Best Practices for (Nearly Perfect) Standards

There are no perfect sets of standards, but you can come close with these tips.

Kristina Podnar
January 4, 2018

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, a corporate digital marketing team created a brand new, shiny website. It had the most resonant of branding, ideal tone and voice, a content management system second to none, and a documented set of standards that made all other corporate digital marketing teams red with envy. The standards covered a broad range of topics on how to operate the digital asset, from colors and fonts, to taxonomy and metadata, quality testing, and cloud hosting details.

The reason this sounds like a fairy tale is that it is. While there are brand new, shiny websites, there are no perfect sets of standards. We’ve worked with many private and public sector organizations, of different sizes, and across different industries. They have all had varying levels of success with standards, but none of them were perfect. I decided to create a list of best practices—things they did right—which added together, should provide you with a road map to creating the nearly perfect, real-life set of standards.

  1. Ensure you have the right people involved in the standards process. If necessary, whittle down the number by performing an input and decision-making exercise as part of the digital governance framework definition. If you are struggling with this step, you might need external help.
  2. When starting out, start small and don’t expect flawlessness. Set these expectations with everyone involved in the process, preferably by establishing a pilot standards effort.
  3. Initiate 5 to 10 standards (the larger number being appropriate for large enterprises) and focus on getting them through the entire standards lifecycle: define, disseminate, implement, measure.
  4. Prioritize the standards based on what is important to the business to succeed online.
  5. Define the standards in plain English via a simple standards template. If you don’t know have an existing template, read more in this recent blog post Contents of a Good Digital Standard.
  6. Associate your standards with metrics and how you will read out on the adoption and application of standards, as well as their business value to the organization.
  7. Place your standards in a central repository where everyone can easily access them. The preferred mechanisms for posting standards online is in a wiki, a wizard/decision tree tool, or a searchable knowledge repository.
  8. Where possible, incorporate your standards into existing tools. For example, add names of products and corporate individuals to the spellcheck dictionary of content development tools, limit titles to 63 characters in your content management system, or define all color options via a CSS.
  9. Communicate how the standards came into existence, why they are good for the organization, and how they can be applied in the process of everyday work. Do this in alignment with a communications plan, one that incorporates change management practices.
  10. Set up training to educate digital workers on how to adopt the standards. Record training sessions, offer sessions at different times and on different days and make the training very accessible. (One company I worked with played 3-minute training and tips videos in the employee lunch room for staff to passively listen to while eating lunch. The success rate was over 78% awareness of the standards!)
  11. Create an FAQ to support the standards and update it regularly. Provide staff ways to contact you with questions and answers. Add these to the FAQs as appropriate and socialize questions and answers to others in the digital community.
  12. Collect feedback on the usefulness and clarity of standards. Listen to the feedback and modify the standards and your support of them based on the feedback.
  13. Measure your standards adoption and adherence, and report out regularly. Look for opportunities to reward good behavior and, where standards are not being followed, try to understand why. Additional training, resources, or communications may be necessary in order to support your standards efforts.
  14. Focus on maintaining your standards going forward, including updating them based on triggers such as a change in policy or technology. Standards are living practices and they can easily become out-of-date or plain wrong.

Hopefully, this will get you off to a good start to your standards set, but if you are still stuck or have a question, please get in touch and we can talk about ways to get you on track.

Photo by Billy Pasco 

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