(I wrote this post for an internal work blog a little over two years ago. I needed to share it with a colleague today and thought it would be a good idea to just post it publicly.)
I came up with this list whilst thinking about a) how much I dislike "traditional" redesign projects, and b) some Classic Mistakes I've made, seen, and would like to avoid in the future.
My beef with the term *redesign* is that I think it can lead to sloppy thinking and an unhealthy fixation on the org chart, graphic styling, and page real estate over the needs of users. That being said, I'm encouraged by the success of recent efforts at the National Geographic, the New York Times, and the BBC - - maybe there's hope for us!
So I offer for your consideration, Nine Classic Risks of Website Improvement Projects:
- Happy with just short-term improvements
Sr. Management wants a quick-fix to prevent erosion of brand value, but fundamental change is necessary to enable growth of brand value. Mitigation: Be responsive to Sr. Management, but start immediately on mid- and long-term change. Recognize that tinkering with a complex and struggling Web property will quickly approach the point of diminishing returns.
- Ambiguous ownership
Decision-by-committee and unclear lines of authority frustrate participants and dilute the impact of final results. Mitigation: Establish an owner and clear lines of authority.
- Lack of capacity
Organization lacks the internal capacity to manage, execute, and sustain a world-class redeployment of its central portal. Mitigation: Establish a strong Project Management Office to avoid over-reaching. Focus on user-centric, high-impact/low-risk improvements while building the core skills required to own and improve the site over time.
- Inexperienced Managers
The trusted go-to leadership team for bricks-and-mortar projects lack the domain expertise and vision to lead Web and New Media initiatives. Mitigation: Evaluate and adjust the management team, structure, and roles-and-responsibilities. Use empirical data from real users and real site-performance to guide decision making.
- Alienated internal stakeholders
The day-to-day demands of a large, complex project distract leaders from internal communication. Mitigation: Insist on a communication plan and assign clear supervisory responsibility for internal communication.
- Missed opportunities
Lack of vision and/or strategic direction prohibits the pursuit of fundamental and necessary new directions. Mitigation: Invest in the vision and strategy. President Abraham Lincoln said that if he had six hours to cut down as many trees as he could he would spend four hours sharpening the saw.
- Insufficient focus from Sr. Management
Web site improvement is critical to the success of the organization but high-level managers aren't fully engaged in the process. Mitigation: Executives must communicate the importance of Web initiatives to senior staff.
- Stuck in Web 1.0 or Web 1.5
The organization invests enormous time/effort working on cosmetic appearance and rudimentary interaction with audiences, but fails to recognize the fundamental sea-change in Web behavior as evidenced through Web 2.0 design patterns (see Tim O'Reilly's What is Web 2.0? http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html). Mitigation: Invest in the core competencies of Web 2.0 organizations and insist on more than a cosmetic redesign—lipstick on a pig!
- Atrophy over time
The organization lacks the skills and staffing to own and improve the Web site after the contract is done, and shifting technologies and audience/demographic preferences quickly make investments obsolete. Mitigation: Understand Website improvement as a 24 x 7 x 365 responsibility and plan/staff accordingly. Modest adjustments well maintained will beat big adjustments poorly maintained every time.