How Long Should a Website Take to Build?

I met with a client a couple of weeks ago who admitted that his knowledge of the internet was more or less zero, yet he managed to make me rethink the way we handle a lot of our website projects.

Now this guy is a Baby Boomer and has spent most of his life dealing with patients in his health practice and very, very little on the computer. He asked me to come in for a meeting and after a while I agreed that we’d build a website for his company.

We started to discuss the specifics of the agreement and had no problems fixing on a price and a design. He asked me how long it would take to complete the project.

"About a month", I answered.

His simple answer was "Why?". He went on, "If I can see a patient whose case is new to me, treat them and get them out of the door inside of an hour, why do webdesigners need a month to get their job done?"

Now, granted, he didn’t have the best view of webdesigners (the last one he’d contracted with had promised delivery in two months and hadn’t provided it within four months, which is why he came to us), but he had a point. Back when I started building websites, it really did take a month or more to build the design, copy the HTML template over to each new page and then to go back and forth with the client until the design was fixed. After all, once the website was complete, it would be a pain in the rear to make any changes. But now with Joomla, should I really be using a month as the default timeframe for a relatively straightforward site?

Simply – no. Theres no reason why Alledia can’t turn around a Joomla website inside of two weeks. And thats what we agreed on with the guy. We worked a little overtime and put off some in-house projects for a week or two, but we got the site done in ten days and found a new way of working.

We’ve done two more projects in the same way since and will probably keep doing it. Turning around projects in two weeks rather than one or two months means that:

  1. The client is more focused. Documents needed for the site materialise rapidly when the deadline is only a day or two away.
  2. We’re more focused. Like it or not, a deadline atmosphere is productive.
  3. We’re more profitable. We turn over more projects
  4. Our prices are cheaper. With a loose or far-away deadline, past clients often wanted to "try things out" and then put them back the way they were, or spend hours on a small issue, increasing the cost of the site. That can still happen, but now clients often prefer to launch and then wait for feedback from the clients and business partners who offer more practical ways to improve the site.

Has the quality of our sites suffered by working faster? I don’t believe so. After only three sites its not easy to tell, but we’ve spent the same number of hours on 2-week sites as we did on 2-month sites and we went through the same number of mock-up and revision phases. Simply, I’m now less inclined to believe that the umming and aaahing that goes on during the webdesign process helps more than does increasing a company’s speed-to-market.

Obviously there will still be plenty of large and complex projects that will need many weeks, and sometimes our schedule may not allow for such rapid completion, but in general projects that come to us requiring a template and off-the-shelf Joomla components will be complete within fourteen days, if thats what the client wants.

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