Creating an effective web strategy

Paul Boag

As organisations grapple with the issues surrounding digital, the number of web strategy documents is skyrocketing. Unfortunately all too often these documents are completely unrealistic in their approach.

About a year ago we came to a realisation at Headscape. We realised that no matter how good the websites we built were, they were often failing to live up to their potential. The problem was many of the organisations we worked with were failing to manage the sites effectively. There were deeper organisational issues that needed to be addressed. We therefore started to help companies address these issues by tackling problems of strategy, governance and ongoing management.

I’ll be honest with you, it has been a steep learning curve. Over the last year I have gone through a crash course in business strategy and the tools of management consultants. I have learnt so much and discovered so many invaluable techniques. However, I have also discovered that not all of these approaches apply to the web.

The web is a different medium, requiring a different approach

Take for example the creation of a web strategy. At first glance you might be inclined to think this document could be similar to that of a business strategy. However, things are not that easy.

Most business strategy documents are produced in a relatively stable environment. It is normally possible to see problems on the horizon and to plan 3–5 years ahead. Not only does this allow for a relatively predictable roadmap, it also allows for financial planning over that period. Budgets can be set and the organisations can be confident that these are reasonably accurate.

Unfortunately the web is not a stable environment and so you cannot approach a web strategy in the same way.

The web is unstable. It is a medium of rapid change and exponential growth. New techniques, tools and challenges emerge on almost a daily basis. It is fluid and unpredictable.

Why there is a desperate desire for a web strategy

This is the very reason why organisations so desperately want a web strategy. They want to control and understand the landscape. They want answers to questions about personalisation, content syndication, social media and oh so much more. Senior management hear these buzzwords, see the web speeding by and worry.

They want to get answers, plan and budget for this digital future. They want to quantify and control it. However, this is just not going to happen. There is no way you can create a 3–5 year strategy for the web. You cannot predict the budgets required for spending to any level of accuracy. You cannot apply the business strategy model to the web. At least, I haven’t found a way and I would be suspicious of anybody who claims they can.

A different approach is required

Instead a different type of strategy is required. A strategy that doesn’t attempt to predict the landscape over the long term but instead puts in place the procedures, resources and structures to adapt to changes as they come into view.

If you come to Headscape for a web strategy, you won’t get a document outlining a roadmap for the years ahead or even answers over how you should approach all of the different emerging tools and techniques that appear online.

Instead you will get recommendations for ways to make your organisation flexible enough to assess and address new digital evolutions as they come along.

We focus on creating an empowered an agile team who can set a constantly evolving development roadmap. We will suggest procedures and policies to help assess new innovations.

If all our web strategies did was assess every technology that was currently on the horizon it would quickly become out of date. Instead we help organisations get to the place where they can make these assessments themselves. As the saying goes, it is about teaching a man to fish.

That said, we do give an indication of the immediate priorities. Forming a team capable of making these long term assessments takes time, and so it is necessary to deal with the immediate concerns while that happens.

Budgeting and uncertainty

These immediate changes can be budgeted for as can the cost of the team over the long term. However, the budgetary predications are never going to be as accurate as a traditional business strategy because there are too many variables involved.

This kind of uncertainty is hard for many senior management teams to swallow. After all the reason they wanted a web strategy was primarily because they felt out of control. Unfortunately there is little that can be done about this. The web is an unpredictable and fast moving environment and no amount of planning will change that.

The best one can hope for is to create a capable and well equipped team that adapts to this fast paced environment. Of course that requires management trusting them to do their job.