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Web Governance is the discipline that describes how to manage a website in a controlled and orderly way.

Until quite recently few online professionals were much interested in Governance. There were too many other problems that needed fixing first, like poor design and content.

But not anymore.

A new generation of executives for whom the web is neither cool nor cryptic are lifting the lid on operations and discovering teams that are badly structured and under-resourced.

To set things right they need a practical framework upon which to build a revised system of Web Governance.

In this article we'll explore a new model that explains in clear language how Governance works and a first step towards changing it for the better.

A new system of Web Governance

At its most basic Web Governance can be defined in terms of just 3 components:

  • Governance Activities ... These describe everything you must do to manage a website effectively.
  • Governance Resources ... These describe everything you must have to support the above activities.
  • Website Scale ... This concept determines how to configure the above Activities & Resources into a workable system of Governance.

(See a full list of all Governance Activities & Resources.)

How website scale can be used to plan Web Governance

The power of this definition is that it is applicable to any online venture, no matter what it is about or how big (or small) it is. The only difference is that the granularity and sophistication by which the Activities and Resources are carried out varies as a factor of 'Scale'.

Website Scale is a means of describing a site in terms of its Size, Engagement and Technical Complexity.

An image of the concept of website scale

In short, the Bigger, Busier and more Complex a site is, the more detailed and sophisticated are the Activities and Resources needed to support it.

For example, consider the Web Governance needs of two businesses at the opposite ends of the online spectrum: Vodafone.co.uk and Diffily.com.

An image of a large scale site

Vodafone's online presence is massive. It creates huge amounts of content, attracts well over 1m visitors per month and is built on highly complex technology.

Then we have Diffily.com. It has less than 50 pages of content, attracts low traffic numbers and is built on a basic brochureware-system.

Yet, despite these enormous differences in Scale, both sites need to carry out the same basic Governance Activities (maintenance, development, etc.) and provide the same core Resources (people, tools, etc.) to make things happen.

For Vodafone this means it has to hire a fulltime team of skilled professionals and buy expensive software to support continuous publishing.

In contrast, Diffily.com can get away with simply asking a student to update the site once a week in exchange for a few quid pocket money.

So we see that while the core Activities and Resources on both sites are the same - the granularity and sophistication by which they are implemented differs hugely.

That is why Website Scale is such a powerful tool for Web Governance. It enables us to recognise and plan for these differences in a structured and predictable way.

Different sites but the same Scale

Yet, perhaps the greatest benefit of Website Scale is that allows us to identify common patterns of Governance among sites that share the same metrics for Size, Engagement & Complexity - even if those sites are focussed on very different audiences.

Take the example of Macmillan.org.uk (a cancer charity) and Bhs.co.uk (a retailer). You may think that they are so distinct that each requires quite a different solution in terms of Governance.

An image of 2 sites of the same scale

However, when examined more closely we find that they are both large in Size, they generate a lot of online Activity and use highly Complex technology.

In a sense, it does not matter that these sites have different content & objectives - they are so similar in Scale that they deal with essentially the same Governance problem.

As a result, we can examine them to identify commonalities in how they address such fundamental questions as:

  • What skills do I need?
  • How many people should I hire?
  • How should I structure my team?

What is interesting is that the same patterns of Governance are seen again and again among sites of a similar Scale.

For example, Web Governance on Mid-Large Scale websites (like Macmillan & BHS) often reflect the clustering of staff, skills & team structure illustrated below.

An image of a Mid-Large scale Web Team

What this means for you

If you need to create a new system of Web Governance for your own site (or update one already in place), you don't have to start from scratch. Simply work out the 'Scale' of your site and then refer to examples of Governance that already exist.

With this in mind, I recommend the following steps for anyone wants to reset their Web Governance.

1. Establish the 'Scale' of your site.

Find out where you fit in terms of Website Scale. Are you Big, Busy & Complex or some other mix of Scale? Who are your peers and how do they address the challenge of Governance?

2. Check the granularity & sophistication of your Activities & Resources.

Do they match the Scale of your site? For example, if you find that essential tasks are being overlooked or if you rely excessively on external contractors, it probably means your team is under-resourced.

3. Talk to Senior Management

Use your findings and the framework of Web Governance (described above) to approach Senior Managers to explain what is wrong. They then have 2 choices.

  • Invest more in Governance to match the Scale of the site.
  • Reduce the Scale of the site to match available investment.

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Online Management & Governance Manual

A fully-editable document that lists & describes all the practical elements of an online management system, including:
- Roles & Responsibilities
- Processes & Procedures
- Key Activities
- Tools & Technology

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Website Manager's Handbook | The original guide to online
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Gerry McGovern"Very clear and well written...a lot of practical depth...I'm sure that someone managing a large website, would find it genuinely useful." (Gerry McGovern). The Website Manager's Handbook is the original & bestselling guide to web management.

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Web Governance & Management Masterclass

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