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.

2010 Snowpocalypse Operations Survey Results

Wes Trochlil and I have posted the initial summary of results from the 2010 Snowpocalypse Operations Survey. You can follow the prior link to the document on Slideshare or view it below.

Some of the most interesting things I noted were:

  • Organizations with extensive staff telecommuting in place prior to the storms did the best at maintaining operations even if the physical offices were closed;
  • The above didn’t help much if electricity were out at staff homes or they had children or other obligations to take care of due to mass closures;
  • Respondent organizations did very well overall despite some of the most challenging weather conditions in decades.

We will release more detailed analysis in the next few weeks.

We encourage you to share these results with your colleagues and peers. Use this data to start a conversation about how your organization did and where you can make changes to better prepare for the next emergency.

Preventing Problems When You Leave a Web Designer

All business relationships come to an end eventually. Needs change, goals change, people change. Here are a few tips, learned from helping many people who didn’t do these, to prevent disruption when you decide you need to leave your web design or development firm.

  • Own the relationships with your web hosting company, rather than going through your web design firm. You must have total control over your hosting environment (servers, internet connection, back-ups, etc.) by having a contract with a hosting company. Worse come to worse, you can have them cut off access for your web firm.
  • Control your domain names with your own registrar account. Many smaller organizations will end up with their web designer or firm managing their domains on their behalf. To minimize risk, your company should have that relationship with the registrar and have direct control over the domain name settings with them.
  • Have fresh copies of all web assets backed-up and archived, including data. This ensures you have the raw material of your site and could get it up and running on another host and domain name in relatively short order.

You can’t prevent all problems but the above steps are very prudent precautions to take if you are working with a solo designer or a major firm. Your website is too important to leave it at risk of significant disruption due to a changing business relationship.

Snowpocalypse Operations Survey

Wes Trochlil and I are fielding a survey, The Snowpocalypse Operations Survey, to assess how the repeated snow storms over the past couple of weeks impacted your operations, in particular how you think it impacted your external facing services. Our goal is determine the impact and assess what organizations successfully did to maintain or minimize disruption to their members, customers and others.

All respondents will receive a summary of the results from us and access to a later white paper. Complete the survey here and please feel free to share with colleagues at other organizations.

The short survey should take no more than a few minutes to complete.

Thanks! Survey: CIOs Discover Other Departments in Organization!

The white paper I posted yesterday was timed well, given the results of survey of CIOs. They came out with similar survey results a few years ago but it still boggles my mind:

Today’s Focus for IT Departments: Business Opportunities

This year, nearly one third—30 percent—of the 594 IT leaders we polled say meeting or beating business goals is a personal leadership competency critically needed by their organizations, up significantly from the 18 percent who said so last year. Eighteen percent also named "external customer focus" as a critical skill, double last year's 9 percent. Double.

Meanwhile, 22 percent cited "identifying and seizing on commercial opportunities"—more than triple last year's 6 percent. Yes, triple.

Sadly, the same is probably true for a lot of other departments that serve, in theory, the rest of the organization (HR, Accounting, etc.).

It’s not hard to be a rock star within an organization in any of these functions. A simple focus on outcomes and value that is relevant to the whole enterprise will do it.

Transformation or Travails: The imperative for IT’s shift from support function to strategic asset

For my snow-bound East Coast colleagues (and everyone else!), here is a white paper I co-authored with three other management consultants: Transformation or Travails: The imperative for IT’s shift from support function to strategic asset (PDF).

We argue that world-class IT departments take a value-oriented approach to supporting the rest of the organization in achieving their strategic priorities, rather than defending their technocratic fiefdom. The paper concludes with the criteria for a truly strategic IT operation.

We welcome sharing this paper with your colleagues and staff.

Two Resources for You Today

How did it get to be Wednesday already! Fast week.

Here are two resources for your data and social media needs.

First, Wes Trochlil’s book on data management had just been released by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership this week: Putting Your Data to Work: 52 Tips and Techniques for Effectively Managing Your Database. You can get it in ebook or dead tree versions. If you manage membership data, you should buy this book.

Second, the archive of my webinar on increasing social media participation for associations is now available from Boston Conferencing: They Built It and We Were There: Maximizing Participation in Association Social Media Programs. If you want to increase participation in your social media programs, you should buy the recording. You can hear some free follow-up podcasts on this session here and here.

Hedging Software as a Service

With marginal (and some formerly healthy!) companies being forced out of existence these days, it’s important to assess any technologies you use as a software as a service (SaaS) model.

The beautiful pro’s of SaaS-based services is that companies and organizations can access technologies and services at an affordable price point, paying monthly rather than massive annual licensing and support agreements. You also avoid needing to run or lease your own hardware for the service. A lot of companies can use tech that wouldn’t be availalbe to them otherwise.

However (you knew that was coming!), there are some risks that are much greater today than when growth was much easier for everyone. The primary risk is: what if the company providing the service goes under or ceases to offer the service you rely on? The more central that service is to your core operations, the higher this risk becomes.

That’s not to say that SaaS is a bad model. It’s a great one for many organizations and situations. Given our current economic environment, it’s good to assess your risk and do what you can to mitigate it.

Here are a few suggestions for minimizing and controlling that risk:

  • Back-up your data to your own storage. Your storage should be backed up as well
  • Identify other vendors who can potentially step into the breach. If the worst does happen you’ll need to get back up as quickly as you can. Knowing who is out there in advance will save you some valuable time.
  • Have a plan. What, precisely would you do if you had one week’s notice? How about no notice? For core services, this kind of disaster planning is critical.
  • Talk to your current SaaS provider frequently. Touch base at least once a month to see how things are going. Firms that are going to fail often give some clues before it happens if you are paying attention.

Proper planning and preparation can help hedge your SaaS risk to a great extent. The worst will still impact you but you’ll be able to get back in business much faster than you could otherwise.

Are Your Web and IT Teams Fixing or Improving?

On a global consulting forum I belong to, Alan Weiss suggested that one thing to explore on a regular basis with direct reports is whether they are spending their time mostly fixing things or improving them. This is a great question for your Web and IT teams as well.

For teams that involve technology such as the Web and IT, it’s critical that they have a primary focus on improving the value of what others in the organization can achieve. IT and Web technology are pre-requisites for almost any endeavor these days. Teams that focus on improving and creating new value will increase the ROI of your technology investments and create an organization that constantly increases the value you offer to your constituents.

If your teams spend most of their time simply putting out fires, then they are leaving a lot of value on the table.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to troubleshoot, debug, and investigate the weird glitches and problems that technology entails is an important activity and skillset. However, it’s not why your teams exist.

Do You Need a Partner or a Vendor?

With the extent of outsourcing and software-as-a-service models, executives are focused on creating strong partnerships with their technology vendors more than ever before.

However, make sure you really need a partnership before investing in creating one.

True partnerships between the people of separate organizations require a lot of effort and dedication to create and maintain. This can create powerful results. You must make sure those results are worthy of the relationship investment, however.

How can you know? Here are a few criteria:

  • The service or technology is a significant investment for your organization.
  • The service or technology enables you to achieve highly valuable outcomes.
  • You, as a customer, are of significant importance to the vendor. If you are a small fry client, you will typically get small fry attention.
  • The technology or service is not a commodity, easily interchangeable with others.

If you and your vendor don’t fit the criteria above then you are both possibly wasting your time and effort on a partnership when one isn’t required.

Related Resource: Creating High Value Partnerships with Technology Providers