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A new generation of executives for whom the web is neither cool nor cryptic are wrestling with the results of a decade long neglect of online operations.
I get a lot of email from people in this position.
They have lifted the lid and discovered teams that are poorly structured, under-resourced and with little or no direction. To set things right they need a framework upon which to build a new system of Web Governance.
But, where to start?
The difficulty is that there is so little to go on. The discipline of Web Governance is still in its infancy.
My contribution has been to suggest that the fundamentals of Web Governance can be captured in a single model. This model describes everything in terms of just 4 Primary Governance Activities, each of which is supported by 4 Pillar Resources.
4 Primary Activities
- Leadership: Someone to provide direction, incl. setting strategy & goals, etc.
- Development: Someone to create & evolve the site, incl. planning, design, content, code, testing, publicity, etc.
- Maintenance: Someone to oversee it day-to-day, (incl. publishing, QA, feedback monitoring, performance monitoring, etc.
- Infrastructure: Someone to manage technical needs, incl. security, software, hardware, hosting, etc.
4 Pillar Resources
- People: The right number of people with the right skills in the right teams with clear responsibilities.
- Processes: Approved systems & documentation for doing all the activities of governance.
- Tools: The necessary tools for doing all the activities of governance.
- And a budget to fund it all.
(Each of the activities which can be further broken down into several distinct tasks. Download a chart of all the activities of Web Governance.)
The strength of this model is that it is scalable to a website of just about any size.
That is, it can be applied equally well to the operations of a 'Mom-n-Pop' bakery store, as to the cross-continental machinations of 'MegaCorp'.
The elements within the framework remain constant (the same primary activities, the same pillar resources) - it is merely their granularity & sophistication that change.
Let's see how this works... Mom-n-Pop vs. MegaCorp
Consider the Web Governance needs of Mom-n-Pop versus MegaCorp - two businesses at the opposite ends of the online spectrum.
- Mom-n-Pop's website is very simple. It's composed of a dozen or so pages of brochureware content (text and images with a few downloads). Because it is aimed at their local community, it is not so busy and is mainly used to publicise opening hours and special offers.
- In contrast, MegaCorp runs scores of sites localised to markets around the world. Each site contains thousands of pages of sophisticated, interactive content and attracts millions of visitors per week.
Even though these sites could not be more different, they both need to enact the same activities and invest in the same resources.
That is, each needs to provide leadership, undertake development, expedite maintenance & manage infrastructure - and provide the resources to do so.
But MegaCorp's online presence is huge and Mom-n-Pop's is tiny.
That means that although the activities and resources may the same - the granularity and sophistication by which they are deployed differs hugely.
- For Mom-n-Pop, the configuration of their governance resources may be as simple as asking their son to create and maintain the site using a few freeware tools, and giving him a hundred dollars a month to keep it going. Easy!
- In contrast, MegaCorp requires dozens of skilled people (designers, techies, writers, managers) organised into teams with clear responsibilities. In addition, they require expensive and specialist tools with a large budget to support operations.
This difference in granularity and sophistication is a factor of the difference in "Scale" of the two sites.
When most people ask for help with Web Governance what they really want to know is how to configure their pillar resources (teams, skills, budgets) to make sure all the necessary activities of governance can be correctly expedited, including...
- How to build the team & allocate responsibilities?
- How many people to hire?
- With what skills?
- What procedures & documentation to put in place?
- What tools to buy for them?
- How to budget for it all?
Although the model of Web Governance is useful as a conceptual tool for bringing disparate activities and resources together into a single framework, it cannot be used to recommend specifics.
To do that, we need to add one extra dimension to the model, referred to as the concept of Website Scale.
A careful reading of the descriptions above reveals the three parameters by which the "Scale" of a site may be measured. These are:
- Size: A measure of the effort needed to manage content & other operations (e.g. more content = more time, people & money to create & manage the site).
- Engagement: A measure of the effort needed to manage the traffic & interaction a site generates (e.g. more activity = more time, people & money to engage with/respond to audiences).
- Complexity: A measure of the effort needed to manage the technology upon which a site is based (more complexity = more time, people & money to manage technical issues).
(A more complete description of Website Scale is available in my handbook.)
In short, the bigger, busier and more complex a site is, the more granular become the primary activities of Web Governance. Consequently the more sophisticated must be the supporting pillar resources.
The usefulness of this concept is that when we know the Scale of a site, we can begin to make recommendations for configuring its Web Governance.
No matter what site we are talking about - if it is big, busy and complex - each of its Primary Governance Activities will be highly granular...
- Clear Leadership will be needed in terms of goals & KPIs with regular review.
- Many projects may be at different stages of Development at any time, at planning, design testing, etc.
- Daily Maintenance with a focus on detail will be needed, e.g. QA, responding to feedback, etc.
- Secure management of Infrastructure will be required to keep the show on the road.
As a consequence heavy investment in Pillar Resources will be needed...
- Lots of people with specialist skills, incl. design, code, technology, etc.
- Structured into complex teams with clear demaration
- Following documented procedures
- Using expensive tools
- Based on a big budget
Which brings us back to the big question.
How should I configure this investment to make sure I have a system of Web Governance that works? That is...
- Exactly how do structure my web team?
- Exactly how many staff should I hire?
- Exactly what skills should I look for?
- Exactly how do I allocate roles & responsibilities
- Exactly what processes should I follow?
- Exactly what budget should I ask for?
Although every business is different and local considerations (company culture, history, politics) often dictate how governance happens, there are some common patterns that we can follow.
While these may never be implemented in an orthodox fashion, they do at least provide a template for starting a conversation about how to configure resources in your organisation.
In the next article we will begin to explore some examples - starting with typical configurations of People, including staff numbers, skills and team structure.
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
Website Manager's Handbook | The original guide to online
"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.$9.99 :: Get the fully illustrated Web Handbook
Web Governance & Management Masterclass
5 video classes with fully-illustrated lesson text including up-to-date insight for online operations & governance. Torben Rytt, CEO at Siteimprove commented that "Shane is extremely knowledgeable. His ability to communicate clearly makes working with him a no-brainer."$14.99 for Web Manager's Masterclass
Footnote: Website Scale in reverse
We have seen how knowing the "Scale" of a site allows you to start planning how to much invest in Pillar Resources. That is ...
- A Large Scale Site
- = Lots of People + Specialist skills + Complex tools =
- Lots of Money!
But probably the most useful thing about the concept of Website Scale is that it also works in reverse.
If I know what budget I will be given, I can estimate of the maximum Scale of site I can create, i.e. how big and complex it can be.
And let's face it, this is what usually happens.
Most people are simply told what their annual web budget will be. You then have to make-do as best you can (i.e. decide how to spend it among staff wages, tools, etc.) in order to create as good a site as possible.
As such, if you are given a big budget - you can plan to hire a lot of highly skilled people & buy expensive tools, which means you'll be able to build a large sophisticated site.
In contrast, if you are given a small budget - no matter what your ambitions - you're better off setting your sights lower.