3 Web Project Lessons

Some things I’ve learned over a couple of decades of website redesign projects.

December 14, 2015

I am not an expert on the web.  I might know a thing or two about online learning, but the two (web projects and online learning) have very little to do with each other.

Online learning and web projects are like hockey and figure skating.  They both take place on the ice, but it is there that the similarities end.

My lack of web expertise, however,  seems to have not disqualified me from spending almost 2 decades working on web related projects.

Have you worked on a department / division / school / institution website redesign project?  What are some of the lessons that you have learned from your web projects that you can share with us?

Here are 3 web project lessons that I have absorbed by making every web project mistake possible throughout the course of my career:

Lesson 1 - Admit That You Don’t Know Anything About The Web:

The hardest thing for academics to do is to admit when we don’t know anything.  We are supposed to know things.  Our success is based on people believing that we know things.

When it comes to website projects, we don’t know anything.

We think we know something about how our website should be redesigned because we spend all day on the web.  How can experience not translate into expertise?

We’ve also been involved in lots of web projects.  Shouldn’t that count for something?

The answers are “no” and “no”.  When it comes to the web, non-web experts know just enough to be dangerous.

Lesson 2 - Find Someone To Work With Who Is A Web Expert:

Trust me, there are web experts on your campus.  Most likely, these web experts spend their days working on your school’s website.  Find these people.  Do whatever you can to work with these people.  There web expertise is as hard earned and valid as whatever academic expertise that you have gained.

The problem with campus web experts is that they are insanely busy.  The web is a beast that is never satiated.  There are always “emergency” website redesign projects that need to be finished yesterday.

The other problem with campus web experts is that there is never enough of them, and the few that are around never have enough resources.  Almost every postsecondary institution that I’ve observed seems fine in shelling out huge dollars for consultants and outside experts, while consistently under-resourcing internal teams.  This is doubly true for web people.

Don’t be deterred.  Do whatever you can to get on the schedule of your campus web experts.  Double bonus points for you if you can partner with a project manager on your website redesign.  Project management is another one of those skills that we all think that we are good at, but that in reality we are not.  A good project manager is worth their weight in gold - and you will need a team consisting of web and project management expertise if your web project is to succeed.

Lesson 3 - Do Whatever the Web Experts Say to Do:

No, really.  Do what they say to do.

When the web experts try to get you to define your goals for the your website redesign, do the work to define your goals.  When the web experts try to get you to make hard decisions about what content and links are really necessary on your website, do the work to go through all your content and links.  When the web experts suggest an information architecture and design for your site, go with the suggestions that they make.

Your campus web experts have been through countless website redesign projects.  They understand what sort of resources are necessary to maintain your site.  They will be realistic about the potential of your site to be a well-designed information and resource destination, and they will tell you what is involved in a commitment to create fresh and relevant content.

They will help you scope out what is doable and reasonable at each stage of your web redesign project.   They will listen patiently to your grand schemes and ideas and plans for your website, and then gently but firmly bring you back to what is actually feasible given your timetable and resources.

You will have lots of ideas about how your website will be used.  Your campus web experts will work with you to instrument your site, so that you can make investment and resource questions based on data rather than on intuition.

The thing is, the campus web experts are really on your side.  They want more than anything for your website to work well for you.  In a perfect world we would all have the resources and skills to leverage the web as a platform for conversation and engagement.  Your campus web experts are now also experts in social media, and in every way that the web has evolved since we started making websites.  They will know the best way to help you reach your goals for your site, as long as you trust in their expertise.

What lessons can you share from your experience with campus website redesign projects?

If you are a campus web expert, what are some things that you’d like your clients to understand?

Do you have a good stories about what happens when website redesign projects go wrong to share with us?



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