After years of intensive work in the IT industry, I’ve put together a practical guide to project development that my company uses for 99 percent of our projects. So far we’ve done amazingly well with this approach. Once you know it, it feels so simple and natural that you don’t even know you know it. In the interest of helping other folks with their development projects — and to encourage you to offer your tips and suggestions in the comments — I offer our process.
Step One: Consultations
This is where you start brainstorming about the core idea, as well as any potential solutions and technologies. Capture all of the the ideas, solutions, and any relevant prices etc. You can only proceed with the next step when you feel ready to talk about specific functionality, prices and timelines.
Step Two: Planning
Make a list of all the features and functions you can imagine for this project. Then start estimating how much money and time it requires for each. Now go through your list and prioritize the functions to determine which need to be launched right away, and which are less important and can wait for a future update. Now you can begin to see how much time and money you need to build architecture, interface, design and do the bug-fixing and configuration. Move to the next step once you’ve established the development timeline and resolved that with the available budget.
Step Three: Wireframe
Take a blank piece of blank paper and sketch the basic structure of a website or application, and the relationships between its pages or sections. Draw your menus and the main elements. Go into as much detail as you consider important, but know that you don’t have to plan through each and every element or establish every detail about how things will work and look.
Step Four: Interface
Using your wireframe as a guide, draw everything that has to appear in the final product, including everything that needs to be there. Figure out all the links, all the menus and interface methods, such as pop-up, drop-down, slider etc. You can still do this on a blank piece of paper, but I suggest to using software such as yED, which is a free download. Take your time with this stage. When you have it perfect, set it aside for at least one day and then examine it with fresh eyes. Try to find at least two places where you can save a click, make a more intuitive menu, or make something else better. Then print it out and you’re ready to go with the next step.
Step Five: Design
If you haven’t already begun working with him/her, begin meeting with your designer(s). Present wireframe sketches and the interface. Explain the tricky spots, explain why things are there as they are, and how your ideas have evolved. Now it’s time to let them get to work.
Step Six: Programming
You should provide three things to your development team: the list of functionality, the interface outline, and the design. Now they work to make it all real.
Obviously, a lot more happens in the development and testing stage, and in future posts I’ll share more advice and lessons about that and more. For now, share your thoughts and process int the comments.