Monday 30 January 2012

Looking back to look forward

What have you achieved in the last week? What about the last month, or the last year? What did you achieve in your last job?
We’re a month into the New Year, and for me it’s also been a couple of months since I changed job. It’s a period of relative calm and, I think, a better time to reflect.
For a web manager, the days can feel like a blur of removing capital letters, running reports, meetings with content providers and battling to fix glitches. It’s really important to step back occasionally, to see the progress you’re making, and recognise each of these regular tasks as part of the bigger picture. So if you’ve done all these things today, you’ve also been implementing the editorial style guide, making yourself accountable, developing your content strategy and ensuring your site is reliable and usable.
Keep the evidence
Don’t wait till you’re buffing up your CV or preparing for your appraisal to look for the evidence. Keep a record of everything you’ve done as you go along. It’s easy to forget all those single new pages you’ve added or sections you’ve reviewed, when your website feels like a never-ending task. But it looks impressive for your boss – and is a great psychological boost. Look how far you’ve come and how much all those little changes add up.
It all adds up to a plan
The same applies to looking forward. Don’t wait till you’re asked to write a plan, then stare at a blank page until you pass out (or start writing “I am a fish” over and over). You have ideas and thoughts every day, and they might not be earth-shattering on their own, but they can add up to a great plan. And capture your subsconscious genius. 
  • When you spot an out of date page but don’t have time to edit it immediately, write it down on your ‘review’ list. You WILL forget it.
  •  When you’re on a competitor’s website and spot something interesting they’ve done but don’t have the resources or contacts to produce your own version immediately, write it down on your  ‘new content wish list’. 
  •  When you wake up in the night because you just couldn’t get that menu structure to work, write it down on your list of items for user testing or to talk to colleagues about.
  •  When your boss mentions her grand schemes that you don’t quite ‘get’ after she comes back from the latest board meeting, put them on your ‘blue sky thinking’ list and mull or research them when you get a chance.
An evolving picture
It’s not just about lists – visual cues help.
Take screengrabs for posterity, not just of things that have obvious or flashy design elements like your homepage, but of basic content pages and menus. The best websites evolve slowly over time rather than having massive redesigns every couple of years. As the web manager you’re so close to your site you barely even register the incremental differences that altering the size of the standard font makes, or making it grey rather than black. This quickly gets absorbed into ‘normal’. But in 2 years time when you compare, you’ll see a massive change.
Counting your successes
And while it can be tricky to measure some things, it’s obvious to keep a regular track of your web statistics – not just top level statistics, but examining growth or otherwise of new areas or parts you might want to get rid of. Record the number of pages added or edited or approved or rejected. Track the number of requests into your mailbox, and how quickly they were responded to.
So now the festive whirl has faded (and the pain of writing all those handover notes has eased), I’m enjoying looking back, putting my achievements into perspective, and learning how I can realise the potential of the new opportunities ahead.

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