The innovator’s dilemma – Isolating the Web team


For the last year or so I have been talking about our “restructure of” homepage and website. We have made some progress but we are not nearly where we should be. This isn’t because we don’t think the project is important, but instead have assured our clients’ (university departments/schools/colleges) deadlines are being met instead. This week that all changed. We isolated four staff members and dedicated them to the restructure and re-imagination of and the top 1,000 pages to support enrollment and retention.

The Innovators Dilemma

One of my favorite books is The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you haven’t read it I suggest you pick it up, it’s a short read and totally applicable to any industry. It outlines the process of company growth and why innovation slows as firms get larger. There are various reasons for this but the largest is that it is easier to up-sell existing customers instead of going after new untested markets with new products. Because these untested new products or markets don’t show value they often do not get the attention of resources they deserve until it is too late.

“What this suggests is that the management best practices are only situationally appropriate. There are times when it is right not to listen to customers, invest in lower performing products that promise lower margins, and pursue small rather than larger markets.”

This is the exact situation we find ourselves in. Because we’re focusing all our time on ensuring we have “internal client” work we haven’t had the time to focus on our true customers, prospective students.

Dedicated resources

The book goes on to explain how companies have been able to overcome this dilemma and innovate around or with disruptive technologies (even if they cannibalize parts of their existing company). One of these successful methods is to create an isolated team in both a workload and also a physical environment without any constraints of normal business practices. This allows a team to innovate in ways that are simply not possible in the day-to-day of company operations.

Starting this week we have done just that. Four staff members, Rolaine Dang, Tom Krupka, Rob Vrabel and Alex Bienkowski have been isolated and given an ambitious project. Take a step back and look at the macro view across all of the enrollment sites that now work well individually and stich them together to work well as a single user experience.


All of their current projects/tasks have been re-assigned to other staff members and they have physically been moved to a single office (above) where they are isolated from the normal client work we do here in Web Communications.


I won’t go too much into the project scope at this point other than the large and long term goals. The team is charged with launching a “re-imaged” by the end of 2013. This will include restructuring those top 1,000 pages that are focused on enrollment and retention.

At the moment the websites within work really well individually, they  have their own navigation, information and design. This works well for visitors that know exactly what they need and what department “owns” that information. But this does not work for those prospective students or on-boarding students who were recently accepted and now need to orient themselves with the university. Browsing through theses websites is not only confusing as they bounce from department to department but it also gives the impression that the university is disjointed. The first goal is to fix this by taking all the departments in these 1,000 pages and bring them all under a single look, functionality and domain. This will result in a single user experience, voice and impression of the institution.

The second charge is to create a revolutionary Web experience for our visitors. To use as much data to tailor the experience for an individual visitor and bring the power of the Web to that experience. This charge is still vague because we won’t know exactly how this will impact visitors until the discovery phase is complete. In the end, though, the final product will not be a set of static pages, but instead an experience that will resonate with the visitor. We’ll just have to wait and see how it shakes out.

Follow the progress

The Web team will be blogging about their status each week on the blog. Over the next few months they will be keeping track of scope, options, decisions and progress in both public and private posts. After the relaunch of we plan to make all the private posts public and allow everyone to see all the work/decisions that went into building what we hope is the most successful website for the university.

Follow the blog:

How we handle dozens of web requests per day without a ticket system

Because we oversee 350+ Web sites and get a large number of new requests, questions and maintenance requests each day it’s important we have an efficient way to manage them all while still getting other work done. I cannot be at my computer all day so most of the requests have to be read and assigned by the team itself.

How we do it

We have a central email address. web [at] wayne [dot] edu. That email goes into a central inbox. Inside that inbox everyone has a folder and there is an archive folder where every project we work on has it’s own box.

This inbox is mapped to everyone’s computer. Throughout the day different people check the box and scan to determine who is the most appropriate to take each request. They put the email in the person’s folder and move on. The inbox then syncs across everyone’s computer.

We use a plugin called TruePreview for OS X Mail that keeps email’s unread until they are double clicked or force marked. This makes it possible for each of us is scanning the folders to see how many new emails are waiting.

This process allows everyone to have a list of items to read and respond to. If it was assigned by accident they can just move it into someone else’s folder and move on.

Completed Tasks

Once an email or task is done the whole conversation get moved into the z_Archive folder. Every project has their own folder to things are kept nice and neat. The beauty of it is the folders automatically update and everyone has the same content on their computers. No conversations or files are lost.

Why not use a ticket system?

Over the past 6 years we have played with the idea of a true ticket system, and have even tested a few. The problem is a separate system brings a level of unnecessary overhead. We don’t really need to pull stats from all the tickets and our staff really isn’t that large. Everyone already knows how to use email and having a central single interface makes processing hundreds of emails quite easy. There are downsides to our system though, like if someone deletes something it will probably be overlooked or if someone is sick and no one looks in their folder to pick up tasks. But this is a risk we are willing to take and is inherit to any task based system.

Simple solutions

The solution to this tough problem doesn’t have to be a complex system. Our department strives to use existing tool and centralize and streamline as much as possible to get the most bang for the buck. We are use to working with limited resources and we apply this philosophy to everything we do. In this case a zero cost crowd sourced analyze and assign system was the best approach. I cannot be at my computer all day and I don’t want to be the one to have to  look at all the requests and assigning them. Everyone knows their capabilities and has the authority and position to act on them as they see necessary. It’s a beautiful system that just works.

Added: I’m in no way saying this system is going to work for everyone but it works great for us.

MAC welcomes our new summer intern, Orlando Collins

The School of Business Administration runs an E-Commerce Summer Camp for 16-17 year old’s to learn key computer and business skills. Part of the camp is a paid internship where they can put what they learn to practice.

This summer we are accepting an intern from the camp. Our summer intern, Orlando Collins, a senior at Inkster High School started today. He likes computers and business, our department offers both.

We have had the long tradition of teaching and mentoring. Quite a bit of our full time staff started out as students or entry level. I have a feeling you will be hearing more about Orlando in the coming months.

MAC welcomes another member

A new member of our team started yesterday, Shaun Pezeski. He is the new Student Assistant Web Developer. Shaun is an honor student here at the university and has worked on a few student organization sites on campus.

He will essentially be our front end developer and creating html from mockups provided by the design team. Further optimizing our sites and increasing the use of microformats and accessibility.

Look forward to articles regarding frontend optimization, CSS and javascript. Again, welcome to the team Shaun.