Is your web site any good?
I bet that question made a lot of you cringe and start down a guilt spiral of rationalizations about why your web site isn’t really quite what you wish it was. If you have a bad web site, it’s because your organization is producing a bad web site. And no one who is visiting your site cares why. They don’t care about the bickering between marketing and IT over web site control. They don’t care about the 18-month argument about who gets a link on the homepage, or about the 30 years of history which makes it “impossible” for all the various programs and offices in your organization to cooperate in order to create the integrated web presence that your site visitors long for. They don’t care. But, everyday they are clicking away on your site, frustrated, trying to do business with your organization and trying to get information from your organization. And your organization continues to dither. By rationalizing low quality, you are prioritizing your organization’s bad habits over your customer’s and constituent’s needs.
For a business or an organization with a clearly articulated mission, the intent and purpose of its web site(s) should be obvious–expressed most clearly as a high quality web product. The mission should also be front and center for those producing the organization’s web site(s)- expressed as a coherent set of strategic policies and tactical standards for web site product development. But, we all know this is seldom the case. Web site quality is frequently at the mercy of some set of ill-thought-out, status quo web production processes and a lack of strategic oversight by senior management. All this for what is most likely the first point of contact for individuals interacting with your organization.
Ten years into mainstream web site development, it’s time to take a step back and assess your organization’s web operational competence and build a solid bridge between the strategic intent of the organization and the execution of that strategic intent on the web. Most organizations know how to create quality communications products and deploy effective IT applications. They’ve been doing it for years. They just need to apply some of the same effective operational and quality practices to the development of their web products. The web isn’t “new” anymore. So, there’s no excuse for settling for a low quality, badly managed web product. Creating a high-quality web product includes:
- Setting measurable, strategic goals for the site(s),
- Setting and enforcing web policies and standards,
- Creating user-centered web site information architectures and graphical user interfaces, and web applications,
- Developing sensible, scalable web publishing and application development processes, and
- Finding the right set of web infrastructure tools to support the operations of your web site.
If you have a big mess of a web site, then I’m sorry for you. I’ve worked on a few of those and it’s a frustrating experience. But it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get that site back under control–or perhaps in control for the first time. Anticipate that this may take some time – perhaps a few years; but, when you think about how long it took to get your web site into the state that it’s in right now, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Moving from a reactive, project-by-project web production paradigm to a proactive operationally-focused web management paradigm is not easy. When planning, make sure that you avoid the mistakes of the past. The most common mistake is not having a cross-functional planning team in place to make informed choices about what needs to happen on the web site. Any web strategic planning team should include a balance of communications and technical resources along with content subject matter experts. Web operations planning without one of these key view points will lead to the development of a low-quality web product because a web site, by its very nature, is a content-rich, communications and transactional vehicle delivered on a technology platform.
Moving from “reactive” to “proactive” web operations management requires some work. A good approach to web operational planning is to outline your ‘as-is” state and define your key objectives in each of the following areas:
- Strategy & Governance: Defining the strategic intent of the site as well as the policies and standards by which it will be run.
- Content, Data & Applications: Designing the best approach to meeting the strategic objectives through the proper creation and structuring of content, data and applications.
- Process & Workflow: Determining how best to produce your web product.
- Tools & Infrastructure: Selecting, architecting and implementing the technology platform which will support your web product.
I’ve found that this structured approach to web operational planning leads to a higher quality web product and less organizational churn regarding web site development. It’s not a quick fix though. But it is a permanent fix because it focuses not on fixing one discrete web site problem – such as an inappropriate graphical user interface design. But instead addresses the organizational operational problems that caused the deployment of inappropriate design in the first place. Focusing on web operations management holistically will position an organization to react to changes in web technologies and content requirements as they arise but also ensure that what gets generated is of high quality— now and in the future.
For more on Web Operations Management there’s a primer at: http://www.welchmanconsulting.com/articles/WOM_v4.pdf and you and register for my half-day Web Operations Management tutorial at the Gilbane Conference in Boston on November 28th.