Monday, November 24, 2008

So Many Possibilities…But Where to Begin?

I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill thinking about what I’d suggest if I were advising the Obama team on government websites. So many exciting ideas floating around - great ways to improve public service via the web - and they all require resources. So I think I’d suggest that the Obama team start by getting a handle on what they’ve got to work with. Then they can make good strategic decisions about how and where they can re-direct resources to these new initiatives. Here are three ideas:

  1. Do an inventory of all government websites. Yes, count them. Find out what purpose each plays, who the audience is, how much traffic they’re getting, and what they cost. What do they contribute in terms of mission achievement and/or service to the public? I’m guessing you could make some decisions right off the bat about eliminating redundancy, closing obsolete sites, and targeting consolidation. See where you can free up resources to do other things better, faster, smarter.
  2. Do an inventory of “top tasks.” Find out what the public really requests/uses/needs most often, across government. Agency web managers should be able to list their top 3-5 tasks by looking at their data and email, over time. Pick ten or so of those top tasks; and use the Web Managers Council to convene cross-agency working groups of web managers, content experts, staff, and maybe even citizens, for each of those ten. Have each working group look at the content currently available across government (’s topical links directories should help). Figure out how to eliminate duplication, consolidate where possible, and – this is something we just haven’t done well across government – put the content in some logical order (maybe it’s steps…”start here;” maybe it’s decision trees…if this, then that; maybe it’s categories) so the public can use it more easily. Target these top tasks for web 2.0 applications - maybe how-to videos; maybe outreach through social media. Get a plain language expert to work on the project. Then put all this on If this works, do more.
  3. Start a governmentwide web content certification process. Some agencies do this already. Bring discipline to content management by putting the onus for quality on the right players – the organization managers who create and own it. Require managers all the way up the chain to certify to the agency head – on some regular basis – that the content their organizations have posted on their websites is current and accurate. Hold them accountable. There’s nothing like telling managers that their performance ratings will be affected if their web content is wrong or outdated, to put focus on the importance of quality. Chances are this also will help keep web content to a manageable mass.

A good baseline is a good place to start. It should help identify the resources needed to turn some of those wonderful possibilities into reality.

Related links: Shines The Light On a Big Problem: Redundancy

Forewarned Is Forearmed

Friday, November 14, 2008

Transition Tests Leadership

Ah – I remember it well…during the last transition, new requirements for our website were coming from all directions. Web managers and team members all over the Department were being urged by the new political team to do this, that, and the other. Many of the new political staff didn’t give a hoot that the Department had policies and procedures for what goes on the website and how it gets there, nor did they care about making sure we retained our goal to look like “one HUD.” It was every branch/division/office for itself.

Transition was a great opportunity for rogue web team members, itching to do their own thing, to go off in their own direction. All they needed was the ear of a new political aide (who probably was unaware of Department web policies), and they had their sanction. Indeed, we eventually saw a major section of the Department break off and create its own website. That we were able to retain as much stability and make as much progress as we did was a minor miracle. And HUD wasn't the only government agency facing this phenomenon.

The last transition was a huge challenge to the leadership abilities of government web managers. This transition will be no different.

How do you keep a web organization together and on track, when you have no legitimate (delegated) authority over all the players? How do you show the incoming political executives and aides the value of a unified strategy across the agency and across government, to improve government websites? How do you keep all you’ve accomplished from falling apart? You have to lead!

It’s as simple (and challenging!) as this: you have to get in to see the new team; and you have to articulate what you want to do and where you’re headed, in terms that this political audience understands. You have to persuade them that it’s the right thing to do for the American people. You have to show your passion for, and conviction in, the strategic direction of the web manager community. You have to know your message and stick to it. You have to repeat it over and over, like a broken record. And you have to make sure that your entire web team can articulate the same principles and direction.

You must be a strong leader to be successful in managing government websites - always. But your leadership abilities have never been more critical than they are now. Hold your team together through your leadership. Inspire them – and your new bosses – to work together across the agency and across government to create websites that provide first-class service to the public. Speaking as a citizen, we are counting on you to do that. Lead!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ready, Set, GO!

Finally, the Presidential election is behind us! We have our new President-elect, and the very good news for government web managers is that President-elect Obama is web-savvy and very ambitious about using technology to make government more open and transparent to its citizens. So…are you ready?

The transition teams are moving into your agencies right now. You’ve been planning for months. But just in case you still need some pointers on strategy, here are three.

Make an appointment to meet with the transition team TODAY! Find out the name of at least one person on your agency’s transition team and call or email that person, asking for no more than 30 minutes to brief him/her on the agency’s web plans. Go to that meeting well-rehearsed.

Plan a 20-minute presentation, leaving 10 minutes to answer questions and to ask how you can help them succeed. Give them just 3 pieces of information:

  • Who are we serving? Describe your web audiences and what they want/use most (top tasks). Use a few stats, and explain why those stats are important to the new administration. Don’t overwhelm them with “what is” because they’re going to be more interested in “what will be.”
  • What are the goals for improving public service via the web? Give them a copy of the Web Managers Council White Paper, and describe how the web manager community is working together to improve all government websites. Again, make sure they understand how this will help them implement their objectives.
  • What help do you need from the new administration? Tell them what policy changes you need to improve service to the public. If your governance structure needs to be fixed, that should be one of the first items on your agenda. Talk in terms of the value of these changes to the new administration. Keep it short; keep it positive.

Make sure your name and contact info is on each piece of paper you leave behind. Offer to meet again to discuss specific goals and strategies.

Tip for success: take a member of the Web Managers Council with you to this briefing. Show that the community stands together.

Meet with your web organization. You must keep your web team informed. Tell them whom you’ve met, what you’ve said, and what’s been said to you. Your team may be getting information, too. Pool your knowledge to get a better picture of the new team and what they want and need. Players and information will be changing quickly, so find a good way to communicate regularly with your web organization.

Stay plugged in to what’s going on across government. Don’t skip over that email from the Listserv or the Web Council leaders – you need to know what other web managers are learning. Listen in to all Forum calls. Check frequently. We serve best when we serve together. So keep alert to information your colleagues may be getting or giving – it could really help you be successful with the new team!

It’s an exciting time! Change is good. You’re prepared. Be steady. Ready, set, GO!