On the Never-Ending Quality of Digital Properties…

I was in New York City for about 24 hours this week, and I got to wondering what it would look like without any construction. The scaffolding, in particular, is kind of insane – sometimes entire blocks will be covered in scaffolding (I suspect that part of this is property owners just not wanting to repair their facades).

It’s like NYC is this big implicit promise that, “We’re working towards something, and it’s gonna be amazing when it’s done!” I found myself thinking, ridiculously, “I should come back sometime when this is all finished…”

This got me thinking about the idea of “done.” Like, when will NYC ever be… done?

Never, clearly. NYC isn’t a project, it’s a product. It’s something that’s evolved organically with oversight, and will never reach a point where it’s finished. It just constantly turns over and over, bit by bit, like a Ship of Theseus people are living in.

I think the desire for “done-ness” is a problem with digital perspective. We keep looking at our digital estates as projects that need to be completed, but they’re never going to be completed. They’re just always in some state of construction. The backlog never goes away.

My friend David Hobbs wrote a book called “Website Product Management: Keeping Focused During Change,” which is one of the few books I’ve seen that approach digital not as a project, but as a product. “Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design” by Lisa Welchman is another title about this approach.

(Know of others? Drop a recommendation in the comments.)

Your digital estate is not perfect. It never will be. But it is what it is right now, and you probably need to come up with an incremental plan to make it better, rather than dream about the day when it’s “finished” (spoiler: that day will never come).

(Here’s a stupid joke about a bad pickup line: [sleazy dude leans up against the bar], “I may not be Mr. Right, but I’m Mr. Right Now.”)

You’re not managing a project, you’re managing a product or a program. And it’s always in some state of reinvention. We need to get better at thinking incrementally about these things.

What’s the smallest thing you could do in the next 30 days to make your digital property better? Literally, the SMALLEST thing?

Go do that. Repeat.

(Hint: if you can’t think of anything, come talk to Optimizely about experimentation. There are easier ways to play around with changes.)

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