Making Vague Requirements Concrete

A friend on Twitter asked what you should do when you are presented with a list of vague requirements for a new website that shows no evidence of priority, intent or coherence. The proverbiale laundry list of features with no strategic context.

I offer two solutions for you:

1: The best and most effective thing you can is to hire me to help you draw forth breakthrough results from the chaos.

2: Alternatively, do the following:

Vague requirements shows a lack of prioritization which is an indicator that the higher level goals of the organization were not considered or leveraged effectively when planning the new site.

A website must contribute value to your top-line goals in some fashion if you want it to contribute breakthrough results online. Use those top-line goals to determine what outcomes the site must achieve. If you have a bunch, prioritize them from highest to lowest value. Then use those outcomes to determine and prioritize the functionality the site must provide. It’s that simple.

The actions:

  • Determine top-level goals with senior executives.
  • Identify outcomes the site can contribute to those goals with senior executives and web staff.
  • Prioritize those outcomes.
  • Identify functionality required to serve those outcomes (and your audiences).
  • Go forth and execute with your newly honed requirements.

There is more to it than that but that gives you the broad outlines. My book, Online and On Mission: Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results, is a great resource if you want to get very good at this process.

Orgpreneurs Ship

One of my favorite lines about strategy is that it doesn’t fail on the white board. Your new product won’t ship from the white board either.

One of several things I like about Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, is his focus on shipping product. Nothing really matters if you don’t ship. So many things can get in the way of moving that new product out the door if we lose focus, lose discipline, allow ourselves to be distracted. Seth’s message is that linchpins ship.

So do orgpreneurs.

Link of the Week: Interview with Steve Denning by Seth Kahan

I really liked this mini-interview with Steve Denning about how to create dramatic change without budget or authority. The interview is part of Seth Kahan’s up-coming book, Getting Change Right.

One of key comments by Steve is that he felt his knowledge initiative at the World Bank was better off starting out starved for resources. They had to prove the value of it and as they did so they found the resources they needed.

Being hungry can be a boon rather than an obstacle.

Columnist Looking for a Source

Mildred Culp, a syndicated columnist, is looking for people who are doing something new on the job other than social media. Full query and contact e-mail are:

Are you trying something new at work? WorkWise needs employees who are trying something that doesn’t involve software or social media. If you’re a business owner, pitch your employee. If you’re a publicist, please pitch a client. WorkWise is syndicated from The Miami Herald to Modesto (CA) Bee. It uncovers emerging trends in the workplace.
Contact Mildred with your story at
Mildred has interviewed me in the past and her column would be a great place to tell your entrepreneurship story.

Earn Your Salary

Start something new in the next month that will cover your salary for the year. Even if you have already generated more than enough profit to pay for yourself this year, do it again.

Here is the challenge: come up with a new product, service, offering, or fund raising campaign that meets an emerging need of your core market and see how fast you can rack up enough new profit to pay for yourself.

Another alternative: devise new marketing and see if you can “sell out” an existing product or service, generating enough new profit to cover your organization’s investment in you for the year.

Want to take this to the next level? Do the same thing for your entire team.

Why is this important, beyond the obvious? If you can do this each year as your first personal project then you will rarely have to look for a new job unless it is your choice to do so. If you can get in the habit of creating new ideas and marketing and getting them out there quicker than ever before, you will get better at doing it.

Approach your work as a challenge to generate much more value than you are paid rather than just fulfilling your job description. This is empowering for you.

Explore the Edges of Your Market

I worked as a book seller in Cleveland after graduating from college (that early 90s recession looks so cute now!). Working retail like this got to be a bit dull after a while.

To entertain myself on a slow day I would pick one book with at least three copies on the shelf and try to sell it out. I thought of it as David’s Book of the Day. This was great fun, in that I tried to come up with a good reason, a good hook, for anyone to read it no matter what they were looking for. Not everyone bought a copy but I was usually able to find enough people to sell it out before my shift was over. It made the time go faster and I helped a lot of people discover genres they wouldn’t have considered before.

A few lessons from this:

  • You really don’t know if someone will value your product until you offer it to them. Those who ask tend to get.
  • The customer will often judge a book by its cover. Be sure to educate them on the full value inside so they can make an educated decision.
  • The process of turning down one product or offer can often provide a lead to sell something else. Whenever I encountered someone who absolutely, positively, did not want to buy my book of the day, I usually knew enough about them from that conversation to offer them another book that they would buy.
  • Marketing and sales should be fun! There is no reason you can’t inject a little levity and personal challenge goals into it just to see if you can do it.

Push your market. Twist it. See what happens on the edges.

One Onion, Remove the Drupal and add Some Django

Seth Gottlieb wrote a great post looking at The Onion moving from one open source CMS to another.

One driver is that The Onion has developers on staff, which strongly influenced the systems that were attractive to them above and beyond the content management features. Seth points out their prior platform encouraged not tinkering with code under the hood while the new one is very code-centric. They also have an insane amount of traffic, which created a unique situation as well.

Good reading if you are into content management.

Big Shots Who Failed Big Time

Failure is key part of entrepreneurship. As my mentor, Alan Weiss says, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

This article in the Wall Street Journal points out some rather well known, successful, people who failed right out of high school by not getting into their choice of college. Warren Buffet, Tom Brokaw, Ted Turner, Scott McNealy, the list goes on. A comment from Mr. Buffett:

“The truth is, everything that has happened in my life…that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better,” Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach “lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn’t have been a good fit. But at the time, he “had this feeling of dread” after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

You are in excellent company when you fail at something. No failure, no progress.

Run Your Own TV Ads via Google

This is a great video report from Slate about how you can run your own television ads via Google.

Note that the average cost of acquiring traffic was around $1 for their experiment (although it appears this did not include production costs). If the average value of each new visitor to your site is higher than that, you’re doing well. Hat tip to Matt Baehr for posting the link this week.

Why Not My Job?

This is a great question that orgpreneurs ask of themselves all the time. They see an opportunity to fill a gap or create something new and think, “Why not my job?”

Why not make it part of what you do?

Why not suggest the new program and then embrace making it happen when you get the green light? Or just go for it and scrounge the resources?

If you don’t, then you fall into thinking ‘not my job’ instead, which is deadly to your career, organization and, ultimately, your mission.

In my experience working with associations and non-profits, the people whose job descriptions are always playing catch up are the true orgpreneurs. They don’t let their job description limit what they will tackle in order to pursue a goal that matters. The job description of these staff shows where they were, not where they will be.

Next time you face a challenge or an opportunity, try thinking ‘why not my job’ and see where it takes you.