Our last post on web renewal examined the different flavours for large scale transformations of a departmental web site. While there are various types and combinations of renewal strategies – content, information architecture and technical – planning their implementation as distinct projects with a beginning, middle and end typically should be regarded as an ominous sign. Treating web renewal as a project means the foundational pieces needed to support the web in a sustainable fashion are weak or perhaps nonexistent. We’ll look at the relationship of web renewal efforts with those pieces to illustrate the optimal path to web renewal success.
Part 2 – Renewal through Constant Change
For large organizations, delivering a web product that is useful and meaningful requires constant change, since the needs and expectations of your users are constantly changing. Large scale overalls of your web presence are sometimes required if you need significant change in direction. The value gained from these exercises, however, will slowly erode if the structures that support the web presence are lacking.
We’ve drawn three simple diagrams to help illustrate why changing your look, content and technology may only get you so far. The first diagram shows an ever expanding gap in your service offering if you take a lights-on approach to your website. The second one shows a similar scenario of service gaps if web renewal projects are carried out in isolation from the management of your foundational structures. The final illustration should be the goal of any organization management a web presence, with the right support in place to evolve alongside the client needs and expectations.
Continual Improvement through the Web Maturity Model
The foundation required to properly manage a web presence can be measured against our Web Maturity Model, which encapsulates a sustainable foundation through seven pillars, each of which plays a critical role in effective Web channel management. The pillars are defined as follows:
Governance – Governance structures define decision-making authority and accountability, typically in the form of persons or groups (committees, boards, working groups, etc.) and are responsible for addressing issues of budget, capacity and ongoing sustainability.
Strategy and Planning – Strategies and plans for the web demonstrate that the organization is making efforts to use the Web effectively, manage and control costs, ensure compliance with relevant statutes and policies and improve service delivery as well as internal business processes.
Roles and Competencies – Developing an effective Web site requires many different competencies and skills working in concert, including:
• Specifying who does what in a given process;
• Specifying the boundaries between different functions in a given process; and
• Specifying accountability for the activities in a given process.
Research-Driven Design – There is increasing recognition that effective Web sites reflect an in-depth understanding of the site’s users and their needs, and that effective Web management requires a commitment to undertaking appropriate research to inform design efforts.
Performance Management – A performance measurement framework defines the means by which the organization will measure success against defined outcomes. The framework should specify which metrics will be used for each outcome, and how the results will be obtained.
Web Standards and Guidance – Almost all federal Web sites are expected to comply with a number of Acts and federal policies, i.e. Common Look and Feel. In addition, standards and guidance should be developed for information architecture, editorial, visual design, IM and technologies.
Technology – The operating systems, applications, programming languages, standards and tools that underpin the organization’s Web development and publishing activities are planned, implemented and evaluated in accordance with desired business outcomes.
Together, these seven components can give your organization the footing it needs to keep pace with the ever-changing needs and expectations of your users and produce a web product that truly delivers. It’s more than just a “web renewal project”: it’s about a program of web management.
Our next post in this four-part series will look at sustainability in web channel management as an antidote to the resource-intensive web renewal project.
Recently my colleagues Denise, Alex and I met up at the local diner to catch up on our projects. Over eggs and coffee we realized that despite us working on Web-related projects in six different departments, the issues, challenges and at times high stress levels faced by our public sector clients are very similar. We decided to put together a series of blogs to pull together some of the important lessons learned from this aggregate of projects.
This series of Web Renewal blogs is designed to help the Federal Government continue in its quest to deliver meaningful web content to Canadians.
Part 1 – More Than One Piece to the Puzzle
All six of the Web Renewal projects we were working on tackled seemingly similar challenges under similar labels: Web Renewal, Web Renovation, Web Transformation. However, when we lifted the rock to see what these projects were really about, we were presented with a host of different challenges. The rubric of “Web renewal” (or something similar) is being used as an umbrella for what we’re seeing as four different types of project:
IA Renewal: Often the stepping stone to a deeper problem, clients are looking to fix a broken Web experience by cleaning up their navigation and underlying information architectures.
Content Integration: A lot of our Government clients are still working hard to clean up their footprint on the Web. We’ve helped several organizations forge ahead with taking their 200+ websites and streamline them into a single, cohesive Web presence.
Content Renewal: This type of work involves taking all of walls of policy text from your website and turning into useful, findable, readable, meaningful Web content. If only people would spend more time and money in this area!
Technical Migration: Moving from one technical platform to another. The panacea of managing and delivering content through a Web Content Management System (WCMS) (or a shinier newer one), often gets embedded with cleaning up content and navigation.
None of the above: In some cases, the issue being manifested on the Web is rooted in issues that have very little to do with the Web. Absence of organizational vision or direction, poor leadership, misunderstanding of client needs, or complicated policies and operations can all be brought to the surface by trying to make a usable Web experience. However, just because the website is unclear, doesn’t the mean the problem is with the Web.
What’s the point of all these definitions? Fixing a large GC website can have many different facets to it, and moving forward towards a fix requires a good understanding of what the true problems are, a solid project plan and the support of senior management.
Mixing up the right Web Renewal cocktail from the outset can save a lot of pain and frustration down the road. If you’re looking onto a similar type of project for your organization, here are a few quick notes about how to best shape your project and avoid shooting yourself in the foot.
Content Integration and Information Architecture work are a natural fit together.
Content Integration and Content Renewal are also a good pairing.
Content Integration, Renewal, and IA can all be done at once too, but it’s a big project.
Content Renewal on its own or combine with other things is a lot of work. It’s incredibly valuable and necessary work, but a lot of it.
Technical Migration is just different. Doing this in lock-step with the uprooting your IA and content can be extremely challenging.
Our next post in this series will focus on some of the foundational pieces often overlooked in Web Renewal projects that can make or break its success.
Do you find yourself looking at your organization’s website and wondering: why can’t we just throw it all out and start over? Wouldn’t that be better than working with stale content that no one reads? Or that was architected by previous management who have moved on?
We’ve yet to see a government department act on this impulse, which is fortunate. Starting from scratch undoes months of work and means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s likely some nugget of good content lurking here and there, and more importantly, some relevant thinking about audience segments, content types and tasks. So what is the logical next step for an ailing site?
A web strategy is always a good start. It has the benefit of setting a direction that then guides all future development. Another more hands-on effort (which can occur simultaneously) is a content audit. An audit involves conducting an inventory, identifying ownership and then having owners make decisions about their contents’ future.
Environment Canada recently used a content audit approach to sift through 100,000 pages. They ended up with a much leaner content repository that now stands at a third of the original. By getting rid of the stale content, the relevant content is easier for users to find
During an audit, you want owners to make decisions about their content. No owner willing to step up? Archive the content and take it off the site. No owners willing to make decisions? Give them plenty of notice (and gentle reminders) and explain the end goal (better site management, satisfied users, etc.) but give them a deadline you’re ready to act upon. As in, you’ll remove the content unless they decide. And do so. A reaction sets the stage for a fulsome discussion of the content value relative to the goals of users and desired business outcomes.
If you’re looking at a site with more than 500 pages, this is a full-blown project, requiring a dedicated coordinator and one or more other team members to talk to content owners and catalogue the results. The effort in days will depend on the number of pages, owners and complexity of the site structure. You’ll need well-written criteria to make content decisions and a communications plan to articulate the project to various stakeholders. Management should regularly be apprised of your progress and alerted of any issues or risks requiring their action.
A content audit sounds like tough medicine but it’s the most effective way to deal with sites that have lost their way, without throwing the good pieces in the trash by accident.
Denise Eisner is a consultant in the Government Service Excellence practice. Follow Denise on
In the May 2010 edition of Wired, Jonah Leher’s article got me thinking about philosopher Karl Popper and how his theory on Clocks and Clouds isn’t far off an approach I use when designing processes. Popper:
“..divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.”
After watching this video, I found that this is often the starting point for RACI sessions we hold with the public service. Or put another way, who’s going to get the call if things go wrong? Often times (after arms become uncrossed) we see one of two reactions – those who see the advantage of coveting additional accountability and those who would prefer to stay under the radar and defer the accountability.
The simplicity and clarity of the RACI helps us cut through these types of challenges and by the end of the session, we often strike the right balance of accountability, remove any overlaps (perceived or real) and fill in any organizational gaps, such as needs for new or enhanced skills and competencies. The RACI model gets our clients to the interim outcome they want – a self-identification of functional roles and responsibilities as a starting point to governance and organizational redesign. Simply put – it starts to fix what’s broken and fine tunes the organizational engine. More importantly, a RACI matrix is more than tool; it’s the fuel that fosters the right dialogue between the right stakeholders.
Luckily Abott and Costello didn’t have a RACI matrix in front of them. If they did, there would have been no confusion and we would all have one less thing to laugh at in this world.
Denis Barbeau is Partner and Practice Lead, Strategic Business Consulting. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently received a subscribed-to update email from the American Management Association (AMA). The first piece of content, titled “A new leadership role model: honeybees” struck me as an interesting one so I delved a little deeper.
It turns out that professor Michael O’Malley form the Columbia Business School has written a book called The Wisdom of Bees where he aims, among other things, to demonstrate that bees have much to teach the business world about how to be productive.
As I read the abstract in the AMA newsletter and browsed other Blog articles where Michael’s work had been discussed, I couldn’t help but make the link between the lessons Bees teach us and their applicability to an organization’s attempt at being innovative.
According to Michael, bee colonies teach us 3 important organizational lessons:
1. Protect the future
2. Permit individuality
3. Promote stability
Let’s consider each in turn in the context of Innovation.
An organization’s innovative capacity is critical to its longevity. Organizations that orient themselves to their external environment and are hyper aware of, and adapt to, its changing circumstance are better equipped to protect their own futures. There is a direct correlation between your ability to protect your future and your ability to innovate.
I see two dimensions to this lesson. The notion of permitting individuality is both about the distribution of decision making as well as the diversity of personnel. While innovation is both a product and a process (see below), ideas themselves are usually the byproduct of individual creativity and group collaboration. Permitting individuality at both layers in an organization increases its agility and creativity, thus boosting its innovative capacity and ability to protect its future.
In an earlier Blog post I talked about the barriers to innovation in the public sector – delivery pressures and administrative burdens, lack of resources, and low tolerance for risk – and how public sector organizations need to better embrace failure and ensure that the learnings from those failures are harvested and harnessed. The lesson of promoting stability is again one that has two dimensions to it. First, and related to the above barriers, organizations need to create stability in the minds of resources within the organization that innovation is indeed important and will be supported both politically as well as with resources. Because innovation entails risk, particularly political risk in the public sector, psychological stability needs to be created by senior management by demonstrating a higher risk tolerance and an acceptance of failure in support of learning. Second, organizations need to promote stability by trying to habituate innovation. While ideas are creative, innovation itself is a process that requires practice. Building an innovative process capability in the organization promotes stability in execution which will, over time, increase innovative capacity and once again better enable protection of the future.
A recent article by Lee McCormack in the May 2010 issue of Government Executive Magazine discussed innovation in the context of the public sector (PS). His key barriers to PS innovation – delivery pressures and administrative burdens, lack of resources, and low tolerance for risk – are not unfamiliar to anyone who has tried to transform or create an organization, product, or service.
What struck a chord as I read this article was the phrase “Fail Forward”. Many practitioners, including myself, within the product or service innovation space will have used the term “fail fast” and/or “fail often” at some point in time to convey an approach to innovative work where an organization progresses initiatives at a pace that allows them to know quickly whether or not that initiative will fail so that investments are minimized. But to Lee’s point, and to the chagrin of many within the PS who have attempted to do something with good intentions but who have failed, failure often presents negative and significant career ramifications for public servants which is one of the key reasons why the PS has had challenges innovating. The notion of Failing Forward – accepting that sometimes innovation will fail and that it shouldn’t hamper an employee’s advancement – is critical.
As I thought about this further, I couldn’t help but equate this situation – the mandate to innovate and improve but the lack of a cushion to fail on – with the situation parents face almost every day. With children, it is our job to facilitate our children’s development; their mental and physical growth. If we define innovation as at-least incremental improvement to <something>, we are indeed the shepherds of our children’s innovation. Their improvement at riding a bike, hitting a baseball, or playing piano is directly related to our practice as parents to ensure they know there is a cushion to fail on. For mistakes made at riding a bike, hitting a baseball, or playing piano are good mistakes because they learn from them and get better because of it. In fact, after guiding them through a few mistakes, we know they eventually won’t need us any more. In an organizational context, this is a path to efficiencies and employee engagement.
We usually don’t take the bike away after a couple of falls.
A culture of risk intolerance can be such a disservice to an organization. First, it creates so much fear of failure that even the “right thing to do” is not done. Second, when failure occurs and people are subject to negative consequences, the learning from the failure is lost and not applied to the next situation so organizational learning grinds to a halt. While changing a culture built up over decades is a significant challenge, when approached one thought at a time it becomes more manageable. So for PS executives and leaders, one thought exercise to engage in when facing decisions about how to deal with failures and learning in the context of an innovative/new work initiative is to picture a young child on a bike with training wheels and remember the approach you’d take to shepherding their improvement.
I work alongside some very dedicated, passionate web people in government. They want to have web sites that are usable, readable and of value to the audiences they’re intended to reach. For reasons both obvious to those in government and to anyone else who has tried to push new ideas in large organizations, there’s a set of what we euphemistically term “challenges” to achieving these goals.
But let’s say for a moment that said challenges were surmountable and the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Office) was giving me carte blanche to run the web site per accepted best practices and the latest in research-driven design principles. Wow! Colour me happy!
Quick, before the HIPPO changes his/her mind, here’s my wish list:
Double the size of the web team – No site that is designed to reach audience segments as vast and varied as those served by government sites can be run with two people, neither of which have time to strategize, plan, write, edit, apply metatags, code, test, and perform quality control, all while responding to the latest request to convert a 200-page report to HTML. Scale the team to the size of the site really needed by users.
Let my team control the site design – Everyone has opinions but design by opinion war only leads to chaos and bad feeling. I’ll consult with stakeholders, sure. I’ll amass quality research to back up my ideas and proposals (web metrics, surveys, usability tests, etc.). But I’ll make all high-level design decisions regarding navigation, breadcrumbs and landing pages. And I’ll be able to defend those decisions with data.
Have dedicated IT resource(s) on the Web team – Rather than have the disconnect that can exist between varying business units, combine the various skill sets needed to have a strong web group capable of supporting high-quality content and web infrastructure.
Publish good content, not FAQs – I was recently inspired by R. Stephen Gracey’s post on how FAQS “seem to constitute a basic instruction manual or else call attention to selling features, making them only marginally useful to users with real questions.” I want good writers to develop quality, searchable content and an editor to oversee publishing standards.
Help me get the web strategy approved – I need senior support for defining why we need a web site and who we really serve (beyond the catch-all “all Canadians”). This will help me maintain a focused web operation that strategic, not reactionary, and supports our business priorities.
Approve a governance model for the web – In order to make informed, strategic decisions around the web, particularly for the aforementioned strategy, let’s implement the roles we defined for a web champion, working group, ad hoc teams and steering committee.
I’ll just do Web 2.0, now – Hey, I’ll start a blog! I found a SME who’s willing to share his/her expertise with a specific audience (teachers, businesspeople, scientists), so I added the blog to the site, moderated it myself, and can report the site activity to management. It involves extra work but as EPA web 2.0 guru Jeffrey Levy told me last year, you learn by doing. We’ll keep an eye on performance and keep tweaking it as needed.
Good measurement tools – You only can manage what you can measure. Let’s get the right tool and get a professional to configure it according to our performance indicators. I can help find efficiencies if I have good data to present to senior management.
Quite a wish list, but these approaches all point to effective site management.