• The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams

    Every Web team has its own take on dividing up roles and responsibilities and implementing processes for design and development. Formal titles, job descriptions, and reporting structures can vary widely. But the best teams I’ve encountered have one important thing in common: their team structure and processes cover a full range of distinct competencies necessary for success.

    I’ve come to think of these competencies as the Nine Pillars. In a successful team, we can quickly and clearly identify which team members have which of these nine competencies, and where these competencies come into play in the design and development processes. When the system seems to be breaking down, it’s often because one of the pillars is missing, either from the team structure or from the process.

    Pillar By Pillar

    Here’s a diagram showing the Nine Pillars and how they interrelate. The Pillars range from strategic competencies needed to develop broad-ranging, long-term approaches to tactical competencies needed to address the immediate, practical details of execution. Let’s look at the Pillars one by one, from the most strategic to the most tactical.

    The Nine Pillars

    1. User Research: User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave — and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process. User research provides the raw observations that fuel this insight into the people your site must serve.

    2. Site Strategy: Defining your own goals for the site can be surprisingly tricky. Arriving at a common understanding of the site’s purpose for your organization, how you’ll prioritize the site’s various goals, and the means by which you’ll measure the site’s success are all matters of site strategy.

    3. Technology Strategy: Web sites are technologically complex, and getting more intricate all the time. Identifying the technology strategy for the site — platforms, standards, technologies, and how they can all interoperate — is essential to avoiding costly mistakes.

    4. Content Strategy: Content is often the reason users come to your site. But what content can you offer to meet your users’ expectations? How much content is appropriate, and what form should it take? What style or tone should it have? Before you can produce that content, you need to answer fundamental content strategy questions such as these.

    5. Abstract Design: Information architecture and interaction design translate strategic objectives into a conceptual framework for the final user experience. These emerging disciplines addressing abstract design are increasingly recognized for their value in the Web development process.

    6. Technology Implementation: Building technical systems involves a lot of hard work and specialized knowledge: languages and protocols, coding and debugging, testing and refactoring. The more complex your site, the more important a competency in technology implementation becomes.

    7. Content Production: Knowing what content you need isn’t enough. You also need to know how you’ll produce it. Gathering raw information, writing and editing, and defining editorial workflows and approvals are all part of content production.

    8. Concrete Design: Before the abstract design can become a fully realized user experience, you must determine the specific details of interfaces, navigation, information design, and visual design. This realm of concrete design is essential to creating the final product.

    9. Project Management: The hub that binds all the tactical competencies together as well as the engine that drives the project forward to completion, project management requires a highly specialized set of skills all its own. Neglecting this area often results in missed deadlines and cost overruns.

    Putting the Pillars Into Practice

    Does this mean that every Web team has to have at least nine people on it? Not necessarily. It’s very common to have team members with multiple competencies.

    This is especially true for the strategic competencies, which are often paired with complementary tactical competencies. For example, someone with a strong grounding in technology implementation frequently takes on technology strategy as well, and many concrete designers also have an aptitude for abstract design. On the other hand, many organizations find they need several team members to fill out a single competency (especially in the case of the more tactical pillars).

    How you end up structuring your team and your process will depend largely on the specific circumstances of your organization. But by building your practices on the Nine Pillars, you can be assured that you aren’t missing any competencies that are essential to your site’s success.

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