In developing a website there are six key stages, beginning with the investigation of the project where the business case is established through to decommissioning when the website is retired.
These stages of development take place in a complex environment that is influenced and controlled by factors such as agency and user needs, governance, standards, reporting and accountability.
These stages are not always sequential. For example, many websites are never decommissioned but are instead redeveloped (many agency corporate websites are seen as permanent and will be required for as long as the agency exists).
During each of the stages of website development and management project managers should stay alert for opportunities to consolidate. Consolidation can improve the user experience by simplifying resource discovery while also lowering development and maintenance costs.
The following environmental considerations should be considered at all stages of the website lifecycle: agency needs, user needs, governance, standards, and finally reporting and accountability.
Elements of the Website Lifecycle
The Website Lifecycle is separated into six stages. The lifecycle starts with investigate, then through the stages 1 – plan, 2 – design, build and test, 3 – operate, maintain and evaluate. The optional stage, 4 – redevelop, leads back to the planning stage. The lifecycle finishes with decommission.
In this stage, the website takes form as an idea. This idea is tested through assessing its business case; in particular, the level of demand from users and the value of the benefits to be delivered. The outcome is a business case that describes the rationale, benefits and value for the proposed website.
This investigation should consider the whole internet portfolio of the agency, and not just the proposed website, so that any opportunities for consolidation are considered in context.
In this stage, the website is planned in detail. The more effort put into planning, the more successful the website is likely to be. Planning will save time and money by avoiding the need for potential re-work.
Planning requires a thorough understanding of user and agency needs to ensure that the project can deliver successfully. The outcome of this stage is a detailed project plan including information architecture and conceptual design.
Design, build and test
In this stage the structure of the website is developed, its design finalised then built and tested. This stage usually involves development of a small pilot version to test with users and the agency stakeholders.
This is an iterative cycle that is complete once all problems have been fixed. The website is then launched and goes live.
Operate, maintain and evaluate
In this stage, the website is operated and maintained, with regular planned improvements. This involves keeping everything up to date and regularly reporting on performance, to ensure that the website is a success. One element of the maintenance plan should be periodic evaluation of the website. This evaluation might lead to a decision to redevelop or decommission it.
The decision to redevelop should be based on a review of the performance and success of the website. It involves commencing again at the plan stage, while continuing to operate and maintain the website. The next section of these guidelines takes a closer look at the evaluation and redevelopment process.
If the redevelopment has led to consolidation of content, there will be a need to decommission older content and sites. Decommissioning contains more information on the issues agencies should consider when decommissioning websites.