Proust Questionnaire: Susan Evans, College of William & Mary


Proust Questionnaire: Susan Evans, College of William & Mary

Dec 16, 2008By Voltaire Santos Miran

What was the scope of your project?
At William & Mary, the goal of the re.web project was to comprehensively redesign our entire web presence. So, at the outset of the project, an integrated design deployed with a central web content management system was the target. One of the reasons campus communication was essential to our effort was the need to secure buy-in from the graduate and professional schools at W&M. We hoped that these decentralized units would want to be a part of re.web; we wanted their participation without an edict from the provost.

How did you construct your core team?
The provost asked me to lead the re.web project and we worked together to identify core team members and to establish a project advisory committee. I was already directing web services within IT and my unit included very talented and knowledge web professionals who were key. Additional team members from W&M’s central university relations unit were important to the design and photography work.

How much time did you spent, on average, in the course of a week throughout your project?
During about half of our eleven-month effort, we were able to fit project work in and still keep up our day jobs. I would estimate that we were all “full-time” on re.web during the final five months. That’s full-time in web redesign mode, by the way, so more than 40 hours per week.

How did you manage internal communications?
In a nutshell, we had a philosophy of transparency and a communication plan (we wrote it down!).

It’ll come as no surprise that we used the web to communicate about re.web – our communication strategy included a project website, a project blog, campus presentations, and the now underestimated power of the personal visit.

Our HighEdWeb 2008 presentation, “Getting Them to the Table, and Keeping Them There”, chronicles re.web communication and a companion handout is available on my personal site.

How long did the project last?
Start to finish, re.web was part of our lives from November 2006 to July 2008. To detail our timeline:
November 2006 – February 2007: preplanning and budget development
March 2007 – July 2007: project organization and Request for Proposal to hire the best web consultants in the U.S. (mStoner!)
August 2007 – July 2008: web strategy, design, content, CMS selection, site buildout

When did you go live?
We launched the new William & Mary site on July 31, 2008 at 11:38 AM (wink!).

Biggest surprise?
Well, that everybody says yes to a jar of peanut butter and a box of saltine crackers.

Actually, a big surprise to us was that most people focus on the technology of their website instead of their content. Everybody wants to talk about how the CMS will work, what can be done to save their effort, why they can’t have more whiz bang, and when the search will improve… But having a serious conversation about content development is viewed as an unmentionable – an annoyance, and sometimes an after thought. More discouraging is that some will use what they view as a deficiency in the technology as an iron clad excuse not to write better content.

We’re gently and gradually making content KING on our campus – but there’s a long road ahead.

Tallest hurdle?
My first thought after reading this question was, “there were so many.” But actually, I’d characterize the many tallest hurdles that ran through my head in this way: living with uncertainty. For most people, managing the unknowns is hard and that was definitely our experience. While you’re working on web strategy, you start to worry about choosing a design that everyone will like. Once you get design nailed down, you start to panic about who’s going to write all that new content. And throughout, you’re hoping you don’t get chased off campus because you pick a web CMS that is not easy to use. We started to feel better about all of the uncertainty once we bought into the process. And, it was immensely comforting to have the years of experience (including war stories) of the mStoner team at our disposal.

Aha moment?
We realized about eight weeks before launch that we needed to STOP communicating with the campus. This was a huge aha for us because ongoing communication was the signature of the re.web project. But in the final eight weeks, we had an unspeakable amount of work left to do – so we needed a concentrated work period and a singular focus. Also, we realized that until our new site launched, people had the false impression that design and functionality were still up for discussion. So we took ourselves out of situations (presentations, meetings, popular lunch spots, etc.) where campus constituents could ask us to make a design change or force us to admit that a nice-to-have functionality wouldn’t be there at launch.

Finish this sentence: I’ll never again …
… let it get that bad.

Explanation – The W&M web team, established at the end of the re.web project, has committed to the ongoing care and feeding of the W&M web presence. We understand that web design and web communication require continuous review and enhancement. The time for ignoring your institution’s website until the next redesign is no more. Plus, our families won’t let us do another redesign project. Flashback – Voltaire’s first presentation at W&M and his theme of “smart and sustainable.”

Finish this sentence: I’m so glad that …
… we publicly announced the launch date.

We publicly announced our July 31 launch date on April 2. For the seasoned project managers out there, this is a no brainer. Nothing keeps you in line more than a deadline. And as you get to the end game, you need the deadline to help you prioritize and make the hard decisions. When you have unlimited time, you are more likely to have an elastic scope (i.e., you’ll agree to add almost anything). To be frank, by June 1, we were really glad it was almost over.

How are you measuring success?
Hmmm… you mean beyond the fact that we all still work here? Seriously, at first we measured success anecdotally by the multitude of feedback emails and phone calls we got after launch. And after all of the hard work, you need and deserve that.

We are using Google Analytics to monitor and evaluate our site. Once we have a bit more data, we’ll likely use it to help us determine and priorities enhancements for the site.

We find that we are now redoing a lot of the things we did with mStoner during the project phase. We are planning for more usability testing, bringing together some focus groups, and relying on feedback from the permanent web governance structure we put in place at launch.

Good deed not left unpunished?
Our good deed was getting the commitment from all units to use the new templates and new CMS. Our punishment is that we’re managing this huge transition. We launched a lot on July 31. But university website are really big; consider that Arts & Sciences at W&M has nearly 40 sites. We had our six minutes of fame after the initial launch and now, we are systematically transitioning nearly two hundred sites.

What’s the next big thing for you? For your website?
The next big thing for us is another deadline. We hope to complete the campus transition to the new design and CMS by the end of August 2009. At that point, we will have accomplished an integrated web communication strategy for William & Mary, with hundreds of sites using our new templates and new CMS.

The next big thing for our website will be a strategy for multimedia. We have a few gems on our site now and there are lots of ideas swirling around: student-produced content, ongoing webcasts…. We have been promised a new multimedia web position in the next fiscal year; but given Virginia’s current budget crisis, we may need to figure this out without additional resources. We know we need to do more.

  • Voltaire Santos Miran Chief Executive Officer, Head of Client Experience I've developed and implemented communication strategies in education for more than 20 years now. I think my team at mStoner is the smartest, funniest, and coolest group of colleagues ever, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Except Barcelona. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. To quote Isak Dinesen, "the cure for everything is salt ... tears, sweat, and the sea."