We have some really fantastic clients here in our company who have each time made us sweat asking to explain to them how web development actually works. We have also found out that there are still people out there who have absolutely no idea what the process is about. Working with our compay's fantastic team here (over the last couple of years) it's dawned upon me just how similar to a house construction a website building may seem. Turns out this analogy helps a lot in explaining what we do and how we do it. It also helps set expectations along the way.
If you were to start building a house today, would you start by hiring an interior decorator? Of course not! You also wouldn't ask them to design the structure of your house and yet this is what often happens when websites are being built. First and foremost, you gather together all the right people to be involved in setting up the website just like it happens when the new home is to be started.
General Contractor/Project Manager
First there is the general contractor representative. In house construction, he is the main man as you, the customer, will have to refer to him more often than to the rest of the construction team. You may as well talk to the rest of those involved but, at the end of the day, he is the one responsible for the whole project, and it's him who makes sure that all have what they need and everyone cooperates within the team. In our company we call this person the Project Manager.
Next up you would probably go and talk to an architect who is to design the house. Interestingly, at this point no one is really talking all that much about the color of the walls and how the family portraits be displayed. You are just trying to get a general outline of the house, the idea of how the rooms will be arranged and how spacious they will be. Then the engineering work follows which is supposed to make sure everything is livable and works properly. In our company, this job is usuall assigned to the Information Architect/Wireframers Dept that we have. Their main job is to talk to the client, get a good idea of the breadth of the project and eventually get the whole thing designed so as it works smoothly.
When talking to an Information Architect it is really important to ensure that none of the details is left out. Could you imagine getting that near the end of your building porject and all of a sudden (Ah! Now I remember!) you happen to want a media room right in the centre. How much would it cost to squeeze another room in there? That happens all the time in the web world. If from the very start
After that it is time for construction workers to get down to work. They lay the foundation, raise the walls and make sure everything (plumbing and wiring) is done. Normally, it takes about 40% of the budget to get the foundation laid and the walls framed. This again looks very similar to web development. On our team we have some very talented developers who use Drupal to create incredibly feature-rich websites, and in the shortest possible time. These are the builders of your website. They are going to build the content types and views (roughly like rooms) and make sure that all the modules are set up (roughly like plumbing and electrical works).
It's at this point that a web shop that really understands Drupal is going to stand out. It takes a while to really learn how to build a Drupal website the right way. (For we've seen plenty of them done the wrong way!). Incidentally, finding, in due time, someone who can do it well and right from the start is a crucial decision. Would you hire someone who has only had experiences with brickwork and suggest him build your wooden framed house? I sure hope not.