In many large organizations there is an ongoing debate – sometimes a battle — for ownership of the web operations. Who should control it: public affairs or IT? I think the answer is neither one. The responsibility for web operations is bigger than any one department can handle. Today, forward-leaning organizations treat web as a separate program office which has tentacles across every part of the organization.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS OR IT? NEITHER!
Why is this necessary? Because when it is functioning at a high-level, the web permeates every corner of the business operations of the organization. Public Affairs and IT support remain critical, but other parts of the organization need a voice in decisions and must fully engage to produce high performing content and functionality if you are to succeed.
In any organization you will have differences of opinion on strategy and direction. That means you need a path for appeals if consensus can’t be found. Because public affairs and IT are often in the same hierarchy in the org chart, that means attempts at a “first among equals” decision structure often results in an uncomfortable tension that can lead to problems. Decisions become standoffs frozen in a gridlock, and if the two units are not moving in the same direction – train wrecks are possible.
Examples of organizations who have adopted this third-way path abound. At Housing and Urban Development, the web belonged to the Deputy Secretary. Dispute resolution has a better chance of resolution here.
Other organizations make placement decisions based in larger measure on funding channels and coordination experience and not hierarchy concerns. When I worked at the Department of Energy, for example, the web team worked in the Office of Consumer Information which was part of the Management and Administration department. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at the Commerce Department, the web program also belongs to the administration function where all business units go for shared resources. At the federal level, the usa.gov portal is inside the General Services Administration – again, an organization which exists to offer administrative services to others.
OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The way you organize this web program office is as important as its placement in the organization. Your primary job should be to do your work through others, which means a measure of trust along with clear roles and responsibilities are vital.
When you are charged with running a large organization’s web site, hopes and expectations are always high. The website and its platform are the greatest tool for building awareness and buzz about your organization and may also generate critical revenue. However, perhaps like no other part of the org chart, your ability to succeed rests on the shoulders of many people in different sub-organizations. These people may be geographically dispersed and you generally don’t have much control over hiring or firing.
Your obstacles you face generally fall into three categories:
- Organizational confusion and disarray
- Trustworthy information
- Strategic focus
From an organization perspective, confusion and disarray may reign. The cause, fundamentally speaking, is that engineers and marketing professionals have difficulty talking to each other in the same language. Compounding by the problem: they understand or describe the top threats and opportunities the same way. Because the web organization leans on different business units, competing agendas can be at work as each power-center pushes for different solutions that serve their interests and perhaps not the interests of the organization at large.
From an information viewpoint, as a top manager you are at risk of getting untrustworthy and unreliable information about the current status and future trends. It’s not always sinister. Those who convey information will always have a certain bias they bring with their data, based on their professional point of view and the power center they represent. In addition, when it comes to exposing problems to the leadership of an organization, there is a natural human tendency to want to fix it before you report it. This means that too often, problems will fester hidden from view.
Finally, there is the issue of your strategic focus. Where to begin, and how to prioritize where you focus your energy and attention is a constant a tug of war if you are not armed with a well thought out strategy adopted across the organization. Any time you measure performance, the question “compared to what” also comes into play. Metrics in isolation from other comparable data – be it benchmarks against competitors or a comparison with your performance during a different time period – is subject to sharp criticism.
Management practices for our websites have not always matured at the same speed as the massive content growth on the web sites they oversee. It is not uncommon to find yourself in charge of a complex mountain of content and functionality and staff structure with few controls and even less power to guide a sound strategy for growth.
Adding complexity to the web team leader’s dilemma: the more senior you are in the organization, the more likely it is that those charged with the day-to-day tasks and operations necessary to keep your site on track will be remote from your orbit. You must do your work through others. Yet, cooperation across business lines and traditional reporting structures are an elusive goal. Fair or not, the buck stops with you if systems fail, go haywire…or succeed beyond your wildest dreams.
MY DREAM TEAM: MANAGING UP
I’ve got a vision (and org chart!) of a dream team for a web program office that can lift you out of this Alice in Wonderland riddle. To organize your team you have to manage up, and manage down.
Your web community, both direct reports and dotted line relationships, are in dire need of oversight and direction. Without a dedicated stakeholder group for this purpose – managing up – the site is at risk of floundering.
This group must be representative of core stakeholder communities and website owners across the organization, and meet monthly. It is composed of senior communications leadership from stakeholder interests across the organization and be chaired by the executive leadership of the Web program office, or their designee. Stakeholders who sit on this panel should have direct report status to their senior manager and remember to route critical correspondence about their activities through their boss.
The governing panel should also recognize success and receive regular metrics and scorecards on performance to keep all participants accountable for results. This governing group must be charted, with the jurisdiction for discussing and reaching consensus on the following joint activities:
- Web publishing policy
- Web enterprise content management strategy
- Priority trade-offs
- Enterprise Requirements gathering
This group will also provide “air cover” for affirming important policy decisions and setting strategic program direction and a means to send and receive information about the program to all parts of the organization, such as requirements gathering. Before web requirements are given to the governing group for approval, for example, the web community asks for feedback on draft specifications for:
Remember that IT governance and web governance are two separate but related activities. The web governance panel should be the decision-making body for web issues without influence from technology stakeholders. While the Web governance panel and program office can develop business cases for technology investments, they should be focused on the operations and maintenance of the existing website.
MY DREAM TEAM: MANAGING DOWN
At the program office level, the jurisdiction includes the functional activities of operating an enterprise website. My org chart was, inspired during work at the World Bank with Rob O’Connell, a senior IT auditor. It details functional roles and not necessarily slots.
This dream team org chart has room for changes to make it your own. Smaller organizations may collapse several roles into one slot. Larger organizations may need to add a deputy role for redundancy for the leader (everyone needs a vacation or sick day once in a while!) or a couple sets for content posting if you own that role too. And don’t forget training and the help desk function – if the IT office doesn’t own it instead of you, you must budget for more roles here as well.
Regardless of your size, however, I believe there are four key enterprise-level web program activities that are at the “core” of your ability to succeed and involve streamlined maintenance and operations activities necessary to support the program, including:
- Policy and standards
- Usability and design
- Analytics (Metrics, usability and feedback) and marketing
- Stakeholder outreach and networking
POLICY AND STANDARDS
The policy and standards function is the functional area of activity that works with the governing panel. Here, your primary role is to manage the full life-cycle of documentation related to the web including enforcement and evaluation for documents such as web policy, style guide, and content publishing rules. With periodic report cards on adherence to these standards, you get the accountability you need to assure compliance.
In addition, this is the part of your operation where you collect requirements that are gathered from other parts of the program office. This role communicates those requirements to other parts of the organization, such as the IT Department and serves as your representative in these discussions.
Finally, you give secretariat support to the governing panel to support and manage their meetings and communications.
USABILITY AND DESIGN
The usability and design function does not include coding, but it does set requirements for the development team in IT. By separating the usability testing from the IT department, you offer a better balance of power and responsibilities. Just like the fox shouldn’t guard the hen-house, the usability and the developer role should be separate functions.
The information architecture role is closely associated with usability testing, and involves selected the navigation and label structure across your site. These decisions are essential to user satisfaction and confidence. By controlling these decisions at the enterprise level, you put the interests of the user front and center and can downplay the political concerns that can get in the way of good decisions.
ANALYTICS AND MARKETING
Measuring and monitoring progress is essential to accountability for results. Your measurement should include both quantitative data, from log analysis tools and systems like Google Analytics and qualitative data from surveys about satisfaction, such as the Customer Carewords Index.
You must also practice continuous listening with your users, to leverage user feedback channels and raw interactions with your visitors. Some of your best ideas for improvements as well as the most insightful early warning system of trouble comes from user feedback.
Marketing the site is also an essential role. Search engine monitoring and search engine optimization are also part of the job in this functional area. Managing outside content cannot be neglected. Assign responsibility for open source marketing to social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and news widgets for RSS feeds to Twitter, Flipbook or other content aggregator sites.
Change requests and deficiency reports for search, user feedback and emerging needs and requirements are funneled to the requirements lead in your program office. Your metrics reports are distributed widely and routinely.
OUTREACH AND NETWORKING
It is vital for web operations team to be highly networked across the organization. The aim of this function is to increase outreach and receive information from all parts of the organization. Collaboration at the working level should be institutionalized in a web community, using an Intranet platform to widely share information and accent two-way communications.
A model organization would entail regular conference calls, coordination and collaboration activity. Formal communication and outreach to the Web leadership in each business units is essential. In addition, you should staff outreach to strategic partners and target audiences outside your organization. This outreach can let you share content and opportunities to embed widgets and RSS feeds so your content can reach across organizational boundaries.
DO YOUR WORK THROUGH OTHERS
You may wonder about other activities that are conspicuous by their absence on this list. What’s missing is the activities owned by others who have both the expertise, knowledge, budget and line authority to succeed.
By focusing on enterprise oversight and business responsibilities, the program office allows other functional and IT roles to fall to others within the organization. If you are a large organization, that means the activities belong to other business units. If you are a small organization, that means these activities are candidates for outsourcing.
These activities, when well executed, “enable” your Web operations to succeed but are not considered “core” activities:
- Metadata and search
- Infrastructure; hosting and domain administration
- Training for users and content providers
- Application development/delivery
- Web development or Content Management System activities; page structure design and deployment
- Web development/CMS help desk activities
In addition, there is the all-important editorial function. You may decide to keep ownership of the home page within your office. It is vital that you run an intranet collaboration space to communicate with your stakeholders. But overall, editorial role should live with the subject matter experts.
If they don’t know how to write for the web, put together the curriculum and ask the training office to provide this instruction. If there are editorial standards you are aiming for, use your policy and standards function to set, publish and enforce these standards. But do not get trapped into doing the work of others. You must work at a higher level, directing the program and pushing it to succeed at its fullest.
As a last resort: add a seat to your team to make sure these important activities are not ignored if other business units do not take them on. You may decide that for your unique needs you want to own search and training, for example. If you own it, resource it, but do not ignore the business need. Because in the end, all of it must get accomplished and you are only as strong as your weakest link.