I recently spoke to a group of staff at an association about to start a website redesign. They were concerned about how to insulate their project against eleventh-hour changes and “rethinks” by new leaders who may be elected or hired during the project.
This is not an uncommon problem–a new hire or new president coming on board in the midst of a large project, asking disruptive questions. The questions can be whimsical (“Why is there so much blue in the new design? I hate blue.”) or strategic in nature (“The new website should focus only on this subset of our members.”). What to do?
Do Your Homework, and Don’t Let the Dog Eat It. The first step in mitigating the “newcomer” risk is basing your website strategy on a firm understanding of your organization’s business goals and the things your target audiences need, want, think, and will act on. This requires research–interviews, surveys, analytics, usability testing–and the involvement of all major stakeholders, including the groups of stakeholders who could pose a risk later if they are not included and on board with your strategy. Involving all the relevant groups will help surface latent risks early and help you incorporate big, potentially disruptive questions into your strategy work.
Documenting this discovery and analysis will allow you to point back to the basis for your strategy, if it is ever questioned. It will also enable you to go back to the data and reanalyze it if you ever need to change tack for some reason, for instance, because of changing business needs.
Keep Talking. Good communication throughout your project will help important stakeholders feel included and will allow them to raise questions and concerns early enough to address them as needed. Activities such as card sorting and usability testing are great opportunities to involve multiple stakeholder groups (these activities can be part of your discovery or come a bit later). Quick project briefings at regular intervals are helpful, as well.
Have a Plan. Prior to launch, a solid governance plan for your new site will help guard against out-of-left-field requests to change the website in ways that don’t support your agreed-upon strategies and design principles. There are reasons not everything belongs on the homepage. Write them down. There are also specific people in charge of making decisions about various aspects of the organization’s web presence. Empower those people by naming them in a formal document that has been blessed by executive leadership.
Get the C-Suite on Your Side. Finally, on the subject of executives, make sure you have one or more executive champions for your project, your governance plan, and the website. This can help immensely in keeping the project and the site on track and insulated against risks from staff and others who might not buy into your strategy or chain of authority.
Photo Credit: Andrew Becraft, Flickr Creative Commons; original image cropped.