Building the Right Team for a Web Project

November 30, 2016

When you think “my organization needs a new website” I’d bet that triggers some anxiety. Maybe a full-on flight or fight response.

Getting a new website is one of the most stressful things an organization will face as a team.  If the planning isn’t stressful, you can be sure that the execution or god forbid the launch will be.  But why?

It’s because websites are exactly as complex as your organization, and when you need a new one, it’s because your organization is evolving and you know, in your heart, that you’re going to put a name on what your organization has become.  It takes a lot of work and plenty of self-reflection to adapt from the way we used to work to the next way that we have to work.  Will the new way mean that we have to give up a part of the identity that we love in order to grow?

We’re always growing up

When I first started producing theatre at a tiny storefront theatre in Chicago and was tasked with marketing the show, my first thought as a baby arts marketer was “I guess I need to make postcards on the cheap.” We needed paper and access to a photocopier, and so I went to Staples to get started.

Cut to fifteen years later and I’m working with a cultural organization with one of the largest subscriber bases in Illinois, and we have on its face the same problem – we need to let people know about the show.  But if I went back to that big box office supply store I’d quickly realize that I don’t really solve my problem if I just make 200,000 postcards. That tool and that skill – that entire workflow – is irrelevant now.  I don’t need paper at all. I need a digital printing press. I need to supplement the shrinking arts coverage in our region and figure out how to put an exciting message in front of the eyeballs of anyone interested in our show in the region. How do I do that at Staples?

As we grow and as technology evolves at an exponential rate, we need to remind ourselves not to expect the same process or cost to get the tool that will grow with us.

The rapid evolution of the web is why it’s so hard to get a clear answer from web companies about what a solution will cost – the web is fluid, and any given agency may be quote you the 1999 solution or the 2006 solution or the 2016 solution or if they’re really radical the 2018 solution.

Sure, it’s gonna be hard.  You’ll need to develop some skills of your own to find out which one is the right fit for you. You can expect, depending on who you solicit proposals from, that if you’re an organization with a staff of 12 – 20, you’ll get proposals ranging from $1,000 (for which you’ll get the web equivalent of a ream of paper) to $50,000. You might need a glass of wine at this point.

But remember that in the face of this, you don’t need to learn everything about how the web works, because that’s going to change next week. Instead of a product, you need to be sure you’re hiring the right team of experts who have the right balance of skill sets.

the team OF EXPERTS

Here’s how we break down the roles and skills we need on each project at Gameflow.  This tends to be a good baseline for a web project for a cultural organization:

  • We bring in a designer to help translate your identity into an engaging visual format.  A designer translates language and logical information into a visual language that makes sense spatially and emotionally. They advocate for visual clarity, often shaking up the straightforward logical or business-oriented left-brain thinking to create the right tone to motivate patrons on an emotional level.
  • We work with a front end developer, who interprets the designs and codes the user interface to make the site work seamlessly for your patrons. These folks know how different devices behave and usually have a great sense of common habits as users of different skill levels. They advocate for your patrons’ experience at every step of the browsing and purchase process.
  • We collaborate with a back end developer who is skilled in making the final system work efficiently for your team’s experience levels, and efficiently for the web server so that your site doesn’t explode after a year of use. Their role includes helping you integrate your third-party ticketing, payment, and marketing technologies. They advocate for simplicity in your day-to-day workflow to make the site work seamlessly for you.
  • We assign a project manager to make sure this more complex beast of a team sticks to schedule, budget, and keeps a habit of clear communication. There’s more to get done, but there’s more hands to get the work done faster.
  • And you, as a client, can manage this team of genius magicians by providing clearly articulated business goals and sample content for your team to interpret so that you get something you actually want. These should be big picture as well as tactical, on-the-ground insights. A great approach is to have representatives from multiple levels of your organization (some managers, some workhorses) as part of the discovery process.  Cultural organizations tend to have someone in the organization with pretty great skills as a copywriter, which is another critical role that is needed to help create elegantly-stated and compelling marketing language.


This can feel like a big team if you’re coming from a world where you got away with hiring one person to take responsibility of every aspect of your website like a magical unicorn.

I find it helpful to think of how each of these roles balance each other out, like flavors when you’re building a perfect meal: design is sweet, front end is salt, back end is acidity, Project management is heat, and your business insights that you bring as a client are that lovely, meaty umami flavor. If you just focus on one of these flavors, you might be saving some up front cost, but the results will be inedible one way or another.  But put together, you’ll end up with a delicious, satisfying meal that actually helps you bring in patrons.

Here are some signs that you may not have all the skill sets and advocates you need in your web process:

  • If you hire a designer but not a back end developer, you’ll get a stunning site that’s sort of frozen in time, and difficult to update.
  • If you hire a front end developer but not a back end developer, you’ll get a great user interface and look and feel on your front end, but it’ll take way too many steps in your day to day efforts to keep your site updated.
  • If you hire a back end developer but not a designer, you’ll get a site that looks more like a wireframe than a website – a series of boxes stacked on top of each other.
  • If you hire everyone but a project manager, the exploration can go on forever past the point where it’s valuable to you, or you’ll run into delays and cost overruns late in the launch process as the front end developer and back end developer realize that they need to reconcile the code they’ve built.
  • If you, as a client, don’t articulate your business goals, you’ll inevitably be dissatisfied with the results.  The developers and designers will have to fill in the gaps of what they think you’ll want and you’ll end up with a site that doesn’t feel like you – the site might feel more like it belongs to an agency or a stereotype of a theatre or museum rather than the real thing.  This most commonly happens when the client requests a high-level business goal like “We want to create a better experience for our patrons” without digging into their specific strategy, values, and tactics for building that better experience.

So, yes:  anxiety is a natural response to a big, complex design and development process. But there’s lots of people out there who are ready to help you make something delicious with the ingredients you have.

Nick Keenan is the president of Gameflow Interactive.  He likes to cook, and he’s probably a little hungry right now.