Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Did you just get stuck managing a web site?

It's been a crappy economy and companies/organizations are scaling down dramatically. If you are a "survivor" of layoffs, you are probably doing the work of someone who... well... wasn't.

Maybe you are now managing the corporate web site -- whether you know anything about managing a web site or not.

What's the first thing you should do? Cover your butt. What's the adult, professional version of a Huggy's Pull Up with princesses on it?

Talk to your boss about your personal performance expectations and expectations for the site.

If you still have another full-time job to manage, you really need to be clear with your boss about how much time is to be spent on this. If you are stepping into a web site that either has been running along pretty easily with no big redesigns on the horizon, you'll probably be able to manage it on a part-time basis. If your web site has been sort of ignored and you are stepping in to "get it back on track". You'll be able to manage the amount of time you have to spend if there aren't already many expectations around it. If you get to set what is going to get done, you can control your time.

Just be really conservative about what you plan to do.

If you are being asked to oversee a large-scale redesign or replatform, you are looking at a full-time job. This is true even when you are outsourcing the design and technology. Here's a quick list of the things you'll need to do even if you are outsourcing all of the work:
  • Work with internal stakeholders to figure out what the site needs to do/look like.
  • Document this in as much detail as possible since you'll need to communicate it to vendors.
  • Create an RFP to find a vendor (or multiple vendors).
  • Analyze the proposals as best you can with a limited background in this stuff.
  • Sit through the "dog and pony" shows from vendors and try to figure out who is bullshitting you.
  • Negotiate a schedule and contract with the vendor(s).
  • Work with the vendor's project manager to write up some requirements for design and technology.
  • Talk to the vendor's designers about what your need.
  • Talk with internal stakeholders about the designs you came up with. (Everyone is a designer so stakeholders will demand approval of visual designs and ignore discussions about the technology. That's a little backwards, but such is life.)
  • Make a million micro decisions about what the site does and looks like in order to keep it on schedule and on budget.
  • Find or create graphical resources (logos, photos, etc) for the designers.
  • Find, create, or get others to create an awful lot of editorial content.
  • Make a million more micro decisions about the technology. The programmers need a lot of information from you. For example, a coder working on a form would need to know what the questions are, what the answers are, what font and typesize they need to be, what colors need to be on the form, whether each question is multiple choice or yes/no, and what happens when the "submit" button is pushed.
  • Deal with changes/new ideas from internal stakeholders as time passes. Keep managing these changes to your budget and schedule.
  • Write more content. You'll need a little backlog of stuff so the site changes shortly after its launched.
  • Do technical and content QA (checking for mistakes) on the initial software. This is important. The minute you say it's OK, the vendor has completed his or her contractual obligation. Additional changes will cost you extra.
  • Communicate internally to your boss and your coworkers about the new site and how it will help them/impact them.
  • Oversee the launch -- do another QA. Fix any problems you uncover.
  • Create some documentation for the person who will follow behind you and maintain/grow the site.
  • Possibly hire the person who will follow behind you and maintain/grow the site.
I don't care how amazingly organized you are, you won't be able to effectively maintain your other job. Just trust me on this. Save yourself the ulcer and find a way to take a leave of absence from your other role until about a month after the redesigned site has been launched. (You'll need the month to clean up little things that came up during the main development process and get everything organized for the person who will come in after you to do the maintenance.)

If that's not an option, then you'll need to start getting creative. One possible alternative: Get a buddy. See if you can get your organization to assign at least one other person to help you manage all of this. Two organized people who work well together could pull this off while doing other jobs.

If you are going to be juggling another job, here's another hint. Be really up front with your vendor when you are talking to them initially -- before you sign a contract. Tell them that you are juggling two jobs here and that you'll have limited time for feedback. They can take a lot of the microdecision-making, stakeholder stuff, and documentation off your plate. You'll need to pay the vendor for the extra time, but it'll be cheaper than hiring a full-time person.

A note on social media. Be careful here. Participating in other social networks takes a mind-boggling amount of time over and above the time you are spending on just maintaining/redesigning the site. The catch is that, in order to be noticed, you have to participate a lot -- many times every day. You have to be offering valuable information to the community you are participating in. You have to create personal relationships with people in this community. If you don't slog in the hours, you are just part of the background noise. You won't be noticed, you won't push new people to your web site, and won't hit your organization's goals.

Don't try to keep up with more than one or two social networks. Prioritize according to where your site's people are already congregating and then focus on those. If you are pretty sure that the members of your site's audience aren't heavy social media users, then lobby to get this off your plate until you have some help.


Good luck. You'll need it.

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