4 Reasons Why an Education Website Redesign Needs Agile
There are a lot of reasons why an agile process is a good choice for a website build or a website redesign project. Compared with “waterfall” development methods, it’s generally accepted that approaching a digital project with an agile mindset increases quality, user satisfaction, and ROI.
That being said, the unique aspects of the education sector have serious implications for how digital products (such as websites and mobile apps) are designed, developed, tested, and used.
By examining the key tenets of agile, however, it’s clear that this development methodology isn’t a good fit for education projects despite its differences from other industries, but rather because of what makes the sector unique.
Here are four ways agile methodologies can address major challenges facing marketing and technical teams within educational institutions:
1. “Product Owners” consolidate input from multiple stakeholders.
Due to the increasingly complex role educational institutions are playing in society, their websites have to address information important to the administration, the students, the parents, the alumni, the faculty, numerous departments, the local community, academia at large, and the media.
As each of these stakeholders may have different goals (driving applications, encouraging donations, increasing event attendance, and promoting research, to name a few), decision making is particularly challenging, especially when homepage space is as limited as the modern consumers’ attention span.
The agile concept of the “Product Owner” identifies a project’s key stakeholder; someone who has a vision of the final product and is responsible for conveying that vision to the production teams. While they will solicit buy-in from as many individuals involved in the project as possible, they are ultimately entrusted with the ability to prioritize each sprint’s deliverables based on an understanding of the market, the technologies involved, and their audience.
The presence of a Product Owner forces stakeholders with disparate needs to weigh their priorities against one another and make decisions based on a unified vision of success, thus avoiding the dreaded “design by committee” and its associated delays and budget burn.
2. Sprint planning ensures projects finish on time (and on budget).
Agile development projects are divided into sprints, an iterative process that organizes the build into incremental releases. Each sprint is broken down into deliverables that must be reviewed at the end of the sprint period, thus ensuring a level of visibility and transparency into the process that other project roadmaps cannot deliver.
Furthermore, “standups,” or quick, daily meetings with the production team, promote a level of accountability that ensures the project is moving forward as planned. In a standup meeting, team members quickly share what they worked on yesterday, what they’re working on today, and what blockers are preventing them from achieving the goals laid out in the sprint plan.
This radical transparency removes much of the risk involved in large-scale digital projects, as the highest priority items are finished first, each team member is accountable to their part of the sprint, and everyone understands how their work contributes to the overall product vision.
3. Short feedback loops ensure the finished product meets user needs.
At the end of each sprint, it is common practice for a team to reflect on what went well and what can be improved in the next sprint. This repetitive, iterative approach helps improve the team’s velocity, or their productivity, over time.
In addition to a team retrospective, the end of a sprint typically involves the solicitation of feedback on the product so far. Education websites have long been criticized for making critical information difficult to access, but by analyzing and responding to feedback collected through user testing, stakeholder interviews, and meetings with the Product Owner, the content, design, and functionality of a website will be significantly more likely to meet the expectations and needs of its audience.
Testing early and often also manages the burden on Quality Assurance team members and eliminates the risk of having to start from scratch if a final product is rejected by its target audience.
4. Incremental development reduces risk in budget-conscious environments.
While institutions are dedicating more resources to branding and marketing initiatives than ever before, budget constraints are an inescapable part of the education marketer’s reality. In some instances, funds dedicated to new web projects are being diverted from other short-term investments, so education leaders will face pressure from administration, donors, and board members to demonstrate ROI as soon as possible.
Tackling a project with agile means always having a working product, so downtime is minimized. As author Eric Ries describes, using agile allows a team to “collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
Agile Project Managers organize sprints into steps that will provide incremental value (in priority order), so teams can course correct easily based on stakeholder information and optimize their product’s performance as soon as possible.
Long delivery cycles are particularly problematic in the education sector, where stakeholder expectations are evolving and competition is high. Approaching your next website project with an agile mindset can help your institution get the most value possible out of your most important touchpoint.
Is your organization ready to start a project using agile or interested in learning more about our process? Let us know and we'll set up a time to discuss.