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Hello World! - Debunking the 'Big Bang' theory

25 June 2013

Hello everyone and welcome to what will hopefully be the first in a long line of blog posts from the Zodiac Media team.

The aim of this blog is to share our knowledge, experiences and opinions on internet and technology related topics with the wider online community. In particular we will be writing with small and medium-sized businesses in mind as they comprise the majority of our client base. Posts are likely to fall into two main categories, 'techie' and 'non-techie'. We'll 'tag' blog posts accordingly so you don't waste your time. As far as possible we'll try and avoid jargon in 'non-techie' posts and if it's unavoidable we'll do our best to ensure that everything is explained in an understandable manner.

Our motivations for starting this blog are numerous. Our primary reason is that we ourselves are a small business and, as we advocate to our customers, contributing back to your specific online community is a great way to market your website and therefore your business. Coming in a close second is the sense of reward that helping others brings. We know a lot about website development. We also know that a lot of SMEs start-up using a bootstrapping strategy on budgets so tight that professional website development is an expense that is hard to justify. As a result a lot of small business owners feel in the dark when it comes to their website and that web development is some impenetrable dark art. SMEs lucky enough to have dedicated website developers are often resource constrained and developers benefit greatly from well written online tutorials or tip offs explaining the best way to tackle a technical problem. Hopefully these blog posts will be of use to both managers and developers within SMEs.

So, with introductions out of the way, let's return to the topic of this post: Debunking the 'Big Bang' theory. The 'Big Bang' is a metaphor for the style of website development, or indeed project management, where the 'deliverable' comes once at the very end of the project. The motivation behind this style of approach is usually that a website shouldn't see the light of day until it is absolutely perfect so that customers get the best experience possible. On first reading this last sentence seems logically sound and would have most people around a meeting room table nodding in agreement. But let's analyse it in a bit more detail.

By holding a project back whilst every last detail is perfected the person who is most important to a business, the customer, will receive no tangible benefit until the very end of the project. In addition there is a dangerous assumption in the definition of 'absolutely perfect'. In the 'Big Bang' approach the arbiters of 'absolutely perfect' are the project team. Project team members will no doubt be experts in their field, know the business's customers well and have access to extensive market research, but fundamentally they are not the customer. Customers can be very unpredictable and what a technical expert may believe to be important may not be so critical to an end customer. Experts by definition are very knowledgeable about their field and so will have a very different perspective to that of the average customer. One thing we've learnt with website development projects is that customers (and people in general) don't like change. Even if you believe your changes are a big improvement, if they come all at once then you will definitely get lots of 'what on earth have you done!' type emails following a website release.

So the alternative to the 'Big Bang' approach is the 'Little and Often' approach to delivery. This is paraphrasing one of the key principles of 'Agile' development which is to shorten the feedback loop between you and your customers. By pushing out project releases early and often your customers can feel the benefit and you in turn can feel the benefit of your customer's feedback. Incorporating customer feedback into your project, be it a website or something else entirely, has to be one of the best things you can do to build a successful product and tailor your business to your customer's needs. This website is a working example of this philosophy. Yes we could hold back its release until the other sections are complete or the design was more perfect. But initially a blog and a feedback form are all we need so let's go!