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Avoiding web design by committee

We design and build lots of websites for our school. Normally it’s fine, but there’s a project coming up which wanted us to build the website which had me worried. (or at least planning how to cope with it)

The reason being, all the people with the power to make decisions are too busy to do so. This can be a real pain as they’ll expect the site to be all things to all people, but not give any guidance on what they want. Which is understandable, but makes an otherwise reasonable job into an utter pain in the arse.

The good news is it looks like the website responsibility will be delegated to a non-professor member of staff who can set our priorities and make decisions (we’ll offer advice, but there needs to be an executive).

I’m thinking that this might be a very good model for any design work we do, that we insist that we have a single liason for a project. We can talk with lots of people, but only one has the responsibility to make decisions. That way we can avoid design by committee, crossed wires etc. When someone wants something “out of scope”, or that we think is a poor choice, we can ask them to go via the liason. Also the liason would have responsibilty for getting us any information we required to progress. My experince is that Profs just don’t have the brainwidth to deal with the niggling details, which is to be expected but does mean they absolutely must delegate them.

The worst case of this was a really big project which got stalled for 2 YEARS because a Prof. wouldn’t let it go live until they signed off on it, but never had time to look at it. I’m still bitter about this one, although he wasn’t a bad bloke it was utterly demoralising.

There’s a good tip for academics here; if you ask our team to get something done ASAP we will. Maybe even in an evening or weekend if we’re online and it’s not too much bother. However, if the site/wiki/blog/database then sits unused for six months, we’ll probably not go the extra mile for you again. On the flip side, if you immediately start heavily using the thing for which we put a rush on, then mucho respect.

Better still, don’t ask for rush jobs. It’s not fair to know that you need a website, but only ask for it 2 hours before it’s due to go live. We do our best, but sometimes people mistake our normal excellent turn around for a guaranteed service level. More notice is just polite, and allows us to do a batch of similar tasks together thus reducing our workload.

Posted in web management.

3 Responses

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  1. Mike Nolan says

    You should send some of your stories to Tales from Redesignland 🙂

  2. Andrew Male says

    The liaison you are describing sounds a lot like the Product Owner in Scrum.

  3. Christopher Gutteridge says

    Scrum is on my wishlist of things to learn. Along with python, unit tests and mobile device app building.