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Icon or Spacer Macromedia Web Site Production Management Techniques Phase 1: Discover
Analyzing Your Industry

The discovery process starts with gaining an overall understanding of the company, client, and industry. If you are an internal development team, you've probably already developed a firm understanding of your company's competitive landscape. For external development teams, it's often tempting to skip over any initial investigation and concentrate instead on developing the site's look and feel, or on creating an application to fit a given specification. Don't make this mistake. The more time you can take to learn about the site's industry, the better partner you'll be for the company and client, whether you are an internal or external development team.

As with any type of research or testing, hiring experts in marketing or research allow for more comprehensive reporting and analysis along with their recommendations. When there is neither the budget nor the time to hire experts for analysis, we suggest conducting an informal features analysis.


Using Quantitative and Qualitative Information
The discovery process can be based on quantitative data from research, demographics, and statistics gathered by an experienced marketing/research team. Qualitative research can also be the basis of quantitative research. Our approach suggests gathering qualitative information based on observation and summaries of the company's overall goals, background, and user preferences. The more familiar the team is with the project, audience, and goals, the more effective they'll be as problem-solvers during the development process.

Gathering Information

The discovery process starts with information gathering. Initial data is gathered quickly using the client survey. This survey will solicit client information regarding overall goals, audience, technology, and more. In some situations the client survey is your only means of gathering initial data. Once you have secured the project, start gathering marketing materials, background research, and any other information the client may have about the industry and the competition. Make sure you address each aspect of the company. As time allows, set up meetings with the client decision-making team. For internal development teams, this might be the marketing department. The check-off list covers the following areas:

1. Company/Client
2. Industry
3. Strategy/Marketing/Branding
4. Current Site
5. Competition
6. Audience
7. Products/Services
8. Other

While gathering existing client data, keep in mind that some of the information may be outdated or not specific enough for the web. Your client will likely throw together a lot of information and let you sort it out.


Conducting an Informal Features Analysis
By looking at the industry as a whole, you can begin to identify the key attributes found on the type of site you're building. By comparing content, features, graphics, and overall user experience, you can quickly determine what works—and what doesn't work—with your competitive set. This analysis can take from a week to a month to complete. If you can charge for this work, do so. Many firms conduct this exact type of analysis and charge a healthy fee. Build the cost of this analysis into the discovery phase if you can.

An informal features analysis normally follows these four steps: 1) define the process, 2) create a features list, 3) conduct analysis and usability testing, and 4) create a report.


Step 1: Define the Process
Build a Plan for Analysis   Outline basic goals, process, and deliverables. Establish team, time frame, methodology, allocated hours, and deliverables.
Define the Competitive Set   Identify a range of companies that fall into the competitive set using client-provided information, search engines, and research.
Categorize Your Competitive Set   Break the defined competitive set into categories within the overall industry. Note that each site should fall into only one category.
Step 2: Create a Features List
Create a Features List   Create a list of features after initial evaluation that apply to most or all sites within the competitive set. Include relevant offline features. Break these features down into individual categories.
Step 3: Conduct Analysis and Testing
Perform Individual
  Conduct individual studies of each site performed by analysis team members, who have collected answers to basic questions about overall user experience, perceived company objectives, and types of services provided. They should also add to the feature list as they go deeper into each site.
Conduct Informal Usability Testing   Determine key tasks that can be conducted on most or all sites. Perform informal usability testing and record observations and effectiveness from site to site.
Step 4: Create a Final Report
Create a Features Grid   Create a comprehensive grid using the features list that shows all sites, as well as the categories and listing features that exist within each one.
Make Overall Evaluations   Create the final report (in short, executive-summary format). Outline the main findings and indicate how they apply to the company's direction and business goals. Follow with screenshots, evaluations, and summaries about each site in the competitive set. Include a features grid that lists main features within each site. Overall evaluations rank each site for overall use, usability, and likeability.

Resources and time determine the efforts allocated to each of these stages. In terms of the information-gathering process, it's possible for an individual to research several competitive sites (both online and off) in-depth and gather comprehensive data. However, when comparing features, content, and usability, sometimes it's more effective (and more objective) to use a team perspective. Optimally, researchers, whether solo or as a team, should fully interact with competitor sites—by placing orders, conducting research, completing registration, and completing other key tasks—to gather firsthand comparative usability information.



Analyzing Your Industry
Understanding Your Audience
Goals and Objectives
Creating a Project Plan
Establishing Requirements
Site View
Screen View
User View
Design and Prototype
 Build and Test
Evaluate and Maintain
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