Know your role.

Posted by Jesse | Posted in Higher Education, Management, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 01-30-2008


funny-pictures-bird-cat-cage.jpgEver been in a meeting with a manager that is completely unqualified to make a critical decision about some piece of technology or strategy? Let’s say you have a website, and you are rolling out a new feature. Now you have been the model web developer; you’ve done case studies, use-ability testing, research, etc. You know what a user wants, and what they most definitely do not want.

Your manager has now identified something that they HAVE to have on the website. Ironically, your target audience also identified that this very thing they are talking about is a bad idea and they do not like it. Now what? First of all, breath deep and find your happy place. In many cases this is where web developers (and certainly education industry professionals) flip their lid. No, the manager in question isn’t qualified to speak about web design, and no they have absolutely no experience in usability – but they call the shots. Don’t fret, you still have options.

Ask why they want feature X. This might be a mis-communication. If “the manager” is a board member, have someone who feels comfortable enough call them up and have a candid conversation on why this feature has to make it into the final roll out. It may be a simple communication issue – the manager said “I’d like for it to be on the site” and someone heard “IT MUST BE ON THE SITE OR SURELY WE WILL BE IN RUIN.

…but they still want it.

Ok, this is where we dig in. First of all, did you summarize your use-ability tests, your research, your interviews, etc. into a readable and clear document? If not, get to work. If you did – go over it again. Do you have charts and graphs? Can you easily see what the users want, what people have experienced in the past as successful implementations? Make certain you can. Don’t frame your data, don’t skew it to make it look good- just make sure the results are clear.

Here’s the part that might make you squirm: They might be right. After looking at your data, and seeing what people want and have been successful with- you might have made his or her case. This is where you get to bring them the report and shower them with praise.

WAKE UP. No daydreaming.

You have your data and it’s clearly pointing to the fact that feature X is a bad idea. Present this to your manager and request a follow up meeting to talk about it. Bring your raw data and be prepared for all sorts of questions. Make your case and request we do not include feature X.

Ok. They still say no. DO NOT head to just yet.

Compromise. They obviously want this feature and don’t care that it’s bad for your website. Is there a way you can implement feature X to limit it’s exposure? Could you possibly negotiate to get feature Y (the one you were going to ask for next week) into the site? Find a way to soften the blow to meet the needs of your target audience.

The ideal setting would have people who call the shots deferring to “experts” in the respective fields who know more about subject X than they do. This always isn’t the case, so more than likely you’re going to deal with this situation in one way or another. Remember that you are setting a precedent in how you react to your manager. If it turns into a painful experience for both of you, you might not get the chance to be heard the next time. Keep your head up, do your homework and live to fight another day. :)

Comments posted (3)

Ouch… must have had a bad day. :) That’s the world of higher education and technology. I spent three years in the IT department here before moving over into communications and marketing as the webmaster. You just have to do what you can and don’t worry about the rest. When they are ready, they will come to you. If you can spend the time in between becoming the expert that you are then you will come out that much better in the long run.

Good thing about higher education is nobody is ever in a rush to do anything so you have lots of time to do research. Bad thing about higher education is nobody is ever in a rush to do anything so your always outdated. :)

It’s funny when people think they can do your job better than you…how bad is the exposure? Like you said, maybe limit it a bit…I know I have talked with our web person on how to limit content. Maybe, if it takes long enough, they’ll forget about it…

I think the main problem is (I’m thinking this is probably true in a lot of institutions) there is no “owner” of the website. This makes managing and building consensus the only way to get things done. I don’t have to tell you all that this is not the most efficient way – especially for the breakneck speed of technology.

We have Colin Powell ( coming to campus soon, we joked about giving him the rights to our website in hopes that he can make some decisions for us. If he can manage Desert Storm, he’s got a fighting chance to help us get our web environment under control. Maybe. :)

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