Sarah Durham (00:03):
Welcome, welcome and happy Friday everybody. I am Sarah Durham and as you can see I am joined by Marion Marquardt who is my esteemed guest today for this conversation. Before we dig in to our topic, just a little bit of housekeeping. First of all, we have a number of people who are going to be logging in over the next few minutes and if you are comfortable sharing, I would love you to just chat in you, you should see on your control panel a chat feature or a questions feature. Just jot down if you, if you don’t mind sharing where you’re, where you are geographically and what organization you work with. It’s always fun to have a sense of who is in the room. There is also another member of the Advomatic team that you are not seeing on camera right now and that is Theresa who is monitoring the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
Sarah Durham (00:58):
You can see that also in the chat. That’s the place to write if you have technical problems. So if you’re struggling with GoToWebinar or you have an audio problem or a glitch or something like that, drop Theresa a line at email@example.com. And we will do our best to sort out the tech. I might also say to Theresa occasionally, “Hey, can you track down that resource Marion just mentioned and put it in the chat,” or something like that. And just by way of background, we are recording today’s session and we will send out a link to the recording. We will be posting that recording and a transcription of it on advomatic.com probably sometime next week. There are no slides today. So when I’ve done a couple of these other conversations, you know, the way I see them as they’re basically kind of interviews or conversations, they’re an opportunity for me to interview Marion.
Sarah Durham (01:48):
And more importantly for you to ask Marion your questions. This is the point of today’s session is to help you get some inspiration and some ideas. So as we are engaged in our discussion today, I encourage you to please use that questions panel to chat in any questions you have for Marion and I will be monitoring that as we go and I will either insert your questions into the conversation or we’ll wait until the end. I’ll give everybody a little nudge to, to share some questions. By the way, we’ve got people chatting in that we’ve got people here from Queens. Somebody who says they work at a small university in the Midwest. We’ve got one person from South Africa. So interesting. We’ve got a nice, diverse mix of locations. Okay. So let’s dig in. Marion, welcome, great to have you.
Sarah Durham (02:42):
So I’m going to tell you a little bit about Marion before we, before we get started. And also for those of you who don’t know us well, Advomatic is an agency that builds and supports websites for nonprofits. We build and support websites through a process we call Continuous Care. And we have had the good fortune to work with Marion and the team at Stanford for many years now. And she, she and her colleagues run just an incredible shop. They’re so smart and thoughtful about how they work, that I wanted to invite her here today so she could share some of her wisdom with you. When we had our prep session for this, she was telling me a bit about her breadth, her background and, I guess I should say, I guess the best way to say it is I’m not easily impressed, but boy was I impressed and kind of intimidated by Marion’s background.
Sarah Durham (03:34):
She has her own business called Web Croissants, which is a digital design and strategy agency. And she has a background at Microsoft. She’s worked in the nonprofit world that the women’s learning partnership. She’s got a BS and a masters from MIT. She’s got a second master’s in technology policy from Cambridge University’s Business School. And when we were talking during the prep session, she said things to me like, well, you know, I’m, I was really interested in finding the hardest, most challenging thing. And so she studied science and humanities. She studied the brain. And I think it’s very interesting to see how all of that comes together actually in the work you get to do today. So what we are going to talk about today is what her work is like specifically at the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.
Sarah Durham (04:34):
How the team is structured there to manage the website digital team, how they define success and what are the lessons from that that we could all learn. I feel, I feel like so often we as professionals learn lessons the hard way and when we have an expert like Marion available, if we can pull those nuggets of wisdom out of your brain and into ours faster, that would be great. So I think what’s also interesting today to note is that yes, Stanford is a big school, but Marion has also worked in some small organizations and so we’re going to try to tease out lessons and ideas today that are applicable no matter what kind of organization you work in. Sound good, Marion?
Marion Groh Marquardt (05:23):
Yes. Yeah, sounds good. Although I don’t consider myself an expert.
Sarah Durham (05:28):
Yeah, all the experts say that. All right. So first can you tell us a little bit more in detail about your role at the School of Humanities and Sciences and, and also a bit about that team, that department and how it’s structured.
Marion Groh Marquardt (05:45):
Sure. So, so kind of the context is, Stanford has seven big schools, so you have School of Law, School of Medicine, Engineering, et cetera. And the one I mostly work with right now is the School of Humanities and Sciences. And within that you have over a hundred units that do things like the Department of English, the Department of Archeology, you have Urban Studies, you have Race and Ethnicity, you have so many different units. And so I work with the school to both handle individual websites but also help figure out how do you service the needs of a hundred different units. How do you build and support their website? How do you help bring innovation? How do you integrate with other technologies on campus and how do you advocate for the needs of the units within the school? Yeah, so, so that’s, that’s the capacity in which I work with Stanford.
Marion Groh Marquardt (06:43):
I’ve worked with the school for, I wanna say seven years now. And it started off with just one project and then it snowballed from there. So we built a team from the ground up. And now it is a team of five, including myself. So we have set up a team that’s very flat, a team of PMs but PM’s with very white skillsets. And we typically hire for potential rather than a mastery of all the things we want. Because anybody who comes in has to be able to work with internal clock science and run those projects, has to be able to do some of the site building that is not hardcore coding, but technical enough to be able to do some CSS, has to be able to turn around and think big picture, what do we need? If we were thinking about accessibility from the school’s perspective or branding compliance from the school’s perspective. So that’s a 30,000 foot view. The team that I mostly work with at Stanford.
Sarah Durham (07:49):
And I’m, I’m looking at some of the people who are on this call that I know, I see, I see somebody I know who’s a director of communications at a charter school where, where she is a one-person communications person also with some fundraising responsibilities, managing the website as part of all of that. I see people here who work in foundations supporting different organizations. So I mean, you know, what you’ve just described with a five person department servicing many, many internal clients is in my experience, a very common structure for digital teams in large organizations and sometimes for communications teams in large organizations. Can you just say a little bit more about the, the project managers? Like what, what does it mean to be a project manager in, in your, in your team?
Marion Groh Marquardt (08:45):
Sure. So we are, mostly our schedule mostly fills up based on demands from clients. And somebody will knock on the door, say, I’m the department of so and so. We desperately need a new website. Can we start next week and be done in three months? And like, well I don’t know, let’s sit down. Let’s figure out what you need. Whether we can make it fit. The big responsibility is going to be owning that relationship with the department and saying, okay, so what is the scope? What is your timeline? What is your budget? Who, who is going to be present on your side of the table to help make the decisions? How much of the faculty do we need to bring in? Who’s scheduling might be a little bit more challenging? What are the other stakeholders? And kind of really run that discovery piece of what is the thing that we’re going to be building and then run it through implementing and then pro-own at least at the beginning, the support relationship.
Marion Groh Marquardt (09:43):
And then we’re going to spread it out around the team. So, so the project managers, there’s a big piece that is around building the trust and building credibility and building relevance with the clients. So I think that’s what’s interesting about having an internal agency within a university is from the get go, there’s a trust piece that’s so much harder to win over when you’re coming from the outside and you’re like, no, no, we’re not in this for the money. But when you’re within the same university, everything’s coming out of the same budget that’s been, you know, all of that is, is put aside like, we’re really not in this for the money. We’re all trying to make the university look better. So then you can get to the next level of conversation, which is how do we help you? What do your resources look like?
Marion Groh Marquardt (10:26):
You know, I think from the outside there’s a sense that there is one Stanford and on the inside that’s not at all what it looks like. It’s not just one Stanford, but culturally Stanford’s a place that allows you to do pretty much whatever you can get away with. So there’s a lot of freedom in the culture here. And then there’s some big, big size differences. You can have a department that has 60 faculty members and hundreds of members and then you can have a program that’s run by a half-time, one person, you know, and so you also have to, as a PM, to adjust to what’s the reality of the resources in terms of manpower, woman power, but also in terms of skillset and capability and willingness to learn and experiment. And, you know, so some of it is a, I don’t know, almost anthropology, local detective work, right? Who am I working with? How far? Where do they want to go? What, what does that success look like and how do I take them on that journey?
Sarah Durham (11:24):
And that, I think that is probably true for internal communication. People at smaller organizations too. I mean, in your case, your clients are these different departments or different schools who can be very varied. But I think it’s also probably true that in many nonprofits you know, the internal clients become the development team, like the fundraising department or the programs team. Or the educators or, and I actually just finished giving a series of webinars I’m going to do, I’m going to do one of these again, probably soon about a book I just finished writing called the Nonprofit Communications Engine. And, and one of the things I talked a lot in that webinar series, and I talked about a lot in the book, is that communications is always working in service of somebody else’s agenda. And then in your case, you don’t necessarily call your team a communications team, but a digital team is a communications team and you’re working in service of your internal clients’ needs. And you know, just like you would in a smaller, smaller organization.
Marion Groh Marquardt (12:35):
I mean, we’re not, we’re not building a, it’s a system. We’re building a service and very quickly we recognize that’s what was needed. You know, what they need is not a tool that we’re going to hand them and then here’s the key and go figure it out. It was that service that has that support piece that we’re going to be PM-ing on their behalf because they don’t have those skillsets or we’re going to be presenting them with options and recommendations. We’re going to be doing a lot of client education. A lot of the skills building. Yeah.
Sarah Durham (13:03):
Yeah. So tell us a little bit about some of the templates or processes or tools that you use to work with internal clients. I mean, before, before we went live with this webinar, we were talking about this, I was asking Marion about what did, what does it mean for her team to also be working in a fully remote environment right now? So how do you work with those internal clients?
Marion Groh Marquardt (13:27):
Yeah. And, and templates is an interesting subject that maybe we can, we can come back to if you think there’s interest because when you’re dealing with 130 units, yeah, it makes sense to chunk them right. And to find some commonalities and to say, okay, for all of these, we’re going to use basically this template as a starting place. It just gives us so much efficiency because in terms of not just the processes, but where do we start from as a, as a website place but more specifically in terms of tools and checklists. So we typically have pairs of PMs on every project and we’re not a heavy documentation team, but one of the ways that we time consistency in the service that we give is because we’re doing pairs and we’re always changing who’s paired with whom. We get to watch each other and when we’re working with others, you know, really one person leading the project, one person helping with the logistics to taking notes and then helping do some of the implementation.
Marion Groh Marquardt (14:21):
But so we get to kind of learn from each other’s strength. And that, and that’s been a very I guess, holistic way of, of, of bringing the team all to the same level of consistency. So everybody’s getting the same level of service in terms of specific tools. So we have a team member who started working remotely about a year ago, same time zone. So at least that part was, was never a challenge. But we also work with a lot of agencies like Advomatic or others who are not physically at Stanford. So we’ve always had the tools or put the tools in place where we’ve had and are a couple of conference rooms or, or even in our office there’s a big screen because we do so much meeting time on there. We do a lot of Zoom, I think like everybody is doing these days. We’ve used Asana for several years now as our project management tool and it has really nice templates. So we have kind of our process checklists in there and you know, adding things, sending them around a team.
Marion Groh Marquardt (15:25):
We use Noko for a time tracker. Not necessarily for invoicing, sometimes for invoicing but also for yeah, being able to forecast, you know, anticipate you have a new client comes in, it kind of feels like these other clients. How long did it take us to get from that first conversation to really kicking off the project, from kicking off the project to having something that could launch, you know, what did that look like? How intensive an engagement was. So Noko I like, I recommend highly, I put it on my phone. In between meetings you can just assign a time to certain projects. Yeah, so, so that one is great. I have mixed feelings about Slack. I personally like to have my attention less divided than what Slack allows me to do. And you know, I get that I’m one voice on the team and when we’re remote, it’s super useful to have on the side, but I personally find it challenging to be respectful of the requests that come in while still kind of guarding my attention and my ability to go deep and really think about something without constantly being barraged by these.
Sarah Durham (16:37):
Go ahead. No, no, please keep going. Yeah, let’s keep going. Are there more tools that you mentioned, Asana, Slack? No. So a time-tracking app, Asana and Basecamp, right? Yeah. Right. And Basecamp for external. Yeah, exactly. Hmm. Are there any, are there other, anything else from a processes, tools and templates point of view that you find helpful?
Marion Groh Marquardt (17:12):
This is Jira with external development teams. What else do we do? Well, we have little plugins here and there. We use Diffy as a visual regression tool for our sites. So when we do, when we push out updates to make sure it doesn’t, you know, significantly break the look of our, of our size because if we can’t monitor the thousands of pages that get affected, so that’s one way to send it to lab to do that.
Sarah Durham (17:38):
Can you just, can you unpack what visual regression testing means? Because you’ll do a better job explaining it than I am, but that’s the kind of thing that I’m sure some people on this call are familiar with and others may not be.
Marion Groh Marquardt (17:50):
Yeah. So, so let’s say we are we have a new release that comes out every, usually every couple of weeks and there’s going to be a new style four cards on the side. So if you’re presenting a page and it has some texts and then three cards next to it and other things and we want to make sure this doesn’t affect the rest of our pages, then Diffy is going to take a screenshot off the page before the upgrade is applied and then after, and compare them side by side and you can say, okay, I want to be notified if there’s more than a 5% difference or whatever it is. And then you can quickly see something went wrong with the padding or the buttons are broken or the image is not wrapping the way it used to because you get these updates. So yeah, Diffy.
Sarah Durham (18:39):
Okay. And for those of you who manage your own websites, typically visual regression testing is not something that most people have the capacity to do in-house unless they’ve got a team like Marion’s, a bigger digital team with expertise. That’s the kind of thing that Advomatic does for many of our clients. When we push things live. It’s a, it’s a layer of technical you know, troubleshooting that I think is a luxury for a tiny organization, but essential as your organization grows. And as you think about your website as something that’s being constantly iterated on and, and evolving technically in pretty rapid time. I want to just go back to and talk about some of these, some of the tools that you mentioned specifically and, and in particular I wanted to tease out one thing about Asana and maybe something about time tracking.
Sarah Durham (19:35):
Asana, one of the great things about Asana I think for, for all kinds of organizations is how scalable it is. And so what I, what I’ve always appreciated about Asana as a tool for keeping track of workflows and processes is that Asana has a great free version. And if you work in a tiny organization with no budget for these kinds of things, you can use the free version and it’s terrific and it allows you to assign people tasks and attach documents and see it all right there. But as you upgrade to the paid versions, you can create templates, you can layer in all kinds of status update features. It gets increasingly more sophisticated. So Asana has the ability to grow as your team grows or as your sophistication grows, which is great. Time-tracking you know, it, I’m excited to hear that you track your time on your team.
Sarah Durham (20:29):
I’m a huge believer in it and I actually recommend that as much as possible, all organizations of all sizes track their time. For you, I imagine it’s critical because you need to be able to say, “Hey, this is how much time we spent on this project for this internal client,” and maybe that has billing implications or, or you know, it impacts your budget where that client’s budget. But even if you are a one person communicator and you are servicing different departments in a small organization, tracking your time helps you start to see where the pie chart of your time is going. Is it, are you spending half of your time helping a particular program do its thing or half, you know, three quarters of your time helping the development team do its thing. So using these free time tracking tools really gives you the data to see where, where your time goes and helps you, I think get perspective. If you take a step back every quarter or so on, is it really going to the right places? Are you, you know, are you investing your time? So there’s a kind of a data dive opportunity there. Do you use your time that way? The time?
Marion Groh Marquardt (21:38):
Absolutely. I mean if you think about what’s the mission of the organization and you think of that pie chart and how you want us to line up and then you think actually, you know, we have these three problematic support clients who eat up 80% of our time. You know, that’s not actual data, but, but then it can be helpful to say, okay, for us to get back to where we think we should be, what do we need to put in place? Do we need to redo an education webinar? Do we need to sit down and do we need to have another chat about resources for these places so that we can be more strategic and effective in helping the organizations? And because it’s very easy to feel good about doing the support piece, you know, then you’re the hero and you fixed a problem, but you need to make sure you’re allocating enough time upstream to do the more strategic stuff or the advocating for the units or the putting the seeds in place that the technology integrations are going to be there. And then everybody benefits from it, not just be on the reactive side of it. So I’m, I, you know, I used to hate time-tracking until I found a tool that just worked for me that was just so unobtrusive and so fast that I can just look at it when I need to, when we do retrospectives or when we do kind of that looking back time.
Sarah Durham (22:46):
That’s great. Yeah. And I love your point about the difference between working reactively and working proactively. I mean, that’s, that’s something that we think about a lot in our work because especially if you’re dealing with things that are, you know, fires that have to be fought, you have to be in reactive mode. But if you never stop and say, okay, what’s going to actually be an improvement? What’s actually going to make us better? How can we have me get smarter and, you know, and more successful. Which is a kind of a nice segue into this next piece about thinking about success. How do you define success on your team? What does it mean to do it right?
Marion Groh Marquardt (23:29):
Yeah, I, you know, I think that’s an ongoing conversation we have as a team. And early on it can be as simple as releasing X number of website redesigns in a year, so it can be a kind of speed of velocity, a numbers game. There’s a more qualitative side to it, which is when we take on a project, we know we can’t get them to a perfect finish line. And I don’t know, even know if we know what that word, “perfect” would mean. But if we could take them from where they come in, when we meet them, and like three, at least three good steps forward in terms of their ability to think about their imagery or their ability to write content that is much more accessible or their ability to manage the flow of content through their website through the year.
Marion Groh Marquardt (24:17):
So we think of it from a, raising up the client’s capabilities, doing a number of websites and then planning for the future. Most of the sites are on a content management system that’s called Drupal and they’re on version 7. You know, that’s being sunset in less than 18 months. So let’s say we’re moving 130 website in 18 months, that’s another key target for us to look at. So, so there are some, some dashboards and some numbers. And are we, are we servicing all the sub clusters of the school the same way? Right? So we have some natural sciences and social sciences and humanities and art is everybody getting our attention? There’s some of those hard numbers and dashboards and pie charts. And then there’s the qualitative, what is the feedback we’re getting from clients? We usually do a retrospective with them afterwards so I could have done better or what.
Marion Groh Marquardt (25:11):
So it’s, yeah, I guess that, you know, that’s, those are the two big things we’re balancing. We also do something every once in a while I’ll do this either for myself or for the team as a whole. We do a failure resume, which I think kind of catches people’s eyes. Like, why would you define failure, why would you spend time focusing on everything that went wrong? And I think it’s super useful as a way to tease out what might be the patterns that you fall into where you don’t either have the skills or you’re not paying enough attention as a team. But also to kind of heal potential emotional wounds of the team, right? If there’s a project that goes really poorly, everybody needs that sense of it’s okay. You know, it’s okay. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to move on. So I, I recommend that exercise if you want to read about it. The person who came up with the idea is at Stanford. Her name’s Tina Seelig.
Sarah Durham (26:14):
Maybe if you you can share that with me afterwards we’ll send out a link to maybe her work as a followup. You, you also just touched on something when you talked about different releases or updates to the site design. It reminded me of something that we use at Advomatic a lot. That’s a little bit, a little bit silly, but also I think worth sharing. I’m just going to share my screen for a second and show this because I think there is a kind of a philosophical assumption in your work that I want to tease out. And this is actually, I’ll go into presentation mode. Marion, can you see my screen?
Marion Groh Marquardt (27:06):
Sarah Durham (27:07):
Okay, great. So this is actually a little thing that was created by I believe Dave Hansen Lang, who’s Advomatic’s Director of Technical Strategy and what Dave kind of very unscientifically mapped is that most organizations go through this process when they build a website where, you know, they are building this site and it’s like a roller coaster. And at the end they have the site that they’re really thrilled with, but if they don’t invest in that site over time, it kind of degrades and they end up in a place where they’re very dissatisfied. And so what happens is time goes by a couple of years, three years, maybe five years, and they do it again, right? They just sort of, you know, keep it, keep going. And what we have identified with Advomatic clients like you, clients who are really sophisticated about thinking about their website, is that actually if, when you’re building a site, you plan for longevity and you don’t spend your whole budget on the build, you budget in every year to maintain the site,
Sarah Durham (28:10):
You end up maintaining a site in iterations or you know, or batches. So you just talked about doing updates you know, very regularly. And what that allows you to do is to keep the emotions better, keep the site in better shape, and it means the site lasts way longer. We’re not just constantly in kind of like build it, ignore it, throw it out mode. We’re, you know, so you’ve got a site now that’s several years old, but probably the site of today is nothing like the site that you launched when you went live with the site because you’re constantly iterating and improving on it. Is that fair to say?
Marion Groh Marquardt (28:54):
Yeah, and Dave is great. I mean, I want to, I’m not surprised he came up with that wisdom because we’ve had the pleasure of working with Dave for a couple of years and he’s phenomenal. I think one of the things we most appreciate with our relationship with Advomatic is the willingness to have the uncomfortable conversations. Not necessarily uncomfortable, but just the, the thought partnership, right? And so anybody else that we talk to, this is one of our benchmarks is are they going to come and say, you know, you guys haven’t thought about animation, but if you don’t think about animation on your site, or if you don’t think about better imagery, if you don’t think about video, if you don’t think about refreshing this, you’re soon going to look outdated. And before you get to that cliff, and then you have to really redo a big investment — which is very expensive — let’s do some small changes. Let’s think ahead. Let’s do some some iterative work. The other part of why I was talking about iterative is because we have moved to having a shared platform for the majority of our units. So there’s kind of a common underpinning to most of the sites that we developed for, for the units within the school.
Marion Groh Marquardt (30:04):
The first three or four might not need something, but then we’ll get a batch of clients that say, “I really need this feature that gives me the ability to do, I don’t know, photo albums or something.” I’m just picking something. And so, you know, we’ll work with them, we’ll develop something new and then we’ll release this to all the sites. So that all of them can benefit from this. And then somebody else will come and say, “So it’s great that we’re integrating with our course directory, but now I also want to do this extra thing where I can show the syllabus or whatever it is.” And so we, this is also a way for us to pepper in innovation over time and have everybody benefit from it. But yeah, I think the emotional roller coaster is, is real. And the other part of this to think about, it looks like it’s a technology job we’re in, but a big part of it is just human empathy. It’s mostly about understanding where they’re coming from. And a few years ago we gave a talk at, I think it was Higher Ed Web. And we have this, you know, the the picture of The Scream. And I think that’s the position that most staff come into the website redesign with/
Marion Groh Marquardt (31:11):
It’s like, I am not technical enough. I’ve never handled a website redesign in my life. You know, I have so many pressures from above from the faculty, from the boss, on how it’s supposed to look. I’m way out of my comfort zone; help me. And so a big part of the job is that emotional, Okay, we’re going to be okay. We’re going to be extremely transparent. We’re going to send out notes after every single meeting. So you can tell us if we didn’t hear you or you can tell us what we’re expecting of you and what we’re expecting of ourselves and you can keep track of it. So yeah, there’s a, I don’t know, there’s a nurturing, right, that happens in these projects.
Sarah Durham (31:52):
And I think you’re talking about something that we promised to talk about in the description here, which is the buy-in piece. It’s, you know, buy-in in some ways is an unbecoming term because buy-in suggests that you’re trying to drag people down your road. And I think the way you’re describing it is more you’re trying to meet their needs, you’re trying to find a collaborative space in between the technology and the content and satisfying their needs. So, you know, as I listened to you talk, I’m thinking about how increasingly in the last 10 or 15 years, what we’ve seen at Advomatic and its sister company, Big Duck is that, you know, the website, the first website that an organization built, a nonprofit built, let’s say in the nineties, had a webmaster and that webmaster was a techie, was a digital person and they were not a person who saw their role as servicing an internal client.
Sarah Durham (32:59):
They were a person who saw their role as building things. But in the last, certainly in the last 10 years, maybe longer, the webmaster has gone away. They have left the building, you know, and the webmaster in most organizations that are midsize or smaller has become the, the role that they’ve played has migrated into the communications team. So it’s now the director of communications or communications manager or a digital manager who works in the communications team maybe in, in a department like programs or fundraising. And they now have oversight for that website. But they themselves are not techies very often. They are often communications people first, techies secondarily or not at all. The exception to that are shops like yours. Like I think, you know, in an institution as large as Stanford, you know, some of our other university clients or some of our clients like the ACLU who I’ll be doing a a webinar with next week, you know, these are really large organizations where it really makes sense to invest in an in-house team who has technical skills. But, but the buy-in skills you’re talking about, these are, these are human skills, right? People skills. So how do you, how do you foster that on the team? How do you make sure that those five people on your team are balancing appropriately the technology piece and that, that did you call it sociology skills?
Marion Groh Marquardt (34:29):
Yeah, I, you know, I think a couple of thoughts came to mind. I think not every organization, regardless of size, has made the switch to realize how essential the website communication is. I’m still surprised to run into leaders who don’t see the critical investment that is a website. When you think about how all the generations who are, especially if you’re, you know, a university, by definition most of your younger audience and their parents, that’s how they’re going to consume a lot of the information so that the website can’t be an afterthought in how you communicate. It’s going to be part of that first impression. And I think that’s regardless of side size, I’ve worked with smaller organizations that got this much earlier and this was an enabler of new things, a critical way of positioning yourself, of reaching a more diverse audience and so on and so forth.
Marion Groh Marquardt (35:26):
So I think that that one cuts across size. Mmm. And yeah, the, the teams. So I, I’ve worked, there was one team in particular where I worked where it was really split down the middle where it was half communication team and they came from a journalism background and half IT team. And they came from more of a hardware background and, and I came in when it was a really broken culture and they just literally couldn’t sit in the same room for, from leading start to finish without somebody storming out. And so, and even in that extreme, I pulled a trick that I learned from somebody I liked a lot, which is you make them play games and you force them to see each other in a new light, right? Because you’re going to realize the IT guy actually is extremely visual or gifted with words or, or your communication team is, you know, incredible with Sudoku, whatever it is, right?
Marion Groh Marquardt (36:25):
You’re forcing them in a slightly different position and then you’re also giving them this allowed place to work out tension because games, you can be a little competitive. You know, you can, you can kind of let out some of that angst right there in the middle. So we do that a lot, even within the team of five, we get along very well. There’s always going to be tensions. There’s always going to be that I was expecting this from you and I didn’t get this or you know, what happened there. I think that’s an escape valve for a lot of, of tension that that is a kind of a cool tool to have. But I feel like I didn’t quite answer your question. Your question was around technology. Yeah. Do you mind going one more time about that?
Sarah Durham (37:08):
I think, I think you did, but I mean, you know, the question was about how do you balance the, you know, you as people who are technical experts understand what can be done technically. At the same time, your job as you’ve talked about, is to understand and meet the needs of your clients, you know, or the people in other departments. And there’s an overlap there that’s probably sympathetic, you know, some things that they want that you know, you can do given the time and money and you know what’s possible. And then there’s probably places where it’s unrealistic. But I think, I think my question is really is more about the buy-in piece about the relationship building piece. So I think your answer about playing games is an interesting one. I’m curious if there are specific games you recommend playing or a tip you have for the people who are listening in today on, on how to get started doing that. That sounds like a great ice breaker and tension valve and team builder. So where would you start on that?
Marion Groh Marquardt (38:08):
We don’t typically bring games to our clients because I feel like that’s the time that’s being tracked and potentially invoiced then that might get us into you know, trouble. But we bring a lot of design thinking, a lot of post-it notes, a lot of a different culture, which we get a lot of positive feedback on. You know, we miss this type of interaction, we miss this kind of bias. And I think that’s, that’s one of the best tools to hearing all the voices around the table. Sometimes we have our representation from the department that hierarchically people come in at very different levels in the organization. But some of the voices we really need to hear in terms of effectiveness and, and making a leap forward in the ability of the website to, to meet the needs of the people who are coming.
Marion Groh Marquardt (38:52):
They are the voices that are not at the top of the organization but they’re on the ground. They know exactly what the challenges are. And so to do that we do give everybody their own stack of posters and then we might start with that vision board of you know, what’s working and what’s absolutely not working, what are the pain points? What are the sites that you’ve seen that work really well? What are the challenges that you want to grow into the future? And everybody gets a voice. So that it’s not just the boss who’s being heard and represented and we can start pulling out and say, “Okay, that’s interesting. Tell me more about this.
Sarah Durham (39:27):
Yeah, see where you kind consensus and where things are, where things are bubbling up. I have two recommendations for those of you who are trying to create those kinds of interactive facilitated moments with, with people you work with right now. Jamboard, which is Google’s free app allows you to create post-its and put them on a digital screen and there’s another one called Miro that allows you to do that. Yeah. And we have been experimenting with some new ways to use tools like that to build interactivity into meetings and conversations that are now happening on Zoom instead of in person. Okay. Great. So, so we have about 20 minutes left to go and I want to make sure to encourage those of you who were with us today to chat in any specific questions you have for Marion or for me.
Sarah Durham (40:26):
I want to pivot into kind of the final third, which is sort of extrapolating lessons and learning, getting your tips about things we haven’t discussed. So so you’ve shared a bunch of the technologies you use and the tools you use. And you’ve talked a bit about using games and interactivity to tease out things. I have one little follow up question about that, which is do you, when you work with an internal client, do you or your project managers write a project brief or do you capture at the front of the project what the intention of the project is in writing in some kind of way? And can you tell us about that?
Marion Groh Marquardt (41:05):
We do. So it doesn’t make sense for us to write up an official contract because the financial piece just isn’t, you know, the legal financials just feels like too formal for the kind of project we’re running. But it’s important also to get that buy-in. One of the things we do, we kind of have two documents we end up sending. One is a partnership agreement and that’s what we call it. You know, this is what we think you’re wanting. This is when you think you wanted or how much you want to spend on it. And the first, which is right up front and center is what we think we heard you tell us success looks like. So if we do this, then this would be a successful website. And we do this, you know, within after one or two kickoff meetings when we really have a sense to hear what they’re going for.
Marion Groh Marquardt (41:49):
So we’ll rephrase. We might bring in some of the other things we know because we know the portfolio of all the units and what they might be up against. But we have that first paragraph and then you know, who’s on the project team, how long we think it’s going to take, how much we think it’s going to cost. And very clearly what we expect in terms of responsibilities. This is what we’ll do. This is what we expect you to do in terms of your owning your own content, making your decisions within a certain timeframe owning kind of that internal loop. So that’s a partnership agreement. And then the other one we play around with, sometimes we send, sometimes we don’t is this conversation of, I forget what we call it, that we used to call it the ideal client documents, but that’s not exactly the words we use anymore.
Marion Groh Marquardt (42:34):
We know projects are most successful when we see these types of behaviors in our clients. And it goes into some of these things, you know, how much time you give yourself, how you negotiate some time to dedicate to this new website endeavor that’s going to take many hours out of your week. How, how you stay on top of your to-do’s or how you are willing to come and say, okay, well I, you know, I hear you want me to go in this direction and transcripting and captioning all my videos because we have a mandate to be accessibility compliant. But I have this library of 300 hours and I don’t think I can do it. How, you know, bringing in all of that, like really coming to the table with the true information. So these are the two big things I think that help us start on a positive note and then giving them a little bit of visibility into this is how we run their projects. This is what your meeting notes are going to look like. There’s always an action items section at the top and your name is going to be on a bunch of them.
Sarah Durham (43:35):
You know, training them and sending their expectations so they can be, they’re set up for success, too. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I’m a big fan of project briefs, of just writing that down. I mean for you it’s, it’s an agreement, you know, in a project agreement. But I think it’s, so if a project is large and it’s going to go on for many months or years, being really explicit in writing upfront about what you’re trying to achieve, I have found is, is always useful because inevitably along the way the project has changed or the world has changed and we need to keep reminding ourselves why we set out to do this in the first place. And, and particularly on a project like building a website or making a big change to something. When, when unexpected costs emerge or complications emerge, you have to keep going back to something to say, is this really worth it? Is it really going to help us advance the school? Mmm, okay.
Marion Groh Marquardt (44:33):
Yes. Earlier on, something that I wanted to come back to, so I mean, I know Stanford looks big and rich, but sometimes we have to do websites really on a shoestring budget. So what we do is we tell them here’s all the things we’re going to easily do. Let’s start a tab of all the wishlist items that are harder, more time consuming, more money consuming, and then let’s keep prioritizing. So we’re not going to do everything as you mentioned it, we’re going to do the easy stuff. Keep that list and then have the conversations about what do you want us to do out of that list because you have a limited budget.
Sarah Durham (45:05):
Absolutely. And that’s actually a practice that I think is quite standard in the digital world and with bigger shops, but is underutilized, I would say, in other parts of maybe the nonprofit sector of the communications world. I mean, when Advomatic builds a website, there is almost always a planning phase to identify what needs to be built. And then the first stage of the build is creating the minimum viable project or the core build. What are the essential things that, you know, must get done before this thing can go live. But then after that, it’s all what we call enhancements. It’s all, you know, if time allows, if the budget allows, this is the list of all the things we’d want to add. Cause there’s always going to be a million things you’d want to do if you have the resources to do them. But then those enhancements can become your backlog for future iterations. So if you are every month trying to make improvements to your website, every week, every, you know, no matter how big or small you are, you’ve got this backlog of things that help keep you focused on the goal.
Marion Groh Marquardt (46:16):
Yeah. And I think sometimes it helps our clients who come to the table and say, you know, my boss says we need this, this, this, and that. And we say, well, those are the really big ones. So having us push back a little bit, that first conversation isn’t always comfortable, but sometimes they really value that honesty and that push and that reality check.
Sarah Durham (46:36):
Yeah. And that’s again where I think you’re bringing your technical expertise and your relationship expertise. You know, that’s a great example of that. So I’ve got a couple of questions here about some of the things we’ve been talking about. First what tips do you have for, for other people who manage their organizations website, who may not have a team, who, you know, where they’re like a, you know, a one person department. And maybe that one person department has other responsibilities beyond the website. So what advice would you share with them?
Marion Groh Marquardt (47:15):
Yeah, I mean, first of all, a lot of compassion. We work with a lot of people like this where the website part is one fifth of their job and there’s just so many other things. And then I think it’s like most things in life to realize there’s weeks where you’re going to be on top of things for the web. Then weeks where you are going to be more on top of things on something else and just accept the kind of time shifts that come with a share of responsibilities. There are a lot more free tools and I think a lot more sharing of what works for people who work in small organizations. So I think that there’s hope. I’m trying to think if I have any other useful advice for, for I’m, you know, I’m running a small team. Yeah. I mean, Mmm. I do think even if you don’t have a very expensive, a big budget for your website, that the content piece can be a big differentiator. A lot of people come and they want bells and whistles and they want interactive videos and you know, drone footage. And really if your content is exciting and you’ve got some good imagery, your website style, and so really starting from the place of content and designing around the content that you can put together, it makes such a huge difference.
Sarah Durham (48:38):
Yeah. I totally agree. And I would add to that that I would advise an organization that’s trying to manage a website on top of a lot of other responsibilities to budget proactively time, at least if not money to do so. I think that goes to your point about content. Like, if you don’t carve out chunks of your week, chunks of your day to think about the website and fix things that are broken, but also to think ahead and to think about what is the content that’s going to shine through you will, you’ll be in that downward trajectory. But if, if you are holding some part of your week every week to look at the website to go through it and, and you’ve got the ability to make constant upgrades, I think that at any size that could work.
Sarah Durham (49:27):
And you, you said something earlier, Marion, that made me wonder if, if, maybe in some ways it’s easier in a small shop because if you are in a small shop and the person who’s, you know, area of the website you want to change is right down the hall and all you have to do is say, “Hey, I have this idea, could we do this?” That’s actually in some ways a much faster and more agile way to work than what a big shop has to deal with. And what do you recommend for non-techies? This is another, another question. Like if you’re in charge of the website, but you don’t understand the difference between Drupal and WordPress, or you don’t understand, you know, what a security update looks like or what these things are, what advice would you give to non-techies?
Marion Groh Marquardt (50:15):
Yeah, I think externally of that relationship piece and see where you get a gut check, this is a vendor or a partner or a technical partner that I can trust. Sometimes I advise friends and say, “Okay, I need my, you know, my small art museum needs a new website and these are the recommended days for the proposals I have. What do you think?” And so I just help them build the tools for assessing them, which is: how does it look too good to be true? Are they talking not just about that initial cost of implementation, but what does it look for support going forward? Are they telling you, sure, I’ll build you exactly what you want. It’ll be completely custom and it’ll start falling apart three months after it’s launched because it wants to grow with those organizations.
Marion Groh Marquardt (51:02):
So I think there’s a part that’s a human gut check: you need to be able to build a relationship with a technical person who’s going to be helping you, who will give you that uncomfortable feedback of I can’t do exactly everything because it’s not, you know, it’s not going to serve you well for your bigger goals downstream. And then, you may find somebody who can educate you, at least on the basic of SquareSpace versus WordPress versus Drupal based on the size of your organization. One is going to make a lot more sense than the other and what that looks like. How much of a, of a big database or an integration you need with other systems versus how much of this is a front that’s just light, easy to edit. And then that will really orient you in very different directions.
Sarah Durham (51:51):
So, once again, I think what you’re recommending is the same kind of thing you provide to your internal clients, which is a mix of, you know, you’re recommending: find somebody who can give you technical advice, but deliver it in a way that makes sense for your needs and is adapted for your realities. It’s really the basis of a good partnership, right?
Marion Groh Marquardt (52:12):
Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. Yeah
Sarah Durham (52:14):
Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. I think that’s, I think that’s great advice. And I one, of the things that has always really concerned me when non-techies are hiring for tech is when they hire partners or people who are building something that ties them to that partner forever. So, you know, when somebody builds a website in a completely proprietary platform, for instance, that always really concerns me because if that relationship goes south, nobody can take care of your website. You have to totally throw that website out and rebuild it. And that just feels like you’re setting yourself up for a potential disaster. I always recommend to non-techies that they’ve picked technical platforms that are open source, widely used and that they find a partner that they trust. But they must do so in a way where they could continue working on the project without that partner, if that partner were to cease to exist or didn’t work out in the long run.
Marion Groh Marquardt (53:20):
Yeah, for sure. And sometimes there’s a community of practice that you can plug into and say, “Okay, my typical use for this or, you know, this has worked well. So even if my partner goes away, I can plug into my peers in similar organizations and say, “What are they doing? Or does this sound right? You know, this feels really big as a budget to me.” Just to get that gut check among peers for sure. And yet, we do a lot of open source tools as well.
Sarah Durham (53:46):
Yeah, yeah. At Advomatic, all of the sites that we build and support are in WordPress or Drupal. And it is often the case that our clients who are in midsize or smaller organizations these days are more likely to be building and maintaining in WordPress because WordPress has gotten better and better. And the larger and more technically complex challenges often are better suited for Drupal. But what’s great about both of those is they’re open source and you can work with a lot of different people. So there’s a huge, huge community supporting them. Okay. We only have about five more minutes left, so I want to encourage anybody who’s got any final questions to please chat them in. We probably have time for one more of your questions. I will in absence of that, I don’t see, I think I’ve addressed everything that people have chatted in, but in absence of that I just want to ask you a closing question which is if you could go back in time and give advice to Marion as she started her first nonprofit job, what advice would you give her?
Sarah Durham (55:02):
In other words, what’s your advice to those of us out there? Who might be earlier in our careers managing projects like this?
Marion Groh Marquardt (55:11):
I, you know, I think it was to trust myself more than my instinct. And I think I was too concerned about finding experts and looking for what was the right thing to do. And all of the hours sitting in different contexts and different realities and adapting to the needs that are around it. And so, you know more about the needs. It’s almost like parenting, right? You know your child best, you know your organization best. And so, follow my gut when it’s time to leave a team because it’s no longer healthy or when this doesn’t feel like a partnership that’s serving the organization or when it feels like you need to set time aside and invest in a big, you know, in a relationship or an integration piece for the organization that’s going to serve you. So I think that, you know, that, and then maybe forgiving myself for not having the ideal career path. I think we all again, have a different life. And then, and then it looks like maybe I should be going down into this deep expertise and everybody wants you to be the perfect expert in something. But by having a little bit of all these various skill sets, I think it’s giving me a different perspective, different capability. And that’s okay too. We don’t all have to be deep experts into one particular thing.
Sarah Durham (56:31):
That’s great. Great advice. Well I think what we are going to do is wrap up just a couple minutes early because we have tackled all of my questions and all of the questions we got chatted in along the way. Marion, I want to thank you so much for joining me here today. And I also want to to say thank you to everybody who took the time to join us for this conversation who chatted in questions. And this is a particularly challenging and stressful time for everybody and the website has become increasingly critical in communications for all organizations no matter how big and small. And I think you’ve offered some really useful and pragmatic advice here today. So thank you very much. I will be sending out or Theresa will be sending out an email to everybody here with a link to this video and the transcript as soon as we get it live probably sometime next week. So there’ll be a follow-up with all of that. If you would like to contact me, I am firstname.lastname@example.org. I will just chat that out. If you have any follow-up questions you felt like you would like tackled, feel free to drop me a line at that address and I hope everybody is well and has a great weekend. And Marion, thanks again.
Marion Groh Marquardt (57:53):
Thanks Sarah. It was real fun chatting and I’m a huge fan of Advomatic, so anytime.
Sarah Durham (57:59):
Thank you. Thank you. And everybody, there is another, we’re doing another webinar next week with Joe Coakley who is the director of digital campaigns for the ACLU. That’s the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s a free conversation just like this one, about the same time next week. If you go to advomatic.com and you click on events, you will see it there and we’ll send a link to that in the follow-up also. So feel free to join us and invite your colleagues who are in fundraising or the campaign side of your shops, if that would be helpful. Okay. Bye, everybody. Thank you.