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The Apex Experience

February 24, 2015

Often we are asked by a potential client, “What makes you different to any other web company”. Our point of difference is nestled in the approach that we take. We understand that a business website is an investment and that it needs to deliver a measurable return on that investment so we partner with our clients from design to launch and beyond. With thorough research, effective web design, proven digital marketing techniques and progressive development standards, we build websites that are truly smarter online. Here in a nutshell is what stands us apart:

 

  • Team - Some of the best minds in the industry are right here at Apex - with close to 100 years of experienced innovation between us - we know our stuff!
  • Digital Marketing - is at our core and it drives every website build. Being one of the very first Search Engine Marketing companies in NZ (17 years and counting) we know we have what it takes to get results.
  • Content Management System – our clients automatically receive the new features and functionality we develop in our own purpose built and fully supported CMS Orbit - no need to pay for software upgrades - ever!
  • Quality - we are super proud of the work that we do and make sure that every website is subjected to a robust 50 point quality control process prior to go live - not a lot of companies can attest to that.
  • Custom Web Development - we offer a whole lot more than just a pretty website. We are the go to company in our region for all that 'complex' programming that leaves others scratching their heads!
  • Total Support - from the start to the end our super-quick levels of ongoing support will leave you feeling the love. We never design, develop and walk away - we're here when you need us. 

 

Aside from the above points our other very notable difference is our level of collaboration, both as a team (across all disciplines – design, development and digital marketing) and with our clients. We know you’re probably thinking ‘that’s what they all say’, but our collaboration starts from the ground up – the minute we engage with you our whole team is involved so that you get the best advice from the best in the business. Yes, we can build you a site, take your money and say thank you very much and send you on your way. But, that’s not how we operate. With strong values and ethics guiding our every action, we want to learn about you, your business, and your pain points and provide an online solution that maximises efficiencies, attracts the right people to your door, ensures your business is seen in a positive light, and ultimately that your website gives you the results you want.

It’s been just over three months in my role at Apex and with the 90 day review just taking place, it provided the perfect vehicle for me to reflect in my current role. It is fair to say that what happens in these four walls can be a little awe inspiring at times. But what also stemmed from this reflection is that the Apex process is one that is robust, clear and consistently evolving as we learn from client to client to ensure the best experience possible.

 

The Apex Project Experience

When you first engage with Apex, we don’t expect you to have all the answers.

 

The Coffee

We simply sit down for a chat and discuss your business, your objectives and how your website will help support your ongoing goals. As the discussion progresses, we’ll touch on the type of functionality you think you want or need, ask you to identify websites you may have seen that you have liked – this might be functionally, aesthetically or something that has made you stop and think.

 

Requirements Analysis Meeting & Proposal

From here, we take the information you have provided back to the team who thrash out potential thoughts, ideas and additional questions that need answering. We then meet with you again and often bring the team in to meet you too - we call this a Requirements Analysis or RA Meeting. Clarification is sought on any outstanding points and we formally put everything to paper. The resulting proposal will highlight our approach, the scope of the project and the cost associated with completing the work.

This is another of the key steps in the process of developing a website that sets Apex apart.  Prior to presenting a website proposal we invest a significant amount of obligation free time upfront; making sure our whole team gains an in-depth understanding of the business drivers and how these relate to the goals of the website. We get a lot of calls from people asking ‘How much will a website cost me?’ which we counter with ‘First we need to get to know your business so that we can determine how much your website can earn for you’. For us, it’s important to make sure that we have a complete picture – we’re not just building a website, we’re building a key business tool and we want to make sure we get it right from the start so that there are no nasty surprises during the process. It’s the best way we know to build trust and to really show our prospective clients how much we value them and to showcase what our team is capable of.

 

Scope

At this point it is extremely important that both parties have a consistent understanding of what is in scope (i.e. what will be developed as part of the project) and what isn’t (what is not going to be present in the final product). By clarifying and ensuring there is an understanding of scope, there is less tension in the later parts of development, when a client expectation isn’t met.

It is extremely important for us to limit any ambiguity, and be exact in terms of what is and isn’t provided. We would hope that our scope wouldn’t be limited to “Apex Digital will build you a RWD website”! Quite rightly we would build you this, but we would also consider your website goals and take into account domain names, hosting, email, design, custom development, digital marketing requirements - and the list goes on…

Detailing the scope of the project provides accountability of the deliverables that Apex Digital will provide and also clarity around additional works that will need to be priced out if they are considered vital to the overall project.

If additional requirements are not detailed in the scope of the project and is something that needs to be added at a later date, it is highly likely that this will need to be scoped out and an additional fee charged.

Kick-Off Meeting

Once you have accepted our proposal, we’ll organise a kick-off meeting. Here you will meet your dedicated project manager along with the designer, developer and digital marketer assigned to your project. Using the information provided from the RA meeting as a starting point, this as an opportunity for the team to meet with you (if they haven’t already) and get a feel for your vision and business. We’ll confirm a number of details we already have, take a ‘creative brief’ from you and discuss the history of your current site and its impact on the business’ day to day operations.

 

Website Plan

On completion of the kick-off meeting, your project manager will put together a Website Plan. There are four components to this plan:

  1. A section that provides a description and summary of points covered in the RA and kick-off meetings. This to ensure that we have got the correct understanding of the business, its objectives, and the deliverables and expectations around the website.
  2. A section that highlights the milestones of the project. This will provide the dates that we expect to deliver certain tasks within each milestone to you for review, sign-off and approval.
  3. The third section is the sitemap. If your site is new; or is going to function in a different way than it currently does; or the Apex team recommends a new structure to the site based on usability and digital marketing gains, your Website Plan will include a high-level sitemap.
  4. The final section is the approval page. This confirms that everything is accurate and the timeframes and sitemap are acceptable.

 

Wireframes

The wireframe process we liken to that of the architect. Our designer will go away with all of your ‘specifications’ and draw up the floor plan of your website. We’ll determine where everything on the site will sit – essentially the blueprints for your new website.

 

 

You’ll have every opportunity to review the wireframes and feedback on them. Once you’re satisfied that everything has been encapsulated, we sign-off the wireframes and the designer will move on to the next phase – the Design.

 

Design

If we liken the wireframe process to an architect, then the design process is the exterior/interior designer. They take the wireframes and add the personality, colour and vision for the site

Up until this point, many of our clients find it difficult to visualise the end product – and fair enough as many of us are visual human beings. The design process is the point where many concerns or unknowns are allayed. You’ll get an impression of the look and feel of the site and these images will bring your ideas (and ours) to life.

Importance of accepting the wireframes and design concepts

This is when you agree that the layout and design of your site is exactly how you want it to look when it is live.

Your site will be built to these wireframe and design specifications – the proportions of the imagery, the font colours, size, heading blocks, text blocks, headers, footers – the list goes on. Take the time to revise each file provided and ensure you are satisfied with each.

As the site is built, changes become increasingly difficult to apply and can soon exponentially impact upon the rest of the site, the budget and the timeframe for delivery. It is your project manager’s key responsibility to ensure that the website is developed on budget, on time and is of high quality. If changes impact on this, it is likely a discussion will be held, the impact of the changes highlighted and the cost associated with making the changes outside of the approved design communicated.

Each change is judged on a case by case basis, but keep in mind that changes, especially significant changes will come at an additional cost, and not just in monetary terms but also potentially delivery times.

On acceptance of the design concepts, the designer hands over to the development team who move into the Development phase.

 

Development & Quality Control

It may feel that your website has just gone into a black hole during the development and quality control process. The design concepts will be transformed into a fully functioning website by our talented developers and they will work closely with the rest of your project team to actualize the final product.

It is also during this phase that any custom programming is carried out. This could be anything from a custom eCommerce solution to database development or systems integrations with your everyday business tools such as Accounting and/or Inventory management systems.

Your project manager will keep you up to date with progress reports as the developers ‘go to ground’.

Your website will be developed on our dedicated staging site – this will allow you to see the site operating without it actually being made available to the outside world.

 

Approval and Training

As the project gets closer to completion, your project manager will arrange a date for the website to be handed over for your approval. At this point you’ll be given a period of time to work through the functionality of the site and ensure that it functions as it should. It is also your sanity check to ensure that all elements of the scope of the project have been provided.

At the same time the site is handed over, the project manager will organise training with you or your team in regards to Orbit CMS – our search engine focused content management system. This will allow you to maintain your own website’s content moving forward – giving you the flexibility to make updates as and when you like, 24/7.

 

Digital Marketing

If we are carrying out a Digital Marketing campaign for you, you’ll hear from us at various stages of the development lifecycle – our marketing team will be present in the RA and Kick-Off meetings and will be the go-to team for the development of the website architecture, wireframes and design concepts. They’ll have a very close relationship with the developers through the development phase ensuring that all requirements are met. As mentioned, everything we do has Digital Marketing at its core and the collaboration between our teams as they consider the total user experience, including best practice usability and conversion optimisation, and search engine optimisation, is unrivalled.

 

Launch

As stated, when you’re happy with the site and its content and have signed off on its approval, we’ll go into preparation mode for the launch. We generally require 48 hours in advance to get all our ducks in a row before we actually make the site live.

Our policy is to never launch a website on a Friday, as this allows us the ability to check and recheck that the site is operating as it should, during the normal working week, once it is launched.

We have a strong development process in place and this is to ensure that expectations are clear, communication is present throughout the project, and that the project is delivered on time, on budget and exceeds you expectations – you deserve nothing better.

The final component that sets us apart from some competitors is the assignment of a dedicated project manager.

 

The Project Manager

 

The project manager is your link to Apex Digital – they will be your advocate, your confidant, your teacher, but most of all the person that you can talk to about any concerns, issues or observations. They will be the one you rely on, and the one that will make promises and deliver on these. What they won’t do is commit to something that they are not 100% confident with or are not sure can be delivered within a specific timeframe or cost.

The project manager is responsible for aligning the resources, providing the assets and ensuring that everything is in the right place at the right time to meet paradigm between the pillars of development – time(frame), quality and cost. The buck stops with them if it runs over budget, over time or is of an unacceptable quality standard.

While they are tasked with ensuring the deliverables of the project are met from your perspective, they are also accountable to Apex. There will be times where you may feel push back – this could be a variety of reasons, i.e. requests out of scope, professional recommendations, or changes that will have an impact upon the budget, time or quality. They have your interests at heart but also that of the business.

Something to consider

When you ask for that change that is out of scope or a potential grey area, you can count on the Project Manager having a thought pattern similar to this::

  • What is the change?

  • Is it in the scope of the project?

  • How long will it take to implement (and therefore cost)?

  • If the client doesn’t want to pay for it – is the change really adding value?

Apex can make any change that you believe is necessary to the site, but it will potentially have time or monetary implications on the final product – this is something to bear in mind when considering any potential change; particularly if it is out of scope.

From here, they will then determine if it is something that can be included within the scope and timeframes at the time, or whether there is an impact to the delivery time or cost which needs to be communicated with you.

 

Summing up…

The Apex Digital experience is designed to be an enjoyable process. Each step is important to ensure that a clear understanding of the outcome is present with both parties and that everyone is satisfied at the different milestones of the project.

You can expect expert advice, assistance, and recommendations throughout your time with Apex Digital. We’ve made many lifelong clients; we’re not about building a site and leaving you to it. We’ll continue to provide support to you into the foreseeable future, we’re only an email or phone call away. We’ll maintain regular contact and ensure that you are satisfied with your site long after it is launched to the world.

 

Image Credit:

Blueprint, by Will Scullin, CC BY 2.0

 

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Filed under Apex News \ Projects & Process

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