School Website Planning: a Critical Question and a Masterclass in Leadership

In a recent conversation with a school regarding an upcoming website build, a senior-level team leader asked an important and insightful question.

It went something like this: “My team is already busy, and I know I’m going to have to give them time to work on the website project for it to be a success. I’ve got to think about what I’m going to take off of them while we focus on this. How much time should we set aside for the website project?”

In most web development conversations, this is a concept we bring up with teams — making time for the project. It’s not that marketing and admissions teams aren’t aware of the time commitment, but they tend to be more focused on design improvements, tech features, content planning, budget constraints, etc., and less mindful of the lift until the project actually gets underway. This leader asked the question early in the process. It was already on her mind.

But what got my attention was not just the timing of the question, nor was it the fact that she brought it up before we did. What I love about her question was the way she framed it. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s take a moment to unpack the learning:

Her question aligns with the mission and vision of the school.

“We need this project to be a success.” Why? Because she wants to connect with more mission-aligned families who can benefit from the education her school provides. To that end, the school’s website is the always-open front door for families exploring their options. It has to convey the right insights and the right information to the right audience in the right format.

Her question conveys her heart for her team.

She knows her team is made up of volunteers. Yes, they’re paid staff members, but they choose to work at that school. She understands her team is already busy with recruitment and retention efforts, and she’s not interested in pushing them to the limit, risking burnout or poor quality work. She wants them to enjoy working with each other at a school that values a healthy culture.

She realizes that developing an excellent school website will require focus.

She understands a school website build is a big project that you can’t fit in around the edges. Her staff will need dedicated blocks of time — both as individuals and as a team — to concentrate exclusively on the website build. (Learn more about preparing for a school website build in this North Star blog post.)

Her question acknowledges a clear division of labor.

“How much time should we set aside for this project?” This implies there is a partnership — a collaborative effort between the agency and the school. The North Star Marketing team will be contributing to the success of the project through our areas of expertise, and her team will be bringing insider knowledge and specific skill sets to the table. The end result will be better because we’re each doing what we do best.

Finally, I love the question because of when it was asked — before the train left the station.

Her question wasn’t asked during the kickoff meeting. We weren’t even in the proposal phase (although we had a shared understanding of the budget range). Before committing to the project, she wanted to know what it would take so she and her team could plan ahead.

The Practical Answer

Now, you may be wondering what my response was to her question: “How much time should we set aside for the website project?” My answer varies based on the size and complexity of the build. As a rule, during the formative stages of the project, be prepared to carve out the equivalent of a full day each week to work on the website, especially during the content development phase. We find it’s helpful to set aside blocks of time to focus on specific deliverables rather than trying to wedge in the thinking, planning, writing, and compiling between other commitments.

Be mindful that your marketing and admissions teams will need to engage other staff members to contribute to their respective areas of expertise. The same rules apply here. Give key stakeholders plenty of advance notice and dedicated blocks of time to contribute to the project.

It's Not About the Website

As I reflected on her question, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago by leadership expert John Maxwell, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.” And I think that’s what stood out to me most. Ultimately, her question wasn’t about the website. It was about getting the information she needed to lead well. It was about clarity and purpose and creating a context in which her team could do their best work. 

I saw in that moment a leadership masterclass in a microcosm — a simple, powerful question that spoke volumes. As an external partner, even having worked with this school for years, I was reminded of how refreshing it is to work with leaders who value not just what gets done but how it gets done. And I’m sure her team appreciated it, too.

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