Web migration in mid-flight: Content strategy & IA in the margins

I’ve worked on a number of website migration projects over the past decade. At a certain point, you get really good at understanding the pitfalls and developing a roadmap for moving projects forward across the various stages. Most of the time, web migrations — to a new content management system or just a redesign of site architecture — happen with people who are onboard for the entire length of the project. Whether it’s the staff working in a company, a consulting firm or some type of collaboration, the folks involved with making the project launch get to assess the landscape and make key decisions as the process goes on.

My experience has fit this traditional stance, but it’s also involved a number of times walking into a website migration already in progress; some of the scenarios include:

  • A half-built website waiting to be completed and migrated.
  • The planning stages of a website migration, but with key tactical decisions mapped out and a lack of flexibility on making critical changes.
  • A new site designed & built, but with no new content to migrate.

Doing research about web migrations already in progress or even the content migration process in general is dicey because every organization works differently. Editorial workflows, governance and staffing for managing technical capabilities are all different and depending on those quirks, advising people in general ways can be difficult.

Common challenges to migration

There exists quite a bit of information about managing things like information architecture or the mechanics of the migration process. But what happens after those parts are complete? Who is responsible for what?

Thinking a lot about the ways that we structure our organizations, the issues with project management of content migration is a lot of responsibilities fall in-between roles. Often, the people leading these initiatives do not the authority in their organizations to execute much of the clout necessary to agitate people in other divisions to handle their responsibilities.

The problem with showing up mid-flight in a web project is a lot of they decisions have already been made. Time is the one thing you can’t buy more of; everyday you waste is another day the project which was behind before you showed up can be launched.

1. Your Project Manager probably has another job.

Website migrations are often hybrid affairs where an in-house staffer is tasked with melding all of the internal resources around the project. This would be fine if this person didn’t have other responsibilities that often overlap with the project itself or in another area entirely. In the odd chance you have people whose responsibilities are only project management, you’re faced with a PM who might have a good handle on the scope of each of the moving parts of the project and thus, ill-equipped to move the ball forward and light a fire under people when necessary.

2. Amok with content debt

If you ignore content long enough, you get a progressive rot of content on the website that can be seemingly impossible to get a handle on. When you’re about to migrate is the best time to revisit processes & come up with a governance structure that makes sense. In a lot of organizations, this is easier said than done, because convincing the right people to allow the focus to be on content can be a battle. Does this mean we ignore the content? No. It’s just worth being aware of the difficulties many organizations face with making sense of their content, much less migrating or being willing to invest resources into make it better.

3. Identify each stage of the process

Every workplace is different. Within those organizations are a variety of complexities that make each phase of the migration process difficult. Much like a maze, it can be easy to get stuck on one aspect of the process to the exclusion of the big picture. If you can target your laser on getting content migrated, you’ll have an easier time later of focusing on the other tasks that might be important to you like improving various aspects of design.

An example of a content migration planning timeline document

Once you’ve reached the stage where you’ve:

  • selected a CMS
  • have an approved design, coded and templates implemented;

the best thing you can do is focus your energy on developing a strategy for all of the moving parts left.

How do you identify those stages? By deciding what’s important and targeting the specific barriers to getting content refined and migrated to your new website. In our example above, the stages are outlined based on the specific areas that need to be tackled by the organization.

Your case might be different, the keys are ensuring that information is presented in an action-oriented, simple fashion that allows anyone viewing the project to understand what tasks will be completed and a rough estimate of how long it should take. If you’re working with multiple staff assigned to tasks, creating an “owner” section of the sheet could be useful.


Not every organization can afford an army of help mounting a content migration. If you’re faced with a situation where you have a small team focused on the task of transferring content, the best skill in your arsenal is going to be an ability to document a roadmap & plan with simple deliverables that get you closer to actually achieving the task at hand — migrating your content.

Keeping organized and establishing ground rules for the various aspects of your project, whether through existing guidelines or new ones you propose, will ensure the smoothest ride until you land on the ground with a new site in tow.

The UX of restaurant websites

I wrote a brief thing on Medium, reflecting on some tweets earlier tonight about restaurant websites. My main point is the best way to understand why restaurant websites are bad, is canvassing restaurant owners to find out what their problems are with existing sites.

Just creating a tool isn’t a panacea. I can see a world where you could create a MVP that attracts lots of funding because it’s a problem that many people recognize. But if we’re talking about viability, you need an approach that takes into account an understanding of the market problems in the first place.

Too often, we want to just build for problems we perceive and iterate from there. While this works for some sectors, I think a customer experience driven area like restaurants require a research-first approach.

On hiring: Puzzle pieces & how to fit them

The discovery problem that Silicon Valley — and tech hiring in general has — relates to an issue of finding the right pieces.

Right now, the methodology goes something like this. Somebody stumbles upon a good idea that gains traction. Hell, maybe it’s a bad idea that gets traction and succeeds. Investors like the gold rush flood in seeking to see if that market bears anymore gold or whether they need to seek out a new mountain. Sometimes, they find more gold. Other times, you have to go elsewhere.

Jigsaw puzzles are fine if you like doing them. Depending on how big, they can be a challenge. What happens when you’re about to complete a puzzle and you’re missing a piece? What do you do? Search for it? How long do you search before you give up? Even if you complete the puzzle, what is your next task? Either get a new puzzle to complete or dismantle the one you’ve put together and start again.

I think of tech hiring in a similar way.

We’re really comfortable putting together puzzles that are challenges, so long as all of the pieces are in the box where we need them.

Solving your culture problem

Organizations like to manufacture excitement because they don’t trust their own people to create it organically. We feel like we need to create events to bring people together without thinking about how people are already talking in the cubicles, in meetings and through their natural work together. In big organizations, all huge interactions do is create tension and anxiety. It’s akin to a musical chairs exercise where the favorites always have a seat at the table and the unfavorables are always scrambling to find one, jam their seat that the table and sit there awkwardly, hoping that someone will talk to them and that they can be part of the conversation too.

The myths of meritocracy

The One True Pairing of hiring.

“No one goes to the Golden Corral buffet to stuff themselves with lettuce and quinoa.”
Ty Tashiro, The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

In fan-fiction circles, OTP is the ‘one true pairing‘. It’s your favorite characters that you think ought to be together. It’s apparent from job descriptions that companies think they’re going to find their own OTP.

Look, it’s important to communicate your culture and what makes your company stand out. The hottest job seekers can choose where they want to go and you’re trying to find them, so you want to use rhetoric that attracts them. But a quick scan of job descriptions

make a difference in an exciting industry; if you like the idea of developing clean, lean solutions to tackle problems that have never been solved before; if you love to learn, have a passion for your work, and enjoy being part of a small, family-oriented environment…help small businesses inspire the world to experience life-changing adventures…

Our people are technically exceptional, but more importantly – built to the core to wow our clients and coworkers as to how helpful we can be. If this is the sort of culture you look for in an organization we want you as a part of our team.

Are you a Mobile UX Superstar who wants to be on the ground floor of a startup focused on social change? If so, read on…

The OTP problem isn’t confined only to jobs. These days, it seems like everybody wants to be the VP of their own startup that simultaneously make them rich while enable them not to feel bad about it through a social mission or talking about how their work will “change the world.” I’ve advised people who only want to work at “the best” companies and find themselves shocked when those companies aren’t interested. We’re often focused on becoming, rather than being.

There is no perfect company. There are no perfect candidates. Keeping your expectations checked is a good way to avoid disappointment and yet, you have to start somewhere. Companies often do, as do people. It just seems there are better ways for us to match without feeling like we’re settling.

 

The Fallacy of Data Meritocracy

So hiring is hard. No revelation there, but how do we fix it? We can rely on data, right? Not if that means taking people’s ability to value what the firm needs out of the process.

In his provocative book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Evegeny Morozov has a chapter on algorithmic gatekeeping. There’s a theory in both hiring and college admissions that we can use algorithms to make decisions better than humans do.

“Being objective is hard work; it doesn’t just happen naturally once all the important work has been delegated to the algorithms.”

For decades, the highest level of college football relied on human polls of media members & coaches to select a national champion. Not surprisingly, this process came fraught with biases that often created mixed results — or several national champions — due to split opinions. A few years ago, they allowed computer rankings to be mixed with human polling. This created better results, but required tweaks every year to achieve a semblance of approval and ultimately scrapped in favor of a playoff that was decided by a panel of humans and no computers.

Having a pulse on the organization enables us to monitor what makes sense and what doesn’t. Paper applications, results and test scores might be an entry point to filtering candidates, but there are people arguing for entirely different methods to review candidates like this NYTimes op-ed from a UPenn professor explaining the assessment center method.

Hiring in flyover country

 

Flyover country startups have an additional challenge that their partners on the coasts lack. That’s in addition to finding a critical mass of talent, they have to compete with far more ‘desirable’ places to live to get people to settle in. They often pay less, but will tell you “how much cheaper it is to live,” and when you find the right cultural fits, using family as a draw, it can work.

I run across people for years who don’t fit the prototype. Maybe they didn’t graduate from the “right” schools,” perhaps they had families early and got into the tech game late. Whatever their reason, our processes are broken because they assume there’s an ideal candidate that fits a certain methodology and if we can just crack that code, we’ll find good people.

Whether our biases are geographic, we’re all too reliant on referrals. We want our friends, our colleagues or whoever else inhabits our circles to tell us who we should choose. These blinders cost us millions each year, because we’re failing to identify the right people and spend lots of money targeting the wrong candidates, hiring them and in the event we get lucky, paying them to leave us when they’ve reached their apex.

 

For years, I’ve been assembling teams for startups and even launched a conference based on the idea that so many off-the-beaten path places I’d go had these micro-communities surrounding their startup cultures, but nothing in the way of cohesiveness because people want to be in charge of their own destinies.

Making your puzzle work

Finding the right mix of a team is difficult work. Especially trying to move outside of your comfort zone or network to fill a team is a challenge. It’s still a worthwhile task that can have dividends on your bottom line.

1. Go beyond referrals in your immediate network.
It’s tempting to let people in your own world influence who you work with. After all, if we’re going to stake our work on somebody, we need to know they’re the goods. While this is useful, it assumes your company can’t benefit from outside perspectives well beyond the people you know. Be willing to give people a real shot at breaking through.

2. Test your own culture.
Let your people conduct the interviews. Watch them and see how they react. Do they speak the values of your firm without being coached? Is the way they approach the process consistent with how you’d do it? If not, why? The best ways to understand what people have learned is involving them in game-changing decisions involving outsiders and seeing how they perform. It’ll tell you more about your company than hiring a six-pack of management consultants.

3. Tear up your job descriptions.
Rather than hire for a specific role with lots of bullets of what you need, pair back the content and see what types of replies you get. Too often, we get caught up in envisioning an OTP that must exist for our firm, because the world is large and lots of people want jobs. The reality is, hiring is like dating and finding the right person is a mix of science with a heavy dose of luck. You have no idea who might apply under these conditions.

What does customer experience mean to higher ed?

It seems fitting, 40 years after the birth of formal “enrollment management” in higher ed, that we start to reflect on what the future will be. The challenges that existed then are still problems now. The questions that proliferate continue to vex teams at colleges and universities both large and small.

DESIGN BEYOND SCREENS

When we talk about design, we normally restrict the conversation to thinking about the way websites & print materials look. Occasionally, this conversation can extend beyond that to focus on user experience design and how we design pages to look for different devices and tools.

But that’s it.Android phone screen

We are living in a data moment. A survey released last year by CERR & Dell indicated that 57% of mid-market businesses are deploying big data to adapt faster responses to opportunities and threats. Those same respondents reported spending an average of $2-5 million on budgets for big data.

The more I meet with institutions to discuss their digital capabilities, the conversations end up revolving around similar

methodologies:

  • Adopt a new platform that promises to solve everything.
  • Train everyone on said platform, with fuzzy statements about improving operations and capitalizing on the amorphous “moment”.
  • Hire staff to manage the new infrastructure.

The problem with this framework, is that it ignores the organizational architecture necessary to create agile, rapidly responsive units that can respond to challenges that crop up in a digital world. I read a lot of strategy – not just digital – and Air Force strategist Tyrell Mayfield speaks eloquently about good strategy vs. bad strategy.

“Good strategy explains why we do what we do…Bad strategy muddles these things into a slurry that lacks sufficient consistency to be of use to anyone. The pieces can’t be seen for the whole. Adding more ingredients and blending more doesn’t make it better, neither does renaming it.”

…”Redefining the objective once you’ve begun suggests you were never ready to begin in the first place.”

While he’s talking about national power, the lessons still apply. How many times have you been in a long series of meetings about a project — usually for the web, but not always — that gets redefined, configured and adapted? How often do we move the goalposts in sight of trying to count what we’re doing as a win, rather than taking a step back and understanding the core premise of our objective?

We can do better.

Austin Kleon's Moneyball Movie Mindmap

 

MONEYBALL FOR HIGHER ED

Long before there was ever talk about fantasy sports, Moneyball or sabermetrics, a guy by the name of Pete Palmer wrote a book called “The Hidden Game of Baseball” which was essentially a tome explaining the different ways you could evaluate baseball players across eras, generations, stadiums and statistics to determine who were the best across time. This would really only appeal to you if you’re a massive data nerd who also happens to love baseball, but as a teenager this was a revelatory work. So bear with me.

The underlying premise of “Moneyball” is finding market inefficiencies to gain an advantage over other teams, despite limited resources. So if you’re a team that can only spend $30 million and your competitors can spend $100-200 million, it would seem a fool’s errand to attempt to compete with them for the same players.

Yet, we send admissions counselors to slaughter on a fairly regular basis attempting to get them to do just that. In a world with better data, we could capitalize on the proliferation of tools to create our own analytics to identify how the things we use to evaluate and identify students: high school grades + test scores + extracurriculars + bonus points for desirable things could be used to make smart admissions decisions.

But what about before someone applies? I spent a semester in admissions and while I’m going to type and profess to be a savant, there were absolutely things I noticed we needed to be doing to help front-line staff be more efficient.

Right now, many colleges and universities are still heavily reliant on college fairs and relationships with individual institutions to generate good leads. While this is great if you’re [insert elite institution of your choice here], the rest of the world needs to recruit students too. When you’re Directional State Private Liberal Arts College That Used To Be Religious And Is Now Co-Ed University (imagine the shirts) it’s very difficult to draw from an increasingly small pool. You can employ bold tactics or put a spin on existing marketing, but none of this really reaches the core of the work being done by people on the front lines. They’re just having to answer basic questions they’re not equipped to answer, because the problems are bigger than their roles.

Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Customers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.”  – Ian Schafer

WORKING TOGETHER

We need to envision new organizational structures for integrating digital practice into higher ed marketing. The paradigm that brought enrollment management to life no longer exists in a world where applicants want to access to data and information when they want it, in multiple platforms rapidly. Collaboration where possible. Universities where the web is currently decentralized should embrace a new structure and vision of shared governance. This goes beyond the website, but focused on a unified content strategy that gives audiences a better idea of what the school is about.

Students on the road will always ask admissions counselors web questions because that’s the only person they’re going to meet until they show up to your campus or call. As you can guess, far fewer people will do that than will show up to a fair. We’re not giving our counselors the right tools on the road to get the job done. Paper still rules the day. Boilerplate messaging about why an institution is best rules the roost. How can we expect families to differentiate from 50 or 60 different schools as a college fair when they don’t really know where their kid ranks, what they can really afford, when our messaging is really about trying to get them to sign on the dotted line?

Many of the problems we’re facing are directly related to how we conduct our business. It is possible to develop and innovate without breaking the bank. It just requires a kind of flexibility, creativity and innovation many of our institutions have never tried.

Maybe it’s time we started.