Visioning questions for web development

This post is a list of all the questions that I and my team would try to get our clients to answer (in some form or another) during our early conversations about a website development project at Summersault. I'm dumping them out here in case they might be useful to others.

Every project is different, but if you're planning a new website and/or are considering hiring someone else to help you with that work, you'll probably give everyone a head start by having these questions answered:

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Notes from Moogfest

I took a quick trip to Asheville, North Carolina this past weekend to visit some friends and wander around the area. It's one of my favorite parts of the country, having spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, with my grandparents when they lived in Swannanoa and attending a summer camp for several years in Black Mountain.

But in looking up things to do while I was there this time, I found a whole new great reason to visit, the Moogfest music/art/tech festival.

Moogfest 2014 Wristband

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Interpretations of "mobile-friendly"

This post is a revised version of a post that previously appeared on the Summersault blog, now edited to be more generally useful.

If you've read any kind of article on website development or related topics from the last few years, it almost certainly told you that making your website "mobile-friendly" is critical to its success.  Everyone wants their new website to look great and work great, and they want to make sure it's mobile-friendly too.

It's a great goal, but it can also be a confusing one.

Making a website "mobile-friendly" can mean a lot of different things depending on the type of site and the end result you're looking for.  Most new websites created these days now have some minimum level of compatibility with mobile devices, but when discussing mobile-friendliness as an interest or when you need to use mobile components to achieve a particular business/organizational goal, there are some details to talk about.

Here are a couple of different interpretations of the phrase "mobile-friendly" when it comes to website development:

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Creating effective proposals

Over the years I've gathered some notes and reminders for myself about what makes a proposal effective, and I thought it might be useful to dump those out here.  This info is mostly geared toward business proposals (pitching to a client, convincing a co-worker, justifying an expenditure, etc.) and other professional uses, but it might be useful for other scenarios too.

Plan

Before you start writing, make sure you have a plan for what you're creating:

  • Approach: is a formal proposal the right approach for this task, or would the people involved benefit more from a more iterative/collaborative/informal approach?
  • Audience: who are you writing the proposal for? What do they already know about the topic? Are they already "on your side" and just need some details worked out, or are you persuading them to change their minds? What other audiences might also see the proposal?
  • Goals: the primary purpose of a proposal is to get your audience's approval. Are you clear on what you're trying to get approval for?
  • Scope: what does your audience need to hear to give their approval? What kinds of information do they NOT need to hear? What will their reaction be?

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Are you working around someone?

Krohn Cactus 1Not every person can do every job or thrive in every role they end up in.

Sometimes people lose interest in their work, get promoted beyond their capabilities, or didn't have the skills/experience to be a good fit in the first place. That this happens at all may speak to some area for improvement in the way people are hired, trained, reviewed or promoted in a given business or organization, but it's also an inevitable part of how companies and not-for-profits made up of humans change and grow.

When someone isn't a good fit for a role, the important thing is how the organization handles it.

Unfortunately, I've seen all too often that some organizations don't handle it at all. Instead, they leave everyone else to work around the mismatched role or problematic behavior. At best this wastes an opportunity for helping someone improve and rearranging "human resources" to better fit the needs of the business or organization. At worst it saps morale, leads to otherwise high-performing people leaving, costs a lot of money and significantly decreases the effectiveness of the organization overall. Working around someone who isn't right for the job does a disservice to them and can be toxic to the life of a business or organization.

So how can you tell if that's what is happening? Here's a list of signs I've seen in my experiences that might mean you're working around someone:

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Powerlessness and Empowerment with Frances Moore Lappé

A week ago I had the opportunity to hear Frances Moore Lappé speak here in Richmond. She's primarily known around the world as author of Diet for a Small Planet, but she's also an Earlham College graduate, so it was great that she came back to her alma mater to give a talk.

Lappé's talk overall was about how we can move from a place of powerlessness to a place of empowerment when it comes to working on addressing various ills that plague the world - from climate change to energy/resource crises to poverty, and all of the other systems and issues that are related.

It's a topic, a question that's been on my mind lately as I think about my own vocation, and where (to borrow from Frederick Buechner) my talents and interests might meet the world's deep needs. The question wasn't answered for me during the talk, but there were a few insights and random bits of wisdom that I want to preserve here:

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Are you leaking institutional knowledge?

Been through a lotIs your business or organization leaking institutional knowledge? How much is it costing you every day?

Every kind of business, not-for-profit, government office and other organization has institutional knowledge. It's the information you share with new people joining your staff about how things work. It's the decisions you make at meetings or in conversations with your co-workers or volunteers. It's the bits and pieces of shared understanding that develop through email messages, memos and other printed and electronic material that you create.

But many organizations don't take steps to preserve this institutional knowledge, or to give their staff, volunteers or other stakeholders easy access to it.

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