Managing websites is about managing, not about websites

In this issue

The challenge of managing websites isn’t about websites, it’s about managing.

Well-intentioned people + dysfunctional organizations = dysfunctional websites

In her recent blog, Why government websites (still) suck our good friend Laura Wesley noted that the poor quality of many Canadian websites (she cites “…outdated, poorly formatted content”) does not result from lack of people with good intentions. “Even well-intended public servants are churning out terrible websites”, she says. In our experience also, there are many hard-working, committed public servants doing the best they can to deliver excellent service via the web, and to have a real impact on the economy, health, and environment of Canada.

“Even well-intended public servants are churning out terrible websites”  Laura Wesley (@ResultsJunkie)

The problem is that these people are working within dysfunctional organizations. In part, this is just a reflection of the fact that the web is only 15 years old and still evolving rapidly. It takes longer than that to develop a whole new set of disciplines and skills, the team structures to support them, and the organizations that allow them to work effectively and efficiently. However, this does not absolve senior managers of the responsibility to experiment and improve their organizations, rather than relying on the formulae that worked in the past.

Managers must experiment, with a clear vision and focus

For example, many websites (government and others) are still managed by old organizational entities: Public Affairs, Marketing, the Communications Department, or even IT. None of those should own the website on their own; the management issues cut across all of those units. By definition, then, the ownership of the problem is also higher up the management chain than any one of those organizational units.
Along with the usual problems of large, bureaucratic organizations, Laura highlights a “lack of vision… and focus”. All organizations are trying to create change in the world. Changes such as getting more people to buy products; attracting the best students, researchers and lecturers to a University; making citizens behave in healthier ways. These goals, these changes in the world should be the visions that drive website design and management.

In any kind of organization, we often see a distinct lack of focus on measuring those changes: the performance, the results, the impact of a website.

Measure the impact

People are, however, measuring all kinds of things on their websites. Technology churns out data by the boat-load. Too many managers have become mesmerized by the data, and have lost focus on the impact they’re supposed to be having.
In his latest newsletter, Volume is the wrong way to measure web success, Gerry McGovern takes an example from the world of real estate and points out how website data can be totally misleading in the current economic realities of the housing market.

Static reports are also the wrong way to measure your web impact. Too often we see managers using meaningless, standardized web statistics reports. Sometimes this is because the managers are distant from the web statistics owners, and there are organizational barriers to getting flexible and targeted reporting. It also may seem like good management – standardized reports have worked for decades. But measuring the impact of a website is a dynamic, interactive, experimental process.

You cannot define a web-measurement report and leave it to automatically generate a report month after month. Measuring web impact is a discipline, a human process. Measuring the web is not the old model that gave us stacks of reports on green-and-white paper every month. It requires frequent interactions with the data, experimenting and refining, learning and adapting. If you measure web impact, don’t shirk this responsibility.

“For an increasing number of websites, high volume traffic reflects the website’s failure to help customers quickly complete the tasks they came to complete.” Gerry McGovern

Top tasks highlight the management challenge

Frequently, the top tasks of priority audiences also cut across organizational boundaries. In a recent Customer Carewords project with the University of Manitoba, the ‘potential student’ audience delivered clear data that their top task in choosing a University was to find out whether or not the University offers a course of interest to them. This also happens to be the top business goal of the University’s website. And this was not breaking news! A clear management, priority, then, delivering on the top business objective and meeting the priority audience’s top need at the same time!
Subsequent usability testing highlighted the challenges of delivering an excellent experience for this user task. Universities have an organization that has stood them in good stead for hundreds of years. The ‘choosing a University’ task for potential students cuts across Registration and Admissions, deals with Finances, Awards and Grants, Tuition Fees and other costs, Residences, possibly Student Affairs, maybe the Faculty of Research in addition to the Faculty or Faculties that might offer the suitable program. To coordinate all these contributors in delivering an excellent web-based experience for the potential student is incredibly difficult. Yet, in an increasingly competitive environment, that is what must be done; organizations must change or die. Senior managers have the responsibility of creating that change.

Use data to focus management attention and resources

At the University of Manitoba, they have at least taken a huge step forward, because they now have the data to identify where the priorities are. And the priorities are few – the ‘long neck’, we call it – so management focus can be clear. The resources and management attention can be allocated more effectively using the data. These are the same steps that any organization needs to take:

  • Identify the top audiences’ top tasks in relationship to your business goals
  • Use data about the performance of those tasks to drive allocation of resources and budgets
  • Create a more effective organization around a clear, focused, management vision

Yet again, the issue turns out not to be about the website, but about managing. That’s where the change has to begin.

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Quote of the month

“Before we can measure success we need to understand the customer’s task.”

Gerry McGovern


 

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