Podcast Episodes

Episode 6: Identify Outcomes and Expectations (w/ C. David Gammel)

April 14, 2022 | 41:13 | C. David Gammel

Corey and Deane talk about understanding the audiences of the The Web Project Guide book, and the concept of predicate knowledge.

Then, C. David Gammel, author of Online and On Mission, joins the podcast to talk about how to prioritize outcomes when stakeholders all have their own interests, understanding the expectations of those who use your website, and how to best introduce domain knowledge.

The Web Project Guide podcast is sponsored by Blend Interactive, a web strategy, design, and development firm dedicated to guiding teams through complicated web and content problems, from content strategy and design to CMS implementation and support.

Show Notes and Further Discussion:


Corey: (00:13)
Hello, this is the Web Project Guide Podcast, and this is episode six, Identify Outcomes and Expectations. I'm Corey Vilhauer, director of strategy at Blend Interactive and co-author of the Project Guide. Later on, we'll talk to David Gammel, association executive and consultant and author of the 2009 book Online and On Mission, Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results. But first, I'm joined by the other Web Project Guide co-author, Deane Barker, senior director of content management research at Optimizly. Hey, Deane.

Deane: (00:38)
Hi, Corey. How are you?

Corey: (00:40)
Good. I didn't call you a co-anchor this time.

Deane: (00:42)
Co-anchor, yeah. I liked co-anchor actually.

Corey: (00:46)
[crosstalk 00:00:46]. Deane, what do you think was the hardest part about writing the book?

Deane: (00:50)
Our book?

Corey: (00:50)
Our book. No, not one of the other eight books you wrote during that.

Deane: (00:54)
The hardest part of writing our book was integrating two different voices and perspectives and making it seem like a rational book, because when we were done... We wrote the thing online and we did it in installments. When we were done, we didn't have a book. We had two books written by two different people that supposedly... We had part one and part two, and then we had to integrate them and make it seem like we wrote it together, although this was in the middle of COVID. You and I were never in the same place.

Corey: (01:18)

Deane: (01:19)
We wrote this thing completely separately. We split the chapters. But then we had to go back and do, I think we called it or I called it an integrative edit where we checked to make sure... There were a couple places that we were writing in the first person, which we can't, because theoretically we had written the text together.

Corey: (01:34)

Deane: (01:34)
And then we had to go back and we put sidebars in. Oh, what do we have? We called it an opposing edit.

Corey: (01:40)
The opposing edit was when I would edit your chapters and you would edit my chapters.

Deane: (01:45)
And we would put sidebars in, snarky little sidebars about each other's content. And then the integrative edit was when you and I got together and figured out how we're going to bring this whole thing together. And I remember halfway through the process, we redlined a couple chapters because they were duplicative and-

Corey: (01:59)

Deane: (02:00)
I mean, that was the biggest challenge for me. Putting the words down, we were trying to limit it to 3,500 words of chapter, but the words were not a problem.

Corey: (02:10)
The reason I asked Deane, was for me, the hardest part I think other than... I mean, that was part of it, the idea of trying to balance the two voices and figure out what that was going to sound like. For me, it ended up being, with topics that I was deeply familiar with, I would go way too deep. I think part of that is... This is where Carrie, my wife, Carrie, she was the editor. She was the editor in your first book. She was the editor, the first editor on our book. She would go through it and she'd say, "This is too deep. You don't need this in here. This is really complicated. This is confusing."

Corey: (02:42)
The reason I brought it up is it actually relates to this topic in that I was forgetting the actual audience that we were writing the book for. I was writing the book as if it was going to be a miniature industry book for other content strategists or other information architects. And really, it was like, no, it needs to be written for somebody who doesn't have a background of that. That's the whole idea of the whole thing.

Deane: (03:02)
I struggled too with predicate knowledge along those same lines. When you're explaining something, you explain A, but then to explain A, you have to explain B. Well, to explain B, you have to explain C. And your audience, I mean, the person that you're writing this for and the goals of the book is, that's where you stop. If you're writing one type of book, you might stop at C. If you're writing a different type of book, you might explain D, E, and F and keep going backwards. And if you're writing the seminal book, you might get all the way back to Z, but that was always a real struggle for me. You and I had to, at some points, decide who we were writing it for. And you had the tendency to cross stuff out of my chapters because they were too... And there was one thing you tried to get rid of that I refused. I was prepared to die on that hill. It's in that chapter on content migration. I refused to get rid of it. So it probably is too deep, but I don't care because I loved it.

Corey: (03:53)
Well, we had a second editor who I believe you read the edits on it and you just were like, "I don't want to talk to this person anymore." It was when we were working toward actually getting the published version out there. I don't know who it was, but they had no background in the industry whatsoever, and I think we had to get to a certain point where we had to allow that they knew something about it, which is why I think Carrie was a good choice. She'd worked in the web industry a little bit. She was the director of marketing at a place. She is the actual audience, versus somebody who's... You're not going to pick this up and explain the idea of the word content or what is a computer? That's too far down. And so I remember just getting angry at those edits because I was like, "You're missing the point." I'd shake my fist a lot.

Deane: (04:39)
My first book that I wrote for O'Reilly, I had to identify three technical reviewers. And it was kind of a general book and their two technical reviewers were very technical. They were both developers. For the third one, I picked a content strategist friend of ours, Lindsay Struthers, who we had worked with on several projects out of Minneapolis. She became my third technical reviewer and Lindsay's with all respect to [inaudible 00:05:04], the other two technical reviewers, Lindsay's feedback was the most valuable because she came at it from a completely different direction and she would have all sorts of things. She'd be like, "What in the hell are you talking about here? This is way too deep. I totally lost you here." And that was probably the most valuable stuff with someone who came from the outside. And this gets back to when you write a book and when you do a web project, so we are leading into our interview for this episode, when you do a web project or write a book, the first thing you have to accept is that you're not doing this for yourself. You're doing this for someone else.

Deane: (05:33)
It's very tempting to write a book for yourself, but that's not helpful because you already know everything that's in the book. You're writing a book and you're doing a web project for other people. You have to identify those other people and the outcomes that they are trying to achieve. You always have to keep your mind on that. And you don't always keep your mind on that. What happens is you drift from that and you drag yourself back to it sporadically and grudgingly, accompanied by much profanity, but you have to keep doing that, because otherwise you've just written a book for yourself. The narcissist in me loves that idea.

Corey: (06:06)
Oh, absolutely. We'll talk about that with David a little bit later. Again, David Gammel is author of a few books, which I didn't realize until I hopped on a maybe Amazon or something just to get the actual title of it. He's written two other books, specifically [inaudible 00:06:23] which blew my mind.

Deane: (06:25)
David is a great guy. And when we get David on the phone, I'll talk about the project that brought us together and the history that we have together, but David and I have known each other on and off for coming up on 20 years now. And when it comes to associations and nonprofits, he's the guy. He is the person in North America who really specializes more than anyone else in this space. And so he will have a lot to say, I'm sure.

Corey: (06:51)
Yeah. He wrote the book, Online and On Mission, Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results, which was formative and how we, at Blend Interactive, kind of shaped our content and discovery process. And then he is a longtime consultant and executive for different associations. He's currently the chief practice officer at McKinley Advisors where he leads the strategy and innovation practice. But first, this episode of the Web Project Guide Podcast is brought to you by Blend Interactive, a web strategy design and development firm dedicated to building great websites, Blend has been guiding teams through complicated web and content projects for 17 years and we're always looking for our next big project. Visit us at blendinteractive.com.

Deane: (07:28)
You said 17 years, which is interesting because I was there when Blend started, and it was started on March 15th, 2005. So when this podcast comes out, it's going to be just over 17 years. And we used to always joke that... We were in downtown Sioux Falls and downtown Sioux Falls would have the Saint Patrick's Day parade every year on or about March 15th. And so we would tell people that it was an anniversary parade for Blend. In fact, I told my daughters that for years and they believe me.

Corey: (07:57)
Well, just this past month, we actually had all of the remote employees back for that specific thing for kind of a Blend anniversary party, and also finally, it's back, the St Patrick's Day parade, because it has not gone for obviously two years.

Deane: (08:13)
Well, I mean they have to celebrate Blend's anniversary. That's the whole point.

Corey: (08:15)
That's right. All right. We're back, and we are here with David Gammel. Hi, David.

David: (08:27)
Hi, folks.

Corey: (08:28)
How are you doing?

David: (08:29)
I'm doing great. Real glad to be here with you both.

Corey: (08:31)
Awesome. Deane has a story he wants to say.

Deane: (08:33)
I just have the story of how we met, David. I don't know, David, how you and I each other. You were an old school commenter on Gadgetopia, I think back in the day, in the early 2000s or something. This was when you were running High Context Consulting and your specialty at the time, which I believe it is again, and I'll have you talk to that in just a second, but your especially at the time was nonprofits and associations and stuff like that. So this is 2009, Blend Interactive became the very first Episerver partner in North America, Episerver, which is now Optimizly. We were selling the Episerver CMS, which I now manage from a strategic standpoint. So we became the first Episerver partner in North America in late 2008. And my friend, Seth Gottlieb, got in touch with me, I believe late in 2008 and said he was doing a CMS selection for a group in Toronto, the College of Nurses of Ontario. This is the Nursing Association for Ontario, which is based in Toronto.

Deane: (09:38)
And Blend had been around at the time for about four years, and we were still mainly kind of a regional concern. We were doing a lot of work for an agency out in San Francisco, but we were still waiting for that first big Episerver sale. Seth told me their budget and it was far and away the largest budget we would've ever worked with, and so I was a little starstruck. So we were going through this CMS selection process and we're going to have to travel up to Toronto to pitch, and I was very nervous about this. And just not at the last minute, but in the process, I suddenly remembered what David did. And I called up Joe Kepley, who was my partner in Blend at the time, and I said, "I know this guy." And I didn't really know you, David. We'd exchanged comments on blogs and stuff. "He specializes in nonprofits and let's bring him in." And so we did. We had a couple calls with David and told him what was up, and then we arranged for him to meet us in Toronto to pitch.

Deane: (10:34)
Never met David before that, and we went in and we pitched to the College of Nurses of Ontario together. It was two people from Blend, it was Joe and myself, two people from Episerver, and then you, so there were five of us that went into pitch. And we won that deal, and that was 2009. And Corey was telling me that CNO, the College of Nurses of Ontario is still a Blend Interactive customer today, 13 years later, which is remarkable. And CNO also has the honor of being the very first Episerver sale in North America, so they've been the leading edge of Episerver in North America. So that is the story of how we became associated with David and came to know David. And I'll let Corey talk about David's book because David's book very much influenced how we did content strategy, but let me just turn it over to you, David, and tell us what happened since that 2009, because you took a detour into insects.

David: (11:32)
Yes. Y'all see the natural three line there. I remember that trip to Toronto, getting an email out of the blue from someone who you'd met online basically in a comment stream on a blog, who says, "Hey, come to Toronto and help me pitch the business," and it turned into just a fantastic project, so I was glad we took that flyer together. That was a great project and been fun staying in touch with you guys. Well, I've worked with associations my entire career, so that's a type of nonprofit I specialize in typically, so nonprofit membership organizations. And I moved to DC right after college, early nineties and was temping and landed a job in a [inaudible 00:12:13] for an association, and they hired me on full time. And I figured I'd find my career eventually, but that actually turned out to be it. This was early nineties.

David: (12:21)
So I got into... And as the web came around and association started exploring that, I was really interested and I'd always had kind of a... My degree all liberal arts, but I'd always been interested in technology and computers, ran up huge CompuServe bills for my dad back in the eighties when he let me loose on his account. So that's how, when I was doing web strategy work, I had gone out to be a solo consultant, because at that time, this was early two thousands. Association was really struggling with making concrete results for them, the organizations, for their members online. They're really struggling with it, so my form of consultancy is really around helping connect top line strategy with what they're doing online so that what the value they're creating online is actually connected to what they're trying to achieve as an organization.

David: (13:07)
And along the way, I got to know a recruiter who hires CEOs for associations, and she had let me know about this gig that was opening up. And I'd always had that on my list of things to think about doing was to serve as a executive director or CEO for an association, because I've been on staff for a long time before that that had my interest in. So essentially on a [inaudible 00:13:30], I threw my hat in the ring, and it was for the Entomological Society of America, which is a scientific society for people who study insects. About half the members are in the agriculture space. A bunch of them do research in public health, basic research, biology, pretty diverse groups.

David: (13:45)
And one thing led to another and they offered me a job. And as a solo consultant, that's a high wire kind of act as a income earner for my family too. So getting a job that looked really stimulating and would really stretch me and that had a regular paycheck seemed like a great idea at the time, and said, "Well, let's go do that for a while and see how it goes," and ended up doing that for nine years, was the executive director for entomology, really learned a ton, and then late 2019, I decided to pivot back to consulting. I'm now part of a firm called McKinley Advisors, which is the largest advisory services firm that's dedicated to associations, and I chair the strategy innovation practice for our company.

Deane: (14:31)
So let's segue. Tell us about the book you wrote back in the day, and then Corey will tell you about how we ruthlessly co-opted that book for our content strategy project at Blend. So tell us about the book first.

David: (14:45)
Well, there wasn't a book on web strategy for associations, and also what I realized, and you guys probably experienced this, when you write a book, it actually forces you to codify everything you know and make it explicit. It's a fantastic exercise to go through. And that was why I started writing it, but as I went through it, it really helped me firm up my ideas and my methodology. But basically, with web strategy, the model I came up with was, the organization has a top level strategy that determines the products and services they offer to specific markets, and then when you translate that online. And back then, it wasn't about translating it. There wasn't business models online, per se, for associations so much at the time. But looking at the markets they served and products and services they offered to them, you need to achieve certain outcomes to support the provision of those products and services, whether it's simply promoting them or selling them or actually delivering them. And then those markets that you offer those products and services to, there's certain audiences that derive from that that are relevant for your website.

David: (15:50)
So that sort of how I connect the two together, so looking at what you're offering as a company, what are the outcomes you need to create online in support of that, and then given the markets you serve, what are the audiences that are relevant online? And then use that to then drive your [inaudible 00:16:06] web strategy of how you're going to achieve those outcomes with those audiences. And it gives you a hook, a rationale for making decisions, because I think you get into web design projects or content projects and it's like, "Well, how do we prioritize one audience over another or one set of outcomes over another?" Being able to connect back up to your top level strategy is not the only lens, but it's a really useful one, especially when you just basically have [inaudible 00:16:30]. Well, we have to sort of pick where we're going to invest our time and effort and money on this. Anything you can tie up to your top level strategy, that will help you prioritize that, make some of those investment decisions and determine what to do.

Deane: (16:42)
So we got exposed to this book in the CNO process. You sent a couple copies of your book, I think, before we went up there, and we really stuck on this concept of audiences and outcomes, which for me personally was kind of a... I'm embarrassed to say this, but back in 2009, I just built websites. I didn't think about larger strategy of who the people were and what they were going to do. And so audiences and outcomes kind of became a rallying cry for us. And coincidentally, right at the same time we did that project, we hired Corey. And so Corey's kind of first introduction to content strategy. Blend was really a in-depth exposure to your book, which was called... Remind me of the actual title. I always call it the audience as an outcomes book.

David: (17:25)
It's called Online and On Mission.

Deane: (17:28)
Online and On Mission, and that was... We had several copies. I have a copy on this bookshelf. You can't them yet, but on this bookshelf behind me, there's a copy of it up there. In fact, when I was cataloging my bookshelf, I remember, David, I tweeted at you. I found it and I took a picture and I tweeted it. It's the most important book to make it to my bookshelf.

David: (17:44)
I'm honored I'm in the Deane library.

Deane: (17:46)
Yes, you're in my library. So I will now pass the baton to Corey to kind of explain what we did to incorporate that into our process at Blend.

Corey: (17:56)
Yeah. Deane brought me along to Toronto for the planning for CNOs intranet. So this was the second project we were doing, and it was explicitly like, "Hey, we want you to come along and sort of see what this type of thing looks like." Because me walking in into, as I imagine a lot of people run into when they're first starting in this world, and even if you're just looking at a project and trying to figure out specifically, how do you determine audiences, how do you determine outcomes, how do you determine essentially what the expectations of these people are going to be, you don't really know what a workshop looks like, and there's nothing that prepares you for that except actually being a part of a workshop. It is, weirdly enough, one of the parts of the web knowledge industry that is lacking. There's nothing that really teaches you how to go in and talk to people, because it is so specific to the actual project you're working on. It's very specific to the people you're talking to.

Corey: (18:58)
Some people want to do sort of a giant design thinking sort of workshop. Some people just want to get in there and have a conversation and determine things from there. So that was the bulk of it, as I walked in and Deane's like, "Hey, go copy everything here," which is impossible to do because that's not at all even what ended up happening. It was a case of just exposing the concept of a workshop, and then we've iterate it from there, just as you've iterated, just as everyone's iterated it a hundred times over since [crosstalk 00:19:24]

Deane: (19:24)
I defend that by saying, I think when we started the intranet project, David, you had announced that you were leaving to go be the executive director, so you were kind of leaving the consulting space.

David: (19:34)

Deane: (19:34)
And so I was like-

David: (19:35)
Yeah, and I think I worked on that one too with you [inaudible 00:19:36].

Deane: (19:36)

David: (19:38)
I remember [crosstalk 00:19:38]

Deane: (19:38)
And I bought Corey [inaudible 00:19:38]. I said, "Well, David's leaving, and so number one, we need some continuity with his client, and number two, since he's not going to be in the consulting space anymore, I want you to see what he does. So yeah, I basically said, "Corey, come to Toronto and watch David."

Corey: (19:53)
I think what I pulled the most from your book was this sort of idea of not just determining outcomes, but prioritizing outcomes. I think that's the point in which you see both rallying around what's specific things are the most important to handle, but also we use it when we're talking through content hierarchy and mobile design. Which of these three concepts is going to get the top of the page when you only get one top of the page as you sort of get a narrower screen to look through? And then determining, even from the idea of business practices, what types of things should you focus on web website wise and what things can sort of be held back from maybe the sales process or something, something deeper in. How do you prioritize those outcomes? How do you determine which outcomes are the ones that are the most important, which I have some ideas, but I want you to say them. And then als, how do you temper expectations for when key outcomes might be ignored, or key outcomes... Somebody's golden goose is getting pushed down the priority list.

David: (21:04)
Well, strategy for anything, not to websites, it ultimately is a decision making framework. So if you've developed a strategy and it doesn't help you make decisions, then you don't have a strategy yet. You just have some words. So for me, that's where it starts. And that, in the context of a website or a web project, that strategy has to be in support of some higher level strategy, so a set of outcomes that are being created for the organization or there's a sub site elsewhere, the overall strategy for the site. So having clarity on that is really important. And then that helps you do the prioritization. So if this site is critical to contributing revenue in this specific way and that's the most important thing we can do with it, that helps you then triage everything you're going to invest in the site, from the underlying technology to the content that you prioritize and put up front, so which audiences are most relevant and that you're really going to cater to, as well as identifying audiences. Well, it's nice to have audience, but they're not a top priority.

David: (22:03)
So if they need something kind of specific, maybe we don't do that because it's just clutter things up for our primary audience and get in their way. For me with websites, especially working with nonprofits, which can often be a little bureaucratic or a lot bureaucratic, you don't want to introduce friction in the website. So wherever you want them to get to, and I don't mean just navigating, but just if you're trying to get them to submit specific kind of information or to join a grassroots advocacy campaign or to renew their membership or to buy a book, you want to make that flow through as easy as possible and take all the barriers out of their way and really streamline it, which takes work and investment.

David: (22:44)
So having that prioritization allows you understand what do we really need to make that as easy as possible, and where can we just sort of let things maybe ride? If we know the usability's not great there, but it's not worth us investing money fixing that right now, because we need to go invest in this other area. So I [inaudible 00:23:00] answer to your question, but that's how I'd begin to approach it.

Corey: (23:02)
Yeah, absolutely. We talked last month to Erica Hall. We focused in that kind conversation about the research that goes into understanding actual site users. What methods or user research have you found to be, I guess the most helpful in getting internal teams and getting smaller organizations, people who might not have a lot of research capacity? What have you found the most helpful to getting them to stand what users actually want, not just who they are, but what they're looking for when they get to the site?

David: (23:35)
Yeah. Well, first thing I do, especially if you're in a larger organization and you're doing something in your area, go raid for whatever market research is already available in the firm. So there's probably stuff that's been done on whoever you serve or sell to or support. Find all that you can that can help support you as well. But then go talk to some users. Everyone knows how to do Zoom now. If the COVID did one thing for us, it got everyone over that hump. So having online conversations easily with some of your target audience members, it's cheap to do. Usually, you can find some of those contacts. Just talk to them and hear... You could even have them... If you're really getting down into it, you could just watch them try to do something on your website, which is always one of the more aggravating experiences for someone produces websites, sometimes where they click the right button.

David: (24:25)
It's a really huge thing right in the middle of the screen. But it's just to get close to your audience and talk to them. And it doesn't have to be really sophisticated, but think about what questions would be helpful to know, what kind of problems they're trying to solve and how that interacts with you and how you can help them out. If you've got a little bit of resources to do in it, do with it. You can do a set of individual interviews with some folks, and then maybe field the survey to a broader audience based on what you heard in the interviews to dig deeper and validate some of that. And then you could do some focus groups after that to validate some of the stuff that comes out of the survey research, and then you've got a pretty good base of knowledge to use from forming your decisions on the website.

David: (25:06)
But even if you have no money, you can certainly... It's Just some of your time, reaching out and having some conversations with folks. And it's always surprised me how often people don't do that when they're making websites. They just run off of their assumptions, which sometimes are right, but I think in this business or any other business, you always have to test your assumptions and validate them. If you're really experienced and know your audience, you're probably more likely than not on target, but you still need to validate that because things change fast these days and there may be nuances that are creeping up now that you need to deal with or new needs that are taking precedent over what you thought was important for them even just a year ago.

Deane: (25:44)
When I read the book, one of the things that really impressed upon me was taking a step back and trying to figure out the higher purpose for the web property, which I had never really done, right? You build a website because you need a website. And once you start figuring out the higher purpose, in your experience and working with nonprofits, what do you do in a situation where just fundamentally there are competing visions for what the point of the website should be? Is it just the highest paid person wins, or how do you kind of navigate that?

David: (26:13)
Yeah, that's a big question, Deane. I do navigate that all the time, but it took me like 30 years to get really good at it, working in this industry. The work I do now is with just general strategy for associations, so we really try to base our process in research. So we come in and assess the landscape, see where they are, what their priorities have been in the recent years, and then we do research that's relevant to the issues they're likely they need to tackle with their next strategy, because everyone has really highly informed points of view and experience and opinions, which are all really valuable to the process, but you have to [inaudible 00:26:56] that with data, with insights that are based actually in the market, and that helps resolve a lot of those issues.

David: (27:02)
So if there is competing visions for really the direction the site should go in, like should we focus primarily on eCommerce and selling all of our stuff, or should it really primarily be a support for our community of practitioners that are members of our association and help them connect online and share resources? What's the driving forces there?

Deane: (27:24)

David: (27:25)
Helping to facilitate that, taking it back to a top level strategy, validating with the market what they really need can then help you make those decisions. The typical approach for nonprofits and a lot of other organizations will be to have a committee that's in charge of guiding the website, whether it's a staff committee or old days, you'd often have a committee of members that would be really working on the website with the association. And you often end up with a lowest common denominator approach then. Everybody gets a little bit of something on the plate, on the list of priorities, and you end up with 50 of them.

Deane: (27:56)
Well, this is how we ended up with image carousels on the homepage, I think.

David: (27:59)
Exactly. Yeah. They're just these horrible compromises. So strategies about changing, strategies about choice, strategy about priority, and you'd be so much... Any organization would be so much better off by trying to do two or three things with their website at the highest level of excellence and success they can that contribute to the organization than trying to serve everybody and give a little bit to everyone

Deane: (28:24)
In my role here at Optimizly, I drift into product management a bit. And I've learned that the question is never, "Can we do this thing?" Because we have incredibly talented people and we can do anything. The question is always, what are we not going to do to do this thing? And so you have to figure out it's not what you're going to do. It's what you're getting decide not to do is the trick

David: (28:46)
And associations are notoriously bad at ending things. So usually every program or service has at least a few stakeholders left in the community of members that will advocate for it. And by ending that, volunteer leaders who have to approve that typically don't want to upset their colleagues and friends. So associations are always adding stuff, they're very rarely taking things off the plate, and that will often influence their websites too. So just stuff gets added and added and added and then things won't necessarily get cleaned out or refreshed over time. Or the website reflects that incredibly broad set of initiatives on programs that are going on and makes them harder to navigate, harder to be successful for the most important items.

Corey: (29:28)
I want to ask this, because I think it's actually really... I find this really fascinating. And David, I think you run into this probably more often, being a consultant to all these different organizations. And also in your experience as somebody who went into an industry I assume you didn't know a lot about before you jumped into it, how important do you think the idea of domain knowledge is? In other words, what do you need to know about a specific industry in order to actually provide useful feedback?

David: (29:58)
Right. Well, when I interviewed for that job, someone asked me what my opinion was on hiring someone from the discipline versus a professional. And I said, "Well, obviously I'm biased, but you have plenty of entomologists running around here already. You don't need one more." But yeah, I think to your question, the 80/20 rule really applies. For stuff like association management strategy or web strategy, building websites, you need to have enough knowledge to understand the client and their needs and their outcomes. But beyond that, your value you're contributing is much more the domain of how to make really excellent websites that work really well for their users. So I think 20% on kind of the domain knowledge of the client or the customers, whoever you're serving, the industry, sounds right. And then, but 80% of it that you're going to bring is you and your expertise in creating really effective online platforms, tools, systems, programs, websites, you name it.

Corey: (30:51)
Yeah, that sounds right. I realized I wrote an article about this. It is now 11 years ago, which is a very long time ago, again, the very opening days of this. And I think I had interviewed a bunch of other of people about this specific topic and it always came back down to, as long as you have the people around you who can help you fill in those gaps, your goal is to essentially take their knowledge and adapt it to essentially the concepts of web strategy or whatever it happens to be.

David: (31:18)
Well, it's really, at its best, it's a partnership with a client, and they help provide all of that expertise. They know the domain, the industry deeply. And when you partner with them effectively, you can bring all of that to bear on the project. So you bring your insights and tools and skills and knowledge that they don't have, or don't have in depth, but partner with them and they provide the other side of that equation to make sure you're really serving whatever their outcomes are well.

Deane: (31:41)
So Corey, you were talking about an article you wrote 11 years ago, and I just want to check in. Are you one of those narcissists that refers all the time to writing that they've done in the past? I just want... Is that where you're coming from, I mean, because I really hate those people.

Corey: (31:54)
I only five articles. I can't jump into every single conversation with, "Oh, I wrote a Gachatopia post about this." For listeners who don't know what Gachatopia is, because it's not a thing anymore-

Deane: (32:03)

Corey: (32:04)
... Gachatopia was Deane's blog forever, up until maybe three years ago, four years ago. You finally shut it down, saved the posts you wanted to save, of which there are probably still thousands that you still refer to in every conversation.

Deane: (32:18)
There are. There are. So what we always do here is, towards the end of these interviews, we ask our guests, what do you want to promote? And I guess in saying that, tell us a bit about your position at... It's McKinley, not McKinsey, right?

David: (32:35)
Correct. McKinley Advisors, and firm's has been around for about 30 years. We work only with associations and related organizations. And we're a advisory services firm so we do everything from strategy and innovation to organizational development, organizational excellence, which for association is often around their governance or how their staff are structured and supporting their outcomes. We have a pretty robust research and insights team that does our research, both survey research with members, interviews, as well as doing secondary work and other kinds of studies. And then finally, we have a business transformation line, which really looks at the business of the association, how they make money to support their mission, and making sure that's performing as it needs to or if it needs to refresh or generate some new revenues, helping them with that.

Deane: (33:26)
David, you gifted me with this book, which has been very influential on my career, and my gift back to you was I introduced you to CrossFit. And I just need to check in. How's that going?

David: (33:39)
Oh Deane, it's not going well. I had a big break with COVID and I got sick with it early on and haven't gotten back. I did go back, but then I immediately had a couple of injuries, which was primarily me being stupid. [crosstalk 00:33:55] but I'm still [inaudible 00:33:57]. Yeah. I know. Well, yeah, stuff breaks now pretty quickly. So I'm still figuring out the fitness side of things and where I'm going to go there. I miss CrossFit, but I'm not sure if that's still going to be a part of my life going forward.

Corey: (34:12)
You've moved from CrossFit into watercolor painting, I believe now.

Deane: (34:16)
Yes, I've noticed your art.

David: (34:18)
Yeah, yeah. No, I picked up painting a few years ago and have been really having a lot of fun with that. It doesn't have the same health benefits, but... Well, mental health, actually, it helps quite a bit with that.

Corey: (34:27)
Seems a lot more chill than anything I've ever seen from CrossFit.

David: (34:31)
Yeah. Well, I like doing activities that enable my brain to decouple from whatever my work is, because usually that's just always spinning. And so CrossFit is excellent at decoupling your brain from any conscious thought, other than trying to [inaudible 00:34:45] and-

Deane: (34:46)
A lack of oxygen is tough.

David: (34:47)
Yeah, exactly. But art does the same for me without it being quite as physically strenuous. So you're focusing on the art and trying to capture an image, and at least for me, it let's my mind turn off the business side.

Deane: (35:01)
Well, I think we can wrap this one up. David, thanks so much for joining us. It's been [crosstalk 00:35:05]

Corey: (35:05)
Yeah, I appreciate it, David.

David: (35:06)
Yeah. Thank you both. Your book is excellent. I should have mentioned that earlier. I really enjoyed reading it and I know it's going to help a lot of people out there.

Corey: (35:12)
That's why we had you on, is to say that.

David: (35:15)
You're just going to take that piece, right? That's it.

Corey: (35:23)
Deane, we're back. That was David Gammel.

Deane: (35:26)
David's awesome. Great guy. Wonderful guy. Really have connected with him on a personal level for a couple of decades now, and it was just really wonderful to kind of bring this whole thing full circle. So he taught us so much over the years, very indebted to him for the influence he had on both bear careers, really.

Corey: (35:44)
I don't know if it was on the recording or not, but you talked to him about a pig restaurant you went to in Washington DC. One of the meals I remember the most was with David, and I believe Peter, who is a contact at a client called, or... I think you mentioned it, the College of Nurses of Ontario. He took us to a traditional Greek restaurant. I don't know if you remember this and it was one of the best things I've ever written in my life.

Deane: (36:06)
Yes. I won't say Peter's last name because he doesn't know anything about this podcast at the moment, but Peter is Greek full-blooded Greek. His parents came over from Greece, I believe. And Peter took to a Greek restaurant on the Danforth in Toronto and we just made absolute pig of ourselves. It was fantastic.

Corey: (36:24)
David said something that I thought was really interesting, and that was that strategy is a decision making framework. I wrote it down. That's the only thing I wrote down. I don't want to say it blew my mind because I'm not a good strategist to act like I didn't know that already, but having it sort of summed up in that way as the best definition of heard of what strategy is.

Deane: (36:41)
Yeah. I agree with that. And the sad fact is that human beings, and especially associations, are terrible at making decisions, terrible at coming to a concise plan of action, and to have some kind of framework to guide that decision makes it easier. Organization decisions are never... You're never a hundred percent on any of them. I mean, if you get to 90% good for you, but to have some framework to guide that makes it a little bit easier to swallow.

Corey: (37:07)
The momentum that comes with we've always done this this way. I was on a board of directors for the South Dakota Humanities Council, and for years, we just kept doing a thing because we had always done it. It's one of the things that the humanities council always did, until we had one board member who just said, "Do we still need to do this?" And it was that moment that somebody helped us make a decision in one direction. We're like, "No, actually we don't have to do this and no one will care if it's gone." It's just a bunch of work that we're working on and nobody cares about it.

Deane: (37:38)
Here's one of the reasons why I think that happens. I've been on a couple boards as well. I was a trustee at the local seminary. And one of the things with boards is you tend to want to pay homage to the prior board, right? There's no external kind of business necessity for you. Companies have it easy because you're kind of slaved revenue, or whatever. Creases revenue is good. Whereas when you're on a nonprofit board, the wisdom of the board, you want to pay respect to that and not insult that by abandoning something. And so nobody wants to step forward and say, "Well, this prior board was completely screwed up," because you probably know them at some level, and there's no external revenue driver for you to be really mercenary about it. So people kind of tiptoe around things. And yeah, at some point, you should just step up and say, "This is a terrible idea and we should stop doing this."

Corey: (38:28)
Well, that's our show. Thanks to our guest David Gammel, author of Online and On Mission, Practical Web Strategy For Breakthrough Results. The Web Project Guide is a product of Blend Interactive, a web strategy design and development shop that builds websites and guides teams through complicated web and content problems from content strategy and design to CMS implementation and support. We are dedicated to making great things for the web, and this podcast is one of those things. Did you know, Deane, and by this point I assume you know, but will continue to mention this, the web project guide is also a book?

Deane: (38:57)
It is. I'm vaguely familiar with the book. I haven't read it. I hear it's good.

Corey: (39:01)
It's a real one. It's a real book. Last month, we talked about how it is great at pressing tofu, and this month I want to talk about the great cover, the great art. Sam Otis, Blend's lead designer, made this actually a thing people want to buy, which we are endlessly thankful for.

Deane: (39:18)
Sam did a wonderful job on the website, and all the art was original. What I find great about Sam is that he doodles, physically doodles with pencil and paper for fun. It's not just digital for him. And so the art, I believe, originated on paper, and then he turned it into digital, and he remains the most talented designer I've ever worked with.

Corey: (39:40)
Well, you can order it and see it for yourself at webproject.guide or you can order it internationally on Amazon. We urge you to do that. This is episode six of the Web Project Guide, which also corresponds with chapter six of the book, Identify Outcomes and Expectations. You can visit webproject.guide/expectations for even more resources on this topic. And if you like this topic, we suggest checking out last month's episode on researching site audiences with Erica Hall. She's the best. David's the best. All of our guests are the best guests we've ever had. In fact, I believe that's what we say every time we come back from the interview.

Deane: (40:11)
What does that make you and me?

Corey: (40:12)
We are conduits for better people to [inaudible 00:40:17]

Deane: (40:16)
Conduits for greatness, that's what we are.

Corey: (40:19)
While you're there checking out those old episodes, go ahead and slap a subscribe or a five star review on the old podcast feed. We love recording this podcast. Deane, last month, again, you said, "I think we're good at this." Maybe you're right, but we'll never know unless you, the listener, tell us, so-

Deane: (40:35)
Well, I mean, after our conversation, you don't write a book for yourself, you don't do a web project for yourself. Do you do a podcast for yourself, because I'm entertained by this podcast?

Corey: (40:43)
We might do this podcast for ourselves, but we won't let anyone else know.

Deane: (40:47)
We might.

Corey: (40:47)
Anyway, share it, talk about it. We appreciate that in advance. And anyway, we'll be back next month to talk about understanding the content that you have to work with at the start of a project. That's all from us. Until then, go do amazing things.

Deane: (40:59)
Good luck.