The who and where of the Web development team

It seems like only yesterday when companies first started exploring the power of the Web. Back then they were likely to hire a single person who was granted the dubious title of webmaster. It was believed that a single individual could do it all, from graphics, to copy, to back-end code and of course HTML.

As sites became more sophisticated and corporate expectations rose as to what the Web can and should deliver, it became clear that a single individual was no longer the answer. So over the past three years or so, the concept of the Web team evolved and the webmaster started to fade into Internet folklore.

Corporations have woken-up to the physical reality that they need a team of talented individuals to manage the day-to-day requirements and future development of the corporate Web site. Web teams require at minimum the skill-set of a business analyst, a graphic artist, a user interface specialist, a copy writer, a Web page designer, an HTML coder, a database integrator, a database administrator, an information architect, a script programmer (Perl, JSP, PHP etc.), a site architect, an I-commerce specialist and of course a project manager. While certain sites may require additional expertise, this minimum skill set is required by an average Web site.

While it is possible to find some individuals who possess several of the required skills, it is impossible to find any one who has mastered more then three or four of the requirements. With all this said and done, there is the additional difficult task of identifying and recruiting these unique individuals. With the current labour shortage in the high-tech field, you’re lucky to find good people and when you do, they can command substantial salaries.

If you’re not prepared to pay these salaries or you have had no luck finding the right people you only have one option, and that is to outsource your work to freelancers, contractors or a Web development company.

The reality is simple – in today’s competitive high-tech industry you’re more likely to have a hybrid Web team comprised of full time employees, contractors, freelancers and external contractors then a traditional full in-house complement.

Yet once you’ve built your team you’re now faced the most difficult decision. Where does this team belong within the organization? Many organizations simply equate the Web with technology and make them part of the IT group; yet in others they are seen as delivering the corporate message and hence part of the communications/marketing group.

Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. The key is to make sure the team remains a unified group and that it reports directly to the person who is held accountable for the entire integrity of the Web site. This does not necessarily mean the head of marketing, because if the Web site is heavily weighted to on-line sales, then perhaps it should report to the head of sales. But what if there is a lot of technology integration with corporate databases. Does this mean that the team should report to IT? It is easy to see why this group of talented individuals tends to get broken-up into smaller teams, each reporting to individual departments. Yet this is can be a fatal mistake.

A Web site is a unified collection of information. It is greater then the sum of its parts, yet if each department has its own Web team, then the concept of a unified site starts to break down. Coordinating front-end development with back-end technology takes longer as priorities of the various groups are no longer in sync. Finger pointing starts to emerge, with the front-end programmers blaming the back-end programmers for development delays and the back-end programmers pointing fingers at the front-end developers for not following standard development protocols.

The politics that can build up around these feuding groups can quickly escalate. Soon various departments are aligning themselves and spending more time covering their positions then actually building a quality site.

So what should you do? The answer may lie in the example set by several of the world’s largest corporations. They have kept the team together but where necessary created smaller teams for each department with one large centralized Web group controlling the overall technical development. While their department may set their teams’ priorities, one central group controls the overall appearance and message of the Web site.

How is this accomplished? Through the use of templates and strict guidelines which are enforced by specialized Web site publishing software referred to as CMS (Content Management Systems). CMS allows publishing rules to be established covering who must sign-off on what and which templates can be used where and when. This technology allows a Web site to evolve into a single cohesive entity while being developed by multiple teams comprised of multiple talents.

While CMS has been around for a few years already, it is just now becoming widely adopted as the Web development team and the whole Web concept continue to evolve. So if your organization is faced with the dilemma of how not only to manage your Web site, but how to manage your Web developers, perhaps it’s time to start looking at the team’s make-up and organization and to start thinking about solutions such as CMS.

K’necht is president of K’nechtology Inc., a Toronto-based consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected].

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