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How Does Building a Website Project Become So Complex?

What’s the purpose of a website? Websites deliver useful content to visitors, and that’s their primary raison d'etre. As the web has evolved over the years, websites have become increasingly complex - with more pages, third-party integrations, and e-commerce. Some are actually web applications with complex functionality and data operations.

If you are a business owner, marketer, or website decision-maker, then it’s important to understand the actual and potential complexity of your site and the platform it’s built on. An understanding of this complexity is extremely relevant for your ongoing ability to define business processes and website project requirements. It also impacts your decisions about the designers and developers you hire for ongoing development and management of your online presence.

Within all this complexity, there can be many implementation paths and possibilities. When planning for web development, vision and requirements can be more or less precise. It’s challenging to determine with complete precision what will work best overall. We use an agile approach beginning with higher level requirements that are refined more precisely through prototyping.

The Cost of Precision

Precision is a measure of the accuracy of a number. The number of digits to the right of the decimal point. 0.01 is more precise than 0.010. Anything between 0.005 - 0.014 will round to 0.01, but only 0.010 is equal to 0.010.

Imagine that students are assigned the task of building a wooden block. The block needs to be a certain weight to be precisely created, so the students must calculate the size of it. Student A and B both do their calculations and show up at the machine shop and place their orders.

  • Student A requests a block 4.4mm per side and Student B for a block 4.42mm per side.
  • Both students come back a day later. Student A paid $20 for the block. Student B pays $200.
  • Student B is shocked by the high cost and asks why. The machinist says, “Well, I got it to 4.4mm per side within the first hour, but it took the rest of the day to get it down to 4.42.”
  • More Precise = More Costly

How This Relates to Website Project Development

As a website or application is developed from the initial definition of requirements and logic, the user interface and website functionality is refined as the overall context emerges. That refinement includes the emergence of more detailed and precise website requirements. Since the level of precision has a cost, the agile evolution of the web project can challenge budget expectations based on initial thinking and planning. Therefore, website projects often exceed their budget, especially as demands grow more precise, and also as a better understanding of the product in development leads to changes in requirements requiring re-work.

The more complex the website project, the more difficult it can be to estimate early in the process - and the more likely development will exceed budget expectations. This gets back to our original point: it’s important to understand the potential complexity of development, and to be mindful throughout the project about the budget impact of change requests, considering both the need for prioritization and the cost of precision.