Decentralized web teams rarely reflect a professional approach to web management. They tend to be a cost reduction tactic.
Back in the Nineties I was excited when I came across the concept of content management. But I was quickly disappointed when I discovered that it had little or nothing to do with the management of content. It was simply about buying software.
Once bought, employees throughout the organization were given a couple of training sessions on this software. According to this distributed / decentralized model, there was no need for a central team or any dedicated, professional resources. It was publishing on the cheap and it sounded great in theory.
In most situations, the decentralized publishing model has been disastrous. The people trained tended to be relatively junior staff, for whom publishing to the website was just one more responsibility. The result was lots and lots of poor quality content that was never updated or reviewed.
If someone is publishing content less than one day a week it’s hard to do it to a high standard. They won’t develop professional skills, and often whatever training they receive will be quickly forgotten.
Another problem with decentralized publishing is quality control as is often the perfect vehicle for vanity publishing. I recently talked to a web manager from a medium-sized organization who runs a well-managed website.
“We’re lucky,” she told me, “because we don’t have content management software, so it’s not so easy to publish.” Sounds funny but it’s true. Content management software has often lead to worse websites because it can facilitate the rapid publishing of low quality content.
When it comes to content, people are far more important than software. It’s much better to have five highly skilled content professionals than hundreds of content amateurs and a fancy content management system. When it comes to content, volume is more likely to destroy value rather than create it.
A mix of the central and decentralized is often optimal. The central team has core expertise in web writing, navigation, search, while the decentralized team contains the subject matter experts.
Central teams have potential weaknesses. They can become isolated from the rest of the organization. Thus, it is essential that they are highly collaborative, which means they should spend most of their time out of the office. They should work closely with the various organizational units, spreading their expertise wherever possible.
More importantly, the central team should be constantly in touch with the customer. Continuous improvement based on evidence which comes from testing with real customers should be the core model of management.
Where should the central web team sit? In the department that is most customer-focused. The key is to immerse the web team in the world of the customer as much as possible. Wherever there is the most customer feedback is the best place to have the web team.
In our 2012 survey of over 1000 web professionals, technology challenges were cited by just 8% of respondents, with almost 40% stating that poor management was the number one challenge. It takes quality people to manage quality content. Centralized web teams with dedicated resources are more likely to deliver that quality.