How to measure the success of a web development project

5 min read
Lisa Stambaugh

It can take months to know if a website achieved its stated objectives, so I give new clients several homework assignments, including the identification of measurable results for their website. Typically those objectives include increasing sales of products or services, increasing levels of donations, volunteers, registrations, sponsorship, and so on.

Even with a brilliantly designed website, success ultimately depends on the client providing the right materials and actively engaging in marketing their services. These are not activities I can control.

Apart from the work itself, I measure my success through criteria that focus on my process and client relationships. And these are factors I can control.

No. 1: Proposal acceptance rate of 90 percent

You’ve probably heard that if half of your proposals result in a project, that’s a decent yield.

I’m not buying it. If I manage the process correctly, almost every proposal is accepted, because I only write proposals when I’m pretty sure I’ll get the job.

My advice is always to find the right web designer for you. That does not mean the one who is closest. Or cheapest. Or immediately available. Or your friend who wants to learn web design.

It means finding the right one in terms of cost, schedule, deliverables, personality, and process. My first task with potential clients is determining whether I am the right web designer for them. If not, I won’t bother writing a proposal. I may recommend someone else, or provide advice on finding the right solution. But I won’t waste time on a proposal for a project that isn’t the perfect fit.

No. 2: Projects come in just under the estimated time

My proposals include specification of project scope and technical details, but what every client really wants is a cost estimate. I estimate a realistic range of hours and won’t low-ball just to get work (and this prevents underbidding to achieve Measure #1). I present invoices detailing work done and time invested. If the project comes in under the estimated total, I only bill for the actual time worked.

A scope change that impacts the estimate is discussed and re-negotiated. If the project goes over because I underestimated, and it’s not the client’s doing, I only bill to the proposal maximum. It’s in my best interest not to underbid if I want to make my targeted hourly rate, because I won’t get paid for the extra hours.

My perfect project is one that comes in with a final worked-hour total just shy of my estimate. That is, I’ve accurately estimated how long it should take; I’ve included time for unexpected changes (including changes of the client’s mind); and I’ve still come in just a bit lower than the proposal.

When the project plays out this way, it’s successful because I’m satisfied that my time is fairly compensated and my client is pleasantly surprised that it came in under budget.

No. 3: Breadth and depth of client engagement

I’d rather have long-term work with existing clients than pursue new work for new clients. While I’m happy to take on new clients, work for existing clients is more efficient — especially if we work well together as business partners.

For me, a successful engagement is one where the client sticks around for a long time. Even better, the client has several websites. So expanding the scope of a good client’s account with multiple projects is definitely a measure of my success.

Recently I heard from a long-time (and well-liked) client who moved to another solution:

Dear Lisa,

Will you please take me back? Last year I moved to have [company] run my website. It has been a disaster and I am not happy with them. I would like to come back, if you will take me. I did not appreciate you enough.

He had been with me for 11 years, and made the move to the larger company at the encouragement of a trusted supplier. They were slow to implement the new site, then even slower to respond to change requests. Customer service was nonexistent.

I hated to lose him, but sometimes that happens. Nothing to do but accept it and move on. Did I take him back? Of course. Do I consider this “success?” Absolutely!

No. 4: The Layoff List can be counted on one hand

My “Layoff List” is the short list of clients that are this close to being dropped (usually for bad behavior). Everyone has clients who are annoying, demanding and, sometimes, just plain difficult. My ongoing goal is to help these clients find other solutions as soon as it’s apparent that keeping them is more trouble than the income is worth. So when the Layoff List is small — or even better, empty — I’m feeling quite successful.

Measuring the success of my process is as important to me as measuring the success of my work.

My personal success measures focus on:

  • Landing only those projects where I’m the right solution
  • Correctly estimating the time and cost for every project
  • Keeping clients that provide consistent and extensive work in a satisfying and productive partnership
  • Dropping clients who are not providing that satisfying and productive relationship

Improve your productivity and level of satisfaction by defining your own measures — and then use them to optimize your process for success.