Monday, February 20, 2006

The Politics of a New Website

We are most of the way through the development of our website implementation, with about 20 additional major site tasks still to go. But finally we can begin to see the fruit of our labor.

I'm talking about the Cincom Systems Corporate Website -- an ambitious project that has been over a year in the making.

There are many traps that you can walk into when you launch a redesign of a website that integrally impacts just about every part of your business -- and hence impacts the success of many different people throughout the organization.

All of these people have opinions on how to design a website, many of these opinions conflict with one another, many conflict with best practices.

So when a colleague recently asked me to think back over the year and cite the most difficult part of the project, I had to sort out a lot of difficulties. But one stood above the rest. Managing the internal conflict.

Not that this was a surprise. From the get-go, we recognized the enormous task of getting so many different people running fiefdoms to align in one common direction. We were coming off a failed strategy where each business unit essentially had its own website. They were happy with their sites, but this was killing the corporate brand, confusing our customers and was near impossible for the web team to manage efficiently. Change had to come.

We began the project by outlining the goals, strategies and implementation approaches in a single document. We presented this document in small sessions with key decision makers around the company. We showed a possible direction, but mainly we were listening and scooping up all the best ideas from our managers ... and making notes of items where one manager had one opinion and another manager thought just the opposite. The document became our playbook; our means of reporting back to everyone internally how the site would be built.

Then we convened a week-long session of all our European business and marketing managers. Again we listened and recorded. Some spectacular ideas came out of the meetings in Brussels (the beer was great, too) -- the new site had to be modular by region so that content could accurately reflect the software offerings available in each geographic region, and so we could make the content as relevant to local audiences as possible. We also discussed Cincom branding at length, searching for a common approach to website messaging. All this was again recorded in the playbook.

We hired Human Factors International to guide us with best practices and to help us gather input from the visitor side of the fence. HFI later helped us test our design concepts in a series of wireframe sessions in the US and Europe. HFI helped us overcome many of the internal battles where different factions within the company wanted to go in different directions. Their objectivity was instrumental in moving us down an agreed-upon direction.

Was this a smooth journey? Absolutely not. It was very rocky. There were some managers who did not want to compromise. There were some who did not understand the mission and were caught up in details. We went back and forth. Many, many small group listening sessions.

Building consensus about the website project took nearly six months ... but we knew better than to start without a broad agreement on where we should go. In the end, not everyone is happy. But everyone does understand why we are doing what we are doing. There are some who would like to go back to their stand-alone business unit websites. But overall, we did achieve consensus and support for the direction. If we had not spent so much time listening and resolving differences of opinion, today we would have a can of worms instead of a website that will serve the needs of our visitors and the company.


At 11:15 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

Infactsolutions are Offshore outsourcing consultants that provides ecommerce website development solutions, website designing and optimization, custom web application development


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