Taking responsibility

Marcus Lillington

Web governance may not sound sexy but as Marcus explains it is a crucial part of your web strategy. Roadmaps are no good without a clear idea of who will implement them.

Ok, so you’ve written a roadmap outlining what should happen during and after a digital project, but what do you need to do to make sure it actually happens?

I think many agencies (previously Headscape included) are very good at handing out advice then providing no assistance in how that advice might be implemented. There are some good reasons for this.

It’s none of our business?

Since when has the make-up of an internal web team, or a company’s sign-off procedure, or its policy on hiring third parties (you get the idea: internal stuff) been the business of its (third party!) digital agency?

It’s not surprising that a) companies don’t really want us meddling in their internal affairs or b) we don’t want to get involved in potentially politically sensitive issues.

However, as I’ll come to explain, we’ve now reached the conclusion that we’re doing our clients a disservice by not offering to help out in these areas. Of course, they don’t have to take us up on the offer but, it seems in many cases, our help is exactly what they’ve been looking for.

So, what are the first steps?

What to cover

This needs to be clear and thorough but not so detailed that a) you can’t reach agreement on responsibilities in a two or three hour meeting or b) you can’t easily check responsibilities later because there are so many to go through and there is vague overlap between tasks.

Your organisation and your site will dictate the tasks you’re likely to need to cover, but here’s a few to help begin the process:

  • Online branding
  • Analytics monitoring and review
  • User testing
  • Accessibility testing
  • Content creation
  • Content removal
  • Social media management
  • New feature development
  • Technical implementation
  • Feature sign-off
  • Design work
  • Design sign-off
  • Hosting
  • CMS and other back-end system management
  • Third party recruitment
  • Internal recruitment
  • Training

Decision making structure

Who is responsible for what. This is key and is likely to drive pretty much every other aspect of an organisation’s web governance policies and procedures.

We recommend using a Responsibility Assignment Matrix in the process of agreeing people’s responsibilities. Firstly, it provides a structured, task-by-task list to follow and secondly, it provides an easily accessible reminder of responsibilities going forward – you can stick it on the wall!

Recently, Paul wrote about Responsibility Assignment Matrices:

If your website is to be a success, it needs strong leadership, clearly defined roles and people to take responsibility for its success. This can be at least partially achieved using a responsibility assignment matrix.

Responsibility Assignment Matrix
A responsibility assignment matrix is a valuable tool in providing clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

As you can see above, there are a bunch of tasks: “design sign-off”, “hosting”, “social media management” et cetera, alongside four different types of “responsibility” relating to each task. Each of these categories includes a name or names. Let’s have a look at what each of these categories mean.

  • Responsible: The person who will carry out the task.
  • Accountable: The person (or people) who will be shouted at should things go wrong.
  • Consulted: The person (or people) who’s opinion will be sought before the task is carried out.
  • Informed: The person (or people) who will be told “something’s changed, go look”.

It’s also worth pointing out that anyone not included in these columns will not be consulted or informed. This needs bearing in mind. Will the CEO flip his or her lid should they accidentally discover, for example, a label change within the site’s navigation? Or, would they consider such a change as trivial?

Filling in a matrix such as this is best done with all the key website stakeholders in the room. However, don’t expect a smooth ride.

Dealing with politics

This, I believe, is the third party’s main role. That is, an arbitrator who can get things done. The people in the room could almost certainly agree on a list of tasks and that people need to be assigned to them. What they’ll struggle with, without external mediation, is deciding who is the right person for each of the jobs.

We don’t know or particularly care about seniority or personality; we’ve been given a job to do. The bottom line is that we’re measured by our ability to successfully complete tasks. In other words, if we fail, we’re unlikely to be given more tasks and (in my very melodramatic example) we lose work and we end up destitute.

So, completing a matrix is really just another task to us so we can cut through the politics. The “lowly” web manager would have a much harder job telling the marketing director that he should only be informed, rather than consulted, over a particular point, than an external consultant would.

However, sometimes you do need to get involved with difficult characters, so what is that best way of dealing with them?

Personally, the old cliché of getting them to think that your idea is theirs is the best by far. For example, you can use the “agree to everything then point out possible issues” approach. This involves never saying no but encouraging the person you’re dealing with to reach the “right” conclusion based on your arguments. Logic should win the day!

The shape of the web team

Some web teams are (rightly) just one person. However, even in that case it’s worth carrying out an exercise like this to define different tasks – that might help in defining an editorial calendar, for example- but, also, to work out where the holes are.

It may be that for certain tasks, there isn’t a suitable person to fulfil a role. Or in other cases, it becomes apparent that a particular task has been glossed over in the past.

It may be that a third party could fulfil the role, permanently or temporarily, or the organisation needs to consider hiring someone. Either way, these “holes” need to be highlighted (as they are in red in the diagram above).

In-house or external?

There are many factors that need to be considered here. For example, if a task requires a particular technical skill and is only required annually, then it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to hire a permanent member of staff to do the job. You should hire an expert third party. No question.

However, in other areas where a more consistent effort is required the choice becomes more difficult. Hiring a permanent member of staff is a big commitment, but agencies and freelancers are, over the long term, much more expensive.

Personally, I think that one area that you need someone who knows the business is with content generation; “editorial” if you like. This person also needs to have the power to make decisions about a website’s direction – long-term and day-to-day. Basically, the web editor needs to stop being seen as “lowly” (but maybe that’s another discussion entirely).

However, if there is no-one on the payroll who is either inclined or capable of the job then the responsibility should be outsourced until that position is filled. Better someone than no-one.

Other areas that require “agency” type skills, such as coding and visual design, don’t necessarily need to sit in-house. Unless there is a significant and varied workload, it is possible that the job would only attract a junior so turnover, and therefore effectiveness of the work, could be affected.

Team growth

Some tasks may become more frequent and more effort-intensive over time (or the opposite). This should be recognized in the early planning stages and dates set and agreed when the task/responsibility should be reviewed.

In fact, adding two further columns to the matrix covering “frequency of task” and “task review date” would make a lot of sense.

Summing up

What I’m really saying here is: for your website to be effective in an ongoing basis, you need to work out who’s going to look after it.

You need to do the following:

  • Work out the tasks required for ongoing management of the site
  • Work out who is responsible for each of these tasks
  • Be prepared to accept that you may need to hire (internally or externally) to fulfill the task list
  • Have someone (with power) who owns and is accountable for the site (and the matrix!)
  • Review the tasks and responsibilities going forward

… and, most importantly, stick to it!

Cartoon Crowd image provided by Bigstock.com