The Bivings Group has been creating web programs for clients for over thirteen years.  I’ve been around and involved for a lot of those years.  Pretty much everything – from the tools you use to the way you write code to the Internet knowledge of our clients – has changed for the better since 1996.

One aspect of web development that hasn’t evolved as much as it should is the fundamental way most organizations view the site development process.  I think most groups still view site development the way they view developing a brochure, meaning that it is something with a beginning, middle and an end.  It is something that can be finished. Organizations either see themselves as in a redesign/development phase, where you are redoing everything, or as in a bare bones maintenance phase where the focus is on simply posting content.  There really is no in between.

The result is sites with designs and features that are stuck in time and don’t evolve.  The content may get updated, but the site takes on a dated feel as design styles change and new tools become ubiquitous.

In this day and age, the problem really is one of mind set.  The tools development firms like ours utilize, from Drupal to WordPress to Ning, make it easy for organizations to make small, iterative improvements over time.  Tasks that might have taken substantial time and money five years ago, like changing site colors or adding a new section, can now be done more efficiently due to the flexibility of the tools and the move towards CSS-based design.  So you don’t really have to think of your website in terms of development/maintenance phases.  Iterative development is sort of the sweet spot between the two.

There are a lot of benefits to taking a more iterative approach:

  1. It allows you to quickly incorporate feedback from your site visitors.  Big site redesigns are often done in a vacuum.  Sure you might run a focus group or share your site with a group of beta users, but the redesign process primarily happens in private.  If you think of site development as an iterative process, it enables you to more quickly respond to user feedback than a traditional development/maintenance structure allows for.
  2. The sweat equity required from your staff is lower than in a big redesign.  Redesigns require a lot of work and are often painful.  Taking an iterative approach allows you to break projects into smaller, more manageable pieces.  Instead of rewriting all your copy at once, why not focus on improving one section at a time and then moving on to the next.  Improvements are more likely to happen if the effort required is made manageable.
  3. It allows your website to evolve along with the times. The Internet moves fast, with features and trends changing on a month-to-month basis.  If you want to keep up and constantly maximize the value you get out of your Internet program, it is important to reevaluate what you are doing constantly.  Thinking about your site in terms of iterations makes it possible for you to actually keep up.

Large web properties pretty much exclusively make iterative improvements due to the complexity of a full redesign and the need to incorporate user feedback.  As an example, go to the Wayback Machine and see how Yahoo! has evolved month by month over the years.  Below are some screen shots showing some key moments in the evolution.





An iterative approach can save pain by giving providing a sustainable methodology with which to attack site improvements.   Instead of working on your website intensely every three or four years, try making a manageable improvement once a month.  I think you’ll find you have a better website.

Note: For more on this check out the Wikipedia page on the Waterfall software development method, which is probably closest to the development/ maintenance pattern I describe, and the Iterative development page, which is what I’m advocating people think about.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.