We recently helped to launch a new website for Christians Against Poverty (CAP). The CAP team was engaged, curious, and kind, and the project was led well and with conviction by Laura Thomas. We faced obstacles along the way, but came out with a strong working relationship and a fantastic digital product that is helping CAP to support people through a really challenging time. This post details some of the key successes and challenges we had along the way, with insights from the project leads at William Joseph and CAP.

The start of the project: challenges and opportunities

Laura Thomas, Digital Communications Manager, CAP:
Leading a complete website redesign and redevelopment sounded like a pretty daunting task, especially for a large charity with multiple complex audiences in tow. One thing I did know was that I wanted to focus on three main things: accessibility, better tech integration, and user needs.

Laura Paine, Senior Delivery Manager, William Joseph:
A really common obstacle for organisations, who — as CAP did — want to lean into more agile ways of working, is wrestling with the existing ways of working. Part of our role as CAP’s digital partner was to help them navigate through this and help to keep people informed, consulted and heard. We built trust and collaboration quickly, and both teams felt able to reach out to each other for expertise and support.

Putting users first: key insights from audience research

LT: After a gruelling procurement process, we came out the other side straight into the audience research stage. To be completely honest, at this point I felt like I just wanted to get going on the ‘doing’ (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know who our audiences are — can we just design and build the thing already?!”), but actually this stage ended up being so vital, invaluable and really, really insightful. And looking back on the whole process, this stage was the cornerstone to a successful end product. It was definitely something I would recommend to better understand audience behaviours and help get rid of any user assumptions.

“Looking back on the whole process, the audience research stage was the cornerstone to a successful end product. It allowed us to better understand audience behaviours and help get rid of any of our own assumptions.”

LP: A key part of our approach to digital products at William Joseph is user research and usability testing throughout the process. This started at the beginning of the project with research and workshops to discover who CAP’s audiences are and what they need from the website. This ensures we’re designing and building for the ‘right’ people, and that we end up with a product that helps them.

Taking an agile approach: the advantages and disadvantages

LT: Armed with all the research and knowledge of our then current website audiences, we entered into the design and build stage (“This is it, we’ll have a new website live in a few weeks, there can’t be that much more to do can there?”). We had all our stakeholder groups at the ready, the core working group was briefed, and we had a plan of what each sprint would likely cover. The main takeaway at this stage of the project was: never underestimate the power of agile working.

LP: There are certain agile ceremonies which are incredibly useful regardless of how you run a project, and that was certainly true for the CAP website.

  • Daily stand-ups ran throughout the project, which was great for helping to keep us on track and ensure any blockers were resolved swiftly.
  • Sprint demos were well attended, and retros helped us to iron out any issues as well as celebrate the progress we were making.
  • Sprint planning sessions allowed us to set the sprint goals and align on what we were working on.

In addition, Laura and I met on a weekly basis to talk through any issues, plan ahead, and make sure both teams were aligned. This was really helpful to keep things moving and solve problems before they became insurmountable.

The biggest wins from this agile approach came from usability testing and subsequent iteration. We ran three rounds of testing over the design and build phases of the project, meeting people who:

  • have experienced financial difficulties
  • donate to charities
  • run CAP services in churches across the UK

Usability testing allows us to explore and challenge assumptions we all make about how people use a website. In this instance it was really valuable for helping us to make content more accessible, tweak key journeys, and make sure we were building a site that could be used by people in real need without making them jump through unnecessary hoops. Getting real feedback from real people is one of the best ways of successfully challenging internal priorities, and an agile approach is a great way to make that happen.

Overcoming obstacles and making the website user-centric

LT: Things don’t always go perfectly to plan and that’s OK. Actually, that’s kind of great. Because obstacles are the things that make us stronger; they aren’t in the way, they are the way. Blockers were all a crucial part of the process, such as:

  • digital branding not hitting accessibility standards
  • assumptions around user needs that are actually internal motivations
  • existing integrated systems restricting possibilities

Together with continuous usability testing, resolving these blockers made the end product more robust and user-centric.

This was a fun stage, where we started seeing how the new website might look and function. The most common phrase to manage stakeholder expectations was: “focus on the functionality rather than the visuals at this point”, and the response: “can you change the colour of that button?”.

“Things don’t always go perfectly to plan and that’s OK… obstacles are the things that make us stronger; they aren’t in the way, they are the way.”

LP: There was an element of the brief being “rebuild the site we already have, but better”. This is a common issue we come up against, because so many business processes are aligned to the existing site infrastructure. But we were able to prioritise key journeys and make huge improvements to them, so people who need CAP’s help, or who want to support CAP’s work, are able to do so easily and with confidence.

LT: User acceptance testing was the last stage. The amount of organisation, planning, key stakeholder management and what I can only describe as ‘herding’ was so much bigger than I’d anticipated. Collaboration throughout the project was a muscle we all had to flex more than we normally would in our day-to-day tasks, and the outcome was spectacular (if I could show you the master sheet I would).

People from all across the organisation — some who had been involved already, some who had not — gave their time and focus to testing, testing, testing. I have to give a big shoutout to my team at this point because the organisation involved in this was huge — don’t ever underestimate it! But again, it was so vital to a successful launch and a really good workout for the collaboration muscles.

LP: One of the biggest tasks for the CAP team was to audit and rewrite a huge amount of content. Their team reached out for support when they needed it, from seeking advice around content design and strategy, to reminders on how to use a certain template. They did an amazing job at getting that content into good shape ahead of launch. Culling content is always hard, with different teams being quite nervous about losing their content, but CAP’s approach was consistently user-first and data-driven.

“Culling content is always hard, with different teams being quite nervous about losing their content, but CAP’s approach was consistently user-first and data-driven.”

The other mammoth task for CAP was to do user acceptance testing. This was a really impressive effort, and the team really pulled together to make sure they were confident in the functionality working as expected. As a result, we had a strong launch with minimal issues.

The final outcome: a new digital product that supports people in need

LT: Since the launch in July 2022, and with the digital strategy and website optimisation programme now implemented, we have seen 88% more users coming to the site with an increase of 85% in user sessions. We are confident that our new donation process is more effective with 4% more donations, and we’ve seen 138% more conversions for our service users. Since launching the site 670 people have fed back through a customer satisfaction survey on the site, with 93% either satisfied or highly satisfied with their experience.

We are now proud to point people towards it through our communications channels, safe in the knowledge that our development process was thorough and our commitment to continual improvement means that it will only get better by learning from our users.

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