Toledo, Ohio, has just about the friendliest taxi drivers you'll ever meet. |
On the 3 0-odd-mile trek between the airport and town, they'll regale you with descriptions of their beloved city's high points. Did you know, for example, that Toledo has one of the largest collections of glass art in the United States? Or that it hosts the biggest conventions for fans of remote-controlled cars and airplanes? Toledo also lays claim to the title of U.S. city with the most restaurants per capita (although driving through the near-abandoned downtown at 7:3 0 p.m., you'd be hard pressed to believe it).
One Toledo asset the drivers don't generally mention is Owens Corning Imaging(www.owenscorning.com), or "OC," as it is affection-ately known by the local populace. Sandwiched between the main drag and the Maumee River, this $3 .8-billion manufacturer of building materials, pipe and glass fiber is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which are its global reach and diversified array of products, including patented pink insulation and the glass composites used in more than 40,000 composite products ranging from skis to fiber-optic cables. But Owens Corning is also of interest to companies creating Web sites because its experiences exemplify the cross that cross-functional teams and the individuals who lead them must sometimes bear.
It's obvious, of course, that Web efforts make bedfellows of IS and marketing. But as the Web's functions and benefits become more evident, marketing and IS aren't the only ones fighting over the blankets. Increasingly, cross-functional Internet or intranet teams involve everyone from the CEO to employees from manufacturing or accounts receivable. Outside organizations such as Web development companies and advertising agencies frequently play a part as well.
Despite the warm words of praise Web team members heap on one another in public forums, these new work relationships generally don't lead to weekend barbecues and invitations to become godparents. Rather, the process of hammering out a site's purpose, scope and design among people with different agendas and backgrounds can be a frustrating experience. No one knows that better than the Web champions at OC.
It all beganwith Craig Landwehr, OC's technology application leader for marketing services and the protagonist of our tale. A jack of many trades-he was a mechanical engineer, marketing MBA and, most recently, a five-year IS veteran-Landwehr wasn't terribly knowledgeable about the Web when he became OC's first webmaster equivalent. But he did have a passion for it.
In fall 1995, Landwehr and a few of his colleagues began discussing a redesign of OC's existing site, a boring, static thing containing mostly financial information that had been launched by the CFO and CIO earlier that year. The group envisioned a site that was so appealing and content-rich that it would open up previously untapped markets. Several months later, they were ready to present that vision to CEO and board Chairman Glen H. Hiner.
Their plans would require a substantial investment, and Landwehr suspected that most of OC's executives weren't familiar enough with the Web to understand its potential value. To educate them and drum up enthusiasm, he scheduled a special "Internet Day," during which the Web site champions took Hiner, 10 business unit presidents and seven executive vice presidents on a surfing tour. Landwehr's group spent the weekend before Internet Day making sure the network wouldn't crash. Hiner, a man hell-bent on dragging his company into the 21st century, was impressed. Convinced of the Web's potential, he granted Landwehr's request for a $3 00,000 budget.
But Hiner remained apprehensive about the unfamiliar medium, the potential personnel security risks it posed and, above all, the possibility that "Owens Corning would embarrass [itself] out there," recalls Landwehr. Inadequate as OC's current site was, at least it was a known quantity that didn't jeopardize the company's image.
The initiative's timing, falling as it did in the middle of a whirlwind of change, was perfect. Prior to Hiner's arrival in 1992, OC hadn't introduced a new product in 10 years. Under his leadership, the company began shedding its conservative culture and developing new products ranging from stronger glass fibers to soundproof insulation. It also started to pursue market opportunities in Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, Europe and Latin America. Meanwhile, employees in Toledo were getting ready to move from a sterile high-rise to funky, state-of-the-art headquarters across the street. And for the first time in OC's history, its departmental computer systems and IS staff were being integrated into a single SAP system as part of the company's efforts to prepare for business in the next millennium.
With Hiner's uneasy blessing, Landwehr began assembling the core Web design team. Among the first on board was Karen L. Strauss, director of marketing communications for building materials sales and distribution. Strauss was the left-brain counterpart to Landwehr's right-brain approach, says Landwehr. Charged with protecting the OC brand, she envisioned a bold, splashy site that departed from the company's traditional conservatism.
"We were far too analytical and verbose [the first time around]," Strauss says. Her basic concept fit with that of fellow team members David McGuinness, a vice president of production at Internet business solutions provider Proxicom Inc. (www.proxicom.com), and Jeff Durski, vice president and management supervisor of advertising agency Fahlgren Inc. (www.fahlgren.com).
Despite their agreement on the goals for the site, each team member added his or her own spin.
McGuinness, whose company was commissioned to provide the Web expertise that OC lacked, favored advanced interactivity with Java and all the latest bells and whistles. He also presumed that Proxicom's extensive Web background-the company had been creating award-winning sites for clients such as the L'Eggs product division of Sara Lee Corp. since 1991- made it the natural leader for the project.
Web novice Durski, on the other hand, figured that Fahlgren would lead the venture because the agency was so familiar with OC's brand image, having worked with OC on its traditional advertising venue since 1994. As far as Durski was concerned, OC should simply duplicate on the Web its existing media and print ads. "If Fahlgren had had their way, they'd have made the whole thing a picture with few words thrown in," says OC's vice president of investor relations, Rhonda L. Brooks, who was at the time vice president of marketing for composites.
A different concept for the site was advocated by the business leaders of OC's building materials division. The division, which is responsible for roofing, insulation and specialty products (and customer service for those products' buyers), was represented by C. Steven Smoot, director of business systems for the North American building materials sales and distribution unit (now director of customer information services). Smoot acknowledges that at the time he had no appreciation for the technological possibilities of the Internet and a "fairly uncreative, functional but professional" vision for the site. In fact, he would have been content to post, word for word, his division's existing product data sheets so that surfers could have access to every bit of information they needed.
Such an approach was anathema to business leaders on the composites side, however; they were leery of posting detailed product information, thinking it would give other companies too much competitive intelligence. Another disagreement arose when Brooks advocated creating a separate URL for the composites pages. Ultimately, Brooks was overruled, and it was decided that OC's "spokes-critter," the Pink Panther, would introduce surfers to OC as a single corporate identity.
After agreeingon the site's structure, the team had to decide who their target audience would be. On the building materials side, OC's biggest customers are the Home Depots of the world; the composites division, meanwhile, caters to businesses that use the company's glass fiber to make new products. Strauss and her marketing group wanted to reach the consumer market, but the salespeople in both divisions expected the site to serve their professional clients.
In addition, Database Marketing Specialist Paul Baker, keeper of OC's consumer databases-which are compiled from such documents as request and warranty cards- hoped to use the site to gather as much information about consumers as possible. He insisted that OC would benefit by requiring guests to answer pages of questions. Fahlgren's Durski, on the other hand, was horrified at how that process would encumber navigation and design.
Meanwhile, the salespeople in the roofing and asphalt division weren't sure they wanted their products to be represented on a new site at all. "Roofing is a beauty sell," explains Sue D. Burkett, marketing communications leader for roofing and asphalt. "We spend a lot of money making sure our printed materials reflect the right color of our roofing tiles, otherwise our salespeople get harassed. But the color is even more off on an Internet site."
Convinced at last that each business unit had to be part of the site for it to accurately represent OC as a whole, members of the roofing division wanted the site to be as interactive as possible. For example, they suggested attracting people by offering a calculator that would help determine how many packages of shingles would be needed for a new roof. But that would require that users input the measurements of their roofs, and the plan was dropped for fear that some impetuous customers might hurt themselves trying to crawl on top of their houses with tape measures.
Someone then proposed creating a tool that would let visitors figure out how much insulation to buy for building projects-a less risky activity. The team agreed that building a calculator for the insulation pages was a great idea that should be pursued in a later iteration of the site. At the time, such a project would require too many resources: Certain employees would have to spend many hours calculating algorithms and exceptions (what would happen, for example, if the customer was using metal studs instead of wood or had an eight-foot wall instead of a nine-foot one?).
While most of those people eventually would be called on to participate in the site in some way, the team felt that it didn't make sense to pull them off their regular tasks for the launch effort. They also had to consider people's feelings. OC's employees were still reeling from the changes of the previous years, Strauss says, and the Web site was just one more thing many didn't want to deal with.
Furthermore, Landwehr had to be careful not to overextend his resources or create a shoddy product that would discredit the company. Although Hiner kept his distance throughout the Web planning process, his presence-and concerns-were always in the back of everyone's mind.
One areaof consensus: the need for an e-mail query line that visitors could use to ask questions about OC's products and services. Trouble was, the Jacksonville, Fla., company that answers OC's 800-GET-PINK line, AT&T American Transtech Inc. (the company has since changed its name to AT&T Solutions Customer Care), was apprehensive about taking on this new responsibility. And the prospect wasn't sweetened when OC argued that it shouldn't have to pay much more money because its existing contract was sufficient to cover e-mail queries, says Terri Previte, corporate communications leader for the Answer Center and interactive marketing.
AT&T Solutions Customer Care specializes in telephone call centers, and all of its technology is telephone-related. Not surprising, the company didn't relish upgrading its computer systems with e-mail and network functionality on behalf of a single client. In the end, OC paid for the setup expenses, says Karen Barbone, service manager at AT&T Solutions Customer Care. "Even though we are AT&T, this was a different function," she says. "We had partnered with Owens Corning since 1983 but only to offer call function-
Ality, not to manage communications from a Web site."
At the time, few large companies had outsourced their customer e-mail function, so AT&T Solutions Customer Care couldn't benchmark against others to see what such a responsibility would entail. And given the complexity of OC's business, Barbone worried about establishing ways her reps could get the questions they couldn't answer to the appropriate OC employees. As always, liability issues were a concern: What if somebody followed the directions laid out in an e-mail and hurt themselves as a result? "We wanted to resolve process and procedures and understand the turnaround time commitments, not only for us but for the people in Owens Corning who would be responsible for answering questions," says Barbone. "We needed to be sure that the process, training and buy-in on the part of OC employees was in place."
Says Landwehr: "Our philosophy was, geesh, if you're answering questions over the phone, you ought to be able to do it over e-mail. But the truth, and it took us awhile to find it out, is that the [outsourcer's representatives] didn't have e-mail skills. Many of them didn't even have computers."
With disharmony on so many subjects, OC's Web project might have seemed headed toward gridlock, or at least a missed delivery date or bloated budget. But in just four months, the team peacefully resolved its differences and launched a colorful (including healthy doses of OC's trademark pink), easily navigable site full of practical how-to information on home improvements, repair and maintenance, in addition to the company's product and financial information. The project also came in under budget.
So how did they pull it off?
The main thing that helped OC avoid delays and irreconcilable differences was sitting down at the beginning of the process and hashing out the project's purpose, scope and time frame, Landwehr says. In March 1996, the team decided the site would be up and running no later than July 1996.
"Across the company, we had to put the stake in the ground and define the scope carefully," says Smoot. "This was not an entitlement site for everyone to put up what they wanted. Because if you're too casual and don't push for closure, then the natural tendency with things this complex is they can unravel."
When a department or person wanted something the rest of the team deemed unreasonable, members simply invoked the deadline as justification for saying no for this phase of the redesign. For instance, Fahlgren's idea to add video clips of OC's TV commercials just didn't make sense for the July deadline. "We still keep a master list of all these great ideas," says Landwehr. "But we keep them in a release fashion, much as Bill Gates would at Microsoft. If we couldn't do something for the first release, we'd use it in the next release."
In addition to establishing and adhering to a schedule, the team identified an ultimate place for the buck to stop. As Web initiative leader, Landwehr had final say in prioritizing tasks, accepting or denying requests and deciding which ideas to pursue. That approach worked because, unlike many of his webmaster counterparts, Landwehr had been granted authority by the CEO, and everybody recognized it. He also got all the funding upfront, preventing the departmental budgeting conflicts so common to cross-functional teams. In addition, the fact that no team had to pay anything out of its own budget made it easier for Landwehr to turn down some of their requests.
Hiring Proxicom to help with development was also a wise move, says Landwehr. The outsourcer's expertise enabled it to predict and avoid the problems that often arise in developing a cross-functional Web site. For example, Proxicom immediately recognized that Fahlgren's proposed content design for the site would never work because it was based on a vertical piece of 8.5-by-11-inch paper, when in fact the Web's orientation is horizontal.
While Landwehr lacked direct Web experience, his business and engineering background proved to be an asset. The people skills and project management experience he gained from overseeing the design of heating and ventilation systems for OC's manufacturing facilities turned out to be vital to the success of the project. Throughout the process, Landwehr ran a tight ship, keeping everyone focused on deadlines with weekly status meetings.
He also tried, whenever possible, to respond to requests by taking at least some aspect of the suggested ideas and showcasing them on the Web to demonstrate why they would-or wouldn't-work. For example, Smoot conceded his data-sheet point when he saw how unappealing they looked posted on the Web in their entirety. Durski, meanwhile, gave in when he saw how long it took to download the complex designs he had favored. Once Brooks saw how easy it was to link to the composites pages from the home page, she cheerfully agreed that it would be best to keep everything under the Owens Corning banner. Even the roofing department made peace with those discolored tiles when it realized how much additional educational information it could now provide to customers.
The group made its decision about the site's target audience on the basis of practicality. "We already had a lot of things for the consumer, so we didn't have to create anything new," says Strauss. "For the professional audience, [we knew] we'd need more than just information and interactivity. We didn't have [the resources to create those yet], so we went for the low-hanging fruit to start with." By repurposing existing content and not getting carried away with new features, the team avoided making unwelcome demands on employees not involved in the Web effort.
Another strategy Landwehr employed to avoid potentially crippling clashes was to schedule team-building and socializing time right off the bat. Because OC's old headquarters wasn't equipped with many collaboration spaces-much less computers with Internet access-scheduling time and finding a space with the right equipment was no small task. Until they moved into their new headquarters, they just made do. Even McGuinness was required to fly in from Virginia to participate in those early social functions. "It's a fundamental law of human nature that if you can't relate to somebody on the other end of an e-mail, you're not going to trust them," says Landwehr.
When team members encountered seemingly insurmountable problems, they would isolate themselves until they reached a compromise. For example, Baker and Durski couldn't agree on how many questions to ask site visitors, so Landwehr "locked them in a room and made them work it out," he says. Including a registration process in the Panther Place chat room eventually emerged as the compromise. When two sides just couldn't agree-such as Fahlgren and Proxicom's conflicting claims to leadership-Landwehr stepped in and made the final decision. In that case, he determined that Proxicom would lead Web development, but Fahlgren would have final creative say.
Landwehr also settled the service issue: He convinced AT&T Solutions Customer Care that equipping itself to answer clients' e-mail queries was a strong strategic move. Landwehr worked with the company's IS department to set up a bridge between the two organizations and provided six of the outsourcer's reps with Internet training as well as training in OC's products and organizational structure. He made several trips to Jacksonville to ensure everything was in order, and Previte continues to visit there nearly every week. To quell worries about customers receiving inaccurate advice via e-mail, the team instituted a process in which call-center reps would forward any out-of-the-ordinary questions to OC employees, who would make sure they got answered correctly. Once the escalation issue was settled, AT&T Solutions Customer Care "enthusiastically rose to the challenge," Landwehr recalls.
There are many chapters yet to be written in the life of OC's Web site as the company fine-tunes its creation, making it more interactive and better balanced between the consumer and professional markets. As the Web team's work becomes increasingly sophisticated, word may spread and the site may take on the reputation for excellence coveted by so many corporate denizens of cyberspace. Who knows, maybe the next time you're in Toledo, your cab driver will tell you about it.
Senior Writer Jennifer Bresnahan can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Playing Well With Others
Some tips for keeping life pleasant on a cross-functional Web team
Hash out the purpose, scope and time frame at the beginning of the process.
Stick to deadlines.
Keep it simple.
Save more ambitious ideas for future iterations.
Outsource the technical component.
Prototype ideas on the Web.
Schedule socializing and team-building time early in the process.
Empower the webmaster to make the final call on personnel and resource-allocation conflicts.
Software and Technology
OC's site runs on a Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris server hosted by MCI Communications Corp. Its customer query function uses Microsoft Corp.Exchange's e-mail program. Other software includes Sun's Java, Macromedia Inc.'s Shockwave and Apple Computer Inc.'s QuickTime VR.