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 services company 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 usually assigned to the Information Architect/Wireframes 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 project and all of a sudden (Ah! Now I remember!) you happen to want a media room right in the center. 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.
Interior Decorator/Graphic Designer
The construction work on your home being done and the Interior Decorator is to take over. This is the person who picks out the 'colors, bricks, fittings' and puts the finishing touches on the site. This process is much dependent on the preferences of the prospective home-owner, hence, 'to make it nice' takes a bit of artistic competence. For this, we've got a couple of very talented designers in our company that can make amazing designs for websites. They will pick out the colors and pictures (kinda like furniture for the rooms!) and make sure everything looks good together.
Of course once the whole design is in place you are going to need the painters and movers to actually get the house to look like the design. This brings to mind our themers. It actually takes quite a bit of work to get all the images, colors and everything set up so that a very dynamic site will always look good. This is one area where I'd say the web world is actually harder than the physical world. Mostly because harmony is supposed to be achieved on hundreds of pages, as opposed to the instance of a home with several bedrooms... Luckily, we've got the great themers who have an eye for detail and are well aware of all the different browser quirks.
At this point the house and the website are more or less done, but there is still one thing missing and that is the occupants! They will reside in the house, come and go and live their lives in it. With websites, they could be likened to the Content Authors. In order to have a really great website, its content needs to be constantly generated and updated - it's like fresh air to breath in your new home. You are going to need some 'residents' to live and enjoy 'plenty of air' in your website, as well. We normally skip much of content authoring since it is a very special bit of the job and is best suited to be done by clients on their own. We do, however, render a lot of training to new site owners that includes sessions on SEO and social marketing.
Security and Maintenance
There is one more group of people who are important for home (and websites) construction but whose role is often overlooked. They are the people who attend to security matters and 'home maintenance' (think of the security monitoring firm and a bunch of handyman). Similarly, websites need support and maintenance, too. You wouldn't build a house, furnish it and then forget about it for 3 years, right? Websites are the same way, also. You need to keep them secure and well looked after. Our company also offers the support contract that handles this, with our expert team keeping your website secure, up-to-date, and working smoothly.
So next time you think about website development, be sure to go further than just leafing through a couple of pretty-looking designs and do find a team that has all the skills to lead your project up to creating a successful website. I can tell you this much: our team here is the best team for building websites I have ever seen, and for me, it is an honor and privilege to be working with them.