Staff Up! How to Argue for a Right-Sized Web Team

How to advocate for a web team that's robust enough to meet the demands of your institution, but not overblown to the point where the team becomes unmanageable. 

Recently, in a kickoff meeting for a higher education website project, the vice president of marketing announced that to get the website done on schedule, she was informing the president that the internal marketing team would cancel an issue of the alumni magazine and some other annual projects from their schedule.

“It’s the only way the site will get done. We need to free up resources,” she said.

I appreciated this straightforward, no-nonsense approach to resource planning for a website.

Too often, I’ve seen higher education marketing and web teams fail to free up the time to plan the project, lead internal reviews, write the content, and build out the site. In nearly 20 years of designing and launching new websites, I hadn’t heard such a stark, reality-driven assessment of resources allocation and having someone act on it.

Telling Your Boss What You Need

Whether you are about to start a redesign, or you want to prepare yourself for an inevitable redesign project in the future, if you’re thinking about a website redesign, and want to have a similar conversation with your boss, read on. This article aims to provide you with the information to set expectations and properly staff your internal marketing/web team during a redesign project.

First, Who Is on the Web Team for a Redesign Project?

Our typical client-partner team includes three key roles:

  • Director of Digital/Web — the person leading the project, overseeing the strategy, and communicating with the broader community and stakeholders

  • Web Content Lead — the person working to produce content and/or managing the content creation process

  • Development Lead — this person can range from a CMS power user with some front-end skills (HTML/CSS/JS) to a full-fledged developer

Usually the web team reports into the top marketing position at the school. Other team members — a creative director, designers, social media folks, more writers and student workers — come into the mix at certain points to review materials and help with the production.

Staffing for a Website Redesign Project

The quick summary: the project begins with most of the time being spent in strategy, discussions, reviews, and socializing the direction. During this phase, the internal team can balance the website project with other work.

image of percentage graph

In the mid-point of the project, the work flips to being production oriented. At this point the work is nearly 100% for the internal team.

Key takeaway: It is crucial that in the first two phases, the internal team understands the production demands and lines up the resources to support the effort.

Discovery Phase

During the discovery phase, the Director on the client side should plan to spend two days a week or about 40% of his or her time on the project. During this phase, the Director is coordinating stakeholder interviews, meetings and discussions, and setting up the project management. Other members of the internal team will be involved in the preliminary planning — conducting audits, reviewing content, digging into analytics, and generally getting their minds around the project.

Design Phase

Once the strategy and discovery is set, the agency will start defining the overall structure of the website through sitemaps, user flows, wireframes, and visual designs.

During this phase the Director will need to dedicate 50% of his or her time to the project. Including:

  • Project management

  • Status meetings

  • Weekly meeting to review deliverables

  • Internal meetings to discuss deliverables and write up feedback

  • Socializing the concepts with wider marketing team and other stakeholders

In this phase, the other members of the internal team need to be more involved as well. The critical task at this point is to fully internalize the implications of the design decisions. It is crucial to generate lists for the content, photography, and video requirements demanded by the design.

The Director and the Content Lead should be comparing the new designs to the old site and understanding how content and functionality is mapping across. While the agency may deliver a content audit of the previous site, it is important for the working team to understand and organize the content work at this point.

Other internal team members should plan at least one day in meetings with other team members and one day planning and understanding their effort.

Content Production Phase

When the design phase is complete, both the agency team and the internal team understands the direction and hopefully each has a clear understanding of the production work. At this point the internal working team is 60% to 100% dedicated to the website project for 4-6 months.

The biggest task that falls on the internal team is writing new content or editing content to fit into the new design. The heavy lifting of the content usually includes:

  • 25-50 core marketing pages — usually fully re-written

  • 50-100 pages of degree/program content — usually rewritten and enhanced

  • New supporting content — profiles, data points

  • Interactive elements

  • New video

  • New photography

Taking a look at just the content production, we assume about 6 hours a page for research, writing, reviews, and approvals. This is 450 to 900 hours, or 11 to 23 weeks for one person.

Migration and Content Population

As you see from above, much of the content is being developed new. This means there isn’t usually much content to migrate. This content needs to be loaded manually in the CMS — along with selecting images and creating graphics. For content that is structured — courses, news, profiles — this content can be migrated over automatically, but it still requires clean up.

For this effort, we recommend assembling a team of student workers or training a larger group of content producers and CMS users. If the content mapping and population plan are well organized this work can happen quickly. We recommend having a team of labor available for 4-6 weeks.

Making Your Case for a Bigger Web Team

What struck me as bold in the vice president’s comment is the need to communicate out to the community — and the president — that a website redesign is costly. It’s not a project that can be “fit in” with all the other work. Despite making a large financial investment on the site with a design and development partner, colleges and universities need to place equal emphasis on planning — and valuing — internal resources.