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Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you.

Susan T. Evans Posted by Susan Evans on 10.9.2011

Im proud of the small amount of paper I brought into my new home office. I used my recent job change as an opportunity to slim down files and inch toward paperless status. The truth is I did bring a handful of manila folders that I’ve been periodically sifting through. Flipping through the paper has offered a few trips down memory lane. I found a cocktail napkin where I’d scratched a tag line we later used to market a campus notebook program. Yes, something great first written on the back of a napkin actually happens.

More relevant to my work at mStoner, I stumbled on the list of questions I used in 2007 for hiring an external partner for a university-wide web redesign project.That was four years ago, but I submit that this list is still a pretty good way to get to know a consulting firm.

You know the drill. It typically goes like this: you issue an RFP, you get a healthy stack of proposals, you narrow down, you invite a few to campus. That campus visit is critical but maybe not for the reason you think. Yes, the firm you are considering should be able to give a credible and compelling presentation. Still, before you hire a firm, you really should get to know the people youll be working with. And, yes, some of what you need to know can come from a presentation in a window-less conference room filled with your RFP committee. But really, you should prepare a list of questions to guide your thinking. Sharpen your interviewing skills and ask away.

At the end of the day, youre going to need to know the answers to these questions. Having a list will keep you focused on what you decided was important. Second, youll gain from hearing how the various firms respond. Are there inconsistencies? Does the answer given by one person from a firm conflict with an answer you hear later from somebody else? Do they seem to value what you do?

If you’re reading this blog, you might be planning to engage a partner for a web redesign. If so, use this question list for your own. No matter who you hire, take seriously the chance to get to know the teams youre considering. After all, your institution’s website is the cornerstone of its brand and the foundation of its communication strategy. There’s a lot at stake.

Download the questions as a PDF.

General
How long have you been in business?
How many employees do you have?
What are your areas of expertise?
Have you worked for education clients before? If so, does your approach to the project differ from when you work with non-education clients?
Do you employ subcontractors and if so are you willing to take responsibility for their work? Will we be notified when subcontracted individuals are working on our project?

Work Style
How do you communicate with your clients; by phone, email, meetings, etc? Are you willing to adapt your communication style to a project?
Do you expect a a project manager on the client side?
Do you offer alternatives, or single solutions?
How do you propose to deal with possible changes in scope or direction of a project as it progresses?

Project Management
How much time do you expect your project manager to spend on the project? How experienced is your project manager with enterprise-level websites? What kind of reporting, issue tracking and financial statements will you provide and how often?

Consultation
Do you have a standard consulting/discovery process?
Do you have standard documentation (i.e., functional specifications, project plan, timelines, etc.) and are you willing to provide samples?
Are you able to conduct focus groups and usability studies?
Where are the focus groups/usability studies conducted?

Design and Programming
What is your process for design approval (i.e., alternative designs, means of and cycles of review, etc. and how long does it take?
Can you provide illustration and photography?
How much experience you have doing animations or video for the web?
Do you do your own video/audio recording? Are you aware of and do you comply with Section 508 Accessibility guidelines?
Do you use CSS for layout?
Have you used XSLT? RSS? HTML 5?
Do your programmers/designers follow set coding standards? Are these standards available for us to see?
Are you familiar with a range of content management systems and are your designs able to translate well to CMS templates?
What is your experience with integrating social media platforms?
Have you done any mobile web development? How about responsive design or apps?

Content
Can you offer help with content development and editing/proofing?
Are you knowledgeable about writing for the web and web content strategy?

Testing and QA
What sort of quality assurance do you offer for page elements, multimedia, links, etc.?
Is your work tested in-house by someone other than the person who developed it?
At what point can a client inspect and review your work as it is being built?
Which browsers do you test with and are you able to create a consistent look in multiple browsers?

Training and Documentation
Do you offer training when relevant? Is your work documented such that it can be maintained by another group?