Appendix B Episode 4, text is present that reads, "Avoiding the Procurement Blues."
Episode 4 -

Avoiding the Procurement Blues

Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B, candid conversations about Higher Ed in 10 minutes or less. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.

Kristin Van Dorn: So one thing that a lot of organizations don’t think through entirely when they’re purchasing new software or they’re planning for their marketing tech stack is what the staff user experience is gonna be like inside these tools.

And if your product is ugly or inefficient or tough to learn, difficult to remember where things go, how often people enter that tool will totally depend on whether or not they enjoy it, and if the experience of updating a component or moving something around is easy and intuitive, or if it’s something that’s unadjustable and challenging.

Joel Goodman: Yeah, so we see this with content management systems and a lot of times when I’ve done consulting on CMS procurements for different colleges, I’ll basically just say outright that every CMS is the same because every CMS does the same thing like you’re gonna get, you’re gonna put something into it, content, and you’re gonna get a website out of it, and that’s what it is.

But the thing that makes the difference is whether you, the experience of actually managing that website, of entering that content, of creating new pages or moving pages around, or doing, you know, the day-to-day stuff that you need to do as someone that’s producing a website. If that experience is no good, then that deeply affects the processes, the happiness of how you’re gonna use it.

And there are a lot of not great software out there. There are a lot of tools out there that make these big promises about being able to enable your team to do all kinds of stuff. But once you get to the point of, of launching these things and trying to adopt them, you just find that the day to day of using it, the stuff that’s gonna, you know, the more mundane stuff that comes after the fancy sales pitch about how cool everything is, that kind of will drag your team down and make your processes way less efficient than, well, maybe not less efficient than they were before, but definitely less efficient than you were hoping they would be when you rolled out the tool.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah, so team adoption is a difficult thing when you’re changing up workflow patterns and you’re adding new features or new abilities, people can get really excited about it when it first rolls out.

But if it’s a process that’s gonna take extra work or it’s gonna look different for a while, or it’s taking away a feature that they really liked, that product adoption can be a really difficult change management process for teams to undergo. And so we have to think carefully about adding in these new products or changing them around on staff because staff develop routines and consistency.

And now we’re providing them with a different environment where they have different expectations and different data coming in and different content going out. And they have to figure out how they’re gonna plan that out in terms of their day and their sense of autonomy and their sense of partnership and collaboration with other staff and if your tool isn’t set up to help them leverage the skills that they already have, then they’re gonna get really frustrated by it and kind of disengaged from the work in general.

Joel Goodman: So on the UX front, Kristin, cause you do lots of UX research, like, would you agree? Like it’s, it’s really hard for a product to just, a UX that transcends that, I guess that learning curve that comes with adopting a new system. Like, it’s really rare to have someone that has designed such an intuitive, well thought out UX, that a team just immediately gets it and everyone says, oh, this is so much better. You know?

I mean, maybe, maybe with a time gap, but like, that’s rare, right?

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. Well, and I think it’s particularly rare in Higher Education because as all of you listeners know, we are full of jargon and we have all different things that we call our own assets. So one team might call them program pages and another team might call them department pages, and another team might call them majors or you know, like, so how you set that up in terms of CMS is gonna vary wildly.

And so if your CMS is calling them like content management workflows, but your internal team has developed this entire language around how they refer to things between each other and it’s never gonna match that CMS.

It’s gonna take a long time for people to adjust to that change. You’re gonna find faculty that are gonna insist on calling it what it was ten years ago, and a new staff member is gonna not have any idea what they’re talking about. An old staff member is gonna have to decode it for them. It’s part of the frustration of just being in an environment where we have this likelihood of developing our own vocabulary for these items, it’s gonna transcend the tool.

So your best bet is to find a tool that can help accommodate that without requiring a lot of development or carrying over a lot of tech debt for your specific instance.

Joel Goodman: And we, and we see a lot in Higher Ed, this tendency to get caught up in, I guess like the promises, the shiny promises that every tech company, you know, kind of puts forward, so that you will buy it.

Like it’s very kind of the, I don’t wanna say Higher Ed’s gullible, but it’s that sales pitch that’s just entirely too enticing and doesn’t really get to those realities of what the product might be on a day-to-day standpoint. But you get into it and you end up sinking all this cash into rolling something out, and then everyone hates it.

And then, or, you know, it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do because you worked with a bad partner or you know, you don’t have the staff internally to maintain it. You don’t have the funding to hire the staff to maintain it going forward, but you end up spending all this money on something new and shiny and then you feel kind of stuck because of it and with budget cycle, sure, why not? You know?

But I think it’s, it’s part of why Higher Ed has this tendency, even on like web redesign fronts, to go through a redesign every four to five years. It’s dump a bunch of money into it, and then you don’t have the people on staff to maintain and to really pay attention to what’s going on, you may have the staff to use it. I mean, they may hate the cms, they may hate that side of it. Maybe they’re not. Maybe they like it, but, you know, eventually your website’s not actually doing the things that you we’re trying to make it do when you set it up and then it’s time to rethink the whole thing.

It’s time to switch CMS’s or, you know, redesign the website or buy a new thing to go on it. And it, it’s just this cycle because I don’t know like what, like the root cause of that. What do you think the root cause of that is? Is it naivety? Is it like, Just not having the expertise on staff to be able to see through it? I don’t know.

Kristin Van Dorn: Well, I think it’s a couple of things, so let’s put CMS aside for a second. Sure. Let’s just talk about any tech adoption. I think that there is, a lot that can be discovered and accounted for in a robust planning process. And the more you plan, the better off you’re gonna be, but the problem is, is that oftentimes when it comes to buying a new tech product, we turn that over to non-experts.

We turn that over to procurement and they do an RFP process and they help you pick out the product that you’re going to use. But it’s driven by different factors and less about staff usability. And so what I usually recommend is doing usability at the product purchasing level so that you can really get a sense for what that administrator backstage side looks like.

How robust is it? How easy or intuitive is it to pick up right off the bat? And then where are the places where you have the power and the ability to make adjustments on your own versus what is it gonna take some developer time to. The other piece of it, I think, is that we don’t think fully through the integration process of some of these tools.

So oftentimes we’ll purchase them with this big promise of this, integrates with this software or that software, but we haven’t set up the disciplined framework for how we’re going to run those integrations so that overall we get a workflow that makes sense to staff.

Carl Gratiot: Thanks for listening to Appendix B. Our theme music is by Joel Goodman himself, and if you’ve got thoughts or opinions, we’d love for you to share them with us. You can do so at Apple Podcasts, or if you have telekinesis, you can use that too. Also, be sure to check out our newsletter at bravery.fyi, and we will be back next week.

Thanks!