that. That’s not the design. We’re just saying, Hey, this is where this is all going to go. We’re actually going to explore that in the design itself. So you can be as generic as possible. There’s a tool called Draftium, which we got on AppSumo. Good old AppSumo and it’s a wireframing tool, but it’s something that kinda goes into too much detail. So if you want to kind of do a wire frame with lots of detail, it’s good for that because it will do all the buttons, all the texts, all the images and all that sort of stuff. But it also goes too far because what we found when we use something like that is the client then kind of expects that’s the route you’re going to go with the design as well and you then kind of become a bit restricted by it. So you do need to be careful when creating wireframes.
Andre Gagnon: Right, exactly. I think especially with wireframes, you know there’s always like one of the biggest issues with websites for me it was like when do you get content? You get it before you do the design. Do you get it after you do the design and then when you get content, like if you do the design first and you get content after, sometimes it doesn’t fit into the design or if you get it ahead of time, sometimes it’s like a novel and you have like just a small page you want to do so. So for me the wireframes help to be like, we need a short paragraph here about such and such feature that’d be talked about and this user story. So they know what content they need to provide rather than just say what’s the content for the homepage? I think it’s too general and kind of too tall of an order to ask your clients?
Lee Jackson: Well, I think in most cases, so for us we’re lucky that we are behind that step, so our clients, our design agencies, so they’ve thankfully gone through that process and there seems to be a different, several different ways that the agencies that we work with will attack that. They will either insist that the client hire their copywriter, so they’re cooperating services and they’ll actually do all of that as part of the wire frame process. So that all happens before the design and then they do the designs. So we’re actually getting the final copy and designs. That’s the most effective way that we’ve seen agencies do it. But that’s obviously a very expensive way for a client. So that tends to be the bigger agencies that will do that. Otherwise, it’ll be a case of, in a lot of cases, a rough idea of what copy is going to go where with some copy and pasted stuff from a word document in the wireframe that then translates through to the design. We will do the build based on that, but obviously as we’re giving tools for the client and or the agency to go in and change the copy anyway, they can then go ahead and change that and we’re doing responsive builds anyway. So anything we make is going to stretch. So it actually might look terrible and you can’t stop that, you know what I mean? If they are going to put war and peace in to something that should only be 50 characters long, then it’s probably going to look terrible and the design agencies will then take over at that point and push back to the client and say, Hey, no, you know, please remove war and peace. We need 50 words in that slot, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s how they do it. So the most effective way, like I said, was like hire our copywriter, let’s get this done, let’s get this mapped out and the final designs will come to us. We’ve got all the final copy, spelling errors, all fixed, everything so that all we’re doing is building the site and for Rose that is the most joyful type of build.
Andre Gagnon: Right. It definitely takes the biggest budget though, right?
Lee Jackson: Yes, absolutely. They’re the, you know, the 50K massive budget projects. We don’t see the 50 K cause we’re just a part of that chain. But you know these are 50K higher for the agency and then we’re a part of that.
Andre Gagnon: Awesome. Well that’s, that’s all the questions I had.
Lee Jackson: I really enjoyed being interviewed. That was, fun.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, this is awesome.
Lee Jackson: Maybe I should do this a bit more and you’re a natural interviewer as well, which is good.
Andre Gagnon: That’s fantastic. I think, you know I’m a Patreon subscriber and watch a lot of your videos and stuff and it’s like I get these little tidbits but this is really awesome to just like all the questions I had get you to like map them out for me. Just personally, I think it’s been awesome.
Lee Jackson: Awesome man. Well I will share it as well in the show notes of this episode the Airtable that we have that helps us do these stories actually helps us build the outline and it actually you can in theory then use the air table input to write those chapters as well and then use the block to export the story. So that’s something that we do and we’ll put the note, and I believe I did a video a long time ago on it, so if I did, I willmake sure that goes in the show notes as well. Folks, Andre is also gonna repurpose this as a blog post for Project Huddle. So I will be sure to share that when that is ready and we’ll put that as well in the show notes as well. Can I also recommend you do look at Project Huddle it’s something that we’ve been using for many years and we use it to get feedback on the back end, the front end of websites, and we also use it to get feedback on physical designs, be that JPEGs, PDFs, et cetera. A very, very powerful products. So I highly recommend you go ahead and check that out. So Andre, how can people connect with you? Then I’m going to beat you off the show mate.
Andre Gagnon: You can find me on Twitter I think is best or connect with us on Facebook. There’s a Project Huddle community that’s pretty active. I think it’s just facebook.com/projecthuddle.
Lee Jackson: Well we will make sure that we put all of the right URLs in the show notes. Don’t forget, if you want to learn the story of Project Huddle, then jump in the time machine back to the 9th of June, 2017 and listen to episode number 78 where I interview Andre and we both have really high pitch voices.
Andre Gagnon: Right exactly.
Lee Jackson: Cause our voices hadn’t broken by then.
Andre Gagnon: Yeah, what were we like eight years old?
Lee Jackson: Something like that. I think at one point I was playing with my He-Man and you were playing with captain or what? What’s that action hero you guys all played out in America?
Andre Gagnon: Captain America.
Lee Jackson: Captain America? Yeah. Wait was it captain America? It was one that had like these big guns and everything else like that. GI…
Andre Gagnon: Oh, GI Joe.
Lee Jackson: Cool. All right. We just, we just went back in time. Mate have an awesome day. Thanks so much for your time.
Andre Gagnon: Thanks Lee.
Lee Jackson: We should probably do this again. Peace. Cheerio.
Andre Gagnon: Bye.
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