Communicationfilter. Worst webmaster ever? Or perhaps that should be Worst. Webmaster. Ever.
February 8, 2006 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Help me control my blood pressure while getting my (young, surprisingly inexperienced) coworker to respond to my requests to improve our company's website.

Last year, we hired a new staff member to manage our nonprofit's website and e-communications. He's very nice and has decent intentions, but his primary web qualification seems to be that he's 24, so he's "in touch with what the younger generation wants". He designs with tables and isn't familiar with validation, PHP, .htaccess, etc. - our redesign, while it improved our site nominally, left a trail of broken links and missing pages that I would be ashamed of if it were in my own webspace. Because I am not a big blabbermouth about my own blog, no one in my office knows that I might know more than he does about website structure and putting together pages.

I'm trying to be as neutral as possible in my requests: when I ask him to make changes, I'm certainly not saying "You chose a stupid name for my document when you put it on the website - please rename it to something which actually describes what it is (you could, for instance, use the *document title* as a guide)." I say things like "Hey, would you mind setting up a redirect this week so that people looking for page X will find it in its new location?" He says "yes" or "I'll get to it," and then it doesn't happen for weeks if at all.

I recognize that I can't ask him to do things my way, but I'm frustrated that I have to keep asking for stuff, changes I think should be easy one-offs. Our boss recognizes that my co-worker is sometimes slow to respond, but is generally happy with the website, because he's not super web-savvy.

Should I go to my boss and say "You know, I need your advice, because I've asked our web expert for a few things that would make the website easier to use, and he says "sure" then nothing happens." Should I keep hoping my co-worker will grow some organizational/time management skills? How can I encourage that? Or should I just let it go? Letting go advice appreciated, if that's your recommendation...
posted by deliriouscool to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you answered your own question perfectly reasonably. Go through the proper administrative channels. Once you've alerted your boss, it is his/her responsibility to take care of it. That is management's job.
posted by spicynuts at 7:43 AM on February 8, 2006

If he hasn't grown those skills by now, he's not going to. More to the point, if nobody tells him he's buggering everything up, he's definitely not going to change.

As I see it, you have two options:

1) (diplomatically) tell your boss that the kid's a fuckup, and needs to get shit done on time, because it affects the company in a big way if the website doesn't function properly. Image is everything.

2) Present your boss with a plan to fix the website. At that point, the boss can either shunt it to the kid, or put you in charge--which I presume would include firing the kid, and getting someone who actually knows what they're doing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2006

Yes, I think you should go to your boss (or his boss, whichever one seems more appropriate). You are, after all, talking about one of the public faces of the company. You should be diplomatic, you should not try to rat the guy out more than necessary, but you should also clearly and firmly demonstrate that you know what you're talking about and that your ideas should at least be considered. I think that that's an appropriate way to handle it, and ethically legitimate. That doesn't mean that it might not go south for you, especially with a 24 year old.
posted by OmieWise at 7:46 AM on February 8, 2006

Is it your job to supervise the staffer or direct the management of the web site? If so, then deal directly with the problem: set clear expectations for what needs to be done, and when - get his input ont he time frame if need be, make sure he has access to the tools and information required to do the job. Put it all in writing, and indicate that he's agreed to the timeline.

If he fails to live up to the expectations set out, then hold him accountable. At that point it's a question of sticking by his word, and if can't do that, he's not someone who should remain employed there. If you don't have the clout to impose consequences for his failure, go up the chain of command, show him the documented expectations and detail how those expectations have not been met.

If this staffer and the website are out of your area of responsibility, then you might need to just let it go.

A possible third option is this... just go into the web server and fix stuff yourself, and see if anyone notices. This is probably the most effective yet least desirable option, but if results are critical, worth considering.
posted by mikewas at 7:53 AM on February 8, 2006

I'd cc the person above you whenever i contacted him asking him to fix a broken link or whatever, and i'd turn it into a consumer issue, framing it as a thing that's hurting the people you're there to serve, which is the reason for the existence of the non-profit in the first place, no?

If necessary, I'd even go further, telling him that the people you serve have been complaining about not being able to get to all the pages on the site, and not getting the info they need. (any lies you tell don't cc to the boss tho)

"How can we make using the site better for the people we serve? What do you suggest?"--enlist him in it so he has a stake and understands the consequences (fundiing, grants, existence, etc)
posted by amberglow at 8:04 AM on February 8, 2006

Oh, he'll grow the skills if you push him for it or if he motivates himself for it. I was basically forced into a webdesigner job with similar lack of qualification. Google, a passel of friends, a helpful net admin and my OWN motivation not to be a fuckup got me to learn those skills. I built sites at home so I wouldnt screw up the work site. altho I did screw it up many times :)

If he's nice and has good intentions, you can play the part the helpful admin did in my case. Take the kid out to lunch and explain just what you explained here, and then give him HELP. Point him to good tutorials and hook him up with helpful messageboards.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:07 AM on February 8, 2006

and I had the additional problem of nobody else really caring much about the site. Over time I had departments notifying me of updates so I didn't have to police the site and play sleuth trying to find them.

Don't go to the boss until you try the motivational option.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:09 AM on February 8, 2006

This guy needs more structure. Larger goals w/timeframes, checklists for day-to-day stuff, written guidelines for style/naming conventions.

I'm assuming from your post that you're not his direct supervisor, but you are his superior in the department? Create checklists/project timelines ostensibly for your own purposes, then share these with him "so that you can coordinate." If it escalates and you need to complain/dispute his behavior, this will give you documentation and demonstrate that you're trying to work with him.

Also, look for seminars offered by your local university in website design best practices and see if the company will pay for him to go.
posted by desuetude at 8:15 AM on February 8, 2006

I too lean towards it being his line manager's problem.

However, assuming this guy is inexperienced and managing his inbox poorly rather than lazy, I'm going to suggest giving him better tools for managing the stuff he has to do. Set up a bugtracker (we use mantis).

Any bugs entering the system should be clear, simple and bite-sized (eg "link foo broken on page bar"). If he still has open issues hanging around for days ... well, at least you know what his problem is.

Putting the whole site in CVS might be a good idea, too.
posted by Leon at 8:22 AM on February 8, 2006

I work in a similar position as your designer; one of the hardest parts of my job is keeping up with what I call my "fall through the cracks" tasks. These are simple, tiny changes that only need a few moments, but they don't get done in a timely manner because they require me to a) switch away from whichever HUGE, CRITICAL project I'm working on at the moment, and b) spend 5 minutes launching 4 software applications in order to correct a small typo. Faced with the prospect of switching tasks and launching 6 windows in order to add a comma to a page, I usually let it fall through the cracks, and move on to a more substantial project. The "little corrections" never make it to the top of my long priority list until my boss screams about them.

The best way I've found to keep up with these small items (and prevent the boss from screaming) is to combine them in a list -- so I'm not just correcting one comma, I'm also correcting the title on 4 other pages, and changing a name on 2 sections -- and to pick a day like Friday when I "clean up" all those little things that landed in my in-box throughout the week. If you're peppering your designer with off-the-cuff emails like, "Hey, can you change the title on the donations page, it's got a spelling error?" they're getting lost in the influx and forgotten or de-prioritzed. Hit him with a list of several corrections at once, set a deadline and an expectation of response, and offer some helpful support along the way if he's lacking technical know-how.
posted by junkbox at 8:24 AM on February 8, 2006

Sadly, I'm not his direct supervisor; we do share one. Our titles are the same, but I have several additional years of experience. I'm very aware that any heavyhandedness on my part could come off as unnecessary bossiness, making him even more unlikely to take any urgency on my part seriously.

However unlikely, the bug tracker is not a bad idea; the more impartial the system the better, I think.
posted by deliriouscool at 8:32 AM on February 8, 2006

A bug tracker is a good idea but the real benefit of a public record of his work is that your boss will be able to log on and check up on his progress. Mantis or similar would be too complicated, I feel.

I was about to come in and suggest setting up a public basecamp/tada page for your website amends list. Put two lists on there: bugs and change requests. Make everyone who wants to request an amend do so via the basecamp page. Add a date to each request. Over time, it will be obvious if he's not implementing your requests.

You could even frame it as a benefit to him "so you aren't constantly getting emails from everyone about small changes"...
posted by blag at 8:49 AM on February 8, 2006

Heh; my boss will never log in to a bug tracker, but I think he would see the benefit of a centralized tracking system. I'm fairly sure that I'm the only person on staff who would use something like that, because I'm the staff writer and perceived as the in-house proofreader and detail person. I'm fairly sure the web guy would have no idea how to install a bug tracker, but I do think I could turn conversation into an opportunity for centralized tracking "so you aren't constantly getting e-mails and the website is as easy as possible for volunteers and donors to use".

The real mystery to me is why I care, when many other staff members just let it ride. I guess a little web knowledge, courtesy of blogging, is a bad thing ;)
posted by deliriouscool at 10:05 AM on February 8, 2006

I've seen instances where inexperienced people, working on a live site, are a little gun shy about dropping changes, for having had an experience or two with mucking things up royally. So they tend to keep copies of everything up on the Web server, and pretty soon, the namespace is cluttered up, and they're naming files crazily, trying to keep unique names for all files, in case they have to "revert" changes quickly. Setting up a development box as the edit copy of the site, and a mechanism as simple as scripted rsync for "publishing" after "internal approval," relieves this problem. Put a CVS and a proper site backup strategy in with this, and much anxiety melts away.

A colleague who is not anxious is often more approachable. A namespace which is not cluttered is easier to manage. A CVS and a good backup you have in hand is priceless.
posted by paulsc at 10:24 AM on February 8, 2006

Using SVN for web development.
posted by blag at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2006

i can totally relate to your difficulty dealing with the "wizard" effect -- i.e., witnessing the performance of someone that you know is not as capable as they are perceived to be by people with less technical understanding than yourself. it is infuriating.

the only way to deal with this kind of thing is to either stop caring, or to dive in yourself. your webmaster may not appreciate this, nor may your boss. so I seriously suggest that since you think you "might know more than he does about website structure and putting together pages" that you find a new job which lets you do exactly that.
posted by macinchik at 2:28 PM on February 8, 2006

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