When my key project Stakeholders — our Board of Directors (BOD) — and I first sat down in January to kick-off our library website redesign project, the first task I assigned them was to draft a Problem Statement — essentially, to define the problem that they, as Stakeholders, expected this redesign project to solve. What did they see as the expected business value of a redesign?
This concept was a tough one for the group to initially tackle.
What’s the problem?
One of the fundamental principles of project management is that a formal project is supposed to solve a problem. That problem may indeed be a process or product that is broken. It might also be a product or process that doesn’t yet exist and needs to be created. Or it can simply be an enhancement or improvement to an existing produce or process. But, there has to be some problem in need of fixing, and of high enough priority, to justify the resources — time, money and personnel — that go into such a venture.
We all agreed on the high priority of this project, because our website is the virtual face of the Library, and is the gateway through which our students and faculty conduct most of their research.
And I think it’s a safe wager to bet that just about every single librarian and library staff member here is in agreement that our current website does need to be fixed. Like most library websites, it’s a hodgepodge of interfaces joined together over years, and includes some pages at least a decade old, many of which are built in a way that makes the site and content difficult to maintain.
But, were these items of agreement sufficient justification to invest in such a large time-consuming project, particularly during a year in which our budget and staffing are more impacted than normal?
The answer, from all of our key Stakeholders, was “no”.
If the Library was going to invest so much time, work, and money into a project of this scale, our BOD concurred that, in accordance with our mission statement, we had to seriously take our patrons’ (Customers) needs into account when planning the redesign.
How to identify what needs fixing?
Once our BOD rejected the idea of basing a redesign off of the opinions and anecdotal observations of our librarians and staff, they bought into the idea of conducting a comprehensive Needs Assessment to gather and analyze data that could tell us more about how our patrons use the current website, and what they really need from our library website.
Our hope was that this type of Needs Assessment would give us actual data to use as evidence on which the BOD could base their redesign requirements and objectives.
But, before we could start on the Assessment, the BOD had to first identify which user groups they wanted us to target in the analysis and the redesign? Did they want us to target all users? Include internal users (librarians and staff)? All faculty? The general campus community? Just students?
We had to clearly identify our primary target website audience.
Our initial Problem Statement
Attempting to draft this statement as a group didn’t progress too well, so our University Librarian (Project Sponsor) appointed one BOD member — Susan Tschabrun, our Department Chair — to do this on behalf of the entire group.
The Pollak Library’s current website design does not readily assist our core clientele–the undergraduate student with a course-related research assignment—to use either the electronic (virtual) or physical library. The solution is to structure the website around the needs of that core group through the creation of a robust, and intuitive research portal that facilitates discovery of relevant and appropriate information resources, whether they are owned, licensed, or freely available.
While this statement does a great job of identifying the expected business value of a website redesign, I pointed out to our BOD that they needed to better explain what exactly constitutes their definition of “the website” since our current site consists of a mix of both in-house created and manged components and third-party-managed and/or hosted components across a series of library-managed domains.
Without clearly identifying their definition of “the website”, our developers would have to make assumptions about what components to include in their redesign, and our Needs Assessment Study might not factor all of these components into our data-gathering process.
Our revised Problem Statement
Our Department Chair and I included “the website” definition in an addendum.
The Pollak Library’s current website* design does not readily assist our core clientele–the undergraduate student with a course-related research assignment—to use either the electronic (virtual) or physical library. The solution is to structure the website around the needs of that core group through the creation of a robust, and intuitive research portal that facilitates discovery of relevant and appropriate information resources, whether they are owned, licensed, or freely available.
*Addendum: The “website” includes key pieces of our functionality (Xerxes, Mango, OPAC, SFX, JTL, DSpace, proxy pages, blogs, guides, etc.). These should be included in the redesign as much as possible to provide users with a unified navigational experience and consistent look and feel.
I will share more information about our Needs Assessment study — the methodologies we employed, the data we gathered, and our interpretation of that data — in future posts.
But, I think it’s worth pointing out here that the data from our Needs Assessment showed us that some of our initial assumptions spelled out in the Problem Statement were incorrect. This alone justified the time and work put into that Assessment.