What information should a consultant share with a client about the RFP process?

I heard from an executive recently that the consultant helping them to select their content management system had a highly qualified list of vendors they had researched and were sending requests to those who best matched their needs. So far, so good. However, the consultant refuses to share or discuss the list of vendors with the client!

This presents a few problems:

  • It shows contempt for the client on the part of the consultant;
  • It prevents the client from providing their highly valuable take on the prospective vendors as part of the selection process;
  • How does the client know they are really talking to more than one vendor?

Does your buyer agent Realtor present you with a single house? Does a car salesman show you only one vehicle, take it or leave it? Of course not.

There is no business need or ethical basis for not sharing and discussing the list of potential vendors with a client, in my not-so-humble opinion. It is simply bad practice. Any consultant doing so is not serving their client nor themselves well.

New Web Site Design for High Context Consulting

I launched a new design for my web site earlier this week. I wanted to freshen up the look and make some structural changes to the content and design. The cobbler finally has some new shoes of his own. 🙂

The design is fully standards compliant, thus practicing what I preach to my clients. The entire site is managed with WordPress, making use of it’s ability to publish standard pages as well as blog posts.

Many thanks to Steve Smith of Ordered List for his work on creating and deploying the design.

IA's Miss the Point

This thoughtful post by Christopher Fahey is a great example of how information architects tend to miss the point of their projects: The Holy Grail of Information Architecture. If you read through this post you hear a lot about process and tools and what form the ultimate deliverable from the project should take in order to be most effective. Christopher has concluded that standard deliverables aren’t the Holy Grail of an IA project but he doesn’t quite make the leap to what is: achieving the objectives of the organization.

The point of information architecture should be to help the organization in question to better achieve its goals. The output of an IA engagement should be the achievement of those business goals, not necessarily a nifty flow chart and set of wireframes. Selling widgets, providing membership value, business networking, politics, whatever the purpose of the site: IA should help to achieve those ends more effectively and efficiently. If you can provide that value simply by reviewing and discussing a site in a meeting, great! Don’t get hung up on the deliverables. Do focus on the outcomes to which you are contributing.

Quoted in the New York Times: Blogging the Hand That Feeds You

Last week was media week for High Context Consulting! I was quoted last Wednesday in an article on blogging about work in the Times Circuits section: Blogging the Hand That Feeds You by Matt Villano.

Here is my bit from the end of the piece.

If it were up to corporate lawyers, the business world’s fascination with blogs would be short-lived. Daniel M. Klein, a partner at the Atlanta law firm Buckley & Klein, said that the “safest way to blog about work is not to do it,â€? adding that it’s “just a matter of timeâ€? before some of the biggest companies that endorse blogging lay off employees for going too far.

Others are less skeptical. C. David Gammel, the president of High Context Consulting, a Web strategy consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md., said that employee blogs were worth encouraging, as long as companies devised individual policies about blogging and incorporated them into the employee handbook.

“Human resources departments should simply add blogging to the list of activities in which employees should be careful about how they represent the company,â€? he said.

Quoted in The Washington Post: Access Denied

In case you missed it, I was in the lead of an article on the first page of the business section in The Washington Post this past Saturday: Access Denied by Yuki Noguchi.

Between work and personal e-mail, multiple banking and retirement accounts, two association memberships, photo sites, Web communities, and retailers like Amazon.com and eBay.com, C. David Gammel maintains 130 online accounts, each requiring a user name and password.

Gammel tracks his sundry log-in information in a file on his computer, but on at least two occasions he’s confused or mistyped his password, and been locked out of his SunTrust bank accounts, forcing him to call the bank or look for an open branch to regain access.

“It’s frustrating — if understandable,” said Gammel, a consultant in Silver Spring. He has also been denied access on a news site when he couldn’t remember his log-in information, he said. “I bail on them if I’m having a difficult time,” he said.

I actually keep most 0f those logins stored in my browser and only those for non-sensitive sites. I provided some tips on better managing logins and balancing security with ease of use but that didn’t make it into the piece.

The article is a good lesson for site developers to keep in mind: the plethora of usernames and passwords that people have to manage these days is a real burden and a barrier to using sites in many cases. You have to balance your security measures with the sensitivity of the data you are storing and the value of your service to your customers. It is also critical to unify your own login system so that ONE username/password pair can be used to access all services related to your company.

Why Webmaster is Outdated as a Job Title

I posted several days ago that I thought that ‘Webmaster’ is an outdated job title. I didn’t explain why then but I’ll take a stab at it now.

Webmaster came about in the early days as an administrative contact for a web site. It would be the person who answers webmaster@yoursite.com and made sure the server was running, updated pages, added new ones, etc. One person did it all because the domain of knowledge to create all you needed on a site was not too huge back then. The potential return on investment for a good site was also much lower back then for most organizations.

As the Web matured, the roles needed for a successful site exploded: graphic design, markup, programming, content authoring and editing, information architecture, marketing and others. Each of those roles became more complex as more tools and techniques became available and users became more sophisticated in their use of the Web. The potential return for an excellent site exploded, justifying investment in more people with specialized skills and knowledge.

Except for the smallest of operations and the most exceptional of people, It is almost impossible to find someone who can do all these things competently at the same time. But organizations still try to create “do it all” jobs on the cheap. Here’s a tip: people who are competent in all those disciplines are highly valuable in today’s market and they are savvy to impossible jobs. You aren’t going to get them.

Running a web site today is a team effort, even if you have just a single person in house managing your site. They most likely work with outside talent and resources to design your site, keep it up and running, add features and other tasks. Given that, the title for a one person shop position should probably be something along the lines of Manager, Director or Producer.

Keep in mind the two purposes of a job title: attract qualified candidates when you are hiring and communicate internally to your organization what the person does. If you post a job with the title ‘Webmaster’ these days you are simply asking for amateurs to apply and seasoned professionals to ignore you.

Professional Milestones

I’ve had a couple of very nice professional milestones this month that I’d like to share.

One, I’ve been named to the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of Association Leadership. JAL is the only peer-reviewed journal for the association profession. I’m very excited to volunteer with ASAE & the Center in this capacity. I have also issued a press release on this with more detail.

The other is that the book I have been co-authoring with four other consultants is finally published! We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Thing About Associations That We Must Change. We gave away a couple hundred copies at ASAE’s annual meeting and have had great feedback so far. It appears to have been the buzz of the conference!

Get Your IT Administrator Out of My Webmaster

I’ve seen several position descriptions lately that meld both IT/Network Administrator and Webmaster* responsibilities into one impossible job. I just saw one come across a list I belong to that included:

  • authoring, posting and managing web content
  • upgrading web site software
  • managing an in-house CRM database
  • providing desktop support for staff
  • managing network backups
  • bringing peace to the Middle East

OK, I made up that last one but the whole thing is still completely unrealistic even without peacemaking. If they find someone willing to take this job, I guarantee that none of those tasks will be done well. Or only one or two will and the others will fall by the wayside completely.

While Nick Carr may be the crankiest guy on the web these days, I do agree that many day-to-day IT functions are commodities and can be effectively outsourced. In this situation, I’d recommend they focus the position on the most valuable activities for the organization and farm out the rest to support companies who specialize in those tasks. Even having CRM and web content in the same position would likely be too much and require very different competencies.

* (Webmaster is an outdated title and concept for web positions these days, but that’s another post.)

Blogs for Project Management in PM Network

I was interviewed a while back for an article in PM Network magazine about using blogs and wikis for project management. The article is out in the August issue and you can read a PDF version of it on their web site. The magazine goes out to the Project Management Institute‘s 200,000 members located in 125 countries around the world.

The One and Only Purpose for an Intranet

The sole purpose for an intranet is to facilitate the work of staff in pursuit of the organization’s objectives. Nothing more, nothing less.

A good metric for this is that one of the first things that staff do when starting a project is to voluntarily create a space for it on your intranet. If the intranet is considered a prerequisite for success by staff, then you have succeeded!

I was prompted to post this after reading Nick Besseling’s rant on how stickiness is not a good goal for an intranet (I agree).