The Ideal Web Team | April 26, 2005

Good things come in small packages and I believe the ideal web team consists of around 5 people.

To start with you need somebody to bring in the business. This person obviously needs to be a good salesperson, but not in a pushy, telesales kind of way. They need to be confident and charismatic, comfortable presenting to the board or mixing at networking events. As they will be dealing primarily with other business people, it helps if they come from a business background. However they still need to have a solid understanding of the web.

Next you need somebody to manage and run the business. This person would be responsible for keeping projects on track, on time and on budget. They have to have excellent people management skills and need to be highly organised. They’ll be ones keeping the office running, the wages paid and the accounts in shape.

Sometimes called a producer, information architect, or user experience designer, it’s this persons job to work with the client to shape the direction of the project. This person will work out the strategy, craft the documentation and steer the project to a successful conclusion. This person will need technical, creative and managerial skills and will probably have worked their way up from a design or production role.

For most web projects, design accounts for less than 10% of the workload. Gone are the days of the dedicated visual designer. Instead, the ideal web team needs a hybrid designer who’s as happy sitting in front of Photoshop as they are coding up a stylesheet. As well as being a being a great visual designer and knowing everything about web standards, this person needs to have an intimate knowledge of usability, accessibility and universal design.

Last but not least, you need a talented back end developer. More and more web design jobs are actually mini web applications, so programming is taking up much of the project cycle. However rather than an ivory tower developer, you need somebody who understands people as much as they understand code. As such this person needs to be a strong communicator.

For small teams to work well together, there needs to be a good overlap of skills. Each person needs to have an understanding of what the other person is doing and the problems they face. These skills will overlap the most with the user experience designer who’s job it is to direct the project. Each team member needs to be a good communicator and happy talking to clients, attending meetings or running pitches.

Labels are always a difficult one, but if I had to label these roles they’d be.

That’s my ideal web team. What’s yours and why?

Posted at April 26, 2005 11:21 PM

Comments

Keith said on April 25, 2005 11:37 PM

I’m in total agreement with you on this one. 5 is a nice, managable number and the mix of skillsets you mention is just about right.

At my current place of employment we’ve got a core team of 3. The IA/Producer role (me) a designer/coder and a coder/programmer.

We have some account managers to deal with the rest and I actually do quite a bit of the PM stuff.

It would be nice to have a dedicated biz dev and PM person much like what your describe, but we make do.

Ian said on April 25, 2005 11:56 PM

(Ideal Old Skool Web Company)
1) Manager. (Preferably with seed funding. blagger, business bod, party organiser who likes to work apart from the team in another office).
2) Web Monkey/”Designer” / Tea Maker/ Sandwich fetcher.
3) Someone to set up and maintain network games, commonly known as IT technician.
4) Someone to make up the numbers on network games, probably goes under the title of newmedia programmer.

Jeff Croft said on April 26, 2005 12:12 AM

I’m mostly with you, Andy, but I think you can make room for that dedicated visual designer if that person also has Flash and other multimedia skills. It’s probably not as necessary as all the positions you’ve listed, but if you’ve got room in the budget for it…

I’d say something like this:

Sales and Marketing Manager
Project Manager and Office Manager
User Experience Designer/Accessibility Maven/Usability Expert
HTML Coder/Standards Guru/CSS Expert
Visual Designer/Flash Jockey/Multimedia Hack
Back End Developer (Javascript/Sever-side Scripting, etc.)

Justin Perkins said on April 26, 2005 12:24 AM

From my minimal experience in these type of environments, I’d wonder if a Designer/CSS/Standards/Accessibility expert is too lofty a goal?

I would tend to put the usability/standards/css over on the programmer side of things, but that’s really based on my own experience.

My team would be:
- Sales and Marketing Manager
- Project Manager
- Bookkeeper
- Designer (Web/Print/Flash)
- CSS/Standards/Usability/Accessibility Wizard
- Core Developer

Let the designer focus on design, and let the CSS wizard focus on making those designs a reality for the web environment. This person can also serve to oversee the HTML output from the back-end developer.

Andrew K said on April 26, 2005 3:50 AM

Noooo….
You all forgot one person who can make the final product oh-so-much better — a content writer.
To keep with the 5 person limit, I would roll the positions of front-end designer and UA person together, as many people can do both (like me…plug!) We run a very similar team to the one you described (with the addition of a dedicated print designer and a dedicated content writer) and so far it’s been a great mix.

Justin Perkins said on April 26, 2005 4:21 AM

I’ve always been under the impression that the client writes their own content ;)

A dedicated content writer ideal, since most clients couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag, but I’m curious how common this is? It’s got to increase the cost of the website by quite a bit, right?

Hmmmm. A content writer. I need one of those for my blog :)

Brady J. Frey said on April 26, 2005 4:35 AM

Well, for larger firms that handle print and web design, it’s commonplace to have a content writer — in fact, to me, it’s odd not to have one. I’ve never worked at a web design firm only, mind you — but for print and web design firms, it’s a must.

For print design, content writers take the pain out of reworking and designing to fit our overall theme and feel (which can make or break a design) — and for web, not only the above, but tag their code as they go… which, for those of us obsessed with standards, we can easily tweak so long as they write valid code (which we like to force feed them):)

While it may add another area to bill in our invoice, we’ve found it to be about the same price scheme — I make up a lot of lost time I’d have to do myself, or someone else on the team. For large sites it can be a significant cost saver — while, say, Andrew Designs, I code the structure, and Doug works the content. Doug submits the content I then code in to toss off to Andrew, while Doug moves onto the print content, and I begin working the print designs while Andrew finishes off the website.

In short, if you can get it all together right, it can work on a nice conveyor belt of communication that it actually starts to make us more efficient, more accurate (I know I’d miss something in there if I didn’t have Doug around), faster, and actually about the same cost.

I love shortstat, or I’d never notice these conversations:)

Joe Cardella said on April 26, 2005 5:33 AM

The only exception I’d take with your setup here is with the designer/developer. Sure there are a few stars out there who are excellent coders, understand css and standards issues, and are excellent visual designers as well, but let’s face it, that’s not the norm. In my experience its better to have dedicated graphic designers and dedicated coders/programmers. Those that I have worked with that attempted to do both usually had to compromise somewhere. Splitting up those duties has proven to be much more efficient for me. My experience is with print & video as well as web, so I have more need for that graphic designer than a web-only shop does.

Kris said on April 26, 2005 6:54 AM

A team of 5, soundsa bit like us . Though having a sales guy becomes less important once your clients start doing that job for you.

Patrick said on April 26, 2005 10:03 AM

I have to agree with the sentiments about the visual designer. A lot of web teams still work with a graphic design / (front-end) technical implementation split, and this can work really well.

The brains of some great visual designers just don’t work in a technical way - you can forget about good web standard, optimised code. And on the other side, some technically minded people, who might be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to HTML and CSS, just might not have the ability to come up with a striking design.

Granted, it helps if those in these situations has an appreciation of the importance of both sides, but it’s not vital (and can often not lead to the best results) if a single person does both.

Marko Dugonjić said on April 26, 2005 10:12 AM

More then often the back end developer and the client side developer are the same person. In my opinion front end designer should think about usability and accessibility more than anyone else in the team, but usually that’s not the case. All of the web production sub-disciplines are overlapping (UI, AI, accessibility and such) and should not be divided in the process.

For example, front end designer should natively know where she should place search or login form — this shouldn’t require user experience designer’s intervention. Sometimes even with UE designer keeping track and non user-centric/accessibility/usability/… savvy front end designer or back end developer, the project cannot be delivered without establishing a certain hierarchy. And then it’s not fun working anymore…

The bottom line is — it’s more important that everyone in the team know the goals of the project and respect other’s decisions and problems, than each one’s levels of skills. This is actually what makes a difference.

Warren said on April 26, 2005 10:41 AM

Interesting Stuff. We have a team of three at the moment, with one other part-time. We have our Hybrid Designer and Back-End Developer, and then I try and do the other three roles (to varying sucess…not to mention some design and back-end stuff as well….)

I’ve been looking at growing, and did advertise for a full-time sales person, but I have rethought that now (I didn’t fill the position). I think for a team this size, if your sales person is even half good and that’s all they do all day every day, they will bring in more work than your production staff can handle (considering that 1 decent size job brought in could keep the team busy for a month). As a lot of our work is repeat business from existing client relationships, we couldn’t handle a lot more new biz without more production staff.

My rethink has been to look for someone who can do sales AND do some project management. (Now just have to find them! :D)

So the team would be:
Sales/Account Handler
Project Management/Creative Director (me!)
Hybrid Designer
Back End Developer

After than, I dunno. More production staff (perhaps to have two teams to work on parallel projects?)

I wish there was a handbook for this stuff….

Rebecca said on April 26, 2005 12:23 PM

Where I work the core web team is made up of:

2 graphic designers
3 web developers (.net)
1 webmaster (xhtml & css)
1 web marketing manager

I think this works well since we usually have a handful of projects going on all of the time, so there can be a graphic designer and a web developer on each project and the webmaster (that’s me) can tie the design and the function together while the web marketing manager can keep everything on track.

Ste Grainer said on April 26, 2005 1:49 PM

I’m not the first to suggest this, but I’d only add one other person: a dedicated copy/content editor. I think you may be taking into account the fact that clients ideally should provide the content they want, but in my experience clients often either don’t realize this or provide lackluster content at best. In addition to a full-time content position, I think writing and editing skills should be a high priority for every member of a good web team.

Hugh Griffith said on April 26, 2005 3:38 PM

I agree with Ste Grainer, a good team definately needs a copywriter. Nothing can turn the most beautiful, useable site into a nightmare like crappy copy/content.

Nathan Logan said on April 26, 2005 3:59 PM

You’re all thinking about this the wrong way. Here’s my ideal team:

WEBMASTER

Or maybe that was a throwback to 5 years ago. ;)

Britt said on April 26, 2005 4:17 PM

I would also agree with the content writer, although I would broaden the job description to communications manager (or something similar). Not only should this person be able to write, they should also work with the team to help the client decide what and how they want to communicate with their site. In addition, this person would help with the team’s own PR/marketing/communications.

I’m just a lonely web team of 1 (within a medium-size firm). I don’t have to worry about sales, but I would like to focus on one of those tasks and be able to carry it through.

Patrick said on April 26, 2005 4:42 PM

Keith said on April 26, 2005 4:50 PM

I’m not so sure about the content person. I know it seems like a great idea, but really, this is best done in-house. If it were up to me every client I worked with would hire this person to work with the team.

So I’m not against it really.

I think the position is right on and obviously content it of top importance I just know from experience how hard it is for an “outsider” to get around content.

I guess it would depend on the project though.

Andy Budd said on April 26, 2005 6:05 PM

Some great suggestions and discussion going on here. I think the problem revolves around trying to fit 11 or 12 roles into only 5 jobs, and making sure each one is balanced in terms of output. For instance you don’t want your designer working at 30% capacity and your programmer working at 90%. You can probably squeeze 9 or 10 roles into 5 jobs if you have some talented people, but squeezing them all in may be impossible.

Also it really depends on your focus. Is it project management, usability, design or development? Each of these will require a different skillset weighting. However the reality is probably reversed. You’ll be a design oriented company if you have a great designer on board and a programming company if you have a shit hot programmer.

I’d love to add a copywriter to my 5, but they’d have to also wear another hat like sales or project management. In my limited experience web clients don’t like paying copywriters because they feel they can do it in-house and save a bit of money. Of course they can’t but it’s just another example of how clients value the web less than they value printed material. However that’s a whole other topic.

David House said on April 26, 2005 7:09 PM

If you’re doing a scripting-heavy site, you’d likely need more than one (back-end) developer to get the project done on time, but other that that,I’m with you.

Nick Finck said on April 26, 2005 9:03 PM

- Business Manager
Hopefully this person can run your entire business and order copy paper. But these people are hard to find as an after thought. They should be the person driving the business not joining the business.

- Bookkeeper / Accountant / Lawyer
Ya, you’ll pretty much be screwed without one. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who can do all of these things, but here’s to hoping. Most likely there will be someone who can do bookkeeping and accounting but you’ll have to find someone else to be your lawyer.

- Project Manger
Yes, you need someone to manage the project otherwise it’ll end up with just a bunch of geeks standing around playing foosball all day.

- Information Architect (wireframes, site framework)
Sure you can build without a blueprint but I have seen enough Winchester homes to know how tragically wrong that can go. Do yourself a favor and get someone on your team who knows the ins and outs of how things ought to function and interact.

- Web Designer (UI design, logo design)
I don’t care how cool the features of your site are, if it’s not well designed it’s not going to be a hit. In my experience anyone short of a full time true to form designer who knows things like typography and composition is simply a waste of visual design time.

- Web Developer (XHTML/CSS/JS)
You have to have someone on the team who knows how to build web pages and bring the design in to match the backend. They have to be able to create something functional from comps, wireframes and technical specs.

- Web Programmer (PHP/SQL)
If you don’t have someone who knows PHP and SQL then you’re going to be building static web pages and static web pages don’t sell anymore.

- Content Producer (writer/editor)
Because content is king, and if you don’t have someone on your team that can do this stuff, might as well think about how to plan for bankruptcy

8 people, ya, that’s quite a big group… but when you look at the list, I’d say really only the last 6 people make up the “team? the whole list makes up the “business.? Furthermore, some of these roles can be combined if you find someone with a lot of talent (which is not easy to come by). For example: a programmer who can do (and is willing to do) XHTML and CSS or a Web Designer who also knows how to do IA.

Jeff Hartman said on April 27, 2005 12:44 AM

Keith,

How is it you are the number one comment in many blogs I read? You must have the inside track.

Whatever the “right” number of people may be, the reality that many of us face is that there’s just one. We have to do it all.

Keith H. said on April 27, 2005 2:41 AM

For the most part I agree with you Andy, but I would have to lean a little more towards Mr. Finck’s dream team. I think you definitely need an accountant/bookkeeper. Someone has to process those payroll checks!

As for a lawyer, I think you can probably get away with having a good one available to help you with those pesky contracts/SOWs, but having one on staff may not be necessary for a small team. Hmm, Nick, you got me thinking on that one.

I think every team should have a good copywriter. Unfortunately, they seem to be the red-headed step children of the web. Too many times we see sites that are nothing more than print brochures in web format. Copywriters are far too often taken for granted. Afterall, if content is king, shouldn’t it be content worth reading?

Jeb B said on April 27, 2005 5:15 AM

In our company, which involves a high-UV “mother ship” and many dedicated subscriber sites, our design team handles overall site design, (x)html, css, javascript, xsl, and classic asp, while the tech group (DatabaseDevs and SoftwareDevs) focus on, um, databases and c#. As a rule, our 100% techs consider (x)html, css, and javascript to be beneath them, and therefore have never learned them properly. Happily, they’ve offloaded it all — plus classic asp — to design.

I agree that it is quite difficult to find folks who excel at both site design and standards-based development, with client & server scripting to boot, and who are all the while focused on user experience. But we have at least 2.5 such people, and I wouldn’t trade them for a room full of specialists.

During the dark days of layoffs, the one graphical “site designer” we had — who couldn’t code a page to save his life — was the first one overboard.

Count this as a vote for having a combined “designer/developer” role…

P.J. Onori said on April 27, 2005 7:19 AM

I always felt 3 was the perfect number for a web dev team, but I didn’t take into account the business side of things. It’s funny how easy it is to forget that at the end of the day, what we’re doing is first and foremost a business…

Lawrence said on April 28, 2005 9:04 AM

Interesting post

As a company that has grown from a one person business 8 years ago, we now have 9 core staff in the following roles. As a smaller business, in an increasingly specialised segment, my estimation is that it is would be difficult to run a web team with 5 people and still maintain an excellent client solution without a/ extensive use of contractors or b/ extensive crossover within roles. But, how many people can be a great web designer and a great practitioner of CSS – probably not that many …. Here’s our approximate organisational makeup.

1. Business Manager/Owner – responsible for business and overall direction of the technologies (1)
2. Sales Manager (1)
3. Account/Project Manager (2)
4. Web Developer ((X)HTML/CSS/JS) (2)
5. Developer (ColdFusion) (2)
6. Support person (1)

Contract (1 of each)
• Web Designer
• Lawyer
• Accountant
• Content Producer (editing existing content or writing new)
• Search engine Optimisation

BTW, we’re always looking for a/ awesome designers who can design and do CSS, so if you it and want live in New Zealand then let me know, and b/ outstanding Interactive/Flash developers! There’s my plug ;-)

Missing from this equation is the “Information Architect (typically filled but the business or account manager) or the “Evangelist? who is seeking and searching new technologies to keep ahead of the game so that you are not “just another web developer?!

Cheers
Lawrence

Franck said on April 28, 2005 1:53 PM

Rather worrying to see the breakout of Sales/Business resources (very low in most posts) versus the rest of the team.

In my opinion, either go with 3 persons (sales/business + Design + Dev) and contract freelancers on a project base, or if your structure goes beyong 3 people, then focus on selling FIRST before having all skills inhouse.

model 1 (3 people) is very versatile (like the film industry, fund the project, build the team, deliver the movie, close the project, don’t forget to get pay).

model 2 (5 to 10 people) is more confortable, but also much more difficult to sustain with only 1 Salesman (run a simple calculation of 8 or 10 wages + charges + overhead cost to see the yearly turnover needed)

So, i would overall suggest more sales resources

Cody Lindley said on April 28, 2005 2:53 PM

I’m sure some will say this is nit picky but I don’t believe the term web team is ideal for this blog entry. A web team in my opinion can be found in a small company or a large corporation. The reason I point this out is because a web team is only made up of the individuals required to produce a successful web site/application. What I believe Andy has described here is a web shop/business. In my opinion the individuals required to run a web shop include owners, sales peoples, and GM’s. The ideal web team then would be made up of individuals that only pertain to the task of producing a product (web sites/applications).

I would be interested in what people think makes the ideal web team, excluding the individuals that are in a supporting role as it pertains to the business side.

scout said on April 30, 2005 11:00 AM

i don’t know how you do it but everyone that leaves comments on your blog just loves to kiss your ass and agree with you. don’t get me wrong. i like your blog but i just can’t kiss ass. i wish i had the power you have….

you have most of the positions correct, however, you obviously don’t value design and brand. you’re correct that most sites are becoming mini applications but they are also becoming one of the most important brand touch points of any company and your lumping “front end designer/developer” together as one person shows your lack of understanding in creating major websites.

also, no one person really bring in the business. in sales, there are 3 cycles:
- the people who knock down doors (usually cold callers)
- the deal makers
- the deal closers

usually, the same person can do 2 and 3 however 1 is it’s own animal. the exception would be a smalll shop where many of these functions are combined however, i’m talking real shops and real sites here. it’s really the senior team that brings in the business. one of the top 3 people may get you in the door but it’s the team made up of the project leader (program manager), a creative director, a UI lead and a technology lead. this is the team they will be working with and it’s the relationship they are buying, not a website.

here’s my list:

“sales” person
program manager
creative lead
ui lead
technology lead

Paul said on April 30, 2005 12:44 PM

yeah I think Andy’s team is pretty much ideal and totally agree that within a small boutique style agenecy team like this, it’s more about the roles that each member of the team can play rather then the position its self.

The only exception is that i’m more used to working with dedicated designer’s, HTML/CSS coders and backend-developer’s.

Having hybrid designer/coder’s or coder/developer’s usually will cause a bottle neck as the second or third project comes in. A designer in Andy’s team could be too busy coding the CSS for the first project to concentrate on designing the comps for the second.

However if you can split the HTML/CSS role between the designer and the back-end coder then your laughing :)

As for Copy Writer’s unless your site is in need of constant content updates, such as a news portal or a tv entertainment site like Big Brother, then in my experience copy writer’s usually end up with not much to do and attempt to become bad producer’s or Information Architects. Best bring dedicated skills like this in when required on a freelance basis.

David said on May 8, 2005 11:45 AM

I just started a new job working for a nice web design firm in town.

We currently have have 9 people and are looking for one more.

2 -Sales/Marketing people
1 -User experience person (who also does a lot more, including coding and designing)
1 -Project Manager
2 -Programmers/back end developers
1 -Designer/CSS/XHTML coder (Me)
1 -Guy who does all the server stuff. We host a lot of sites.
1 - SEO/Marketing guy

…and we’re looking for a flash person with very, very good flash and visual design skills (Hard to find)

Mikhail Bozgounov said on June 6, 2005 12:51 PM

Maybe six is better…

XHTML/CSS is something which is a lot different from graphics. So, maybe it’s best to have an excellent graphics designer and/or Flash designer, and xhtml/css designer.

IMHO, this would be better than having two-in-one person, who will make the graphics and the xhtml/css code.

And, not in the last place, the strain upon them will be less:)

On the other hand… it’s maybe possible to combine the first two jobs (the sales manager and the project manager).

My $0.02;-)

Faruk Ateş said on June 14, 2005 9:47 PM

(pardon my tardiness)

Is it bad when you can recognize yourself in all five roles? The arrogance aside, of course…

..ak said on June 17, 2005 5:00 PM

My experience is working as a web boutique, not an inhouse department. Here is what I see works best:

Inhouse:
- Sales/Marketing & Office Manager (usually the owner)
- Information Architect & Writer or Interaction Designer & Writer
- Strategist & Project Manager
- Visual Designer & Flash Animation
- Web Developer (client side)
- Web Programmer (server side)

Contracted as needed:
- Flash Programming
- Photography
- Audio/Video services
- Web Hosting
- IT Services

Outsourced:
- Bookkeeping
- Legal Representation

Rory Sexton said on July 13, 2005 7:47 PM

Great Post!

I agree with Cody about the fact that a “web team” is found within organisations (like ours). Currently our web team consists of 2 people, but we are desperate to expand. The problem is How?

Current Team
- Programmer / Developer
- Everything else (me)

Required Team
- Programmer / Developer
- Copywriter
- Web Marketing Specialist
- Hybrid Designer
- Project Manager (me)

As content is KING, I can see the need for a full-time copywriter, however I am hoping that we can get the Designer to do this role, or out-source design and just go with a full-time copywriter.

My dream team = 5

Cathy Jones said on September 20, 2005 4:48 PM

This is an interesting debate and I think I mostly agree with your team line up, Andy. But what about testing? You haven’t mentioned that at all. Do you think that the User Experience person should do that or an independent tester?

For what it’s worth, I think that all sites should be tested by an independed tester prior to launch. Assuming the UE person has done a decent functional spec, they’ll have all the info they need to test it but have an added advantage over the UE person in that they will be fresh to the site and more likely to spot glaring errors than any of the development team. Interested to hear your thoughts…

PRIVATE LARRY said on November 15, 2005 1:59 PM

Your web design team concepts are quite accurate, in my opinion, because a nice manageable number like 5 allows for the ultimate in personalization of web experiance. Not only that, but with such an intensive selection of skills (that should all be relativly well honed) you can easily adapt and expand to any project that gets thrown at you, unlike a larger web team, which may have time to devote more effort, but will not be able to handle all the projects it is given, espeically if they need to change at last minute.

Nick said on November 15, 2005 2:00 PM

I totaly agree with you, however, I do not think the exact number of people on the team is as important as you say. I would say that the number of the people can change dramatically to meet the size of the project, the skills of the people, and the funds available.

Alec said on November 15, 2005 2:49 PM

I like the idea of the hybrid designer. I have found that it at some times it is difficult to communicate and weave together the coding and design without somebody that knows both.

I am experienced in both design and coding (not so much programming, but a little bit), but I like to make sure the site is accessible and up to standards.