Digital chaos: A website with a workflow problem

I was cleaning out my computer files and came across this document. It was an analysis of one of Syracuse Universities websites used to house video for the TRF department. Brought back some fond memories and i thought i’d share:

Purpose of Site


We recommend that all the identified stakeholders— the students, professors, managers and a Newhouse School representative hold a series of meetings to clearly define a mission for the website. These meetings should work towards reaching a clearly defined set of goals for an NHOUSE website, that fit into the parameters of a “good” website for its purpose. This can be done objectively by identifying the needs of each stakeholder and having the stakeholders narrow this list down till they have a clearly defined set of goals for the site.



NHOUSE is a Newhouse School website, used by the Television Radio and Film (TRF) department to host student video files. When asked for the purpose of the site, Michael Schoonmaker, TRF Department Chair, said that was “made to showcase student films, television shows and miscellaneous audio and visual works.” He added that “It was designed to answer the question, ‘What do students do in TRF?’” Additional interviews of the departmental faculty showed that different professors had divergent ideas as to what TRF students did, and some had never visited the nhouse site.

This illustrates one of the problems of the stated goal of describing what students do in TRF; their activities are too broad and divergent. A cursory examination of student activities shows they participate in quantitative and qualitative research on traditional media effects, study the traditional business models of Hollywood studios or affiliate television stations, mix audio for radio, or film, or other audio-visual productions, and occasionally, they produce finished video shorts, or documentaries, or sample episodic television shows.

This broad diversity begs a broad description, but the lack of specificity creates confusion as to what the singular purpose of a web site meant to represent the department should be. The site itself only shows the end product of what some students in the TRF courses do.

That leads to confusion as to the purpose of the website, and subsequently, the NHOUSE site lacks clearly defined goals.


Currently, the site takes into consideration only one group of stakeholders, the TRF department. There are however four stakeholders in the website:

1. TRF students;

2. TRF professors;

3. The Newhouse school, and;

4. Managers of the site.

In developing clear goals and a mission for the site, it is necessary to take all the needs of these stakeholders into account. Care must be taken when trying to reach an agreement with many stakeholders, as further problems can arise when they all give feedback to the web and CMS designers.

Identifying the stakeholders needs.

To identify the needs of the stakeholders, we suggest putting together a multi-point formatted questionnaire for each stakeholder group. The main aim of this questionnaire is to try and come up with a list of needs that cover each stakeholder. Each individual stakeholder group should have its own survey that’s representative of their needs.

The survey should be broken down into three parts.

A) Perceived needs of stakeholders.

This section should be the bulk of the questions. It should involve a list of questions ranked using a Likert scale (1 – 5) of 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = No Opinion or Neutral; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly Agree.

The first step is to identify a number of perceived/anticipated needs of the stakeholder group from a website and put them in statement form. To check the internal consistency (see next section) of the responses, some of the questions should be reversed so there is a positive and a negative version. In other words respondents who answer positively to a statement “I watch college basketball,” should respond negatively to the statement “I do not watch college basketball.” This is used as a reliable indicator of the validity of the responses from the survey.

B) Other needs of stakeholder.

This section should consist of one or two questions that try and get a feel for needs of the stakeholders that the generated list left out. They should be open-ended questions with an open space for respondents to enter text. This ensures that the final list of needs you generate is representative of the stakeholders.

C) Demographic information

This section is to gain some demographic data on the respondents to be able to analyze their responses better.

Internal consistency

With the said survey, it is essential to know that the responses you get are consistent and reliable. The aim should be to generate variables that return stable responses raising the internal consistency of the survey. Internal consistency is a measure used in statistics and research to measure the connection between different items on the same test. For our survey, it allowed us to measure the correlation and validity between statements. Internal consistency is usually measured with Cronbach’s alpha, an index of reliability associated with the correlation between items. Using this allowed us to measure the reliability of our statements using questions with multi-point formatted questions or rating scales (Likert scale of 1 – 5).

Ground rules

After identifying a list of their needs by analyzing their surveys, the stakeholders should meet and narrow down their list. To ensure a productive meeting, ground rules have to be established. These can be something along the lines of:

1. Only the needs identified by the survey can be put up for discussion

2. No new needs can be added during the meeting, they can only be removed

3. Do not partake in positional bargaining. Try and meet in the middle and take into consideration the needs of the other stakeholders

4. The goals have to fit into the structure of what constitutes a good website which can be determined from the final set of parameters left on the table.

This should ensure that people do not waste time bickering about adding new goals, but instead break down the list objectively, narrowing it down till they have a set of clear cut parameters for the site, which can then be implemented in a new NHOUSE site.


To demonstrate this process further, we identified the needs of one of the stakeholders.

Due to time constraints we focused solely on the students since we expected them to have the most at stake in the website.

We generated a 22-question survey, broken down into sections see Fig1. Attached.

Bottom of Form

The first 18 questions used a Likert-type scale of:

1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = No Opinion or Neutral; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly


The next two questions were to give students a chance to alert us to needs that we may have missed. The final two questions where demographic questions to break down the needs by year and GPA.


Freshman – 1 – 5%

Sophomore – 3 – 14%

Junior – 3 – 14%

Senior – 2 – 10%

Grad Student – 12 – 57%


0 – 2.4 – 0 – 0%

2.5 – 2.9 – 0 – 0%

3.0 – 3.4 – 6- 29%

3.5 – 4.0 – 15 – 71%

Goals For Students

• The site should be clearly branded as a Newhouse school site, and provide students with a location to store their finished and unfinished content. (77.5% agree)

• The site should put up different levels of access, and have a protected section for employers to access, a protected section for registered users to access unfinished and finished content and a general section for non registered users to access. (73.75% agree)

• The site should require users to register to be able to give content, to ensure comments are valuable. (77% agree)

• The site should be well maintained, easy-to-use, visually interesting and dynamic. (68% agree) 

• The site should act as a teaching tool for students, teaching them how to both use the web and pursue new opportunities. (62% agree)

Other Stakeholders:

This process should be followed for the other stakeholders to identify their needs.


In terms of implementation, the first question decision makers ask is “what will this cost me?” In our analysis, we anticipate three costs:

1. Time

Time to:

a) Meet.

b) Take survey.

2. Hiring a coder to make changes to the site

The costs usually associated with a website include:

Domain Name: $9/year

Hosting: $75 to $200 a year (depending on traffic & website features)

Web design and graphics development time: 60 to 150 hours, $105 for labor (based on our experience for a 15 page Website)

Web site Maintenance: $500 to $1250 a year (depending on number of updates required)

On average, a site designer/programmer will charge anywhere from $500 to $2,000 for a quality business website.

Since we are not creating a new website but making changes to an old one, we already have the old domain name, and the site is being hosted on The costs to the web developer then are in the web design and graphic development time for a new website, and in its maintenance.

3. Cost of training personnel and stakeholders from using the site the right way.


Fixing web site quality problems can be a labor-intensive task requiring a huge commitment of time. But the alternative, simply ignoring the problems, can cost you or your company untold opportunities by tarnishing the professional image of your site. Without a purpose, NHOUSE is wasting its site, and its students content. Creating a beautiful web site does little good if it does not serve a purpose or meet a need. A clearly defined purpose, would have allowed NHOUES to realize more opportunities, to add value not only to its students, but to its other stakeholders as well. As of now, students content is being wasted. There is massive amount of content not uploaded. There are complex workflow problems. A clear cut set of goals will allow a web designer to optimize the site and help solve some of these problems.


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