2017-04-05

Something became really clear for me today at work, or perhaps just clearer still than it’s been at times in the past. I guess I was pinged a bit by the post I wrote last night about organizational and departmental management’s role in the quality and value of UX design work. Duplication and varying levels of make-work kill productivity, particularly when they’re for largely political reasons, or worse yet, just because. Basically, I’m living some of the key issues from that post.

I’m currently in the midst of a design refresh project. I obviously can’t go into details, but it’s basically a stopgap measure to update our home page and some key elements of our public web site; largely driven by a desire to modernize an admittedly outdated and cluttered layout. The stopgap aspect is due to a larger full redesign and new CMS implementation also underway. We are currently scheduled to complete that by the end of 2018. I know that seems like an eternity, but between content audit, content strategy, a lot of stakeholder research, training, socialization, and a massive design/prototype cycle, it will take a long time.

Tell me again why I’m doing this

As such, I’m effectively doing some wireframing, user testing and project coordination for a facelift while we’re in the middle of a much more comprehensive version of the same thing, for which I’ll be doing some major stakeholder and user research in the early stages. Even if, as has been asserted, there’s been grumbling about the current design and the political forces for a fresh coat of paint are strong, the internal team discussions suggest that most feel the effort is redundant. Aside from the rumoured political grumbling, no other rationale has been given for the refresh.

Even if said grumbling does occasionally rear its head, I suspect some pushback indicating that we are focusing our finite resources and time on the coming major redesign would suffice in allaying it.

The biggest problem with it is, as we are now ready to do significant research to inform our major redesign, that work will either wait because of the refresh or, worse, I’ll be tripping over one to do the other over the next few months. There’d be nothing stopping applying the initial research and wireframing I’ve done for the refresh to the larger redesign and skipping the former altogether. Apparently, skipping the refresh is not an option.

Even with all this, as I and our graphic designer were designing collateral for some initial testing, we each got pulled onto new projects, leaving the refresh sitting untouched for about six weeks, and eating up the padding we had in the project’s timeline. Our marching orders are still to have it done by early summer. Worse yet, as our marketing department had been developing a new brand platform, the graphic designer’s other project was to do a bridge design for our site. In other words a pre refresh refresh to inject some yellow, new fonts and deeper banners on the site.

If you’ve lost count, we’re now layering three types of redesign projects overlapping each other, ranging from moderate tweaks all the way to full-on nuke and pave. It’s not so much that we’re doing these things, rather that the first two were hatched with little warning, as part of no strategy and simply end up cannibalizing each other’s time and resources, primarily for political reasons.

Why am I re-doing this?

The new CMS saga has actually been active for a few years. Three years ago, a colleague and I were tasked with investigating a move to WordPress, along with a large departmental investigation of several closed source enterprise systems and Drupal. The work was completed, but no management decision was made at the time and aside from whatever value can be had from an environmental scan, the effort was mostly (many, many) burned cycles.

The issue largely sat on the shelf until last year. Virtually all the work we’d done was re-done, but this time we actually made a decision to enlist a consultant to help us implement WordPress as our core institutional CMS. Presently we use it for a small secondary platform and to rapidly build some one-off special projects.

If I’ve ever seen analysis paralysis, this is it. Looking at the CMS question from all sides and doing two full evaluations. There’s been a palpable (and somewhat understandable) fear of commitment and change to all of this. However, not only has the wheel-spinning taken the place of making some decisions and progress over three years, as with the design projects above, there have been a lot of wasted cycles.

As the references in the post I wrote yesterday indicated, ensure that people know why they’re doing the work, and that it has some value beyond the political.

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