(Originally posted for a former employer)

“Oh. My. God.”

“We HAVE to redesign our website.”

“And we need it yesterday.”

So far, you’re nodding in agreement.

Of course “we” need a new website. And “we” need the impossible, done yesterday.

And then it happened.

Leadership has decided YOU are the perfect person to find the firm and make this happen.

Here are some thoughts on what you need to know to make sure your agency of choice is the right fit for your organization.

With that in mind, please consider the following questions when evaluating your prospective agency partners for your digital project.

What different types of technology (CMS CRM etc.) do you have experience with?

Technology isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. It’s also often not the first thing that needs to be established. However, knowing an agency’s breadth of technology experience can help frame up numerous subsequent conversations.

Why do clients usually hire you (or not hire you)?

Firms often get hired for one or two key reasons. Knowing why others have chosen them in the past can help you prioritize your internal needs. Sometimes good firms are passed on because “they’re not a good fit.” But that can be too vague an answer to be useful. Knowing why a firm doesn’t get chosen can help you better asses that elusive goal of “fit.”

What types of projects do you most gravitate to? / What types of projects do you typically avoid?

Given their druthers, many firms will say “what do you got?” as the answer to this question. However, it’s good to know what fits in the sweet spot of a firm’s collective interest and skillset.

What is an example of an innovative solution you have developed for a client?

This is admittedly a broad question, but another one that can be enlightening. It is important, however, to keep an open mind, as the notion of innovation can mean different things to different people.

Technology isn’t the only piece of the puzzle.

What types of technology / projects are you working on now that you weren’t 12-18 months ago?

Little changes faster than the digital marketing and communication landscape. Firms that aren’t growing are dying. The firms that show an ability to adapt are the ones that will win the future for themselves and their clients.

Please describe your approach to working with large stakeholder groups? Small groups?

True story. I once was part of a 25-meeting process to get the idea of a website redesign approved. Knowing how a firm handles such a large bureaucracy can be helpful as you’re planning out your next steps. Smaller stakeholder groups can bring their own challenges that include being too insulated to truly understand their audiences. Getting these questions answered can help you and your team get an early mental picture of what it would be like to work with them. Which is important, because you’re going to be spending a LOT of time together.

What are your best projects overall? / What are your best projects at $x

Agencies are often trying to present an “apples to apples” comparison of their work to your industry / sector. However, sometimes a project they are extremely jacked about doesn’t have a home in your RFP response. This is a good way to see what a firm is capable of in a longer-term relationship, after the initial project is in the rear-view mirror.

Similarly, it’s great to understand what a potential firm can do at a certain price point. Knowing this can provide helpful context around what you should expect from a similarly funded project.

What is your approach to project planning?

It’s helpful to have an open mind with this question. When I was on the client side, I remembered calling a reference and getting the following advice: “They do great work, but you need to be willing to adjust to how they do things to get the best results.” This then can become a question about your organization and how it works as much as how the agency operates.

What clients have you had a multi-year relationship with?

If the answer to this question is “none”, you probably just saved yourself a lot of time. In rare cases some client relationships are old enough they could legally drive.

Have you inherited other digital projects or do you only do start from scratch projects?

In the spirit of the phrase “you don’t know it until you can teach it,” I offer “you don’t know it until you can undo the mess of someone who did it before you.”

It takes a certain level of organization, intuition and technical skill to effectively and efficiently inherit an existing digital project that was started by another developer or team. If you are hiring a firm to take over an existing site / project and they haven’t done it before, you are likely to find a level of optimism on their end that might not prove helpful in the long run.

What is the largest content migration you have handled?

One of the most difficult areas to predict at the outset in a website redesign project is the level of effort required for a content migration from your current website to the new website. A hundred things can contribute to the migration going awry and slowing down the progress of a project. It is also very much a team effort between your entire organization and the agency you choose. Understanding early how your chosen firm approaches content migrations can help you politically (and financially) as you prepare your colleagues for what is about to be asked of them.

What is your experience working with another design firm? / Another development firm?

One of my favorite Olympic sports is a favorite only because of its name: Individual Synchronized Swimming. I mean, how hard is that?

Similarly, it can be far less challenging to run a project all by yourself than it is to work with a larger team or other agencies. By knowing what tools, processes and experience a firm has when working with others, you can sometimes troubleshoot potential conflicts and get a sense of how you will navigate both the details of the project itself as well as who is responsible for what within a project.

What type of projects do you wish you could work on more and why?

Sometimes a firm has talents that it just doesn’t get a chance to demonstrate with its existing portfolio. Sometimes a firm has an infusion of talent who hasn’t had a chance to make their mark but brings capabilities they are itching to leverage for the right client. Having a sense of these capabilities can help you shape your perspective on what’s possible.

“On [URL], we have this challenge. How would you address it? Don’t worry, we are not asking for designs or anything.”

In our experience, some of our best work comes when we are presented a challenge and asked to provide a solution, as opposed to simply responding to a request for a specific task or list of tasks that intended to solve a larger problem in which we were never a part of the conversation.

With such an open invitation to provide solutions, you can get a sense of how a firm thinks about a challenge.

“Our budget is X and our timeline is Y. Based on our list of requirements, which one(s) would you prefer not have included in order to stay within the budget or timeline and why?”

With most website redesign projects, there is a range of solutions that can be applied to each requirement. And sometimes, there can be one feature in particular that could tie up so many resources that the rest of the project can suffer. For example, by insisting that people will show up and willingly engage with others if only an online community hub could be built into the new website, can often lead to disappointment and wasted budget.

Getting a sense of how a firm views your RFP from this perspective can be a valuable exercise and one worth discussing internally to ensure the best value for your investment.

How does your firm approach user testing and what concrete examples can you provide of how it improved your deliverables?

I once said in a pitch meeting to a client “No one has ever looked at a crappy web site and thought, ‘At least it launched on time.’”

The real tragedy of ill-concieved websites and other digital tools is that most of the mistakes that are made are imminently preventable. There are proven methods that can ensure your site advocates for the user and helps them to efficiently achieve their goals.

Some of these are digital and remote. Some are tactile and in-person. All of them help support a common goal: To turn vague notions into actionable steps and pathways that can simultaneously improve your user’s experience and support your strategic goals. The firm you choose should be able to demonstrate how they achieve this for you.