American History 101

You’re a large organization with divisions and departments and teams. You have vice presidents and managers and team leaders. You have a web team that manages your massive public web site. They have designers and developers and a manager. So, I ask you, who should decide what content goes on the website? Do you let anyone send content to the web team for posting. Does the vice president from Marketing call the shots? How about the manager from customer relations? Or the team leader from product development? Perhaps the manager of the web team? What is the right answer? Who should be the gatekeeper for the website? Should you even have one?

The answer is not so simple. If you put one person in charge and choose wrong you could end up with a jerk with a God complex running everything, crushing good ideas and suffering from a major case of Not-Invented-Here syndrome related to any ideas they didn’t come up with. On the other hand the right person can supply a unifying vision, provide a firm hand to keep the website from becoming confusing and cluttered or a political battleground for company infighting. But how can you pick the right person? We can learn from America’s Founding Fathers on this one and create a division of powers with checks and balances to keep people from getting power crazy.

The Executive Branch

The Executive Branch takes action within the guidelines set out by The Legislative Branch. They have a fair amount of autonomy to act within those guidelines. They are expected not to overstep their bounds but to act effectively and to apply their own judgment as to how to get the job done.

This is your web team. You tell them what is expected of them but you don’t tell them how to get it done. Given some guidelines for where to go they should be able to apply their professional judgment and take action to build the site and get you there. Given the marketing strategy the web team should be allowed to decide how that is executed on the website. Given information about the company and its products or services they should decide where that fits into the website. They decide what goes into the navigation and on the home page. They take action.

The Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch creates the rules that everyone plays by but doesn’t get to actually enforce them or do anything. They decide what is and is not okay for the Legislative Branch to do. They get to make rules but don’t get to control what happens day to day or how those rules are carried out.

This is your management team. Your managers and vice presidents who decide what the company will be doing. They decide what the company will sell and the image the company will project publicly. They provide guidance for the web team. They don’t tell the team who to code the site, where the content belongs, or what exactly should be included in the site. They hired experts to build their site and should leave them to do it. The Legislative Branch doesn’t get to decide how the site navigation is ordered or worded. they leave the day to day decisions to the web team.

The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch checks that the Executive Branch is doing what was approved by the Legislative Branch and stops them if they go to far. They look at the guidelines the Legislative Branch created and determine if the Executive Branch is staying within them and faithfully carrying out their duties. They also determine if the Legislative Branch has set guidelines that are out of line. When the guidelines are bad the Executive Branch can’t be expected to carry them out properly. The Judicial branch only gets to act by reviewing the actions of the other branches they don’t get to make new guidelines or take actions to carry them out.

This is your CEO, your brand manager, and anyone else who can oversee the process to act as a decision maker and judge the actions of the other two groups to keep them on track. They can tell the management team when they are creating guidelines that aren’t in keeping with the overall organizational goals and interests. They can also check that the web team is faithfully carrying out the guidelines set by the management team.

You might wonder why the management team doesn’t just make sure the web team is doing what they say. Well, sometimes they do, but it helps to have someone removed from the process to look at things more objectively when there is major disagreement. If there is a serious dispute where the web team doesn’t do what the management team had in mind the Judicial Branch can step in and say whether it is the guideline or the action that was out of line with the larger organizational goals and interests. It may be that the management team’s guidelines would dilute the brand and the web team saw that. It may also be that the web team overstepped their bounds.

Having an independent Judicial Branch can also prevent these conflicts from souring the working relationship between the management team and the web team when a disagreement comes up. Having a respected, objective authority to decide things can make for a more final and satisfying resolution to the major conflicts that a simple discussion couldn’t clear up.

The separation of powers and checks and balances can help keep a large organizations website on track and useful to visitors instead of letting it devolve into a mess of confusing navigation, useless pages, and politically motivated design by committee.

Kevin Hall
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