Over the last year we have been quite a bit involved in building up web based solutions for schools. Many schools are nowadays definitely in need of revamping their websites and implementing new, modern, CMS ready, responsive, e-commerce ready web based solutions.
Schools generally use their websites as a marketing and communication tool with the parents, students and educators community however we have lately seen more activity integrating small online shops (i.e. to order uniforms) and inbound payments mechanisms to accept donations.
While in these types of applications technology is pretty straight forward, there are many project management and business aspects that differentiate a school’s web project from a SME’s web project. We always compare these projects with SME’s and start-ups projects that we are usually involved in.
Here are some key elements of differentiation between a school’s project and a SME project:
(1) Schools have large staff with input into specs
Your typical charter school for example has a marketing and communication team, an IT team with a Manager, a person in charge with content gathering and representatives from the Office of the Principal (which sometimes could be the Principal himself/herself). There is typically more staff involved than in a SME project and everybody has an input in requirements.
While the requirements are generally coordinated by the marketing and communication team, you want to make sure you keep all the stakeholders in the loop and you have to be ready to implement late and sudden changes as a result of an input from a team member.
(2) Schools maintain relatively large and diversified web assets
It depends on their size but schools rarely just have one website to maintain. There is usually a website for the school itself, a website for their umbrella organization, one or two websites for community related activities that are adjacent to the school, a website for their children theater etc. If the school has presence in multiple States, different educational and community related activities maybe also geographically organized in other websites.
Schools have much more web work to do than your average SME!
(3) Schools have certain dynamics in gathering the website’s content
One of the main asset of these school’s website is the content their educators and admin office personnel continuously publishes. From announcements, calendars, events to programs, admissions process, procedures and lunches there is a plethora of content that a school maintains on a weekly basis which you do not see in your typical (more confined) SME.
The process of gathering and publishing the content is many times detailed and lengthy. This process is owned by the internal content coordinators of schools (it is not owned by the web developers per se) but it has a direct impact on the length of the development cycle to the point where the site can go live.
As a web developer you have to be aware of this very specific content gathering process, you have to be patient when the process is slow but also ready to support sudden volumes of content added in a short period of time. The content is many times not just text but also consists of large amounts of pictures and sometimes videos so your solution has to accommodate for those as well.
(4) Schools are hands-on
As they realize that many times is a higher amount of variables involved and quite a bit of scope creep, schools can also help with hands-on managing some of their own content and themes. This is very useful because for you as a contractor it will be fairly time consuming to implement multiple late changes in content and themes.
(5) Events calendars are key
A very important tool for the schools is their events calendar! Their events calendar is very busy with multiple events scheduled every school day. There is usually also a requirement to be able to share the calendars of events between multiple sites of the same school district. The way you design this calendar is important as the office personnel relies on it to display events for kids on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones (all platforms have to work smoothly).
Make it a great day!
Miami Beach, FL