When we started the project “Media for All”, all of us working together had one thing in common, which led to one goal, and that is to help create possibilities, drive improvements and expand existing capacities within the media outlets.
Program itself was challenging, bold and exciting. It brought something quite new, at least in this form for our Western Balkans partners and in more ways than one, it was very important for us to make sure we are impacting this with quality and certain standards that we are aiming to achieve. While I’m writing this piece, I'm happy to say that we have successfully finalized new websites for 15 media outlets in all six WB countries.
Within the period of five months, we have experienced ups and downs, but managed to collectively strive and drive to close our chapters in areas of design, development, implementation, collaboration, 3rd party management and ultimately deployment. With some of those topics, we will deal here in this article.
It is paramount that we decrease gaps and inefficiencies, thus increasing productivity, while retaining the same capacity but with higher output and demand.
Intent and demand
In order to breakdown type of work done, and various added elements we have divided the work in 3 types:
- “From scratch”
Within these 3 categories, for us the most important thing was that in a way we standardize certain elements in areas of security, stability and capacity. So, we’ve made sure that all the outlets receive standard improvements without worrying about what bucket/category they fall in. Some of the examples are:
- Website optimisation, better responsiveness, desktop/mobile phone version stability and scalability, search engine optimization, browser compatibility, speed optimization;
- Server/Hosting improvements, better capacity and speed;
- UX/UI design and user experience improvements;
- Tracking, analytics;
- Banner/ad management, donation platforms, e-commerce;
- Support services (SEO, GDPR);
- Security issues, SSL, DDoS, mitigations;
- Publishing/content optimization;
- Visual identity and branding;
- Streaming platforms and radio/video plug-ins;
Challenges, examples and opportunities
As we have previously mentioned, now - we will deal with some of the challenges and obstacles that came into our direction during the project length. By nature, they are different and are categorised in different areas, such as: process/procedural ones, experience/communication ones, support and so on.
One of the first stages of any project is the “discovery” stage. With it, we are capturing what needs to be done on projects itself. What we have identified is that the majority of media outlets in our discovery stage did not capture everything that is needed, and once that design stage was completed, outlets were interested in adding other elements and ideas into their respective build. This resulted with expanding boundaries of projects itself and presented the need for expansion of existing capacities within the vendor and enablement section. Being one of the fundamental stages in the pre-work cycle, these elements need to have severe improvement.
Recommendation: Increase the questioner size and detail, request buy-in from all stakeholders and make sure that communications and expectations are set and aligned with the project and its modules before we move to the design phase.
Given the fact that the majority of Western Balkans countries are speaking very similar languages, practice showed us that this is not as common and easy as we thought. In some countries we didn’t have representation with English language capacity that resulted with delays in comms, work and approvals.
Recommendation: In order to avoid issues with this very important topic, we are suggesting that all stakeholders have an appointed member of staff with English language skills, which will eliminate above mentioned issues and ultimately speed the process itself.
Needs assessment sheet/template
This issue is connected to the “discovery stage” and we have experienced delay and lack of integrity once this document has been completed. Purpose of the document is to identify defined workload that will be implemented from a delivery standpoint. With almost every outlet we have experience in time requests that are outside of original arrangement and outside of scope. Preventing this in the future is vital for all the stakeholders.
Recommendation: Similar like in discovery stage. Expansion of the questionnaire/document and putting more focus on this. Buy-in and better explanation to outlets what will happen and how. Mapping the entire process and presentation to outlets that is preventing gaps in communication/expectation.
Visual identity and branding
It goes without saying that modern sites are being built by usage of templates that are adjusted to specific needs. On some occasions we have experienced unsatisfactory comments and feedback from outlets about usage of these templates from vendors. Having said this, one of the key aspects in this project apart from Capacity building is that we continue increasing specific and unique digital imprints and presence of specific outlets.
Recommendation: We would like to ensure that in the design stage, some additional focus is added, that will give us momentum and eliminate risk of going back-and-forth in design solutions.
In very rare occasions, project partners were involved in a manner that is beneficial for the outlet, likewise for the enablement team. I don’t doubt that backhand work was being done in the best interest of the outlet and in terms of direction and guidance. But in some cases, discussions with outlets about technical solutions without all involved parties being informed and not knowing their official opinions on the matter was counterproductive. All these types of comms are not forward thinking, and in an ideal world partners, outlets and vendors should be aligned with tech solution, design and general course of events.
Recommendation: Making sure that the sign off process is “air tight” and all stakeholders are aligned on what are the next steps. In time eliminate rolling back for no reason or change of hearts. Overall, increase inclusion of project partners in every important conversation so they have visibility.
One of the critical elements again. Lucky for all parties we experienced only one conflicted issue by having selected a tech stack and approach that was not clear and advertised to outlet in a proper way. This resulted in lack of confidence in delivery.
Recommendation: We are to make sure that tech stack is selected and presented prior to the design stage. All the parties are going to approve this element so the stage of build can commence afterwards.
When we talk about these types of challenges, it's very important to explain, understand and describe our type of clients, in this case Media Outlets.
Typically, the director/owner has 3-4 employees that are in multi-function roles, such as journalist, editors, field reporters, and needless to say technical support people. More than often all staff members are taking care of website content, making sure that news/content is properly “fitted”, available and understandable. On top of this, necessary updates for the backend of the site itself are being done by staff.
Our outlet from the example is small and over encumbered, overstretched and approaching certain topics with the “learn as we go” model. More than often has a lack of tech knowledge, it requires guidance, support and navigation through various topics that modern media standards are demanding, not to mention very tough, vast and heavily funded competition. Despite that, our outlet is doing its best to be on top of all those topics, it is generating amazing results and covering uncharted territories (and charted ones) and more importantly, it's an absolute pleasure to work with.
We are very confident that despite some of the things mentioned above, delivery was good and in time it will improve, overall experience for media outlets will be more than positive and this was and will continue to be our main driver and focus in upcoming months of this part of “Media for All”. With implementation of certain things described above as challenges, we will successfully close the entire project with high achieved targets, key performance indicators and customer satisfaction.