Overspending in Aliso Viejo


Joanna Clay recently interviewed me for an article she wrote in the OC Register: Aliso Viejo website arouses security, cost questions. She asked my opinions on alisoviejoexchange.com, a site built by a local developer. They were paid $37,500 to build the site and that it took 5 months to develop.


It’s not really my desire to judge other developers, but my initial reaction was that this does not feel like a site that would cost $38k to develop. This is a very simple directory site that looks like it was built with an existing template. Even if it was built from scratch, the whole site is comprised of three page templates: The home page, the detail page and the static content page. Oh and let’s not forget the sweet YouTube video splash screen!

Judging turnaround time is complex, however. It’s impossible to look at a site and understand what may have happened behind the scenes to cause delays. As any developer knows, a simple project can go sideways quick when communication breaks down with a client or when scope shifts. In a perfect world, sure, 5 months is way too long. But the development world is never perfect.

As I told Joanna during the interview, it is difficult to say exactly what went wrong with this project as I was not privy to the internal development process. My comments were based on my own experience and I made several assumptions.

So I asked the people…The people of WordPress

I run a private Facebook group for the OC WordPress Meetup and I posted a link to the article for discussion. My friend Jeff Hester asked “Based on the article, what do you think the lesson is for developers?” Great question. Here are a few of my thoughts…

1. Be transparent

My assumption is that there wasn’t a lot of transparency on this project. Projects can get bloated when the developer is “hiding” something from the client. It appears to me that We The Creative does not have a lot of web development experience in their portfolio and they may not have been forthcoming with this.

I am a firm believer in full transparency with my clients. I let them know very clearly what we can and cannot do. We are transparent with our core strengths and we let them know if a task is not in our wheelhouse. We let our clients know what technologies we are utilizing and why. We build on WordPress and we use existing plugins and themes. Leveraging existing technology provides a quicker time to market and that is a value to our clients.

2. Use common tools

A search on builtwith.com will expose that the developer used Ruby on Rails to build this site. An earlier search showed that they used a CMS called SDL Tridion, although that isn’t showing up any longer (I’m not sure why). When a developer builds with not-so common technologies, it locks the client in with that developer. There aren’t as many developers experienced with these platforms. If things go south with that developer, the next one will will most likely recommend a compete rebuild.

We only build sites using common tools. And our clients own the code. If something were to go wrong, our clients all have the peace of mind of knowing that their development can be taken over by another resource. And most importantly, other resources are available.

3. Be responsible

I am betting that the original timeline on this project was not 5 months. It had to have been far shorter. Who would sign off on 5 months for such a simple website?!? Something caused a delay in the schedule. I assume the deadlines got pushed on either the client side or the developer side or both.

The responsibility of controlling deadlines lies with the developer. It is the job of the developer to set the expectations early in the project, specifically what happens when the schedule slips. When there are no expectations, minor slippage can turn into major slippage quickly.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this.


  1. Oscar Gonzalez on February 6, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Holy smokes! 38K for that!? Where do I sign up? And you tell me I get 5 months to build it? I’m in! — I’ll wait 4 then build it in 3 weeks with WP and have a week to take a trip somewhere with the 38K, then I’d take the OCWP meetup out for happy hour cuz Steve & co. are awesome.

    Wow! Hopefully this serves as an experience to them and others. The lesson is to research, get at least a few quotes and ask questions. — As always, Google & Quora are your friends. And probably would have saved 20 – 30K or more!

    • Steve Zehngut on February 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

      3 weeks?!? I think you may be padding your schedule. 🙂

  2. Mack McCoy on February 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Of course Oscar is padding. Every developer and engineer builds in some cushion. But, 5 months is criminal for such a basic site. The site’s developer should be ashamed.

  3. […] just came across this review of the Aliso Viejo website: Overspending in Aliso Viejo.  The author runs a successful web development business in the OC and has the technical knowledge […]

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