Web Execution (Web Team): A Definition

One of the oldest Web management problems is determining the structure and make-up of the Web team. A well-formed Web team allows an organization to build its Web presence effectively and efficiently.  Historically, the organizational Web team has evolved from a single individual who had the foresight to purchase a domain name and post the organization’s first Web pages. From the 1990s do-it-all Webmaster, this sole person eventually developed into today’s more sophisticated Web division, with organizationally distributed content publishing, application development and data management, and a gaggle of external support vendors.

In consulting practice, I use “Web Execution” instead of “Web team” to broaden the scope of what the latter typically brings to mind. More specifically, I transform that image from a group of folks off in a corner working on a Web site to the reality of what it takes for an organization to produce and manage a Web presence—that is, an execution strategy.  Solid Web development requires a number of resources, both in and outside of the organization, solidly executing against the Web standards and towards performance indicators established by their organization.

Some of the questions addressed in the Web Execution realm include: When it is appropriate to hire new resources? When is it appropriate to outsource development? What should the senior roles be for the Web and where should they be seated in the organization?  The specific answers to these questions will be unique for every organization. Every business will have to determine how to: 1) organize those functions; 2) optimize their interactions; and 3) specify what job roles will be derived from these functions. It’s an art, not a science.  So there is no universally “correct” team structure for producing a Web presence.  There are, however, some things to keep in mind when you are staffing for Web Execution. There are also some good practices for Web Execution and Web team formation.

The Business Case for Web Execution

Fifteen years ago, most organizations interacted with their constituents, customers, members, or citizens via print, the phone, or face-to-face communication channels. Today, many organizations find that their first, primary, or only point of contact with these same people happens on the World Wide Web. Despite this change, very little formal attention has been paid to the appropriate structure for getting Web work done.  There are two main dynamics that contribute to this lack of attention: 

  1. Organizations, led by senior management teams that grew their careers prior to the advent of the business Web, have frequently segregated their Web Execution efforts.  Their experience (or lack thereof) of business success did not include the World Wide Web. So despite the Web’s operational primacy in communications and transactions, the Web team is frequently off in a corner, serving as an after-thought in business process. Subsequently, a lot of business opportunity is being missed.
  2. Conversely, Web management personnel, while forward-looking with respect to the use of technologies, are frequently weak in the area of business management. So although they understand that the Web Execution function is not being properly funded or managed, they lack the management skills to turn the situation around. In response, Web personnel thrash about, executing on project after project, in quest of the magic bullet that will solve the Web problem. Consequently, resources are wasted or misdirected given the strategic objectives of the business. 

These two dynamics produce a Web Execution quagmire, from which most organizations have been unable to escape.  The Web team is in an organizational blind spot. Consequently, the Web Execution function is compromised, and Web presence quality and effectiveness are generally low or otherwise off target.

While a low-quality Web presence can be a liability, the real inherent risk in a segregated and immature Web Execution function lies in an organization’s inability to proactively take full advantage of the Internet as a business platform. This oversight is illuminated not only with respect to e-commerce transactions, information, and data dissemination but also with regard to the invention of the 21st century integrated real-world/Web products and service that will be demanded by the maturing digital native population. An organization that refuses to take steps to improve its Web presence quality may ride rich and happy on legacy Web-disabled products and services. But in reality, there’s likely a slow leak in the business’s bottom line or ability to meet mission objectives.

A mature approach to Web Execution can help stop this leak and move the organization’s business practices into the 21st century. 

What Is Web Execution?

Web Execution is the definition, coordination, and support of all the tactics required to produce and maintain a high-quality Web presence.

There are two core sub-functions of Web Execution: 

  • Product Management
  • Program Management

Web Execution must be tuned to the objectives of the organization (ideally expressed as Web performance indicators) and must be supported by a mature approach to Web Governance.  When executing within these considered and relevant constraints, the freedom and flexibility to break away from linear, slow, and traditional IT development processes increases. This flexible liberty allows the organization to react quickly to new possibilities in Web Execution while maintaining the quality and effectiveness of its Web presence. Standards will enable both collaboration and fast, quality development, not hinder them. Key performance indicators will provide a framework of organizational relevancy for the Web team so its members can make the right decisions about which content, data, and business processes should be enabled via the Web channel. Without standards and key performance indicators as a nucleus for orienting it, Web Execution will be chaotic.

 Web Execution Atom

(click here or on image for more eye-friendly PDF- new window)

Web Execution Atom image

  

What Web Execution Means for the Organization

When Web Execution is functioning properly, the old broken Web team function becomes an optimized and flexible Web production machine. As a result, the organization is able to react quickly to new requirements, technologies, and business goals. In this world, the organizational Web site contributes to the bottom line and/or mission of the business in a substantive and measurable way. Web personnel morale also improves, and, in the best cases, the entire organization becomes Web-enabled as the collaborative best practices of the Web team extend outward into the organization and interact with legacy informational and operational management arenas, such as records management, human resource management (Intranets), sales and marketing, or IT.

Web Program Management

Web program management has to do with the administrative and communications functions of the Web team. It entails getting the money and headcount for projects and evangelizing and communicating the value of the Web internally to help align non-Web personnel with the organizational changes that might need to happen because of the reality of the Web. Some of these changes might be tactical (e.g., learning to write for the Web); others might be strategic (e.g., helping the organization understand that a core operational function is obsolete or of minimized value as-is in the face of the Web.) A traditional support call center is an example of the latter.

There are several main areas to consider with respect to Web program management:

  • Tending to the Web budget;
  •  Emplacing mechanisms to evaluate Web performance;
  • Managing the Web portfolio;
  • Supporting the Web stakeholder community; and
  • Optimizing business process management as it relates to Web Execution.

What Web Program Management Means for the Organization

Web program management functions can be addressed by a Web team Program Manager. Alternatively, they can be outsourced or distributed across the organization. Completeness is more important than the organizational placement of these resources. In other words, a complete Web program management function that is ill-placed will outperform an incomplete Web program management function that is well placed. That said, don’t get hung up on where the Web team should “live.” Rather, when looking at Web resources in aggregate across the organization, get hung up on making sure the function exists and is complete and orchestrated.

Web program managers tend to spawn from both the traditional management arena and the Webmaster arena. But no matter where there initial experience is derived, Web program managers understand the value of the Web as a transformative tool for business. They are good managerial diplomats and can effectively navigate the sometime bureaucratic channels of management as an advocate for the Web program. As such, they send a message of value and opportunity upward and bring down guidance so that Web product management is relevant.

Web Product Management

Product management is the orchestration of the full arena of Web development, from editorial to technical. This is the area most think of as the Web team—where actual Web pages are designed, systems and applications developed, and Web sites are spawned and maintained. Ideally, Web product management has both operational and research and development aspects. While requiring strong elements of creativity and invention, Web product management must execute against a standards-based framework in order to scale. Therefore, product management should be guided by Web measurement tactics, both qualitative (in the form of user experience testing) and quantitative (by way of Web analytics). When consistency and horizontal alignment are not required, a more individualistic craft model of Web product management might be feasible. 

What Web Product Management Means for the Organization

When managed as a product and not a series of individual projects, the Web becomes a sustained operational asset for the organization. Both the Web platform and the team that supports it are available to the entire organization. They can uphold initiatives and implement cutting-edge or practical solutions that contribute to the organizational mission and/or bottom line.

Finding the right blend of resources to keep the Web site’s quality high and expedient is a challenge, but when actively defined and formalized, Web Execution can be brought under control. It can then move Web development and the organization into an arena where business opportunity is high and the ability to actualize online functionality is greatly heightened.

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Comments

I listened to your webinar on this same subject, and have since been trying see where you put content strategy in this framework: in the program, or product management component? (You seemed to hesitate a bit in your webinar.)

I would put content strategy (of the mega kind) in the program management. By that, I mean all the all the content standards -- taxonomy, templates, meta-data, editorial guidelines, content types – that provide the framework that enables business stakeholders to tell their stories effectively.

I would keep the traditional web editor in product management. Someone needs to keep content on the website up and running, all sorts of projects require content strategy (of the micro kind) as well as editorial strategy, and it’s really hard to focus on long-term business enablement and short-term editorial management at the same time.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

In any case, breaking web operations up into program and product management is right on the money. I fully believe that’s exactly what needs to happen to make web teams successful. (For those of you who want to delve deeper into the subject of this blog, I suggest you listen to the webinar on this site, entitled: Building an effective web team).

Hi Lise,

 Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The execution atom is very interesting. Hadn't really thought about shifting Content Strategy to the program management side. I see the program management side being staffed by resources whose primary competency is "management" and working the organization (while still being Web smart) and those on the product management side having a primary competency of Web (fill in the blank with a specific arena) but also being management smart. That way they can check and balance each other. 

In reality, as long as folks are executing against standards and measuring consistently, the exact configuration (and names of roles) is not so important.  The execution machine should fit like a glove around the goals of the organization.

Hi Lisa
Thank you for your willingness to share so much knowledge on these subject areas.
I would be very interested in viewing your webinar on building an effective web team, but can't seem to see it.

Any suggestions?

I have tried to escalate this discussion within my organization simply by asking questions about who owns the hardware, the software, and the campaign execution. Even with designated owners, we’re struggling though, with where should or where does the strategic direction really come from?

The conversation usually goes something like this:

• “program management” : We want to do this/ The boss wants us to do this.

• “product management” :To do that we need ABC (say, software, database, site architecture changes)

• “IT”: To support ABC we need XYZ (infrastructure, technical resources), which we don’t have or are allocated to other higher priority business technology needs.

The results ends up being: do nothing, cobble together something half-assed with a supposed eye on some long term goals, or do something subversive, where we’ll backdoor into a meaningful strategic direction (meaningful being, we actually have some business goals and success metrics).

This all ends up being straight BS, and we sink more costs in a glued together “product” incapable of support a high quality program.

I’ve noticed many organizations are trying to wedge in a strategic arm into the quagmire that Lisa describes. You know the young MBAs anointed eBusiness strategists, the “interactive” marketers, the old school IT business analysts or the generalist internet evangelists who, as they turn 40+ have resumes chronicling a series of jobs titles reflecting a history of web buzz terms (“director of new media”).

My fear is, are corporate web teams going to end up being steered by such a Web Execution bureaucracy that doesn’t know jack about the program or the product or the supporting technology?

Hi Lisa

You mention that web program management can be distributed across an organisation. Do you recommend a distributed web product management approach or should this be the responsibility of one division.

Hi,

Any of it can be distributed. It really depends on your goals. Most importantly, I think it should be in concert with how the the rest of your organization handles shared services, if possible. I know that approaches to IT and Marketing/Communications can sometimes be distributed. So, you might look at these patterns to inform your approach. That said, some of these older models can be disfunctional as well... I know that's talking out of both sides of my mouth. 

I think that a standards-driven model with lots of decentralized execution is academically the most interesting. It requires a strong governance core though. If you can't enforce product standards it might be hard to maintain quality in such a model.

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