A Website Project Kickoff Questionnaire

Major website projects are not trivial affairs, especially for larger companies. There are often multiple objectives which need to be achieved, and complicated contexts to deal with, including different agendas, preferences, plans, capabilities, existing infrastructure, and so forth. To really nail the design, we need a solid understanding of our potential site visitors, the benefits we want to deliver, perception we want to create, and so on.

How do we get started? As a consultant, I'm used to having to quickly acquire this level of understanding for companies and industries I know nothing about. The key is to ask revealing questions before a project so I, and my team, understand what we need to do and how we need to do it. If there is an existing site, I need to understand what about it works and doesn't work, and why we need to change it; if we're creating a new site, I need to understand the premise behind it and what needs to happen to call it a success.

To this end, starting a project with a pre-planned questionnaire is a big time-saver. The most efficient way to do this is to circulate the questions before a project kickoff meeting. Allow some time to contemplate and research the answers, but not so much time that procrastination can occur. Even better, have written answers (right on the questionnaire) delivered in advance of the kickoff meeting. This will supercharge the actual kickoff, because you can now spend it asking followup questions, or gaining more clarification on specific points.

A good questionnaire should be custom-tailored to the company and circumstance, and the key is to ask the right followup questions based on the initial answers. Starting from a good base of general questions is a great help, however. Keep in mind this is not a "requirements gathering" exercise; this is about understanding the high level project objectives, context, and vision in advance of detailed requirements. Below are some of the types of questions I've used to this effect:

company and business objectives

  • What is the business need that this website is intended to address?
    • What is it that we are fixing, trying to improve, or solve?
    • How will this website enable your organization to serve its customers better?
  • Who are your customers, or desired customers?
    • At a high level what do they need to get from the website?
    • Who are the decision makers and what drives their decision process?
  • What are your perceived strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace?
    • What are the perceived strengths and weaknesses of your competitors (please describe each individually)?
  • How would you describe your competitive advantage, or what differentiates you from your competition?
  • What areas of your current site do you feel are successful in achieving your business objectives?
    • Why are they successful?
    • Where are the gaps?
  • How will the success of the website be measured?
    • What are the metrics?
    • What are the goals in terms of metrics?
    • What are the measurements today?
    • What individuals or departments are stakeholders in the results?
  • Are there regulatory or legal requirements the website must adhere to?
  • What are the longer term plans for the website and its maintenance? 
    • How may it grow or evolve over time?
    • Who will be involved in maintaining it?
  • How does the website integrate into a larger marketing and communication effort?

user experience

  • What types of site visitors do you expect?
    • Please describe each type of site visitor individually and describe them in as much detail as possible.
      • What will make the site useful to them?  
      • What is their age, occupation, background, and purpose for visiting?
      • How did they find out about your site?
  • What degree of website personalization do you want to offer users?
    • Do you want to provide different user experiences for different user types?
    • How are these experiences different?
  • What are the top three or four benefits, in priority order, that the website should provide users?
    • How should information on the site be organized to facilitate these benefits?
    • What high-level functionality is required to deliver these benefits?
  • Is there a need for having a logged in state?
    • What functionality would be behind it?
  • What is the “Call to Action” that you want visitors to take when visiting your site?
    • Is it different for different types of visitors?
  • What types of browsers, devices, and screen sizes do you want your website to support?
  • What elements or parts of the site do you want to experiment with, or integrate into A/B testing?
  • What are your goals related to search engine optimization?

creative and content

  • Are there existing brand or messaging guidelines the website should be consistent with?
  • Use a few adjectives to describe how your site visitor should perceive the new site. (Examples include prestigious, friendly, corporate, fun, forward thinking, innovative, and cutting edge.)
    • Is this different from the current image perception?
    • What other sites do you see that present this tone well?
  • Do you like the colors and imagery used in your current site design?
    • Why or why not?
    • Are there examples of others site using colors and imagery you find appealing?
  • What are your the top competitor sites?
    • For each, what do you like and dislike about them creatively.
  • Please provide 3 sites in unrelated industries whose design you have a positive reaction to.
  • What creative practices have you seen on the web that you would like to incorporate into your website?
  • Do you like the way content is presented in your current site?
    • What exactly do you like or dislike about the presentation of your content?
    • Is there offline copy that presents the content and tone in a way you like?
  • How frequently do you anticipate changing content on the site?
    • Please describe the type and nature of the changes.
  • How will content be created, updated, and approved for your site?
    • Who needs to know how to administrate the content?

technical and maintenance

  • What is the existing technology stack?
    • Are are the existing hardware and software investments?
    • What 3rd party systems (CRM, ERP etc.) does the website interact with and how?
  • What are the current analytics systems in place?
    • Are these sufficient or do they need to be enhanced?
  • Other than HTML, is content on the current site stored in another structured format?
  • Is a Content Management System needed? If so, what capabilities does it need to have?
    • Workflow
    • Localization
    • Multi-site support
    • Scheduled or distributed publishing
    • Integration capability
    • Etc.
  • What other administrative features are needed for the site (other then managing content)?
  • Do you have requirements or strong preferences for:
    • The type of hardware/operating system/server software your website is hosted on (Windows, Linux, etc)?
    • What type of language platform it is built in (.Net, PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc)?
    • What type of database system is used (SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, etc.)?
  • Does the website need to consume information from any third party systems or data sources?
  • Does the website need to expose data to an outside source?
  • Do you have specific security or authentication requirements for any part of the site?
  • What other systems are part of the wider infrastructure (intranets / portals / micro sites / email platforms / etc.)?

As detailed as this list is, even it is not comprehensive. However, having a template which you can customize and refine further is good way to get off to a running start.