Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design

May 4, 2015

This is a sample chapter from Lisa Welchman’s new book Managing Chaos. 2015 Rosenfeld Media.

Chapter 7: Getting It Done

Managing ChaosThe governance framework design effort is a good opportunity for your organization’s digital stakeholders to learn how to work and collaborate better. So, even if you already have a sense of who on your digital team ought to have the authority to make decisions related to digital strategy, policy, and standards, it’s still important to go through the design effort with a larger team. Because it’s not just the end state that is important, but rather the interim conversation, collaboration, and compromise required to build your framework. Those activities will bring your team into better communication, better community, and better alignment.

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Most importantly, in environments where effective digital governance practices haven’t been implemented, the de facto core digital team is often in an uncomfortable position. In many cases, they are struggling to produce a functioning digital presence in a chaotic development environment, with no real authority to define and enforce standards. These teams are hungry for authority, tired, frustrated, and feel (and often are) underappreciated. That’s not the best dynamic for defining governance practice. So, even if you are a key stakeholder with a lot of institutional knowledge and digital domain expertise, it’s important to remember that creating a digital governance framework is not an opportunity to create another functional, decision-making silo. Instead, take the time to do the job right. It will be well worth the effort.

There are four main aspects to consider when creating the digital design framework:

  • Identifying a sponsor and an advocate.
  • Populating the design team.
  • Starting the design effort.
  • Implementing the framework.

Identifying a Sponsor and an Advocate

There are a lot of unique organizational nuances to digital governance, but one common theme is that, without a sponsor or an advocate, digital governance frameworks are often defined, but seldom implemented. So, if you are not in a capacity to implement your framework through your own authority, make sure that you seek alignment with someone in your organization who does have the capacity to recommend or implement the sometimes substantive changes that can occur when digital governance frameworks are put into action (see Figure 7.1).

Figure 7.1— Pick someone to lead the team.
Pick someone to lead the team.

The advocacy role can sometimes be a tough role to fill. As you’ll learn in Chapter 8, “The Decision To Govern Well,” sometimes leadership isn’t really eager to establish formal digital governance. Often, they can’t see, don’t understand, or in some extreme circumstances, aren’t even open to hearing about the benefits and risk-mitigating dynamics of proper digital governance. Even in these extreme circumstances, every digital governance success story—the ones with the happy ending of a well-funded, well-formed, properly empowered digital team—includes the existence of an executive advocate. Sometimes the advocate takes a heavy interest and participates in the governance framework formation. At other times, the advocate simply writes the memo that announces the framework. Either of these levels of participations (and anything in between) can be effective if your advocate is well-selected because often just the basic imprimatur of a person “in charge” is all that is needed to get your framework implementation started and completed.

Figure 7.2— Digital governance framework sponsorship and advocacy
Digital governance framework sponsorship and advocacy.

So, let’s consider the only line on your framework grid that is likely left blank: “Governance Sponsorship and Advocacy” (see Figure 7.2). At this juncture, consider who in your organization has the authority to make the changes required to support your new digital governance framework. It might be an individual, an executive, or maybe a senior management committee. Who the advocate is will vary greatly from organization to organization, but usually the resource is very senior.

Depending on the sector in which an organization operates, there are certain trends that become evident surrounding the person who becomes an advocate and sponsor (see Table 7.1). Often, this selection stems from how revenue is driven into the organization, or it’s based on legacy (pre-digital) roles in the organization, or what part of the organization already has control of or drives digital.

Your digital governance advocate’s first task will be to form the digital governance framework design team.

Table 7.1—Typical digital governance advocates
Typical digital governance advocates

Populating the Design Team

Don’t underestimate the value and effect of a properly sponsored and formed design team. The governance design team often becomes a powerful entity within an organization. In many instances, the framework design team will transform itself into the digital strategy team. So it’s important to get the leadership and membership right. Beware of self-selected digital governance design teams populated with only core digital team stakeholders, because they are likely to be seen as self-serving and their efforts, however sound, are often largely disregarded.

Team Leadership

You’ll probably find that getting the design effort off the ground? is the most difficult task. While your digital governance sponsor?and advocate will be an essential voice for the initial call to action?for the organization and for approving and emplacing the final framework, it is unlikely that such a high-level resource will have the time (or tactical expertise) to lead the design effort. Usually, digital governance efforts have been effectively led by core Web team leads, marketing officers, COOs, and CIOs. But there’s no definitive answer here. It’s not so much about the title as it is about ensuring that those who lead the design effort have a broad and balanced perspective regarding the full range of digital properties being governed. Consequently, that means that resources who work in a particular silo of the organization and have a narrow interest or agenda might not be a good pick.

Do: Get executive sponsorship for your digital governance framework efforts. While you can define roles and responsibilities for digital, usually, you can’t give yourself authority over others in your organization without the support of your executive team.

Sometimes, the head of the de facto core digital team self-selects as the leader of the design team. That can be a strong choice, but sometimes this leader is not the most open-minded. Often, the core digital team lead has an ax to grind when it comes to digital standards being upheld, and it might see the governance design effort as an opportunity to focus power. In situations where there is a lot of contention and debate between the core digital team and other organizational stakeholders, designating the core team leader can appear to be more of a declaration of war than the olive branch that the organization needs to foster more positive collaboration.

So, be careful in these sorts of situations. If this resource does end up leading the design team, make an extra effort to create an environment where all voices can be heard. On paper, the outcome might be the same (a lot of decision making regarding standards in the core Web team), but the process used to reach the outcome can be the difference between a fun collaborative work environment and one where the work dynamic take a passive aggressive tone.

Team Membership

Your design team must be able to have meaningful and fluid conversation in real time. That means that people who can answer important questions such as: “Can we move the digital team from marketing to IT?” or “Can we change the way we budget for digital?” need to be in the room while you are designing. If you have to leave the room and follow up with managers to get context around and answers to these sorts of questions, your team is not properly resourced. Likewise, if no one in the room can speak strategically to information and technical architectures, user experience, content strategy, and digital analytics, your team is not properly resourced.

Sometimes, an organization might have an existing team in place that can be leveraged to support the governance design effort. If that is the case, as a best practice, try leveraging that team first before forming a new one. The result you are looking for is a governance framework—not the establishment of a redundant administrative or working group.

To foster real-time conversation, you won’t want a large group. But, at the same time, you want to make sure that no aspect of your organization is excluded in the design process. And, as with your strategy definition team, you have to strike a balance between digital domain expertise and organizational expertise. For a lot of organizations, forming a small team that meets all of these criteria is a challenge.

In principal, a team sponsored by one or two leadership figures (like the CIO or CMO) and populated by the core digital team lead(s) and strategic digital business stakeholders (like regional Web managers or brand or business line Web managers) is a good place to start. From there, you might want to add non-obvious members, like those from your legal department or operations. But, already, if you include all of these resources, your design team might be getting too large to be effective.

A productive tactic is to form a working group aligned with an already existing cross-functional executive team that represents the organization in full. The working group can be tasked to define the framework and carry it back to the senior group for codification. This less inclusive process is most effective if the group chartering the working group has broad perspective over the organization and is willing to make sure that all key digital stakeholders are able to provide input and voice their concerns (much like the inputs and decisions exercise you use when establishing standards).

Once your framework design team leadership and membership is established, your advocate can announce the digital governance framework initiative and the team’s mission and agenda, and the governance framework design effort can begin in earnest.

Starting the Design Effort

You have an advocate and a sponsor, a design team has been formed, and the governance initiative has been announced to the organization. Now, you are ready to start your design effort in earnest. How do you get the work done? Because the results of the lack of digital governance are broad, deep, and pervasive (and usually uncomfortable), it’s easy to believe that coming up with the solution will take a lot of effort over an extended period of time and be just as disconcerting. That doesn’t have to be the case. If your framework design team is inclusive and the design effort is done with a spirit of collaboration, designing a framework can be a relatively simple task. There are a few measures you can put in place to ensure that happens.

Understand Your Digital Landscape

Sometimes, organizations are in such disarray digitally that they really don’t understand the fundamental landscape of their digital presence. Before you get started assigning accountability and authority, you’ll need to pursue a level of information gathering and analysis. For instance, you’ll need to gather and understand information like the following:

  • Organizational structure and reporting chains
  • Inventory of website domains, mobiles applications, and social software accounts
  • Content inventories and Web page editorial responsibilities
  • Any documented digital policy
  • Any documented digital standards
  • Style guides and best practices
  • Digital analytics to understand online usage patterns
  • Online survey results, usability study results, and so on

Don’t worry! Most digital teams don’t have this information at their fingertips. So it’s important to retrieve the information before you start, because having this sort of information at hand will help your team answer fundamental questions while designing the framework. Usually, the framework design team can create a working group to gather this information and provide it to the team. Most likely, the head of the core digital team will play a large role in this information gathering process, but be sure to include other stakeholders in this process. It’s a better scenario for the team to retrieve more information than they need and discard it during the design process rather than to find out after you’ve created a design that it does not take into account all of the use cases for digital in your organization.

Don’t: Forget to consider the scope of your framework before you get started. Sometimes teams can be hyper-focused on governing one aspect of an organization’s online presence, like websites, while ignoring others, like social channels.

How Long Will It Take?

A digital governance framework design effort can take as little or as much time as you’d like. The decision is yours. Usually, the amount of time an organization chooses to take with its design effort has a lot to do with how critical the effort is. If your design effort is taking place in the wake of some online mess, such as improper content, security breaches, or other negative attention, then it can be fast. If there is no real drive to get it done, then it can end up being a long, drawn-out process. It’s your organization’s decision. Organizations that are serious about governing well move quickly—organizations that aren’t as serious, less so. Those statements have shown themselves to be true in organizations large and small, so size doesn’t matter. You can get it done quickly if you’re serious.

That said, digital governance frameworks are not complicated, but the office politics behind them can be. If you work in a highly politicized organization, working through the organizational dynamics can add a lot of time to your effort. A well-formed design team with strong leadership can help minimize side debates about authority and power. But, if there has been a lot of disagreement about the digital presence and who has authority to make decisions, some of that debate will spill over into the design process. So plan accordingly.

Table 7.2 should help you understand the basic activities in the design effort and give you a sense of how long these activities will take. Use this as a guide, not a rule. Every organization is different. Some businesses make decisions slowly and others more quickly. For example, it’s possible for a massive global corporation to make all the decisions in the table during a single two-day offsite, or a small non-profit might deliberate over the same set of decisions over the course of a year.

Table 7.2—Governance tasks and time commitment
Governance tasks and time commitment

Typically, teams that get the best results are the ones that commit concentrated time to the effort. In reality, designing the framework?is often the first constructive cross-organizational collaboration that members of the digital team have been engaged in. A lot of important conversations that perhaps should have happened over the years often do happen in these design meetings, so the best results won’t be achieved as effectively in a series of short hour-long meetings scattered over several months. Ideally, a two-day offsite is the most effective way of developing a framework—or at least for getting most of the way there. If that’s not going to happen in your organization, try to create the same intensity in your office or at least in a series of half-day meetings that happen not less than a week apart.

Many organizations feel that they have deep governance concerns when in reality they simply haven’t taken the time to sit down and talk things through. Or, if they do sit down and talk about them, it’s in the middle of a project where there are timelines and other pressing concerns that can skew perspectives. A happy occurrence is that often teams find out during their design process that they are in deep alignment regarding digital governance practices—once they actually sit down and talk about it outside of the context of projects and deadlines. Your digital governance frameworks will become the foundation of your digital operations. Make the time to do your best work.

At Last—Implementing the Framework

Your design team has done its job, and you have an agreed-upon framework for digital authority and decision making in your organization. Congratulations! But this is just the beginning. Now you need to implement your design. And, even more so than the design itself, the implementation will be highly specific to your organization.

Remember that your framework design document is a schematic of how things ought to work. It takes people to move the schematic from theory into practice. At this point, it’s important not to lose momentum from the design phase of governance to the implementation phase. It’s a fact that too many governance framework design efforts never take hold simply because they were never implemented. Perhaps the team putting the design together felt that the existence of a framework document somehow made it a reality. Or sometimes the governance team didn’t have the authority or resources to implement the changes they had devised. These types of challenges can be mitigated with proper sponsorship.

Do: Remember that the implementation of your digital governance framework begins with the process that you use to define it. Make sure that your process is one that resonates with digital stakeholders in your organization.

Don’t: Try to assert authority over digital stakeholders and colleagues during the framework-design process—keep it collaborative.

If the changes from your de facto governance model to your formal model are minimal, the tactics of the implementation can be simple. But if the changes are deeper, you may need to develop a formal implantation plan and enlist the help from those with expertise in organizational change management. However, be forewarned— because this is a slightly simplistic view, a small organizational change can cause a big reaction among staff members. For instance, those who work in digital have assumed authority for aspects of digital, and sometimes after the framework design process, they find that they no longer have the same authority. Perhaps the resources that do get authority and accountability for certain aspects of digital find that they aren’t interested in having authority over these areas. Again, this is why it’s important to have a well-formed design team and to consider the following when implementing your framework.

  • Formally emplace the framework. If you’ve selected your framework sponsor well, this resource should be at a senior enough level of the organization to formally initiate the implementation of any changes in position or authority that your framework recommends. Make sure that happens. A document doesn’t make a change. In the simplest case, a communication to relevant parties can suffice. In more sophisticated cases, job descriptions may need to be rewritten, budgetary authority for certain aspects of digital shifted, or perhaps a new digital division created. In some cases when the changes in management accountability and roles are truly significant, a formal change-management strategy might need to be defined and implemented. Sometimes, digital team members (used to a fast-paced, agile work environment) don’t fully appreciate the effort required in changing the work dynamics of a large organization. Sometimes, governance shifts can take a year or more to implement.
  • Communicate. One of the biggest differentiators between organizations that succeed in improving their digital governance practices and those that don’t is how effectively they communicate the new framework to the organization. The framework design document is not the end point but a way station in the process of implementing formal governance. In most frameworks, there will be newly established working groups and communities of practice set into place to make decisions about digital and to communicate those decisions to the larger organization—or, in some cases, to help inform key digital stakeholders regarding best practices.
  • Make a distinction between digital production and digital governance. Your digital governance framework is just that—?a framework for decision making. It should not be applied to day-to-day production. For instance, just because your core digital team might be responsible for establishing editorial standards doesn’t mean that they have to approve every piece of content that goes on the site. It means that the standards author is responsible for defining the substance of the editorial standard and helping to support an environment where those standards are easy to uphold. Don’t confuse the two. You might develop more tactical levels of governance, like content governance or taxonomy governance, but those are different, more production-focused activities than what have been described in this book. 

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President, Digital Governance Solutions, at Active Standards

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Lisa WelchmanIn a 20-year career, Lisa has paved the way in the discipline of digital governance, helping organizations to stabilize their complex, multi-stakeholder, digital operations. Lisa’s focus centers on understanding and interpreting how the advent and prolific growth of digitalimpacts organizations, as well as the maturation of digital as a distinct vocational discipline in the enterprise. Lisa began her career in digital in Silicon Valley in 1995, coding Web pages for Netscape, and was a program manager for Web publishing at Cisco Systems before establishing WelchmanPierpoint, a consultancy focused on large Web–site management, in 1999. At WelchmanPierpoint, Lisa conducted early governance projects and established the first structured methodology for assessing digital governance maturity for clients, including governmental agencies, NGOs, higher education institutions, and large multinational businesses. ActiveStandards acquired WelchmanPierpoint in 2014. Currently, Lisa speaks globally on issues related to digital governance, the rise of the Information Age, and the role of the information worker.  Read More

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