From service to strategy

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Icon Sep 13, 2021

Planning your way to a more productive web team

The following is a modified version of a presentation I gave at Higher Education Websites Conference 2018

If you want your web team to play a more strategic role at your organisation, you won’t succeed by operating like a website help desk.  The following is an outline of how I’ve led web teams from a “service-model” to a more strategic approach. The reality is that you will probably never be able to avoid operating some kind of service desk, but what you want to focus on is giving your team as much scope and space to work on the projects that are most important to your business that will deliver the most value.

So the big idea is not very original – plan all your big rocks first. This is the concept made famous by Stephen Covey. It’s usually applied to personal goals and productivity, but it can equally apply to managing web projects as well. The idea is that you need to ensure that you plan and schedule in advance the major projects you want to achieve in the coming year.

The ability to confidently do this kind of advanced planning is dependant on a few factors –

Is your team clear on your scope of responsibility? You need to know what you are responsible for, and what you are not. Seems really obvious, but it’s critical in ensuring you are planning projects that fall squarely within your realm of responsibility.

You then need to align your areas of responsibility with the business strategy, vision, roadmap etc. To move to a strategic web approach, you need to connect your projects to this existing strategy, either at the organisation level if you are a centralised web team, or at the functional or business area level, if you operating within a defined area of your organisation.

I’m suggesting you don’t need to come up with your own web strategy. I’ve tried to do this numerous times, and as good as it might feel to have a web strategy you can hold in your hands, it’s a really difficult process, the strategy itself is quickly out of date, and you run the risk of developing a strategy that you’ve constantly got to (re)align with the broader organisational strategy.

Much better, and easier, is to align your activities to existing strategic priorities. A simple process to follow is to take each line item, and work through with the relevant stakeholders to identify how each strategic focus area might inform the kinds of web projects you need to deliver.

As part of this process of strategy alignment, you need to ensure you have appropriate high-level, senior executive, support. You can do this by forming a web governance body / reference group / steering committee – whatever you like to call it. As long as it’s full of important people who have a view on how your organisation should do business online. Use this group to not only input into your plans but also use them as an escalation point for supporting you in the many times you will need to respond to stakeholders by defering or declining their non-strategic web initiative request.

The next thing to do is ensure you have good stakeholder engagement and communication mechanisms in place. If your institution is anywhere near as complex as ours, you will need a matrix of different mechanisms – some formal with agendas and minutes, some more informal. Hopefully many forums already exist that you can just tap into and include a standing agenda item about the web. You will need to be deliberate in seeking stakeholders out and engaging with them in some kind of ongoing way. The reason for doing this is, is to ensure you have the channels in place to gather information about future website requests, so that you can anticipate and match these where there are links to strategy.

And we’ve found it’s not enough to just hit the highest level in the tree either, as you can’t assume information always flows smoothly up and down the structure. But definitely map out who and how you will engage with your stakeholders and ensure you have good coverage

So, with the 3 key things in place:

  1. a clear view of strategy,
  2. a web governance structure, and
  3. good relationships with all your key stakeholders,

NOW all you need to do is map out all your “big rocks”

I suggest you run a high level scoping activity for each of the big projects you identify. Note things like relative size, complexity, when the site was last updated, and your assessment of it’s priority. Then schedule all these most important projects through the year. And take it to your web governance body for their approval. And this list then becomes your annual program of strategic website projects

Now even with this structure in place, we still get a lot of jobs that pop up through the year, of course. So to handle this, establish a process where all web jobs, large or small, come in through a centralised queue. If they are bigger than business as usual, they need a business case developed. And from there, scope the work out, and if it is significant enough to impact the delivery of your approved strategic work, then escalate it to the web governance body to review. It’s their call whether the job is important enough to bump other jobs off the schedule.

Once you are underway, you can use any type of tracking mechanism you like for your program of work. Whatever you use, make sure it is shareable to keep your stakeholders informed, and as a general communications tool, so that anyone within or outside our team can see the volume of work and relative priorities, at any point in time. The key thing here is clear visibility, for your own team as much as for other stakeholders

In order to stay on track it’s imperative that at any point in time, your team and everyone else, is clear on what the big rocks are!