The RightStart System™ - A Web Development and Support Manifesto.

A streamlined and organized system for delivering quality web development and support services.

The SonicSpider Team has been in the development and Internet business from the very beginning (since the late 80's). We personally grew up with all the growing pains of the Internet (Web) and the technologies we all take for granted today. We can remember the time when there were only bulletin board services and painfully slow dialup modems. Over the years we have struggled with a singularly intractable problem:

How can we deliver quality, standards-based website and support services at an affordable price on small projects for small businesses?

Five Deadly Cost Killers

Starting in 2007, we have been working on the RightStart System™ to solve this problem. Using and testing many ideas and processes internally as we serve our customers, we have found that there are "Five Deadly Cost Killers" that cause delivering a quality, standards-based website and related support services to become more expensive on small projects:

  • Management and Accounting: Economy of Scale - We found that Estimating, Documentation, Billing, and Payment processing on small and micro projects became a significant percentage of the cost of the final project. We call them the Four Management Cost Centers. The cost of these management centers on a project does not shrink equally with the size of the project. There are certain minimums required even on the smallest of projects (we call micro projects) and this minimum, though a reasonable "percentage" of larger projects, soon overwhelms the costs on both small and micro projects. Even one hour tasks require communicating the needs, questions and testing, which is above and beyond the core task needed. There is a term for this phenomenon: Economy of Scale. Basically this means that larger projects enjoy a natural efficiency that does not exist in smaller projects. (Small is under $10k and micro projects are under $1k). Therefore these projects become mostly management costs. They cost more to manage than they earn. The web development company is generally losing money if they truly want to deliver consistent quality. Bottom line is that you cannot treat a small or micro project the same as a larger project from a management perspective. This may not be a problem for the part time "hobbyist" web developer who does not care that they are losing money (or working for sub-minimum wages), but for a professional web development and support services company, it is finanical ruin.
    • What has to change with each of these cost centers on small to micro projects?
      • Estimating - Basically there is no real estimating for these projects. Ball park numbers might be close but it is a large ball park and no promises can be made. To help solve this problem everything is documented online at every step of the way. This documentation is available to everyone that is part of that service: You, your staff, the WebTech, and any other support personnel that are helping contribute to the project.
      • Detailed Service and Work Descriptions - Every type of service offered has detailed service and work descriptions that outline the process and best practices that are appropriate for the service you purchased. In addtion we provide a wide range of support resouces so that you can understand and participate to whatever level you require. Add to that a development center that documents the process and sends notifications automatcally as it is unfolding.
      • Billing - This one is simple: everything becomes pre-paid. This completely eliminates this cost center. You pay in small units so that you can control the project. What you need, when you need it.
      • Payment processing - Since everything is pre-paid and is modularized, it can become an item in a shopping cart. This is a well defined solution that is completely automated. Again eliminating this cost factor.
  • The Burden of Choices - Choices are nice, but too many choices drives the cost up. Each choice involves more discussion, communications, and then the "Cycle of Revisions" kicks in. Finding ways to limit the choices in some areas, define the choices better in others can save time and therefore money.
    • Break out diagnosis, consulting, programming and support into separate independent steps. This helps define choices and allows each sucessive step to be better defined.
    • Provide education and resources so that you become a better consumer of web technology via ebooks, articles, and videos. Your choices become better defined because you are well informed from the start.
    • Where possible, defined packages that cover most common needs. Each package defines in detail what is delivered.
  • The Cycle of Revisions - Far too often, building a website or fixing a technical problem becomes an "evolution" of ideas, learning and the discovery of unknown choices for the customer. The business owner often "does not know what he/she does not know". Therefore, as they learn the choices and ideas, all of this becomes overwhelming, triggering frequent revisions as the business owner struggles with all the new information and possibilities. Paralysis and confusion can become the norm, the project drags on, and the cost climbs.
    • Same solutions as "Burden of Choices"
  • Vague Goals, and the Failure to Launch - What does it mean to be "done"? How do you measure finished? Many aspects of building a website and delivering support services are, by their very nature, fuzzy. This feeds the expansion of "choices and revisions", with an expansion of time that no one has the time to give. The project stalls and no one is happy.
    • Well defined packages that carefully document what is delivered and the conditions and limitations
    • Required diagnosis and consulting before any work begins when the task is vague or ill defined.
    • Every part of the service is documented.
  • Communication Breakdowns - Phone tag, emails lost in "spamland" and the time it takes to compose that "perfect" email such that there is less misunderstanding. Communication takes time and when it fails or becomes overwhelming, it bogs down the project and increases costs for everyone. Projects have failed simply under the burden of unmanagable communications.
    • Keep all communication in ONE location: The Dev Center.

The goal of the RightStart System™ is to minimize and control costs through a streamlined and organized system, by re-inventing ways to manage and control the five "Cost Killers". This means that we have very specific procedures and processes for everything. We enforce those processes through the Sonic Development Center (Dev Center). It also means that the customer has specific responsibilities. It is a "contract" of a sort, between the RightStart™ team and the customer to get the project done in the most cost effective way possible. This "contract" is the core of the system.

The RightStart™ Goals

The RightStart System™ is built around goals that are tightly aligned with the Web Standards and current best practices along with those systems and tools that support those standards. Therefore, the foundational goal of the RightStart™ system is Web Standards and Best Practices. Quality and consistency come from that foundation and lasting value comes from that foundation. This foundation is both the standards themselves and the way those standards are applied. The key goals, therefore are:

  • Educate our customers; build sustainable expectations and results
  • Strictly supporting W3C standards and best practices. and supporting standards based construction
  • Flash, Javascript and other interactive content degrade gracefully and do not disable or make the website unusable.
  • Use technolgies that have lasting value, not because they are new or "cool".
  • Built to be maintained - Structured and built to be maintained by anyone with basic skills.
  • For Dynamic sites (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal) - Strictly adhere to the framework developed for that CMS and use plugins and templates that also support those frameworks.
  • We are "Web Strategiests" - SEO is a part of that stragegy and is considered in every aspect of your project if that is appropriate. Foundational SEO components are built into every site as part of default procedures or the tools that are used are by definition "SEO friendly".
  • No secret formulas and carefully documented expectations - Every aspect of our services is well documented and transparent. From the design, to the coding through to all support services. The Internet is constantly changing and is a very fluid platform; this is clear at all times. We provide a stable and scalable result through standards compliance and disciplined processes.

RightStart™ Development Guidelines

Goals are a great start, but we still need a framework to apply those goals. The next step it to have fundimental guidelines that every process and task must address. To accerate and simplify the traditional web development and support processes: the basic steps need to be streamlined and how those steps are managed have to be simplified. Following are some basic guidelines we have developed.

  • Alway Start Small - We all have big dreams. Unfortunately our pocketbooks and time availability rarely match those dreams. The key is "baby steps". Because you can't invest in extensive "up front" marketing, business, and customer requirements you need to "experiment" a bit. So starting small allows you to evolve while minimizing dead-ends and avoiding the "field of dreams" syndrome.
  • Focus on the Foundation - If you start small and want to grow, the foundation has to support that growth. Luckily the Internet industry got together in the late 90's and developed what is now called Web Standards. These standards are broken down into specific areas, for example: Web Design Standards and Web Architecture Standards. These standards, if followed, provide a foundation for any website to ensure future compatiblity with all browsers and technologies. Well supported tools that also support those standards are a key requirement.
  • Clearly Defined Choices - It is easy to become overwelmed. By starting small and keeping the choices within what can be done in a reasonable timeframe, the project will get done quicker and will be easier to manage.
  • Well Defined Tasks - For each type of website, from a classic HTML/CSS website to a content management website, all of the preparation steps are outlined as steps in a worksheet format.
  • Education and Resources - There are a lot of tasks in building and maintaining a website that you, the business owner/manager, must either personally do, or must directly manage. You need information on how this fits or works on the web. From content to marketing, the web has changed how many traditional business tasks are accomplished.
  • Realistic Expectations - One of the most frustrating trends in the web industry is the growth of inflated promises and hype. The RightStart staff works tirelessly in reviewing all web technologies and giving them a critical evaluation. Articles and ebooks are developed to give you a balanced and realistic outlook on how these technologies can by used and under what conditions. From that information you can develop reasonable expectations and carefully invest your resources

Our Web Development System

SonicSpider (parent of RightStart Websites and SonicWebTech) has been delivering on these goals for years and will continue to do so at every project level, regardless of the size of the project. The new "System" has evolved into what we call the Sonic Development and Resource Center (Dev Center). The Dev Center is focused on providing the structure for developing a disciplined and highly organized approach that drills down to the core of delivering on these goals in a way that minimizes the afore to mentioned "Five Deadly Cost Killers" for smaller projects. That system addresses these "Cost Killers" in these ways:

  • Right sizing the management and accounting - All projects are prepaid or on a strict automatic payment plan and the management is built into the Sonic Development and Resource Center.
    • Detailed work descriptions (the estimate) that define the expectations.
    • Detail guidelines and terms of service
    • Easy online payment system.
    • Flexible automated payment terms available.
  • Controlling the "burden of choices" - Placing reasonable limits that are appropriate to the project size and scope.
    • Limiting designs to those that support the RightStart™ goals
    • Pre-Specified and tested tools: Designs, Themes, Plugins, etc.
    • Pre-defined allowances for each component of the service.
  • The Cycle of Revisions are isolated and limited - Online worksheets customized for every type of task. This helps the customer focus and get the needed information and feedback. The worksheet format is used because it is familar to all of us. In the worksheet there may be the following sections:
    • Where appropriate, the worksheet might have detailed check lists for needed information
    • Requests for information are listed, date stamped and tracked
    • Discussion system for reviewing and clarifying issues and requirments
    • Work and Phone logs and general notes
    • Alerts and reminders
  • Launching is a goal - All tasks performed are clearly listed and documented. The customer can participate as much as needed and the system sends out notifications of every action taken. To support the success of your project we:
    • Provide clear accounting of the project progress.
    • All information is automatically logged into the system for later review.
    • Tasks performed are broken down into understandable units.
    • Support information and Guides for all worksheet types.
    • Fully documented package details for every service.
  • The system becomes the communication tool - No long emails, no spamland. Every question has the answer in the system before it is asked or there is a clear and managable system for answering each question. This is a part of the system that we will monitor constantly and build more tools as needed. If a customer asks a question that has not been answered, it is uploaded to the Dev Center system as a global solution for all to see.
    • Help Desk ticket system to keep track of every question, so it never gets lost.
    • Documentation and resources as part of the Dev Center.
    • Resources for education and self-help. RightStart is about helping the customer do as much as possible and then filling in the blanks as needed, all the while directing and educating as to the "commonly acceptable practices and procedures" as part of the W3C web standards. These areas might include:
      • Webinars and MeetUp groups
      • eBooks
      • Videos and Guides
      • Free articles and opportunities for learning.

No "system" is perfect and we will always be tinkering with every aspect of the the RightStart™ System as we review how each customer is using the system and respond quickly to customer needs. It has taken years to build, and it will never be finished.

 

 

 

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