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May 25, 2011

360 degree design

I was recently in contact with an ex-colleague of mine, more or less just to catch up. He told me about the new website / platform that they had just launched. I took a quick look and let him know it definitely looked like a step in the right direction. However, I spoke too soon because he then began to bemoan the fact that despite the website look being fresher and the overall site being much more powerful then before, everyone who was involved with the site now had double the workload because of the new CMS. Whatever had been gained on the customer side, had been lost on the business side of things.

This is something I have seen happen far too many times over the course of my career. A company spends a lot of money to replatform their website and bring it up to modern standards, while at the same time losing focus on the people who actually have to do the work. This is especially important when considering platforms such as IBM Websphere Commerce, which are very powerful but also have a reputation of being difficult to maintain. When designing any new website or site refresh, project managers, developers, and designers need to focus on the entire 360° of the project. That means, design something that is easy, powerful, and full of value adds for the customer but at the same time increases the efficiency of those who will be maintaining it, on both the developer and content owner side of things.

When speccing out your new website and considering whether or not to make user testing a part of the plan, also look towards internal user testing. Conduct a thorough investigation into what processes and workflows your business owners would find most important. They'll most likely be heavily involved anyway in the customer facing portion of this project, thus also make them a part of the process to help drive the backend of the website. While you'll be putting more work into this upfront, I guarantee your efforts will be appreciated in the end.

Likewise be conscious of this during the RFQ portion. Make sure you only move forward with vendors who show a healthy respect to this 360° approach. Don't be fooled by any who brush this off as something to look at as you get close to launch. By that time it'll be too late. I've had angry meetings with more then one vendor who suddenly started claiming "out of scope" when CMS efficiency changes were requested because what was being presented didn't meet expectations.

In short, as either a business or technology owner, whichever you might be, if you are put in charge of such a project be mindful that there are two sides to this coin. You can have your cake and eat it too if you plan things out carefully from the start. To have a growing website that is a major source of revenue and/or branding for the company is a goal of any good web department. But to have that, while also standing forth as a paragon of efficient design and processes for the rest of the business, well that is where your true aims should lie.

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