Managing Chaos Blog

Digital Governance by Design

Posts written by Lisa Welchman

  • Managing Chaos Ships; I Hope You Like It

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    I’m very glad that Managing Chaos is finally shipping. This milestone represents a big personal accomplishment for me and that feels good—but my biggest hope is that those who work in a hands-on and management capacity in digital find the book helpful and useful. Having been a web manager, I know it can be a challenging and sometimes thankless job.

    At the same time, it is also fabulously fun to work in an arena that marries mature business functions (e.g., marketing, communications, application development, and design) with the Internet and Web-based innovations that seem to arrive daily. We are lucky! Working in the rapidly evolving environment of “online” keeps us on our toes and constantly learning new things. I hope Managing Chaos helps our professional community by putting slightly firmer ground under our feet so we can take even greater strides.

    3 Things I Didn’t Know about Digital Governance

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    Now that Managing Chaos is close to going to the printer, I’m getting a bit philosophical about the book-writing process. Yes, writing a book took longer than expected and involved long nights, coffee, rewriting and all of those other things first time book authors say. So, I won’t say those things. But I would like to point out three things I learned about digital governance that I didn’t quite know before I started writing the book.

    Digital teams are vast.

    When I started writing Managing Chaos, I already had a strong sense of what digital teams were. There were two dimensions I was considering. The first was the function of the team, which included both program and product management. The second dimension was the placement of the digital team (in Communications, Marketing, IT, wherever). But as I struggled to write Chapter 2, “Your Digital Team: Where They Are and What They Do,” I realized that this two-dimensional model was inadequate. After thinking about it a bit (almost a year) and considering different collaboration models, I realized that there was a third dimension: range. Once I understood that the digital team existed everywhere in the organization, the chapter started to come together. Now I know that considering the function, placement, and range of your digital team is a foundational aspect of creating an effective governance framework.


    Digital teams are also guilty of silo-ing.

    A top complaint from digital team members is that the rest of the organization operates in silos. Their implication is that digital stakeholders on the business or program side of an organization often only want to serve their own local interest when it comes to online development. This leaves the corporate digital team, whose job it is to cut across the organizational silos, in a tough spot. And trying to create an integrated and effective online presence in an organization that is operationally silo’d is a challenge indeed. However, when you get to know a number of different teams in different organizations, it becomes clear that digital teams often create their own silo—one that is frequently full of jargoned language like “UX” and “CMS” and “faceted taxonomy.” What’s more, they can often fall tone deaf to even the clearly stated needs that come from digital stakeholders throughout the organization. So, the substance of a digital governance framework has to manage both dynamics—the digital silos and the business silos.

    There are complex reasons to be progressive or conservative about digital adoption.

    Personally, I range between being a very early adopter of new technologies (for things I’m excited about) to being in the early majority of adopters. And a lot of digital team members are innovators and early adopters of technology as well. So when considering the constant digital team complaint of “my CEO/CMO/CIO just doesn’t get the importance of digital,” I had to consider that digital workers are often biased in believing that everyone should jump feet first into digital functionality. So while writing Chapter 3, “Digital Strategy: Aligning Expertise and Authority,” I had to explore how and when an organization might invest in digital. I discovered that there is likely an equation—and a complex one at that—that could come into play here. There are a number of factors like vertical market, geography, and ability to take risk that must be considered. I didn’t form or solve this equation in Managing Chaos but I did offer some insights that will help organizations determine where they might fall on a continuum of digital functionality adoption.

    I look forward to continued conversation about maturing digital governance practices in organizations. I think there are a number of factors associated with the impact of digital on the enterprise that have yet to be properly explored. And, after a break, I’m looking forward to considering the next book challenge.

    Writing About Web Policy & Standards

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    I’ve just about put to bed the web policy and standards chapters for “Managing Chaos.” A few insights that solidified while writing:

    1. Web managers (that is the “head” web person in the organization) have a responsibility to lead when it comes to defining and implementing good web management practices and standards for enterprise web development–even if that leadership takes them places outside the scope of their normal responsibilities. Often others in the organization that one might expect to lead and enable the web team don’t have the knowledge to do so. If you are the web manager, just lead.
    2. Leading doesn’t always mean making all the decisions or being in charge. Make room for other opinions. Be humble. Facilitate. Collaborate. Listen to internal stakeholders when they tell you what they need to do online. They might not have our industry-specific jargon down when it comes to user experience practices, content, and technologies but, they know the reality of the business and what business outcomes are desired and will be supported with resources from executives. Their knowledge might help you find a way to get new features and functionality funded and implemented.
    3. Web policy awareness has to extend beyond the enterprise. Not only do organizations need to consider issues like online children’s privacy, web records retention, security, social media policy and the like–they also need to keep an eye on ever-evolving international and national regulation related to the Internet and the World Wide Web–and to influence it when necessary.

    Now, I’m off to the next few chapters on web governance frameworks–more simply, determining who gets to make decisions about different aspects of the enterprise Web. Traditionally, people talk about how accountability and authority are placed using using a governmental analogy like a federation. And, we speak about the placement of authority with terms like “centralized” or “devolved.” Going in, I think I’m going use a network topology analogy- ring, bus, array. It’s a more active analogy. And, it’s a little bit geeky. We’ll see if that’s too fanciful (and if it holds up)!

    Web governance for good (and hello)

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    I’m excited to be doing my first book, “Managing Chaos,” with Rosenfeld Media. In my over 15 years of working on web governance issues with organizations, I’ve seen plenty of UX practitioners spit into the organizational wind when it comes to improving their organization’s web presence. In most instances, the changes UX folks recommend are ignored, rejected or unimplemented, simply because they don’t have the authority to insist that a change be applied. They fight against those in the organization who may or may not have UX expertise. It’s a sad sight. But I think that “Managing Chaos” will help, by giving those with the talent to create a good web experience a way to make the organizational space to do their jobs.

    Some say that we live in the Web Age– an age of “inclusion” and “freedom.” So, why govern? Because all this inclusion and freedom really is just chaos if we’re not aiming for a goal–if we don’t have intention. Serendipity is great. Where would we be if we didn’t invent spontaneously? For those of us who work with the Web, the answer to that question is simple: We’d be out of a job. But for digital workers who have been hacking away at organizational websites for years, it’s getting harder every day to be spontaneous. Sites are big (some would say bloated), applications are disconnecting or disintegrating, and social software is sometimes being implemented without purpose. In short, websites are beginning to make organizations look bad.

    Once a system gets to be a certain size, it’s hard to make it operate effectively if it you don’t have some basic rules in place. This especially holds true for web environments. Does that dictum take some of the fun out of creating? If you’re a spontaneous inventor who doesn’t want to work by any rules, it might. But a smart organization will harness the power of its true innovators and enable them to do their best, while at the same time maturely managing the aspects of digital that need to be functioning effectively to get work done. It’s an “and,” not an “or.” With real web governance in place, we don’t have to choose between innovation and effectiveness.

    My hope is that “Managing Chaos” will provide the vision and guidance that sparks a positive change within your organization. As I work through chapters, I’m sure I will have additional insights and surprises. (As many colleagues have told me, you think that you know something until you write a book!) My intention is to post many of those unexpected insights here. In turn, I hope these will start new conversations about web governance–and how it can work as a transformative agent to enable creativity, real collaboration, and web quality within the enterprise.

    I’m looking forward to this journey with you.