Friday, February 12, 2010

Building a website in 40 hours, Part 2

working-table In part 1, we looked at how you lay a solid foundation for building a website on a very tight timeline. Planning, no matter how long you have to work, should not be “skimped” on.

Mapping requirements to deliverables with tools in mind

Requirements communicate what your client or charity want to be able to do with their website. As a web developer, you have a few choices for how you go about turning those requirements in to a schedule of work for your team. You can:

  1. Build everything by hand, delivering only exactly what is defined in the requirements
  2. Use tools and services to cover requirements where they make sense

When working with users to gather requirements, especially non-technical clients or users, you often need to listen past what they’re saying and try to think about how they will interact with your features when the project is done. For example, take this simple requirement:

“We want a contact form that people can use to send us an email.”

Sounds simple enough. How would you solve this requirement?

Continue reading Mapping Requirements to Deliverables with Tools

Many developers would barely stop to think before dropping a few textboxes on a page, wiring them up to a submit button, and then sending an email with the collected info. Meets the requirement, but is it enough? Is that what the evolved professional .NET developer should be delivering today?

Thinking with Tools

When you have a professional developer toolbox, you gain an entirely fresh perspective on what can be accomplished in a project with limited time. In our example above, a toolbox lets us say during the design phase:

The users want a contact form. Easy. We can not only deliver a contact form, we can deliver a form, with validation, that can be edited at any time using a simple, visual form-editing tool, that can even be reused for any other data collection purpose on the website.

In short, tools turn “No’s” in to “Yes’s” at not extra cost to your project.

Can we edit the forms on our website? Yes. (Embedded WuFoo forms)
Can we export all of our data to Excel, Word, and PDF? Yes. (Single property in RadGrid, RadEditor)
Can we crop, resize, and rotate our images? Yes. (Built-in RadEditor Image Manager)
Can we have a attractive charts for our data? Yes. (Charts for Silverlight in ASP.NET)
Can we have localized versions of all our pages? Yes (Built-in Sitefinity feature).
Can we have unicorns fly off the screen? Yes…err…no.

When you have tools you know how to use, and you understand the capabilities of those tools, you can deliver way more than expected to your clients. And since tools, like Telerik’s Premium Collection, make it easy for you, the developer, you can spend more time polishing the custom features tools don’t cover.

Designing with Tools

Now that you’re thinking with tools, you go a step further and design with tools. Instead of  designing in loose terms, you can plug-in specific tools with known capabilities and quickly get past basic scenarios. Features previously considered “extra effort,” are now “free” because they’re automatically provided by a tool. Or, at least, free to you.

Context menus.
Filtering, sorting, paging, grouping, hierarchy.
Client-side binding for desktop-like performance.
Rating controls with client-side APIs.
Word-like editing in the browser.
Scheduler with day, week, and month views and drag/drop support.
Captcha validation for forms.

Just as the wide availability of light fixtures, doors, windows, and home automation systems frees an architect to design a more impressive house, tools for .NET developers help you build better software.


Next time you start designing a project, try thinking with the Telerik Premium Collection. Review the online demos now, get a sense for all the features built-in, and then watch during your design phase how many places you can quickly improve or enhance a feature with built-in tool features. It will feel like cheating, but it’s not.

Tools used during WAM

To build our charity’s website, we relied heavily on tools to provide superior experiences and to maximize the amount of control we could put in non-technical users’ hands. We wanted to make it possible for non-technical users to have the power to update almost any portion of the site after the project shipped- from email templates to the site header and footer.

Tools we ended-up using:

  • Sitefinity
    This was the huge platform time saver. More than half of our team had never developed with Sitefinity before the 40 hour dev sprint began. Two of our team members had only casual experience with ASP.NET. We still delivered incredible results in 2 days, as did all other teams (there were more than 10) that used Sitefinity that weekend. Right out of the box we were able to give our users control over pages, content, templates, and permissions. And with a simple Module system, we quickly added custom business process support, support for customizing email templates, and many helpful page controls for performing tasks like embedding YouTube videos on a page.
  • RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX
    The RadControls actually ship with Sitefinity, so it was natural to use these to extend our website. Built-in features like exporting to Excel and RadEditor’s Word-like content editing gave us quick wins in our project.
  • OpenAccess ORM
    We wanted to be as productive working with our custom data as we were with our UI, so we used OpenAccess ORM for all our custom modules. Again, half of our team was new to this tool on day one, but working productively within hours.
  • WuFoo
    Cool service that let’s non-technical users build and edit forms that can be embedded in a website. We used this service to empower our users to have unlimited control over forms in the future.
  • Kimbia
    Our charity wanted to accept donations, and they didn’t want to use PayPal. Kimbia is like a specialized PayPal service focused exclusively on helping sites collect donations.

Now that we’ve finalized our requirements and completed our design, with tools helping us deliver on our ambitious 2 day goals, it’s time to start coding. In the next part, we’ll talk about building websites as a team in TFS.


Unknown said...

Turn that "No" for unicorns into a "Yes!" with the help of


GoinAwry said...

Great story,keep it going. AZ Givecamp coming May 21st. I forwarded this series to the AzGivecamp team. We'll be taking notes.