The Straight North Blog

Back to Blog

The Anatomy of a Web Team – Structure and Process

Posted by:

Over the past 15 years, web design has evolved. And web team structure has evolved along with it, almost like an organism. Team members have become specialized, just like parts of a human body. To understand how a team might succeed (or fail) for their clients in the web design world, we should understand these parts and how they work together.

There are three main skills involved in building websites: design, programming and project management. Let’s explore the web team’s anatomy and how it affects outcomes.

Ears: The Project Manager


The project manager is a full-time communicator, which means they listen attentively. Their first role is to understand (and document) the goals of the project. They need to pull together the branding, research, requirements, budgets, deadlines and everything else. They pay close attention, communicate project status and always listen very carefully.

A web team without good listening skills may make the client feel ignored or unimportant. A web team that doesn’t hear their client just can’t provide great service.

Weak ears may also signify not “listening” to what potential visitors are searching for, by not researching keyphrases.  If this crucial step is missed, the site won’t have pages that align with search phrases, and traffic will be lower over the long run.

Eyes: The Designer


Of course, a great web team has a great designer, a specialist with the talent and vision to bring the site to life. Remember: every visitor is a critic, judging websites almost instantly.

When the eyes aren’t so good, the site may look common or flat. It may not align well with the brand. It may not communicate quickly and clearly. Worse, it may be confusing for visitors.

With the 20/20 vision of a great designer, visitors get a good first impression, and they have no trouble getting around. Content fits in nicely and the branding is faithful. This directly affects the traffic stats, especially the bounce rate and conversions.

Hands: The Developer


Building sites is as hands-on as building a house. Pieces fit into place until the sum of the parts is a fully-functional structure. The web developer is the one who actually builds it.

A great developer keeps one thing in mind: future updates. When the hands of the team build tools for keeping the site updated, the lifespan of the site is much longer. A team without good hands will build a site that is hard to update – frozen in time – making future changes expensive.

It might be an off-the-shelf CMS (content management system), something custom, or something in between. Regardless, a great team has able hands.

Brains: The Process


But what about the brains? Which team member is this? Actually, it’s all of them. The brains are the processes and project management tools that that connect the parts seamlessly.

Constant, close communication is imperative. Details must be tracked, check-lists managed, tasks delegated. Without good processes, things get overlooked. If the eyes and hands don’t talk to each other, if the ears didn’t hear something, results will suffer.

Web Team Biodiversity

There are a wide range of team sizes and shapes in the web design kingdom. Each has it’s own approach to the process; however, there are generally pros and cons with teams of various sizes.

On smaller teams, one specialist might take on several roles, such as the increasingly rare designer/programmer or the more common designer/project manager. This can lower costs and reduce turnaround times.

But it also sometimes means the overuse of templates and existing tools, leading sites to look less distinctive. Worst of all, service often suffers when there is no dedicated project manager in the web team structure.

On larger teams, there may be more specialists, like separate usability analysts, writers, animators and brand specialists. These can be useful organs that bring specific expertise and generate better results. But these teams have higher costs, and projects take longer to complete.

Regardless of size, the team and the client need to be sure that the requirements of the project match the capabilities of the team that builds it.

Bottom Line for Web Team Structure

We live in a world of specialists. Members of web design teams are specialized, like body parts in a living organism.

  • The ears listen and understand the issues and opportunities of the client.
  • The vision streamlines the actual site, and how it works for the brand and for visitors.
  • The skilled hands build a site that functions well for visitors and is easy to update.
  • The brains stay organized, focus on goals and efficiently communicate internally and with the client.

When a part is missing or weak, it shows in the process and in the final product. But when they’re all strong and working well together, it’s a beautiful thing.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin.

About the Author

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a team of Chicago web designers Andy was once a technical recruiter. He loves team building. You can also find Andy on and Twitter.

Special thanks to Anatomy Now for the images of the Anatomical Models.

Related Straight North Post:
Why Web Development Is Like Building a House