It’s not 1999 any more. The web is the primary channel. Get a web strategy.
One of Kahn’s insights is that getting the web right requires a shift in focus:
A typical web or communications initiative happens at 20,000 feet (areas of focus), but the problems we’re talking about are at 30,000 or 40,000 feet (goals, vision). We need to gain some height.
This reminded me of Lucy Kimbell’s definition of service design:
User-centred design asks how can we design a better toaster. Designing for service explores what meaning and what value toast-making has.
What we’re seeing in both content / web strategy and service design is the need to go to the heart of the matter. To ask what we are trying to achieve, rather than just how to achieve it. As Khan points out, this puts you in management space:
You know the project is unlikely to achieve its objectives because of problems with strategy, governance, execution, or measurement. But that higher-level stuff is outside your official scope. What can you do about it?
One answer he pointed me towards, by Lisa Welchman, is to define web strategy at the very top of an organisation:
Formalization of Authority is the emplacement of high-level authority for Web Governance and Web Execution … In order to have power, it is an action that is best performed from a very senior level of the organization.
Now, I need to delve a little more into governance but this immediately rings alarm bells. The lessons from service design show that top-down authority will not deliver value. Web strategy needs to enshrine freedom from command and control.
Objectives, meet Demand
Trying to impose a centralised authority on service delivery fails. This is shown clearly by John Seddon in his book Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: The Failure of the Reform Regime…. and a Manifesto for a Better Way and has been experienced by anyone who has ever called their bank or local council and spoken to a perfectly friendly but entirely powerless call centre operator.
Let’s draw a parallel here with information architecture. A top-down, centralised web strategy is analogous to a site architecture that’s made up and then imposed on a website, whether the users want it or not. A far more effective approach to information architecture (and to web strategy and service design) is to study user demand and empower front-line services to provide what people actually want. To allow call centre operators to actually try to help customers, rather than just follow a script.
Seddon’s ideas stem from the application of the Toyota Production System to service design. In the Toyota Production System, processes closer to the end product “pull value” from earlier processes. For example, the final production line that assembles a car will request a part when they need it, rather than receive them when produced.
In the application of these ideas to service design in Seddon’s work, we see front-line services closer to the user “pulling value” from back office functions that are further away. In his model, back office functions like management and administration exist to serve the front-office functions like call centre operatives. If we apply the thinking to web strategy, what do we see? Web designers, perhaps even web pages serving users. A flexible service, driven by user demand. Not a service that is imposed by a central authority.
21st Century Business
The terminology of “pulling value” mirrors the shift in business thinking from push to pull. Perhaps these are slightly different “pulls”. However, I think it’s interesting to note that if you swap both the management (command and control to systems thinking) and communication (push to pull) paradigms on their heads, you go along way towards arriving at 21st Century business.