Want to make big changes to your web presence? The first step should not be to develop a request for proposal (RFP) to select a new CMS or an integration partner or both. First you need to answer four questions.

  • Question 1: What is important for our business?
  • Question 2: Big picture -- do we know how to get there?
  • Question 3: Does everyone know the implication of the decisions we are making?
  • Question 4: Are we setting ourselves up for long term success (and changes we don’t even know about yet)?

These questions break down into two types: a) what do we need from the business perspective (the first question) and b) are we going to be able to pull this off (the last three questions). Your response to the last three questions will be based on your first -- a clear understanding of what you are attempting to accomplish in the first place.  

The reason for answering these questions is important: when you do put together an RFP, you are clear on what you are asking for. This sounds obvious but is often notably lacking from RFPs.

Question 1: What's Important For Our Business

One of the first steps organizations take when getting ready to make big website changes is to go talk with a lot of people within the organization about what they want in a new site. Obviously getting a wide range of perspectives is important, but if done in an unfocused manner results in a useless laundry list of requests (or worse, a dreaded matrix of requirements).

The problem? These lists don’t get to the essence of what the purpose of your revamped site is. Even if you wind up with a lot of specific requirements, these should all be grounded in an overarching vision that is based on the business needs. Various business groups within the organization should help inform the definition of this vision, but in the end each business unit should fit within the larger vision.

Question 2: Big Picture - Do We Know How to Get There?

If your vision is not implementable, then you are better off resetting expectations at the beginning of the project rather than upsetting everyone later. So a key step in the process is to define at a high level the steps it will take to achieve that vision. This isn’t down to the level of Gannt charts -- just the big steps. Even this level of planning will often uncover steps that were not obvious in the beginning. Aside from simply confirming the vision, this high level planning of the sequence to get to the vision means that you may uncover ways of optimizing your process.

Question 3: Does Everyone Know the Implication of the Decisions We are Making?

This may the most overlooked question of all. What tradeoffs, from the way things work now, are going to be made to achieve the vision? For instance, if the vision winds up meaning that content automatically flows between current silos, then that means a loss of control by the owners of those current silos. Or if you are going to allow site visitors to slice and dice content in more ways than they can now, then that probably means you will need to produce more content. If you want more storytelling in your site, then that’s going to require a change in how everyone works.