Really, it’s all about the people. How Patrick Powers and the team at Webster built a new website.
I had the distinct privilege of working closely with Patrick Powers during a web relaunch project for Webster University. Patrick, the director of digital marketing and communications in Global Marketing and Communications, is located on the St. Louis campus of the University, one of more than 100 Webster locations, nationally and globally.
The mStoner team arrived on the Webster campus in mid-February for a two-day visit. Our goal was to learn as much as we could about the University through a series of small group meetings with students, administrators, faculty and prospective students. We learned that Webster is a dynamic, entrepreneurial and global institution, offering plenty to talk about on a website. The video clip below shares more about mStoner intake as a valuable way to kick off a web relaunch project and hear from key stakeholders.
Only eight months later, at 6:01 p.m. on October 16, 2012, the new webster.edu was live and welcomed with enthusiasm by those who know Webster best.
A few days after the new Webster University site launched, Patrick and I talked about his experiences leading this large campus initiative. In Patrick’s own words, here are the highlights of our delightful conversation.
What was the most surprising part of the web relaunch project at Webster University?
I was surprised at how little “web work” I did as part of a web relaunch project. So much of my effort was spent making decisions, securing buy-in and selling the idea that we knew what we were doing and how to make it work. The “behind the scenes” work far outweighed the technical work — in difficulty and time spent.
The other surprise was to learn just how integrated the web has become in all our business processes across the University. Early in the project the fine folks at mStoner warned us about scope creep, about how a relaunch can balloon out of control and quickly become an unrealistic endeavor. It’s true. Every section and page and idea we brought into the plan raised more questions and caused us to re-evaluate our approach. It’s important — if you ever want to actually relaunch a site — to know where the project boundaries lie and prioritize what can wait until tomorrow.
What do you wish you’d known before you started? And, what are you glad you didn’t know before you started?
Can the answer be the same to both questions? I wish I knew more about Webster … and I wish I knew less. I worked at Webster six years before this project even started. I thought I had a good handle on how the placed worked and I did. But universities are large and complex places and the web touches nearly everything we do. The discovery process is a good start, but knowing more about how others at my institution used the web would’ve gone a long way in helping me and my team serve them better. Yet, at the same time, I wish I knew less, making it easier to see past “the way we’ve always done things.” It’s a challenge but any relaunch project needs to balance enough institutional knowledge to make it work with fresh-enough eyes to embrace new ideas.
If you could turn back time, what would you do differently or what would you not do at all?
Kill more trees. Write more stuff down. I spent more time than I can remember bouncing between meetings and strategizing our steps through the process. In my head I always had a vision for where we were headed and what needed to get done in order to get there. The challenge was communicating that vision and next steps to my team, the ones doing the bulk of the work. They asked a lot of questions — as good teams do — but most of the answers had to come from me. If I did a better job writing things down, they wouldn’t have had to track me down and ask me in person every time.
What was your favorite part of launch day? How about your least favorite aspect of that day?
My favorite part of launch day was the walk in from the car. We set an aggressive timetable for an enormous endeavor. Walking into work knowing we made it (a day early, even) filled me with pride — in my team, in the work we had accomplished and in knowing that we were making a contribution to the University we love.
What did you do to thank your team and as the project ended and people were putting in a lot of intense hours, how did you keep them motivated?
It always comes down to food, doesn’t it? My wife made brownies for my team on launch day and, in the intense hours leading up to launch, we kept them all well fed. Chips, cookies, sandwiches, soda and even fruit fueled our mad dash to more page creation. Two days after launch we took a long, quiet lunch to celebrate.
What are the two most critical skills needed to lead a web relaunch project in higher ed?
Leadership and focus. A web relaunch project is not a one-person show and requires buy-in from supervisors, colleagues and, of course, the end users. People have to step forward, own the project and enlist the aid and support of others to make it happen. Doing so demands leadership and focus. There were other things I was doing that had to be put aside for a while. Blogging and tweeting were put on the back-burner the past eight months. It’s too easy to get distracted. A project of this size requires focus to meet the challenge of staying on target and delivering what was promised.
Let’s get real, Patrick. Were there any disappointments? Were there any aspects of the project that didn’t go well?
You’re asking the wrong person. I’m a positive person by nature and my natural inclination is to cast off any feelings of disappointment. Sure, there were some “nice to haves” that I thought we could deliver, but that fell by the wayside until a later date. Instead of a disappointment, however, I choose to look at them as a way to stretch out the rollout of cool new things. It allows me to say — and later prove — that we’re always working to enhance the digital experience for audiences.
Do you have a favorite quote from an email message or conversation you had with someone you heard from the day the site went live? Is it one you can share?
This response is in no way meant to be patronizing, but one of my favorite notes came from you, Susan. On the night we went live you sent a DM via Twitter that started “Are you grinning from ear to ear? And your wife should be too.” You may not have meant it this way, but those two sentences reminded me of a few things: 1. Be proud of what you have accomplished; 2. There are people who helped make this project happen (spouses, friends, colleagues, etc.) who never coded a line and never made one decision; and, 3. A web relaunch is a big deal and should be celebrated yet it’s still not as important as the people you love.
Now that the new website is live, what’s the “I’m back” message that you’d like to share with your family and friends?
Thank you. I can never say it enough.
Patrick and I will be sharing more about the Webster University web relaunch project on Higher Ed Live on Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 7:00PM ET. Patrick and I will be joined on Higher Ed Live by Jeremy Rex from OmniUpdate. We hope you can be there too.
From mStoner, to the Webster team, we say, “It was an absolute joy to partner with all of you. Thank you, Merci, Toa chie, Danke, [imagine the languages of your many global locations here, we’re running out of room].”