Low cognitive budgets for web projects

A cognitive budget measures the amount of time and attention the stakeholders allocate to various aspects of their business. I am especially interested in the amount willingly given to the website and other web initiatives. Web teams can work around financial constraints. However, when the stakeholder cognitive budget is low and the web team doesn’t have much power, delivering great work becomes exponentially more difficult.

Way too often, the website is a dumping ground for content and there’s, therefore, little need to discuss or even think too much about it. As for homepage real estate, carousels and slideshows make it easy to never have a conversation about that at all. So it follows that the website is a solved problem. It’s off the managers’ plate. The people in the last office before the server room have to upload things they receive by e-mail from all over the organisation and never talk back. No editorial back-and-forth. Congratulations. That’s a non-issue.

Or is it? When things are set up like this, uneasiness creeps in. People responsible for communicating through the website aren’t sure they’re reaching their target. They feel that something is off kilter. Sometimes anxiety reaches levels that warrants an e-mail to the web person with questions about the templates’ age or alerting them to a lack of “sexiness”. Of course, the website has no appeal. It is an ever-expanding closet holding three ring binders that each and every person in the organisation can add to.

When dissatisfaction reaches their ears, people ask for prettier wallpaper and wider doors to the closet, at least in part, because mandating technical fixes or redesigns doesn’t tap into their cognitive budgets. That’s when good teams or good webmasters come back with questions about branding and goals and content workflows which, in such an organisational culture, never get answered because web stuff is supposed to be a non-issue. It’s supposed to be cheap in terms of money and cognition.

It’s OK to cut corners but avoiding thinking about your organisation’s website isn’t a smart move. Websites are infrastructure that is important to your business.

When the culture is to treat the web as a solved problem and neither allocate sufficient cognitive nor monetary resources, there’s very little that can change in terms of introducing digital governance and content strategy even though these tools can bring positive change and make the website run more smoothly.

Have you tried strategies to work around this? Would you care to share stories?