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December 30, 2015

Web Design Approval & Change-Order Process

Author: Valerie Baker

Over the last couple months, we’ve written blog posts about our wireframe and sitemap processes to further educate our audience about web design and more specifically how we operate. Today, we’d like to share with you another peak behind the curtain moment in the life of our projects – our own web design approval and change-order process. This post is primarily for our existing clients that are, or are about to, go through our design and development process, but we’ve decided to be completely transparent to the world in how we operate as we feel we’ve changed “web design” and the Digital Agency process and would like everyone to know how amazing this experience can be to go through.

Let’s get a couple definitions out of the way: 

  • Atilus Kick-Off Meeting – A large meeting between our team and our clients’ team to discuss their project. Generally happens after all agreements are in place.
  • Scope Creep – Scope refers to all of the elements of a project. On most projects we spend roughly 10 – 20 hours before actually starting work so that there’s a clear understanding of what your project entails. Scope creep refers to anything outside of that.
  • Change-Order – A request for something outside of what was discussed, and the process (and sometimes costs) that entails.
  • Sitemap – An outline of the pages and sections of your site.
  • Wireframe – Initial blueprint of the website.

The Importance of Kick-Off Meetings

During a kick-off meeting (our first meeting with you our client and our project management and design team) we review everything you discussed during the sales process, all notes, the agreement, and proposal. We also go into a lot of detail about our own process. In total we review:

  • Atilus’ website production process
  • Proposed Sitemap (outline)
  • Website Goals
  • Audience
  • Design Preferences
  • Schedule

We review these things so that our clients understand the whole process they’re about to go through.

If there is something clients would like to add, this is one of the best times to provide feedback as everything is preliminary, schedules have just been set and little or no design and development work has been completed (as once that starts, it may have to be redone depending on the severity of the change-order/scope creep).

For our own processes at Atilus once approved wireframes, sitemaps, and design preferences are generally final, and any additions, revisions/revisiting is considered a change-order. 

Example: Recently we had a client approve a design, but once they saw the website, and to be inline with other company-wide changes they were making, they changed the entire color scheme. Changes like these are absolutely fine and often happen in web development, but because both the design and development had already been approved, this change resulted in an additional fee.

Web Design Approval & Change-Order Process

The Atilus approval and change order process is important because one is dependent on the other. Although some projects have many elements we can work on at the same time, there are a lot of things we need upfront or approval on prior to moving on to the next step. For example, approval of the sitemap helps us to create the wireframe, the wireframe helps us to create the first design, and then wireframes after that will help us to write content and develop your site. Approval on the previous step, is necessary before we move on to the next step.


As illustrated in the above image, which features a basic breakdown of our process one step, once approved, leads to another. The gap represents the time to get approval, and the entire grey bar at the top right illustrates the entire length-of-time this major bucket of steps in the project take. Any additions, changes, late approvals (or late deliveries on our part which we work VERY hard to prevent) will cause that grey bar to stretch out further (causing delays in the project).

Change-Orders Can Happen at Any Moment

Just the other day we had a Kick-Off Meeting with a brand new client. Within 5 minutes of starting the meeting they suggested building out a section for new projects of their’s:

It would be great if I could add a project, along with pricing data, and then when a visitor goes to that section they could sort through those projects by category, size, cost, etc.

It was a harmless remark, and a tool and idea that would truly help their business, but it was clear scope creep (outside of what was initially discussed or agreed). We talked through this immediately, letting our client know this was outside what we had discussed and we’d be happy to handle this situation in a couple of ways: take the existing projects hours we had budgeted and switch direction to planning out this new more tech-and-design-heavy mini application, or work through the project as scoped and agreed-to and make sure to come back to the idea once launched. The client agreed to wait until things had launched – “get the website up and running, get business coming in, and then we’ll work on tweaking things to exactly how I like them and how it will most help my business.”

The above story highlights two important things:

  1. Communication – It’s through communication that we’re able to work together to build something amazing that we’re both proud of, provides results, etc. and your relationship with a web design company MUST include a lot of communication (approvals, conversations, etc.). As long as there is communication problems are (generally) very easy to work through.
  2. Relationships – Very closely related to communication are relationships. We consider ourselves a friend and partner to our clients. If the site we build doesn’t solve our clients’ problems or doesn’t bring them business, we’ve failed at our mission as a company. We build this trust and a relationship through our own sales, marketing, assistance on projects, loyalty, and many other ways. My point is this: if your web design company doesn’t have the relationship with your company to be able to have a frank conversation about what’s included and what’s not, issues, delays, etc. or if you’re unwilling to view your digital agency (as a potential client) as a partner to learn from and listen to – odds are your project is going to fail. We can’t build a website or digital marketing plan without asking A LOT of questions, and you trusting us both with the answers as well as to marry those answers with what we know works on the web.

What’s a Change-Order and What Isn’t

Simple Changes

Simple changes include the text/content, photos, adding new buttons, and changing the order of the homepage slider. These items can be changed at no additional cost and are usually included in the web-design package.

Anything that is a new idea or significant change will call for a change-order.

One caveat to the above however, and another story:

We had been working on a massive site (200+ pages) recently and were asked to grab existing imagery from the clients’ existing website. We did, we grabbed the images, resized, and on a page-by-page basis put the images on their new pages,  and customized each one. Best-case-scenario we estimated this would take 5 minutes per page  x 400 = 1000 minutes = 15 hours (a significant amount of time and one that was accounted for and built into our project process and plan). However, unbeknownst to us the client had hired a photographer and had new shots for everything retaken. We now had to redo all of this work. It was great; we had even higher quality photography and the final product (website) is now the best it can be, but it did lead to an additional charge. Simple updates, when multiplied out over dozens, or hundreds of pages can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional costs. 

Change-Orders & The Billing Process

We’ll do our best to navigate this process with you and help clear any air of mystery about what’s included or not included on your project. But, should you decide that something is an absolute must have and a change-order will take place, we’ll work together to quote out how much it will cost and map out any changes in scheduling.  

If you have questions about our process for change-orders, feel free to contact us today.



Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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