Are You a Web Mechanic or a Web Manager?
A couple of weeks ago, I had a slow leak in my tire. I know this because a little light on the dashboard came on alerting me to the problem. I’m no car expert, but I do know that tires are kind of important. So I immediately ran through some possible scenarios: a) panic and drive straight to the nearest garage, hoping they have someone on duty who can fix it; b) ignore the light and risk a blowout on the interstate; or c) make an appointment with my regular mechanic to get the problem checked out.
I went with option "c" and kept myself busy using the garage’s free Wi-Fi to catch up on some work while I waited. Then the mechanic came out, his face puckered with the look a person gets when he has to break bad news. Now, I’m a pretty smart person, but as he started in with his preamble of tread depth, alignment and all-wheel drive, I could feel my eyes glazing over and my impatience bubbling up. Thoughts like, “Why would I ever need to know what constitutes a good PSI” ran through my mind. As he went on to describe the pros and cons of front-wheel drive, however, I found myself thinking, “Just net it out for me – tell me your recommendation and what it’s going to cost.”
For you car enthusiasts, my tire ignorance is shameful, but I bet most of us can relate to that scenario. To me, tire maintenance is number 8,642 on my list of priorities. When I’m in the car, I’m busy driving it. I’m not thinking about its mechanics. I suspect that’s sort of how some executives feel when they meet with a Web manager.
Web managers, in my experience, are passionate about the Web. They know the ins and outs of your Web site better than anyone else, in part because they have firsthand experience with building it from scratch. Many of them can regale you with anecdotes about coming in at three a.m. to push press releases to the live server or entertain you with a story about the day the site got 20 million hits.
They know about the latest and greatest Web tools and they are constantly on the lookout for best practices that can be used to improve your site. In short, they know a lot of details about what makes a Web site tick.
The problem is, when it comes to talking with executive staff, Web managers can fall into the same routine as my auto mechanic: hitting you with too many technical details and jargon.
Executives understand that the Web, just like tires on a car, is vitally important to their organization, but they are also mindful of the thousands of other factors that keep their organization moving forward. At the same time, executives are thinking about direction and anticipating what big things are waiting around the next bend.
Given all that, it’s probably not a good use of their time to spend an afternoon discussing the latest social media doo-hickey or evaluating COTS versus open source software. It’s too tactical for them. If they’re distracted by trying to understand the mechanics, who’s driving the car?
If you are a Web manager and you find yourself building a PowerPoint deck for an executive briefing that includes 52 slides about faceted taxonomy… then you might want to step back from the computer and take a deep breath. Think about your audience and how they depend on you to help them make informed decisions. Net out the situation for them and give them a solid recommendation that aligns with the overall Web strategy.
Here’s a real-life scenario where the Web team is making a pitch for a new project:
Web Mechanic – “We need to implement a CMS, taxonomy and IA. This will allow us to automate workflows and enforce metadata standards resulting in dynamic content, localization and improved search.”
Web Manager – “Based on our strategic objectives to become more efficient, we’ve identified a tool that will allow us to automate some production functions and quality controls for the Web. This will reduce redundant efforts and make it so we can better manage the content to suit our audience’s needs.”
The mechanic defaults to techno-speak and risks disappointment when executives who “just don’t get the Web” turn down their requests. Savvy Web managers, in contrast, understand the mechanics, but also have the ability to translate them to business-speak. They are better able to build a case for the Web by helping executives to correlate Web efforts to bottom-line objectives.
In the above scenario, the executive team may ultimately want to know the specific tactics and budget line items, but when making the initial case, start with the business objectives. Then demonstrate how your planned tactics will help the organization meet them. A deep understanding of the mechanics is vital, but being able to put the Web in the context of business is the key to gaining executive support.