Launching a new website, unveiling a new program, building a new team; these are exciting, career-defining, moments that deserve celebration.
However, when building new things, we rarely think about how they will one day outlive their usefulness. But that end-of-life moment is as important as the launch, and thinking about our products and services in terms of their full lifecycle will help us build things in a more sustainable, reusable way. As public servants, we must manage our government assets from sunrise to sunset. This requires us to be a responsible steward of federal dollars as well as an empathetic and strategic colleague. Without an off-ramp, products and services can become outdated and stale, neither serving their intended purpose nor ever fully going away.
The lifecycle of a digital product is often harder to manage than a physical product because digital doesn’t take up tangible space. When you don’t see something each day, it can easily languish, without adequate support to stay compliant and useful. And even if a team decides that it’s time to sunset a digital product like a website, they rarely have a map for how to do so compliantly and responsibly, reusing what’s useful and saying goodbye to what’s not.
Digital Lifecycle Program
To fill this need, GSA’s Enterprise Digital Experience team, an internal team working to improve customer experience across GSA’s web portfolio, built a Digital Lifecycle Program, which provides a roadmap and tools to help GSA web teams manage a website throughout its entire lifecycle.
The Digital Lifecycle Program is based on the Requirements and Go-Live Checklist for Federal Public Websites and Digital Services (Excel spreadsheet, 69 KB, 14 tabs)
which was developed by GSA in collaboration with the Federal Web Council.
The Go-Live Checklist is part of the Checklist of Requirements for Federal Websites and Digital Services.
The Digital Lifecycle Program is one part of an ongoing enterprise-wide effort to evolve GSA’s digital properties into a customer-centered ecosystem that works intuitively for both GSA employees and customers. That ecosystem includes:
- Establishing an agency Digital Council and Executive Board to provide oversight and governance,
- Updating internal agency policies to clarify roles and responsibilities for management of digital properties,
- Defining standardized metrics around best practices in web management for senior leaders, and
- Developing appropriate position descriptions for website managers, and ensuring they get credit for their work in their performance plans.
The public trust and equity issues inherent to position descriptions and credit are important, as the public is owed transparent and accountable management of their digital assets, and the people doing web management work deserve the credit for that work.
Four Moments in a Website’s Life
Throughout the development of the Digital Lifecycle Program, the GSA Enterprise Digital Experience team talked to many website teams and stakeholders about their digital management. We focused on those with nontechnical, programmatic backgrounds, to understand how they grapple with digital management and compliance issues. Through these conversations, we came to understand that there are four moments in a website’s life in which a website manager and team need help making decisions and understanding their compliance requirements. We built the Digital Lifecycle Program around these four moments:
- Design and Launch
- Management and Evaluation
- Redesign or Decommission
Each step in the Digital Lifecycle Program leads website managers through the policies and laws with which federal websites must comply. Spacing these requirements so website managers only need to consider those that are pertinent at their particular moment was the most difficult part of building the program, so we collaborated closely with website managers, testing and retesting these steps to launch it in beta, and we continue testing and iterating today.
Now, when a program office thinks they need a new website, the Proposal phase will help them think through what they need to make that site successful. We also instituted a new approval process, so teams must present a business case to, and get approval from, the Executive Board, before they can proceed with development. As they design the site, they have a brief-but-comprehensive Design and Launch checklist to help them know what policies and laws should be top-of-mind prior to launch. As they maintain the site, they can use the Management and Evaluation tools to keep the site compliant. When it starts to outlive its usefulness, or the team supporting it changes shape, the Redesign or Decommission tools will help them make an informed decision as to whether the site should stay live on the internet or be sunset, and guides them through that sunsetting process.
The Digital Lifecycle Program is a work in progress, and probably always will be. The partnership of our GSA website managers, digital leaders, and federal customers is crucial to its success and relevance. The Enterprise Digital Experience team is proud to offer it as a model to others in the federal government. By thinking about sunset even as we plan and launch websites, we can lower administrative burden, stay in compliance with law, and provide amazing customer experiences in GSA’s digital space—and remove outdated, stale products and services.
If you’re a federal agency interested in learning more, please contact the Enterprise Digital Experience team at email@example.com.