Managing Chaos Cover

Managing Chaos

Digital Governance by Design

By Lisa Welchman

Published: February 2015
Paperback: 248 pages
ISBN: 978-1933820-88-0
Digital ISBN: 978-1933820-82-8

Few organizations realize a return on their digital investment. They’re distracted by political infighting and technology-first solutions. To reach the next level, organizations must realign their assets—people, content, and technology—by practicing the discipline of digital governance. Managing Chaos inspires new and necessary conversations about digital governance and its transformative power to support creativity, real collaboration, digital quality, and online growth.

Hear author Lisa Welchman on The Rosenfeld Review Podcast

Paperback + Ebooks i All of our Paperbacks come with a FREE ebook in 4 common formats.


Ebooks only i All ebooks come in DRM-free Kindle (MOBI), PDF, ePub, and DAISY formats.


More about Managing Chaos


Managing Chaos provides clear and cogent guidance on how a governance model delivered through digital strategy, policy, and standards—and abetted by a culture of collaboration—can help the enterprise develop an effective approach to digital transformation.

Perry Hewitt, Chief Digital Officer, Harvard University

Managing Chaos is a practical and pragmatic guide to integrating digital into any business. Required reading for every organization.

Paul Boag, author of Digital Adaptation

You can’t get user experience right if your governance model is wrong, and nobody knows digital governance better than Lisa Welchman. When executives and designers read Managing Chaos, the intertwingled world+web will be a better place.

Peter Morville, author of Intertwingled

You tried a homepage carousel. A complete website redesign. Even a new CMS. And yet, none of those fixed your real problem, which is that your digital operations simply don’t have a plan for long-term governance. This important book addresses head-on the political battles and angry stalemates faced by every large enterprise.

Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile

How has our industry survived for 20 years without this book? An instant classic—requisite reading for anyone working in (or near) the digital realm.

Kristina Halvorson, CEO Brain Traffic and author of Content Strategy for the Web

Talk all you want about ‘digital transformation.’ At the end of the day it takes real people (like you!) to get there, and Managing Chaos offers the best guide you’ll find to succeeding at the journey.

Tony Byrne, Founder, Real Story Group

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: The Basics of Digital Governance
  • Chapter 2: Your Digital Team: Where They Are and What They Do
  • Chapter 3: Digital Strategy: Aligning Expertise and Authority
  • Chapter 4: Staying on Track with Digital Policy
  • Chapter 5: Stopping the Infighting About Digital Standards
  • Chapter 6: Five Digital Governance Design Factors
  • Chapter 7: Getting it Done
  • Chapter 8: The Decision to Govern Well
  • Chapter 9: Multinational Business-to-Business Case Study
  • Chapter 10: Government Case Study
  • Chapter 11: Higher Education Case Study


These common questions and their short answers are taken from Lisa Welchman’s book Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design . You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. What is digital governance in the first place?
    Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.”
    See Chapter 1, “The Basics of Digital Governance”
  2. We don’t “govern” things inside our organization. Why should we govern digital?
    I don’t believe you. Every organization governs something. What you are really saying is that your organization hasn’t decided to govern digital. That is one option, but it has consequences. Make sure that you are considering all the possible rationales for not governing digital before you default to this “easy-to-articulate but hard-to-live-with” conclusion.
    For more, see Chapter 8, “The Decision To Govern Well.”
  3. We don’t need a governance framework. Can’t we just have the main Web team decide everything and run everything? After all, we know what we’re doing.
    No, that’s not a good idea. Creating a digital production silo is not an effective practice. It doesn’t allow the digital team to understand the rich landscape of the business. And practically speaking, it’s very difficult to size a digital team when all the work is done in one place.
    For more information on a good digital team structure, see Chapter 2, “Your Digital Team: Where They Are and What They Do.”
  4. We’re an agile shop, so do we still need governance? Doesn’t
    governance just slow stuff down?

    No, governance does the opposite. It enables agility by clarifying roles and responsibilities and connections for a collaborative team. If you think about it, agile software methodology itself is highly structured with well-defined roles and responsibilities. That’s why it works so well in the right organizational applications. A digital governance framework, when properly designed, can enable not hinder agile development.
    See Chapter 1.
  5. OK, I get all the digital governance stuff, and I’m a believer, but I have no authority to establish digital governance in my
    organization. What do I do if no one cares enough to want to create a framework?

    In many ways, this book is just for you. A lot of organizations are led by digitally conservative executives (see Chapter 3, “Digital Strategy: Aligning Expertise and Authority”). Sometimes these conservatives are taking longer than we’d like to wake up to the strategic aspects of digital. While you are waiting for them to pay attention, there are a number of things that you can do to move digital governance efforts forward, including establishing an internal community of practice for digital inside your organization.
    For more details see Chapter 8.
  6. Aren’t policies and standards different ways of talking about the same things? What’s the difference between a policy and a standard?
    Policies and standards are not the same thing. Policies are organizationally focused high-level statements established to manage risk inside an organization (see Chapter 4, “Staying on Track with Digital Policy”). Standards are focused on establishing development parameters for digital practitioners.
    See Chapter 5, “Stopping the Infighting About Digital Standards”.
  7. Our organization is too innovative for standards. Doesn’t creating standards stifle creativity and cutting-edge development?
    No, standards can enable innovation and creativity. Standards are the bedrock upon which the Internet and World Wide Web rest. And, we can all agree that there’s a lot of innovation and creativity happening on the Internet and Web. Without a framework of digital standards in your organization, yes, you will get some creativity. But, mostly, you will get a chaotic mix of disintegrated content and applications. Having standards and being able to enforce them will allow for rich, creative development.
    See Chapter 5.


Chapter 1 (PDF)


I remember well the day I pitched Cisco’s senior staff on leveraging the Web for all our business processes and for creating an organization, job descriptions, and clear roles and responsibilities to support our Web efforts. They agreed, looked around the room, and said, “Which group should do it? (It could have been IT, customer service, or marketing.) Someone said, well, Sinton (marketing), you do it. And that was that. A clear decision, at least in the beginning, and the desktop PC (!) that housed Cisco’s website was delivered outside my office along with the person managing it.

And we were off and running—soon envisioning Cisco as a global networked business where the Web improved relationships for all of our business constituents (prospects, customers, investors, suppliers, employees, etc.). It was somewhat easy at first to maintain the “presentation layer” (now called UX) and core functions, such as registration databases, content management, and search. We built them from scratch and had a mandate from our CEO to manage them. Cisco’s embrace of the Web as a core business strategy was both a strength and a weakness. With so much “embracing,” there began turf wars and disintegration that played out, sometimes very clearly, on the customer, employee, and partner websites.

We were developing a new tool for business while working in the fastest growing company of the 1990s. It was chaos, and it became clear that top-down, cross-functional and international coordination was needed to effectively deliver on the promise of the Web. And so we began to experiment with governance models, ultimately landing upon a lead “business council” with supporting cross-functional teams at various levels to help our work be more effective. This business council had at its core an alliance between marketing and IT.
This solved some of our challenges, but not all. Clearly, Cisco was ahead of its time in leveraging the Web for business. In 1996, 20–25% of all Web commerce was done on, yet we struggled as we continued to scale, decentralize, and globalize our business. We learned, over time, that it takes the full width and breadth of the organization to support the company’s digital efforts, and that it needs to be addressed and coordinated at many levels of the organization from executive to individual contributors.

If only we’d had this book as we blazed that trail, we could have been even more productive and even more customer focused. I’m so thankful that someone as brilliant as Lisa recognized what was happening, both at a tactical and at an organizational development level, and wrote about it. I still believe in the power of the Web to change the way we live, work, play, and learn. Hopefully, Lisa’s insights in the area of digital governance will help even more companies unlock that power and potential.

Chris Sinton
Chair Emeritus StartOut
Co-Founder and Founding President & CEO Network for Good
Internet Trailblazer Cisco Systems


There were three categories of people who supported me while I wrote Managing Chaos: those people who encouraged me to get started; those who helped me make the book better; and those who poked and prodded me to the finish line. Only one person fits all three of those categories: Lou Rosenfeld. Thanks, Lou. You help people do good work and actualize their potential, and that’s rare and important work.

For those who helped me get started, I’ll name my son Rhys Welchman who has been present and supportive in every incarnation of my work in digital and always believes in me. Catherine Preziosi and Tom Hall are friends who were there when I started and there when I
finished, and never stopped believing that my writing process would be successful.

For those who helped make the book better, I’ll name Whitney Quesenbery (who told me to tear it up and start over), Peter Morville (who pointed out the good things about that first draft), and Kristina Podnar (who was generous with her knowledge and had good answers to countless queries that started out “Does this make sense to you?”) Also, thanks to every client and colleague whom I’ve worked with for the last 15 years. You’ve taught me the most.

For those who poked and prodded me to the finish line, I’ll name every conference attendee and tweeter who asked, “When’s the book going to be done?” Shame can take you a long way. Also, I want to thank Simon Lande whose persistent but nice queries helped me run
the last mile.

Lastly, I want to make a special category for my editor, Marta Justak, whose expertise is reflected on every page. Marta helped me to sound more like myself, pushed me to make things simpler and clearer, and offered me more than a few therapy sessions over the phone.

To all of you, I’m very grateful.