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Manage your website like a product

Stay afloat in changing seas

Your website is faced with a problem disguised as a benefit: easy changes. Adding content, functionality, or other complexity in the short term is easy, but in the long term can cause your site to sink under its own weight.

Product Thinking

Your web presence isn’t an object of art, like a model ship in a bottle. But we often treat our websites that way, for instance applauding one-off sites because they seem impressive when actually they fracture the user’s overall experience of your brand. Your website is more like a ship with a crew that needs to negotiate changing seas in order to get somewhere.

Business first

It’s not content first. It’s not technology first, or even user first. It’s business first. People complain about the technology when most of the problem is an ill-conceived or non-existent vision that resulted in a poorly-fitting implementation, or about content when the problem is — actually, it’s often the same thing — an unclear vision.

Think long term

You have an infinite number of changes you could make to your website, and demands from all angles. Most of the people making requests expect quick changes, which is understandable since fundamentally it is easy to make web changes. But you need to treat your website as a product that needs to maintain high quality over the long term. To think long term, always answer these questions for any proposed change:

  • How will this be maintained?

Think broadly

It takes a lot to make a high quality improvement:

  • Many different teams need to coordinate to deliver the capability.For example, if something is technically implemented but the training group doesn’t teach the teams using the tool how to use it, then the “improvement” shouldn’t have been implemented in the first place.
  • Different disciplines need to be used.People seem to want to label themselves, and at a minimum have biases on what disciplines are the most important. But any specific change may require many disciplines to analyze and implement it, some of which may not be your core competency.
  • Multiple site sections may be affected.If the owner of one site section asks for a change, then consider making the change for all similar site sections.

How to product manage

The suggestions below should help you carry through and implement product thinking, but thinking business first, long-term, and broadly must anchor each of these to be effective. In many ways, the approaches below are ways of rising above the day to day requests so that you have a chance at managing your web presence coherently.

Go with the flow

Your website frequently gets new content or content updates, “frequently” having very different meanings based on the company. Then there are functionality changes that happen as well, and these happen less frequently than your content changes. You may also have requests for new sites for a large web presence, new content contributor on-boarding, new taxonomy terms, new content types, and other changes. The point is that you have many flows of changes on your website, and you want to streamline each flow while maintaining quality.To streamline content publishing (important!), you may eliminate publishing steps. For the creation of new sites, perhaps site templates streamline the process.Obviously, a key here is setting minimum standards so that just because something is easy doesn’t mean that you create lots. So, for example, having site templates may mean that it’s both faster to create sites and maintain higher consistency, but sites should only be created if they pass minimum standards.

Keep phasing

Always improve your website. This shouldn’t just be on a big bang project basis.To keep phasing:

  • Only define the next phase.
  • Phases should be relatively short (say, three months).
  • Have an ongoing schedule of when phases are defined (for example,phases are defined by the end each quarter, with input on what should be in the next phase received by the end of the second month in the quarter).

Respond creatively, yet firmly

Most people making requests for improvements to the website aren’t thinking broadly or long term, so don’t take their requests literally. Furthermore, have a thick skin to say “no” since many of the requests may not be worth the effort (even if you are going to be blasted for denying the request for the current phase).

Written by

Making big website changes happen. Writing Website Product Management (bit.ly/WPM-book). Author of Website Migration Handbook (migrationhandbook.com).

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