Website builds - why it's important to get everyone involved early on.
Scoping tools are only useful with high participation
16 Jun 2016
Matty Sayer

If you're in digital comms, you may know that getting colleagues involved in a new site build can be a thankless task. Sending out surveys and asking for input feels like nagging, and it’s difficult for those on the other end to understand why it’s useful.

Harder still to understand is why it needs to happen when scoping the site. That's before any code has been written, or any designs mocked up. It's a common problem, so thinking about how to explain it is worth your time.

Digital comms teams can't work in isolation when planning a website. Scoping is inclusive - you wouldn’t design a house by sending 10 architects away to plan a room each, then arrange a meeting between them about how to stick the rooms together.

Initial steps

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Before asking for time and input, those outside of the digital team need to be informed on a few key points:

  • What you're hoping the new site will achieve, and how they can help
  • That there’s a window of time in which their input will really help to improve the site and make a difference
  • That late changes to the spec will cost and, on a budget, may be impossible

Ideally, this kicks off a scoping phase where all stakeholders are engaged in the process.

The alternative can lead to a worst case scenario: the HR department don't respond until days before launch, pressing for a fancy jobs section on the home page, with sketches of what it should look like attached. There are fees associated with the extra work, and the time it takes means deadlines are missed.

If the value of well-timed input isn't understood, suggestions (or “corrections”!) are often made when people have something to look at.

This is understandable - opinions come easy when you’re presented with a product, grasping abstract ideas about how the product should be created is tricky.

Some tips

Explain that global health sites present their own issues in scoping. Sites that you navigate without thinking use clear language, this idea can clash with the scientific terms the global health community are familiar with.

There’s a chance individual departments haven’t considered what the site’s for, and how their presence on the site will help them.

Who’s looking at their department? Is it a shop window for funding opportunities? Should the content be tailored for public engagement? Answers to these questions are the foundations of each section of the site, tackle them early.

We browse sites we’re familiar with on auto pilot; we have specific jobs to do and we know how to get what we want. Manta Ray use scoping workshops and online tools to force our clients to look at their content with fresh eyes.

This exposes flaws in labelling and structure. There will be terms that have come to mean something specific in your organisation that means nothing to the all important outsider - you need to know about them.

Challenge people – present something that clashes with what’s expected. A re-jig of site structure that seems wildly left-field provokes conversation, which opens doors to the idea that what they’re used to might not be best suited to the new site.

Play to their sense of self-interest by asking about their department. Is it easy to find? Could the journey be improved? What relationships should it have with other areas of the site?

It's an exercise in convincing people that their participation will benefit them, not just the build. Succesfully doing so means decisions made in planning the site are more informed, which results in a easier build, and a better site.