Too Many Cooks in the Web Kitchen? A successful case of herding cats to improve the user experience


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Presentation at edUi 2012, Richmond, VA.

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  • Welcome, intro, who I am, where I work, what I do.Title of the presentation and what I’m going to talk about. Going to use the analogy of too many cooks in the kitchen to explain what our common problems are related to too many stakeholders - and how I was able to address our problems specifically at the UA Libraries.
  • The problems we are all facing is that our websites are complex. Lots of ingredients.Our institutions have hundreds if not thousands of web pages. Lots of independent sites and complex applications that may have to interact with one another. We also have countless stakeholders and responsible parties. Just imagining how to coordinate all of this stuff and where to even start can be overwhelming. (This is a recipe for Chicken Mole Poblano adapted from Rick Bayless).
  • In a lot of cases, the authority and responsibility related to web content isn’t clear. Standards sometimes exist and sometimes they don’t. Accountability for standards is usually unclear or nonexistent.
  • There are a lot of opinionated people when it comes to the website. Stakeholders often include external relations, the marketing department, and all of those who are on the front lines. Everyone wants their message to be first. A lot of time we have numerous “primary audiences.” Universities have prospective students, new students, current students, alumni, and prospective and current faculty and staff. Not to mention donors and potential donors.Also there are outreach initiatives so the broader local, national and international communities are also possible primary audiences.When it comes to the design of the site, the IA, labeling and navigation, and the content within the website, everyone has their own opinion.Who has authority to make decisions regarding our primary messages? What content should be on the homepage?Throughout this presentation, I will use the analogy of too many cooks in the kitchen. It turns out we have many similar issues…
  • I’m going to look at the University of Arizona Libraries as a case study. Over the past year, we were able to successfully wrangle stakeholders, establish communication mechanisms, and establish authority and decision-making related to our site. It’s not perfect, but it’s a case that I think is worth learning from.The University of Arizona Libraries have had a website since October, 1994. Since then we have added more websites to our website family, including a website for our Special Collections, the Center for Creative Photography, Giving to the Libraries, Data Management, and various Digital Collections and Online Exhibitions. We have 150 staff members, 5 buildings, and over 5 million books. Our main website gets 2.5 million visits a year, which includes over 1 million unique visitors.On our main site, there have been numerous website redesign projects in the past 15 years. Most recently, in 2009, the library outsourced the redesign. Usability was conducted by an outside agency and some significant changes were made to the homepage. However, there has been little critical look at the overall structure of the site. And barely any look at the actual content behind the navigation and the structure let alone the processes by which content is initially created then updated then deleted.In 2010, there were about 60 library staff and students workers who had Drupal accounts and could edit the main website. Who could get a Drupal account? Any employee who asked for it. They attended a one-hour training on the Drupal editor; in some cases, they just got a 5-page Drupal manual and were sent on their way.Not only could they now go in and make edits to any Drupal page on the web server, published or not, they could create new pages from scratch and place them anywhere on the site. Instruction librarians, collection development librarians, circulation staff, IT staff, marketing & public relations staff, administrators, development office, Interlibrary Loan staff, everyone. For years, there was no oversight and no standards related to content. So what did this mean?
  • Our website was a mess.Outdated content.Irrelevant content.Inconsistent messages.Content in weird places.People were making lots of content and no one was cleaning anything up.Someone had to be put in charge. We had an IT department that sort of oversaw the website (they managed our web servers and you had to ask them if you wanted to delete a page), they also trained people in Drupal (a one-hour training on the technical functions of creating a link, etc.), but there was no real leadership or authority and no individual to clean up this mess.Fortunately, library administrators understood these issues and decided to do something about it. Library administration put me in charge - I was assigned as the Website Product Manager. I was given authority to oversee the current and future state of our websites. I had absolutely no technical background, but I had worked in public services for about 5 years, was student-focused, and I was pretty good at bringing people together, organizing things, and communicating.It was somewhat experimental, since Product Management was a new concept for all of us.I was charged with creating a road map for the next 3-5 years. But who was I to make these decisions by myself? With so many stakeholders, it was super important that I bring them into the discussion. So before diving in, I formed a communication plan.
  • Decided to form a Website Steering Group that would act as an advisory group to me. This was a small, agile group of experts – it would include a web developer from our Digital Library Team as well as a representative from public services to speak to the needs of our audience. (It also later included my website student assistant).We would meet every week and they would help me through the process of developing and implementing the road map.There were a lot morestakeholders that wanted input. First, met with every team in the library, there are 9 teams including Access Services, Research Services, Instruction Services, Digital Library Team, Administration. Just went to their regular meetings and asked open-ended questions: what problems have you seen our users experience with the current website? Soon after, created a Team Liaisons model.
  • In the library, staff are organized into teams – 10 teams total, and so every team that has a stake in the website (nearly every team) appointed a Team Liaison and the Website Steering Group would meet monthly with Team Liaisons to solicit input.Have been meeting every month since, just for an hour. When I need broader input from the library, I ask the Team Liaisons to facilitate this input; makes it much easier than attending team meetings to reach all those people! Sometimes when there is nothing on the agenda the meeting will be cancelled, but there is always the option for a Team Liaison to put something on the agenda if they have something they want to talk about.Every month I also send out an e-mail to all library staff, 180 recipients including our staff, faculty, and some graduate assistants and student workers. “Updates from the Website Steering Group.” Have received very positive feedback about these e-mails. It allows everyone who wants to stay in the loop.
  • It’s important to build trust. If the stakeholder don’t trust that you know what you’re doing, it’s going to be hard to get buy-in and implement new policies and procedures.Suggestions for building trust:Listen and respond to input. We tracked every suggestion we heard during initial stakeholder meetings. We made changes based on suggestions we heard, and followed up with those suggestions that we didn’t implement, explaining why.Ask for input from the appropriate people before making big decisions.Be completely transparent in your process and how decisions are made.Document.Overdocument. We use redmine as a project management tool to track everything that we do, so when issues come up we can look at the history and what we have addressed. Redmine has been very valuable in keeping us focused and managing all of our work.
  • To give context to the road map and justification for my future decision-making, I outlined a vision, goals, strategies, and metrics. When working with so many people, you need to make sure you are all on the same page and are working towards the same goal. What do you really want to see in the next 1, 2, or 3 years?This is the vision:The website is reliable, easy to use, and accurate. It exemplifies the principles of user-centered design, and users consistently and readily find what they need. It advances our goals of discovery, information access, and quality customer service.We developed this and shared broadly. We can now reference it when we make decisions. All of our decisions should reflect this vision.
  • Developed a total of 9 goals with associated strategies for reaching those goals and metrics for measuring success. In a restaurant, you want the customers to buy food, to buy drinks, to be happy, to have a good experience, to tip well.In our case of the website, one of our goals is: Users can easily find information about library resources and services.Each goal is written from the user perspective – what is the end goal for the user (not the organization). This helps keep things in perspective. We are service oriented and therefore everything that we do as educational institutions is for the user, not for ourselves.
  • There are 3 strategies associated with the goal. These are ways that we can achieve the goal.For the goal I just mentioned - Users can easily find information about library resources and services.Strategies: The user does not need to know the library’s name of a service to find it on our site and use it. Content is organized and labeled in a logical way to the user (not by library organizational structure or jargon).Content is placed where the user expects to find it, not necessarily where staff think it should go.By writing this out and getting buy-in from stakeholders, it becomes much easier to justify certain decisions. For example, we recently removed the term “Express Document Center” from our global menu because this is a library-specific term that most of our website users don’t understand. We proposed changing it to “Print, Copy, Scan.” (These are the services provided by the Express Document Center). They are more action or task-based, and they reflect what the user is wanting to do, not what the library organization calls something.
  • Develop metrics to measure success. Some accountability to see if your strategies are actually moving you closer to meeting your goals.So for the goal I mentioned, the metrics are things that can be measured through usability testing.100% of users can successfully complete these tasks:Find library hoursComplete an Express Documents requestComplete an Interlibrary Loan request When users click on a link, they know what to expect (i.e. a table, questions, a search box). 100% of the time, users are not surprised at what appears.There is a reduced superiority gap in the LibQual survey for the category: “A library website enabling me to locate information on my own.”The first two can be tracked with usability testing. The last one relates to a campus survey that we conduct every year.
  • Once these basic principles were established and I had buy-in, I was able to move forward in developing a content strategy that made sense for our organization. I focused on the main website, which has the most complex content and the largest number of content providers. I got the book, “Content Strategy for the Web.” It was just what I needed. It became my bible and inspired me to develop a content strategy that would untangle the mess.
  • The first step was to understand the problem, and an audit of your website content will do just this. By understanding what we have, we can better plan how to manage what already exists as well as plan for the future.Over two months, with the help of some student workers, we went through the website and documented every single page that we found with a unique page ID number, which was over a thousand. We made notes on problems I ran across.
  • This is an example from the Excel spreadsheet which ended up being 20 different sheets within the same excel document. One sheet for each Tier 1 in the URL structure (so everything under the “Help” menu was on one sheet).We began cleaning up, promptly deleting nearly 200 pages we found that were out of date, irrelevant, duplicate, or “test” pages. In the subsequent year, dozens of other pages were deleted, merged, or revamped because of what was found in the inventory.It was very important to share what we found with the organization more broadly…
  • It brought to the surface all of our content problems and made the larger organization and all of the stakeholders aware of the need for a content strategy. Of course, the goal wasn’t to yell at people and make them feel bad, because it wasn’t really their fault – it was the lack of standards and clear processes that led to the mess.But by sharing what we found we were able to get buy-in from the organization that this was indeed a serious problem and something had to be done.Some of the problems we found were: outdated content, poor URL structure and information architecture, inconsistent formatting, duplicate pages, and along with lots of typos we found poor web writing generally (i.e. long paragraphs of text; text that was clearly just copied & pasted from old print documents).
  • After the audit, we conducted an analysis of the environment. This is important to set a strategic foundation for future decisions.
  • Part of this analysis is understanding your audience and why people come to your website (or to your restaurant) in the first place.You can do this by developing personas that realistically represent your primary users. Meet Walter. He is our primaryfaculty member persona for the UA Libraries.
  • For each persona, we answered the following questions:Why the UA?How’s academic life?andWhat’s your Research Process?We also listed Fast Facts (age, field, hobbies), giving him a personality. And we listed how he uses the library and what his challenges are related to the library (used to have libraries teach & have course reserves but those services are no longer offered; often has a hard time convincing his students the importance of using the library).Most importantly, we list detailed task scenarios. In this case, his scenarios relate to the library supporting his teaching (research assignments he gives his students) and his own research.Make sure that your vision, goals, and strategies align with your audience and their scenarios. For us, discovery, information access, and quality customer service were forefront, so this vision did not change.
  • Once your audience is defined, you are ready to review Current Processes: Interview stakeholders, diagram current workflows, and review all existing documentation related to the creation of content and the ongoing maintenance of your website. We pulled together documentation from previous website redesign projects, training documentation, campus rules and standards, and our internal policies and procedures, which were (not surprisingly) quite minimal.Bring together your group of stakeholders and discuss what is working and what isn’t.
  • As part of this analysis document, we also established a philosophy surrounding our content. You have limited resources, and you can’t be everything to everyone.Our philosophy is this:We want high quality, succinct content that is relevant to users and speaks in their language. In most cases, less content is better than more, because it is easier to manage, is more user-friendly, and costs less to create. (adapted from Content Strategy for the Web)
  • We then established a voice and tone. This gives personality to your content, and should reflect the brand of your institution.In our standards we say, “Messages on our website must support our brand. We are customer-focused organization, so let’s use their language. Voice and tone needs to reflect our customer-centered personality.” and then we explain by saying we are X not Y.
  • Develop standards. These could be web standards for Section 508 compliance, standards for your campus banner/brand, standards for header & footer, standard wireframes or formatting within certain types of pages. Your audit likely pointed out where you have the biggest problems – where things are inconsistent - and this is where you should focus.In my case, my focus was on the really poor content that we found on our site. So I wanted to create standards for the creators & editors of our web content – we needed editorial standards that would support our core purpose. How many of you have editorial standards?We developed what is now an 8 page document of editorial standards. Made sure they were in line with our Marketing Department’s style guide.
  • We also include examples of good and bad website content. Examples such as these have proved very helpful in training.Similar to the voice & tone, it’s useful to say what something should be vs. what something should not be.
  • Also specifics including what specific language and standard terms; what URLs should look like; what page titles should look like.Formatting – what headers should be used for what; when & how to use things like CAPS, bold, underlines, bullets, numbering. What should links look like – is it ok to spell out the URL of a link? Should they open in a new window or the same window? We actually developed a whole new document to handle links specifically. When your content management system can enforce your standards, take advantage of it. Especially when you have a lot of content creators, it will make everyone’s life easier to enforce things technically where possible (title caps, font color, no underlining, etc.).Expand these standards to related content. For us, we have research guides that are developed separately from our regular Drupal pages even though to the user they appear as if they live on the same website. So these standards were shared & adopted by the managers of that separate process. We also did the same for our tutorials developed in authoring tools (Captivate, Articulate, etc.). These also follow a different creation process.Get down to as much detail as you want. These will keep expanding as new questions come up.So at this point we sort of have a vision of what we want the website to be. We’ve cleaned up a bit, we have a defined audience, we have a voice and tone, we have standards, and we know about current processes.
  • Now we have a great foundation to build our content strategy. This is the meat and potatoes. By establishing an effective and efficient content strategy, we ensure that our website content is and continues to be useful, usable, and findable.I’m going to describe what methods we came up with to manage our complex content in a way that is efficient, effective, and sustainable.
  • Assign New Roles & Responsibilities: Establish who will be responsible for what. Got to break up the work to ensure that people’s skills are being utilized, they are trained on what they need to be trained, work is not overlapping/duplicative, that resources are being used efficiently.In our case, we decided that we needed to have trained Content Managers – people who would be trained and would be responsible for maintaining and updating a specific inventory web pages, as well as being responsible for the creation of new pages and the deletion of pages. Another advantage to having a content inventory is that you can assign someone to every single page that exists. No more “sections of the website” – each individual page has a contact person.We established 14 content managers. Didn’t want to call them “creators” or “owners.” By calling them managers, it implies that they are responsible not just for maintenance, but for overall management of their pages. These content managers were the only ones given permission in Drupal to edit a live web page. So we went from 60 website editors down to 14.Then we have content providers. These are people that have the raw content knowledge, but don’t know Drupal, haven’t been trained on our standards or how to write for the web. They were given access to edit a draft of a web page, but cannot edit a live page. So they have to work with the content manager to make any updates.
  • We organize trainings so that everyone understands their role and has the knowledge and skills to get the job done. For content managers, we hosted trainings in Drupal, editorial standards, writing for the web, and Google Analytics. We also hosted training on the new workflow. Every Team Liaison which I mentioned earlier (10 of them) is also a content manager, but some teams have multiple content managers which is why there are 14.
  • Establish Workflows: Build effective and efficient processes for the creation, updating, and deletion of web pages. Utilize your content management system to support these workflows. For example, to create a web page: Anyone can be a requestor – could be someone who works in the library or could be a student or faculty member out on campus. The requestor talks to Provider of the content, who then must talk to the Content Manager. The content manager gets in touch with the Website Steering Group and we discuss whether or not a web page is necessary and if so – what it should be called and where it should live.Assuming the pate is approved, the content manager creates the page and then a reviewer (me) reviews it before publishing.This allows us to ensure that every new page is not only up to standard, but is of high quality – using effective web writing, overall structure, and that it is placed somewhere logical to the user. We might not be able to tackle every page on our site right now, but we can at minimum ensure anything new is reviewed for quality before going live.
  • Similarly, we established a workflow for deleting a page. This process ensures that there is communication with stakeholders who might use the page and also ensures that we don’t have dead links on our site. In the past, someone could just request a page be deleted and we would have dead links on our site because of it; or worse, a page would just never get deleted when it really should be, because no one was held responsible for the lifecycle of web content. (Remember the 200 pages I mentioned we deleted as part of our audit?)
  • Ensure Your Strategy is Sustainable: Establish a system of accountability. Talk to the supervisors of the people with the new roles to make sure they are on board.Depending on your level of authority, see if you can have responsibilities added to job descriptions or performance reviews.I asked that each content manager include website content management in their annual goals. Many had it added to their job description as well. This ensures some level of accountability.I developed a template for the content managers; it includes that they will attend trainings that are offered, participate as a team liaison, review, update & delete existing pages, and create new pages as needed.Develop, track, and report on metrics. Have a plan in place for when someone new needs to be trained. Establish a communication plan. Ongoing feedback is essential. Allow your content strategy to be fluid. Adjust processes as needed, stay aware of new developments, and take advantage of technology that will support your content strategy.
  • Don’t get stressed out. Depending on your organization, it might be a struggle to get buy-in and to change policies. There might be red tape and it might be a long process to get things in place.Don’t give up and throw people out of the kitchen.Keep the user in mind and realize that 99% of your colleagues do want what is best for your students, faculty, and communities.
  • Be open to change. Nothing is ever set in stone. Responsibilities can and should change. Just try to stay on top of it.
  • And of course, always keep the user in mind. All standards, workflows, and new roles & responsibilities should be towards your user-centered goals for your website. You’re doing it for them.Questions?
  • Too Many Cooks in the Web Kitchen? A successful case of herding cats to improve the user experience

    1. 1. Too Many Cooks in the Web Kitchen? A successful case of herding cats to improve the user experienceRebecca Blakiston, University of Arizona Libraries, 2012
    2. 2. Our websites are complex.
    3. 3. What am I supposed to be doing again?Responsibilities aren’t clear.
    4. 4. My best My primary Truffle oilcustomers are audience is makes college wealthy couples everything students better Truffle oil is so overrated… Everyone has an opinion.
    5. 5. Meet the University of Arizona Libraries.
    6. 6. Our website was a mess.
    7. 7. Put someone in charge and form a small group of experts. What do you think about this idea…?
    8. 8. Now the rest of you: let’s chat.Communicate regularly with stakeholders.
    9. 9. Ask for, listen to, and respond to input.
    10. 10. Create a vision.
    11. 11. Develop goals.
    12. 12. Developstrategies.
    13. 13. Develop metrics.
    14. 14. Read thisbook.
    15. 15. Conduct an audit.
    16. 16. Just look at the messyou’ve made!!
    17. 17. Conduct an analysis.
    18. 18. Understand your audience.
    19. 19. Create detailed scenarios. Walter needs to find American newspapers from the 1700s through today…he doesn’t know what is available or where to start.
    20. 20. Review current processes.
    21. 21. Define a philosophy for your content. Fresh, fast, healthy.
    22. 22. Establish a voice and tone.Knowledgeable, not preachy.Helpful, not frustrating.Welcoming, not full of jargon.Professional, not pompous.Conversational, not preachy.Approachable, not intimidating.Direct, not complicated.
    23. 23. Sorry, this dish is not up to standard…Develop standards.
    24. 24. Less like… More like…The customer should login to their Sign in now to request an article.Illiad account to request adocument delivery.Library staff will respond to user We want you to feel safe in thecomplaints by enforcing the code of library. Please notify desk staff ifconduct. you have any concerns.The University of Arizona Fine Arts The Fine Arts Library includes all ofLibrary (formerly the UA Music our music collection as well as aLibrary) houses the UA Libraries small selection of architecturemusic holdings and, along with the materials.Main Library, a small portion of theLibraries architecture holdings,most of which are kept in theScience Engineering Library.
    25. 25. Develop detailed editorial standards.
    26. 26. Develop a strategy.
    27. 27. Assign new roles and responsibilities. back-up garnish service appetizers orders meat prep desserts fish sides
    28. 28. Organize trainings so that everyone has the knowledge and skills to get the job done.
    29. 29. Establish a workflow forcreating a page. Publisher Reviewer edits launches the the page page Content Manager creates the Provider page talks to Content Manager Requestor talks to provider
    30. 30. Establish a workflow fordeleting a page. Publisher deletes the Content page Manager sends deletion request Content to Publisher Manager removes or Content updates all Manager internal links communicates with Content stakeholders Manager determines page should be deleted
    31. 31. Establish a system of accountability.
    32. 32. Don’t give up.
    33. 33. And alwayskeep the user in mind.