Many years ago, in a very different time and place, a vital government website called Healthcare.gov launched. The reception to the site was fraught and not for political reasons. The site development and structure wasn’t built to handle the influx of traffic it received. The project was a huge undertaking. Unfortunately, perhaps due to lack of time or lack of strategy, the initial roll-out fell flat.
The issues were quickly rectified and users on Healthcare.gov continue to rise. Yet, the initial damage was done. The beginning of a new and helpful program for citizens, earned an unfair reputation due to faulty software design.
Sure, new websites launch with issues all the time. Government websites, however, adhere to a completely different standard. They require even more strategy and planning from the beginning before development can start. These are some of the best ways to stay focused and create a winning strategy for a government website.
Define the Project
Starting a project without a clear concept of what you aim to accomplish can lead to cost and timeline overruns. It can also run the risk of failing to deliver on expectations. To develop a clear strategy, you need to know the foundation you are building on. Your government website is crucial to the needs of many constituents. You’ll want to know the ultimate reasoning behind your site.
Ask yourself three questions:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- Who will the project benefit?
- What is the actual, core problem?
The answers to these questions will help you establish the main goal you wish to meet. It will also help your government site to best meet the needs of those maintaining it, as well as the users.
Ask Why and What
Once you have identified your main objective, it’s time to outline the details. You can do this by asking two important questions: why and what. It seems simple enough but the outcomes are anything but. The answers will provide details crucial to the understanding and development of the site.
Start with ‘why’. Asking ‘why’ in response to many goal statements can really help get to the root of what you’re trying to create. Consider the following example:
- (Ultimate Goal) We want to make it easier to generate content for the website (Why?)
- Because our current, outdated management system is hard to use (Why?)
- Because we built it 7 years ago and it can’t keep up with modern technology (Why?)
- There has been no investment in the website for the last several years (Why?)
- Because we focused elsewhere and are now in a position to change the situation.
Channeling your inner 3 year old can help your goal evolve into what you truly seek to achieve. And because this is a government website, the more of the ultimate goal you understand, the better. What if you had decided that the true goal was just to make the site look nicer? In the meantime, you ignored vital services your users needed access to. Your real goal of improving your website would not happen.
Complete the same exercise with the word ‘what’. Doing this will give you a comprehensive solution to the problems at hand. It will also give you a clear idea of what you need in order to accomplish the goals ahead.
Learn From Others
The many branches of Government have been making websites for their constituents to access for as long as websites have existed. Over time, the sites have become more complex, with the needs of users increasing. There are many examples that your team can look to for lessons learned. Research projects similar to yours. Consider websites like govtech.com or digitalgov.gov. What worked for them and what didn’t? There are many ways to collect data.
- Get advice from team members who have experience
- Talk with others in professional settings, such as trade shows or association meetings
- Get information from vendors and service providers
- Research industry trends and best practices
Knowing how others have solved similar issues will help you lay out an ideal plan. You can avoid pitfalls and emphasize best practices. This will put you in a great planning position from the start.
Establish Your Map
There is nothing better than a great to-do list. Mapping out a clear direction for your project and denoting the details at each stop will provide clear guidance for the entire team. It will allow you to celebrate accomplishments and plan ahead for the next leg of the project. It will help your team to remain focused. What government sites need to provide users is different from that of an eCommerce business or information website. It’s a unique combination of what all of those types of sites need and then some. Don’t charge into the development stage, willy-nilly. Have a map and then stick to it.
You will also need to consider who the stakeholders are. They will affect the map and how you work on each piece. Stakeholders are those who have a vested interest in the outcome of the project. Seek out their input and apply it judicially. Having everyone on board will allow the process to run as smoothly as possible.
Gather Your Team
Now that you know exactly what you want to do and how to do it, you need to bring together the best team. A government website deserves the best. Find your superstars. Include those who have the skills needed to help you reach your goals. Be sure that communication within the team is always clear and concise. Fill out a RACI matrix. This diagram will help everyone know who needs to focus on what. It will also show the resources needed and how to best allot them.
The key to a great team is an excellent Project Manager. Choose wisely. Your Project Manager is the glue of the team. The job requires the ability to keep track of every facet of the project, keep communication flowing, and supporting team morale. Also consider Project Governance. While the Project Manager will oversee the entire production, who will lead in certain designated areas? Be sure that everyone knows who to go to for answers to specific questions. Also make it clear who can make certain decisions regarding the site design. This is especially important with government websites as there are many rules and regulations to follow. Seek out those who are knowledgeable about what must be adhered to. This allows your site to comply to Governmental standards and provide citizens with exactly what they need.
Plan for Post-Launch
Even though you haven’t even begun the development stage, add to your plan what to do after the new site launches. This is particularly important with government
websites. Should any problems immediately arise, solutions must be implemented quickly. Planning ahead for that will make everyone’s lives easier. You can practice this by also implementing a Milestone Plan into your process. At each milestone, evaluate where the project is and what has been accomplished thus far. Imagine if it was launched right then and there. Would you be where you want to be or would there be issues to deal with? This will support your post-launch plan and have you ready for anything the project could face.
It’s also important to establish criteria to measure success. A working website is great, but what tells you that the site is doing exactly what it was designed to do? What numbers matter most to your team? Is there feedback from constituents that is most sought after? What jobs are you aiming to make easier? Considering the measurement of success as part of your plan fleshes out your true goals. It also helps your design team focus on what really matters. This is why you should consider such measurements before development even begins.
A Government Website To Be Proud Of
Jumping into a harrowing situation with no plan is only something a crazed character in an action movie should do. A government website provides many necessary and helpful services to its citizenry. Developing an effective government website is dependent on a lot of things. Especially a smart, detailed, and expertly crafted strategy. Devote the time to cover every single base prior to development. You can then create a government website that your constituents will appreciate. It will also be a project that you can be proud of.