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In a series of recent articles I explained how to configure a Web Team to support a Mid-Large Scale site. This included a prescription for...
- Skills & Staffing
- Roles, Responsibilities & Team Structure
- Control & Leadership
However, I am aware that there is substantial appetite for more detail on this subject - particularly regarding divisions of Roles & Responsibilities.
For example, I know that many Web Teams are working through a period of heightened conflict at the moment, as a legacy of past Web Governance neglect is finally resolved.
This includes sorting out badly defined and overlapping job descriptions.
A new description of Roles & Responsibilities
In this article, I will share the template I use for describing Roles & Responsibilities for key staff on a Mid-Large Scale site.
This template is based on the notion that we already know all the operational and other activities that need to be completed on any given site (see the Activities of Web Governance).
We also know that as a site grows in Scale, these activities grow in granularity & sophistication - which means that more people (with specialised skills) must be hired to cope (learn more about Website Scale).
Therefore, our key question regarding Roles & Responsibilities is how best to distribute all these activities among available staff.
A Web Developer who joins a Small-Scale site may find that as well as working on her core activity of writing code she is also given responsibility for many secondary tasks.
This may include correcting broken links, responding to feedback, analytics, web-server maintenance, DNS registrations, etc.
However, as the site grows to become Mid-Large in Scale (& more people are hired) the Web Manager will start to redistribute responsibilities. Eventually the Developer is able to focus almost exclusively on her primary role.
What has happened here is that the Developer's Role (the skills for which she was hired) has remained pretty much constant. However, the spread of tasks she is Responsible for has narrowed as the site has grown in Scale.
A similar type of change occurs for everyone on a Web Team.
As a site grows in Scale, more people come on board and Roles become increasingly specialised.
How it works on a Mid-Large Scale site
As we learned in a previous article, a Mid-Large Scale site is typical of the online operations of many UK corporates, charities and local government authorities, for example the online retailer BHS or the cancer charity Macmillan.
Such sites generally attract between 0.5 - 1.5m visitors per month, are highly complex (incorporating login & personalisation features) and produce large volumes of regularly changing content.
The archetypal Web Team required to support such a site is illustrated below.
(A more complete description of this team is available here.)
This team has a manpower equivalent of approximately 12 - 15 full-time staff. Reporting occurs via a Web Manager who is accountable to an Executive, who is in turn accountable to a Senior Management Team (of which she/he is a member).
Of course, sketching out a prospective Web Team is one thing. Actually getting into the nitty-gritty of defining job descriptions is another.
While concepts like skills & staffing can be discussed at an abstract level during planning - allocating Roles & Responsibilities is a much more personal affair.
This is because whatever division of activity you ultimately decide on, must then be assigned to named individuals - who will take it very seriously indeed.
For example, if conflict ever arises on your team one of the first things staff will do is pull out their job descriptions. As a result, it is in your interest to be as thorough as possible when defining 'who-does-what'.
To help you with some of the spadework, in this article I have provided outline descriptions for the following Roles:
- Senior Management Team
- Web Steering Group
- Web Manager
- Content Producer
Each of these addresses the following questions:
- What is the purpose of that role?
- What tasks is it responsible for (on a typical Mid-Large Scale site)?
- What skills & experience are needed to hold that position?
Good fences = good neighbours
At the highest level, formal Roles & Responsibilities are needed to ensure that each of the Primary Activities of Web Governance can be fully carried out.
If budget were no problem, you could just hire a specialist for each task and let them get on with it.
But the real world doesn't work like that.
Almost all Web Teams experience some degree of woolliness as regards allocation of responsibilities. In short, staff end up being responsible for tasks that really aren't within their remit, but nevertheless need to be done.
As such, I use the following logic for divvying up Roles & Responsibilities.
1. Identify the core skills you need to get the things done.
This analysis will tell you what key Roles you will need on your team.
For example, a site like Macmillan.co.uk produces a lot of material on cancer awareness. Among other things, this will require considerable expertise in Web Content Production and Web Design.
This suggests that Content Producer and Designer will be roles on Macmillan's Web Team.
2. Allocate activities & subtasks among chosen Roles.
This tells you the Responsibilities of each team member.
For example, although a Mid-Scale site may hire specialist staff for their Content Production or Web Design skills, they may also be required to complete secondary tasks - simply because of manpower constraints.
The good news is that as a site evolves to become Large in Scale (& extra staff are hired), much of this initial fuzziness fades away. You arrive at a position where staff can be focussed on the primary tasks for which they were employed.
Roles & Responsibilities on a Mid-Large Team
Now let's explore the Roles & Responsibilities of key staff suggested for a Mid-Large Scale site in the UK.
(A summary is outlined here. Each is then explored in more detail below.)
The key Leadership roles are those of the Senior Management Team (SMT) and the Web Steering Group (WSG), whose purpose is to provide direction and support for getting things done online.
A summary of responsibilities includes:
- The Senior Management Team approves online strategy, monitors high-level adherence to business goals and provides resource.
- The Web Steering Group expedites online strategy by co-ordinating development priorities among all departments with a stake in the web and reports progress to the Senior Management Team.
- The Web Steering Group sets internal web standards (e.g. coding, online branding, etc.), monitors development on a cyclical basis and acts as a 'Court of Last Resort' for inter-departmental web conflict.
Development & Maintenance Roles
Development & Maintenance activity clusters around the following well known roles:
- Web Manager
(or Webmaster or Head of Web or Web Product Manager or whatever.)
- Content Producer
(or Editor or Content Creator or whatever.)
(which may encompass many disciplines depending on the scale of the site, e.g. Information Architect, Interaction Design, User Experience, Visual Design, etc.)
(or Coder or whatever.)
The responsibilities of such staff are multifarious.
In short, they expedite all tasks associated with Governance Activities of Maintenance and Development. At the highest level these may be described as follows:
- The Web Manager co-ordinates day-to-day maintenance required to ensure the site operates to a minimum acceptable standard.
- The Web Manager drives design, content, development & more from the high end, in pursuit of online goals (whether revenue, reputation or cost savings).
- The Web Manager monitors performance based on approved KPIs and ensures all activity conforms with required standards.
- The Content Producer, Designer & Developer expedite development and maintenance activity as planned with the Web Manager.
The key role within Infrastructure is to design and maintain a stable technical environment for the hosting of a website.
As mentioned in previous articles, this is often the first activity to be outsourced by a Web Team, e.g. by contracting it to an external Hosting Provider or devolving it to an internal IT Department.
Nevertheless, Infrastructure remains within the overall remit of the Web Manager.
As the key guardian of online, she must be confident that hosting is adequate to support online ambition, e.g. in terms of traffic and content complexity.
To this end, a primary responsibility is to agree and manage a Service Level Agreement (SLA) which - among other things - should set out metrics by which performance can be measured, e.g. Availability, Reliability & Responsiveness.
Senior Management Team
The Senior Management Team (SMT) is the group that leads your organisation. Typically is chaired by a Chief Executive or Managing Director.
In terms of online, the principal role of the SMT is to provide direction and support to the Web Team so that it knows what is expected of it (via an online strategy) - and is given the wherewithal to get there (via an annual budget).
It is usually the case for an SMT to be only tangentially involved in crafting an online strategy. This task is generally devolved to the Web Steering Group or an outside agency.
Nevertheless, the SMT must satisfy itself that planned direction is supportive of overall organisational goals. As such, sign-off on any proposed online strategy is an absolute necessity.
Once operations are up-and-running, the SMT will not be involved in online much at all. Such things are best left to the experts. The only exception may be for traditionally sensitive areas such as homepage design, where SMT consultation is advisable.
However, to ensure things remain on-track (& so that the legacy of Web Governance neglect does not reappear), it is recommended for online to be included as an agenda item at each SMT meeting.
Among the items that should be discussed are:
- Key activity, successes and other milestones, e.g. new initiatives, web awards, media mentions, etc.
- Performance with regard to the agreed online goals and KPIs, e.g. contacts, leads, conversions, revenue, etc.
- Performance with regard to spend and efficiency of funds, e.g. operating costs, staff costs, consulting costs, technology costs, etc.
- Significant events or insights that require SMT awareness, e.g. proposed changes to strategy, environmental or business changes that require.
The benefit of such a review is that it allow senior management to evaluate ROI, understand emergent trends and instigate whatever changes to strategy or resourcing that are required.
Web Steering Group
The Web Steering Group (WSG) is composed of senior executives from departments with a stake in the web. Habitually this includes:
- (See a short discussion about where web should reside.)
The core role of the WSG is to provide leadership for online development by implementing the strategy signed off by the SMT.
In particular this includes agreeing project priorities and approving ground rules by which activity must be carried out, e.g. code standards, security requirements, privacy guidelines, etc.
The WSG is chaired by the Executive within whose department the Web Team resides. Although this person is ultimately accountable to the SMT for steering the implementation of strategy, responsibility is shared with the other members of the WSG.
In fact, this emphasis on collegiality is important to the success of a WSG.
Where responsibility for online is focussed entirely within one department (Marketing, Product, IT, etc.) there may be a temptation for a Web Executive to prioritise his/her own needs.
In contrast, a principle of shared ownership acts against this tendency and provides a forum wherein competing demands can be thrashed out.
Among the main responsibilities of a WSG are the following:
- Research and presentation of online strategy options to the SMT.
- Implementation of the online strategy approved by SMT.
- Approval of development priorities at the highest level.
- Approval of Web Team structures and roles.
- Approval of online processes & procedures, e.g. publishing.
- Approval of online standards/policies for web, including architecture, design, content, code/development and other.
- Monitoring of website activity (goals and KPIs).
- Acting as a 'Court of Last Resort' for any conflicts in resource allocation, i.e. prioritisation.
It is recommended that the WSG meet every quarter or at least half year. The agenda items for such a review could include:
- Key activity, key successes, current and other milestones.
- Performance with regard to agreed goals and KPIs.
- Review of forthcoming projects and agreement of developments priorities (which may include decision between conflicting projects).
- Resourcing review, i.e. budget, staffing, technology, etc.
- Governance review, i.e. signoff on any new standards, policies, etc.
It should be noted that the WSG is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the Web Team. Rather, it is up to the Web Manager to take the development priorities and project manage them to completion.
The most senior person on a Web Team is the Web Manager. The Web Manager reports to the chair of the WSG, i.e. the executive within whose department the Web Team resides.
In many respects the role of the Web Manager is purely operational. That is, her/his job is to make sure development priorities are achieved by directing the activity of staff.
Indeed, it is possible for someone with no previous online experience to carry out this role - as long as they know where to focus their attention and how to get the best from people.
Nonetheless, it must be admitted that it is far preferable for a Web Manager to have at least some background in code, design, content or some other web discipline. In this way they come equipped with basic language of online and can't be hoodwinked by staff or contractors.
Another reason is that a Web Manager typically has a central role in advising the WSG & SMT about best practice, emerging opportunities, threats, etc. - for which an interest in web is necessary.
Finally, although the Web Manager role is mainly about operational/project management, she often has to get involved in the nuts-n-bolts of site maintenance as well. This is particularly so on Small-Scale sites, where resource constraints demand that everyone mucks in. As such, hiring someone with web experience is common.
The main responsibilities for which the Web Manager is answerable are:
- To plan for and manage staff, resources, budget and other operational needs.
- To supervise operational and development activity.
- To monitor the external environment & competitive position of the organisation.
- To advise the WSG regarding online strategy.
- To advise the WSG regarding best online practice.
- To monitor online performance with regard to KPIs.
In support of these responsibilities, the Web Manager should demonstrate a high degree of competence, knowledge and expertise in the following areas:
- Web operations, including publishing, analytics, technical monitoring, etc.
- Online development, including planning, design, content, technology & publicity.
- Emerging trends including Social Networking, User Generated Content, Video, Audio, gaming, etc.
- Emerging developments in standards, devices, mobile, demographics & other.
- Strategy assessment, preparation & communication.
- People, budget, resource & project management.
Ideally, a Web Manager for a Mid-Large Scale UK site should have 8+ years online experience and 2 - 4 years track record of managing a Web Team.
The role of a Content Producer is to create & maintain high quality online content - be that plain text, video, podcasts, twitter updates, etc.
Given that content lies at the core of the web, it is typical to find several people with this role on a Mid-Large Scale web team.
For example, one person may be appointed as Editor to co-ordinate the work of others, whilst also producing content themselves.
This may include the responsibility to create a content strategy, manage a publishing schedule and maintain standards, e.g. a style guide.
Among the classic responsibilities of a Content Producer role are:
- To create a content strategy appropriate to each online presence.
- To define content standards, including an official Style Guide.
- To produce clear and engaging content that adheres to best online practices.
- To source & supervise external producers where commissioned content is required.
- To oversee the content production process and schedule for online publishing.
- To evaluate the external environment as regards online content.
In support of these responsibilities, the Content Producer should have competence in the following areas:
- The key elements of success for online content, including SEO.
- The core activities of maintenance, in particular publishing and QA.
- Emerging developments in web technology, standards, devices, user engagement & other.
At a minimum, an Editor or Lead Content Producer on a Mid-Large Scale UK site should have 6+ years online experience.
For many years design seemed to represent all that was new and exciting about the internet, resulting in many frankly unusable websites.
Today, online design is considerably more restrained and precise.
The role of a Designer is to create visual templates that will be used as means for online communication and/or interaction.
The skills involved in the production of such templates have grown in sophistication over time and now include disciplines as varied as Information Architecture, Interface Design, Information Design, Visual Design, etc.
Indeed, the expertise required for modern design means it is common for several designers to work together on a Mid-Large Scale site - perhaps with one concentrating on interaction and the other on visual treatment (though overlap often occurs).
Of course, the smaller the Scale of your site the less activity you need to undertake - though you will still require specialist skills.
As such, many Small-Mid Scale sites attempt to hire people with expertise both in usability and visual design (good if you can get them!) Alternatively, they do not hire any Designers at all, but rather contract in design skills from an external agency when needed.
The key responsibilities of a Designer are quite simple.
- To assist with defining the organisation's web design standards.
- To produce highly usable and visually engaging templates.
- To adhere to content production and development schedules, based on the advice of the Web Manager.
At a minimum, a Designer for a Mid-Large Scale UK site should have 5+ years online experience.
Developer is the title used for staff who write code for a website.
Following the pattern of the Content & Design roles explored above, it is common to find Developers of different types employed on a Web Team.
The most common of these may be described as a Front-end and Back-End Developer.
The role of Backend Developer is to insert intelligence into a web page. For example, using languages called Server-Side Scripting (e.g. PHP, ASP, JSP) a Developer can link a web page to a database thereby allowing for features like login, personalisation, eCommerce, etc.
Of course, the smaller the scale of a site the fewer Developers may be employed. As with Design roles, it is common for many Mid-Scale sites to get by with 1 - 2 Developers. (Others may be hired on a contract basis.)
The main responsibilities of a Developer are as follows:
- To assist with defining code standards.
- To expedite coding in support of maintenance and project requirements.
- To assist with technical activity in conjunction with other service providers, in particular hosting.
In support of these responsibilities, the Developer should demonstrate a high degree of competence in the following areas:
- The core disciplines of online development, technology & infrastructure.
- Emerging developments in web technology and devices.
At a minimum, a Designer for a Mid-Large Scale UK site should have 5+ years online experience.
The purpose of Infrastructure is to ensure all the technical systems needed to support a website are in place - in particular hosting. As mentioned before, the activity of Infrastructure is often devolved to an internal IT dept. or to an external host provider.
External hosting is used by many organisations simply because they do not have the time, skills or money to build an infrastructure by themselves. Anyway, hosting is such a common business service that it can easily be bought on the open market and usually has little impact on day-to-day operations.
That said, it is important for a Web Manager to be fully aware of the hosting solution they have in place.
In particular, the Web Manager must be aware of site performance and the impact this can have on the user experience. Online services (such as SiteImprove) can automatically monitor performance like this and be used as metrics within a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
For example, an SLA could stipulate targets such as:
- Availability ... The percentage of time that a website is up and running.
- Reliability ... The number of unplanned outages that occur on a website.
- Responsiveness ... This is the speed with which a website responds to traffic.
The key responsibility of the Web Manager is to select a Web Host that is adequate to support online ambitions and then to police its performance against metrics like those above.
(For a simple explanation of Front-End vs. Back-End Coding and key measures to include in an SLA, read Chapter 5 of The Website Manager's Handbook.)
The Roles & Responsibilities described above are somewhat 'idealised' and are likely to look different in real-life (depending on how granular you can afford to be).
Nevertheless, the overall trend of increasing Role specialisation & narrowing Responsibilities remains true for all sites as they grow in Scale.
While complete specialisation may the province of only the very largest sites, remember that every Web Team can benefit from well-defined Roles.
On a team where each task has a designated go-to-guy, industrial peace can reign - and staff can get on with their work without worrying about whose toes they might be stepping on.
Read more practical advice....
About Shane Diffily
I am an experienced commentator on web operations. In 2015, I released the web's first online training course in website management and governance. Back in 2006 I published the Website Manager's Handbook, the original guide to online operations.