Improving Your Process: Site Planning Guides

Sometimes improving your process not only helps yourself, it can benefit your clients as well. Using your time more effectively allows a client to receive more time and effort from you focused on enhancing the project as opposed to spending time resolving mis-communication.

Defining objectives with site planning guides

There are many processes and techniques which a company can have in place to help in-house design and development. Not many involve clients directly, but site planning guides do. To put it simply, a site planning guide is a document designed to help your client think and make decisions about an upcoming project while being guided by your questions.

The idea is to have your client answer questions that will be vital in dictating the direction of initial design ideas that will coincide with any preconceived wishes the client has. Beyond having some control concerning a design direction, you’re also able to ask questions that will help you determine what aspects of development will be involved.

In my personal experience, site planning guides are distributed to clients during the initial discussions of the project in order to ensure that both the company and the client share the same notes and everything is clear. Having the details on the table allows the company to have an accurate quote for the project as well as a very comprehensive contract that both sides should be pleased with in the end.

What questions to ask

The questions presented in your site planning guide should be at least partially specific to your client, the project, and your established process. The questions can be worded in a way which help you to get the technical answers you’re seeking while allowing your client to answer in their own words. Some general topics that can be touched upon could be:

Company Information
Establishing official information on your client is essential for a successful project. Coming up with a primary contact for the company can be beneficial as well. Requesting a primary contact lets your client know that you’d like to have a single person to primarily communicate with regarding any project details, changes, or general communication.
Project Goals
Knowing what your client aims to get out of a project will help to ensure that the work you’re doing is on track. If the project starts changing direction, you’ll have reference materials to help keep things in line.
Competitive Analysis
Your clients will know more about their competition than you simply due to the nature of business. Getting an impression of competition from clients can give you insight into how exactly they would like to stand out from their crowd. It will also help to see what your client feels is positive in their industry.
Internal Analysis
Knowing what your client likes and dislikes about their current state will help you to know what to focus on with your new and improved design. If your client hates blue because “everybody uses blue”, you’ll know that your mocks will be using anything but. If the only thing your client wants is “whatever this Web 2.0 thing is”, then you know just what to do.
Feature Requests
If your client has any hidden requests up their sleeve that will radically skew both the quote and the budget, it’s best to find out about it as soon as possible before any final plans are laid.

Of course there are other questions that can (and should) be asked in a site planning guide. The thing to keep in mind is your objective: to improve your process.

Keep it under constant revision

Documents such as a site planning guide can always be left open for improvement. Over time, you’ll be able to compare and contrast questions that work well for you and questions that just take up space. A site planning guide should be under constant revision in order to keep it as targeted as possible. Keeping your site planning guide sharp will not only help your design process, it can be improved for your clients as well.