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Lisa Welchman at Prototypes, Process & Play 2017 (Podcast)

This podcast features Lisa Welchman, Author of ​Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, and her Presentation, “Governing with Intention” from the design leadership conference Prototypes, Process & Play on August 10th, 2017.

Prototypes, Process & Play presentation podcasts are sponsored by Balsamiq – with Balsamiq Mockups, anyone can design great software.

Lisa Welchman – Presentation

Author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design

For the past two decades, the leaders of global 1000 companies, NGOs, and other organizations have turned to Lisa to analyze and solve their digital governance challenges. Lisa also speaks globally on issues related to digital governance, the rise of the Information Age, and diversity in the digital technology sector. Lisa is the author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design published by Rosenfeld Media in 2015.

For more, keep up with Lisa at or on Twitter as @lwelchman.

Governing with Intention

Our digital future is upon us, and we already need more mature approaches toward governing digital channels. We need to be clear about the roles and responsibilities of those who conceive of–and deliver–that which is being consumed online. We also need to be intentional about what is being built; and our design teams will need to be organized to meet the goals of our users. Lisa will focus on the decision-making aspect of digital governance and how organizations and groups can better organize teams to work efficiently, ethically, and creatively.

The first 20 years of digital have focused on growth, technology building, and finding new ways to exploit the capacity of digital. Hopefully, the next 20 will be the beginning of a maturity process where individuals, organizations, and governments will not only continue the expansion of digital, but also thinking more comprehensively about the impact of what is built and delivered.

Presentation Transcript

Please note:

Podcast transcript below.​ Please note: Transcription was recorded live; there may be errors (typographical and contextual), as well as omissions or other content gaffes.

​Additionally,​ there was microphone feedback that happened in the room from time to time, and we did our best to minimize it in the podcasts. We apologize for any disruptions to your listening experience that this may cause.

Lisa Welchman:

I hope you’re doing well. I thought I was in Donna’s spot, but I wasn’t. You’re all juiced up now and I hope you’re really excited to hear about governance. It’s a hot topic. –


Anyhow, I’m Lisa, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about myself and then I want it to be all about you. I’m different. I was telling people last night that the thing I say when I’m around designers is I design teams.

I’m really all about people. I’ve been in and around you all for 20 years and looking at how you work in everyone in the digital media system. I wanted to talk about things that I’ve seen you do that maybe are not the most productive. And then I want to talk to you about what I think is probably your most heartfelt desire at work and tell you how to solve that situation for yourself. And then I’ll be done. Does that sound like a plan?



Lisa Welchman:

So stuff about me. I started out in university as a singer. I’m a lyric soprano. But in any sophomore year of college, even though you’re a music major, they make you take those classes. Psych101 and psychology 101. And I got into philosophy 101. And they say everything is made out of water. Everything is made out of air. Everything is made out of – I was kind of inclined into this direction and I hadn’t bumped into the right set of people. I had this instructor and I was seduced out of my voice/opera major into a philosophy major. This was a good teacher. I left school and did nothing. I worked for the first help maintenance organization in the city of Baltimore. And then I went back and majored in philosophy. And I was really interested in the philosophy of language and the language of intelligence. I wrote my senior dissertation slash senior thesis slash whatever you call it. What was that? 1986. I’m 53. That’s how many years later? Is that 30? 30 years later and we’re still talking about it. This is going to lead to somewhere. They abstract things. They take the meaning off of them and then they manipulate them and prove whether or not their true or false and install the fact. There’s a lot of symbolic logic. I never liked math, but I really liked logic.

And my professor did my physics 101 class. I had a minor in physics. I went to voice opera to philosophy. I did get a boyfriend.


And he like mastered computer science. And I was living in Maryland and he wanted to interact with me via e‑mail. At that time it was the still the ’80s. That was my introduction to the internet. If I wanted to talk to my boyfriend. I never quite figured it out well enough. That’s why that relationship didn’t work.

And then my sister was married to a photographer. Her husband said oh, logic, and the internet, blah, blah, blah, you should learn Prologue. That’s the only one I know. It isn’t particularly useful, but I do know it. I have to talk to I.T. people all the time, so I can go into this quasi‑mind mail with them. And I wear pretty colors so designers like me. I’m all set!


So what caused me to leave grad school was I was in grad school and I was with all of these people working on Ph.D.s in philosophy. They were all men. There was one woman. I didn’t like them. There was nothing. I thought I don’t want to spend the rest of my life around these guys. So at the same time, because I was going to Columbia, they had a relationship with Julliard. I was taking voice classes at Julliard. And my grandfather, God bless his soul, bought me a Mac Plus because I had gotten into grad school. So the intersection of all these things is I decided to make a databases of all the artists that I could sing in Hypercard. And you press the up arrow the scale went up, and if you press the down arrow the scale went down. So that was out of grad school. Did some temp work. And because I had used these machines, I ended up doing early Lotus Notes work at Citi Bank. Whatever it used to be called, it’s not called the other thing now.

They didn’t know who reported to who. They couldn’t ask that basic question. It was sort of a paper chase. So there was this thing called Lotus Notes. And I thought I was going to solve this problem by plotting together some weird Lotus Notes database. Until I got pregnant. So I got married. So I got pregnant. And I had my son, who was very quiet. And – a book on HTML. So with my son strapped to me I learned HTML. That was my first interaction with the World Wide Web. 14.4 modem, Park Slope, before anyone wanted to live there. I wish I bought that house, but I didn’t. [Laughing] I got divorced. And I needed a job. Remember the Netscape website? Needed a real job. Worked for a company called Cisco Systems. Went there and managed the product pages. So if you clicked on products – that was my section. They were multichannel delivery. Printing books and writing HTML from the same pod. It’s a big deal. The person who did that got a prize from the Smithsonian because this was happening in 1995, 1996. I work with institutions that still can’t do multichannel delivery.

I got to see big bad digital early. And I got to see that even though Cisco Systems had every single interest in having the internet work really well and understood the power of the internet because they make things that made the internet run, right? Or make us be able to use the internet that they couldn’t really manage their website at all. And then the executives didn’t really have any idea what to do with the technology. Yes, they knew how to monetize it. But inside, managerially, I.T. and marketing. Sound familiar. Who owns this? Who gets to be the one who controls the software, download pages. All these sorts of fights. What is that home page going to look like? What colors. Somebody mentioned earlier this morning about right hand versus left hand navigation. We tested it. It tested better on the right side. Somehow it ended up on the left. You can see by ’96‑97 somehow it ended up on the left. But right tested better.

Anyhow, I figured around 1999 that if Cisco really didn’t know how to manage the web and were fighting about it, then probably nobody else would and there would be a business model. And I could get rich and go do whatever else I was going to do.

Here we are 20 years later and organizations still have these really large problems, which is we have all of this stuff that we put online and we have a huge team of people inside the organization that are putting those things online. And we kind of are disorganized and don’t know what we’re doing and we fight about it. That’s the problem that I solve. It has a tag line. Because governorring things is really just being clear about who makes decisions about things and who has accountability for things.

I assume that everyone is not coming to work trying to cause problems for people, but there is a lot of clarity about what people need to do. I’m going to talk about that and what you can do in that situation.

So here is the question that I said I was going to answer. This is what I see when I go inside an enterprise. I see a lot of individual human beings working in a largely unnatural group. One that is way, way too big. Where they’re spending the majority of their hours of their day in that group trying to somehow put their stamp on something because this is your life and you’re spending a tremendous number of hours doing this. And you want it to mean something.

And then I also feel like people are ashamed of that at the same time. It’s just work. I’m going to go on with my real life. It’s just work. It’s not just work. This is actually your life.

So when it’s challenging and all of these things, it just doesn’t feel good. I’m about people really feeling good about their jobs. I think you’ll make better things and feel better about yourself.

This is a question that is really at the core. We want to collaborate together. Right? But individuals also want to feel good about themselves and good about the collaboration. How can you do that? How can you reach all of those goals at the same time? Anyone think I’m off about that? Anyone not really care? Anyone just going to work and really just dialing it in? Okay, some days, yes. You go in and you’re just sort of like whatever, you’ll get through. But most of you want to do a good job. You’re proud of it and putting yourself into it. Right? You’re designing it and putting a lot of elements in it, as well.

Three things I’ve learned and then I’m going to give you two sentences. Anyone read this book? There’s a light. It’s literally laser pointing in my eye. I’m assuming you can still see me. There’s really key things that I see going on inside of organizations. And this is huge. I know it sounds dry. Right? Organizations are a competition between compliance and creation. We all want to create. We all want to invent and do exciting things. And at the same time we can’t just log off into the ether. Something has to tether it down and keep it in compliance with what’s going on in the organization, in compliance with regulatory things if you’re in a heavily regulated environment, and in compliance with the standards of the organization that you have.

There is this tug of war and we’ve been talking about this all day today. What you want to do and what needs to get done inside of the organization. So I have this clip and it’s all about, it has a section in the book. There’s a section in the book that really talks about (noise) That sounds like my knees.


It talks about how to build really good teams and teams to get things done. You might want to take a look at that. It’s fast reading. I read it when I was in Costa Rica in a hammock in the afternoon. It’s that kind of book. It’s fun to read.

Compliance and creativity. So how does this work? We were talking about this today. So this is actually my – so it doesn’t look like – So just think you’re going to make something and try something. And something new comes in the environment. Let’s take a really good guess. Something like the World Wide Web. Right? Here it comes. It’s 1993. So you’re in an enterprise in ’94, ’95. This is when you picked it up. Somebody bought the first URL. You had to go find out who and get it off their credit card and give it back into the ownership of the company.

So domains get bought in all sorts of weird ways. It started out with a governance problem. That’s how it works. Nobody really recognizes how it’s going to be. There are visionaries who do. But most people are like this is kind of cool, let’s try it. You try stuff and you make stuff up as you go along. That’s completely correct. If you start to govern at inception, you’ll choke it. You’ll choke the life out of it. When I tell people about digital governance, they think I’m trying to choke them. Figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

What happens, though, is eventually you find something that works. In this case it was e‑commerce. People want to buy things online. Is that true? It’s super true. You can sell software images and you can sell software online. You could sell Cisco golf of balls online. All sorts of things online.

Different aspects of the business said “Hey, that works. We’re going to do it too.” That’s kind of the inflection point where if you actually don’t come up with some standards and some ideas about how the organization on the whole is going to do it and you don’t sort of think about some of the policy‑related issues like is it legal, or should you be selling, you know, gather the e‑mail addresses. If you don’t stop and wonder about some aspects. And then you scale. You start to get that parallel line startly skewed from one another, disaster. Multiply that by multiglobal multinational multiperson company and you end up with what you have if you work in a large organization. You can’t get a hold of it.

So there’s two things. Once you get in here it’s really hard to get out of it and it’s very, very hard to have a perspective to get out of it and most likely you’re emotionally. I can’t believe they’re doing that. I’m the one who is supposed to be coming up with a design standard. Why are they doing that? I own my part. Who owns that channel. All of that sort of language starts to pop out. So you need to govern, right where that is, you come up with an idea that really works. How are you going to scale it? Then you scale. Very good.

And you need to get to the point of basic management. And basic management, this is exactly what it is. What you have – I’ve never run into an organization of any size. I tend to work with big companies. Where I said I ask questions like how many social channels, where are they? And they answered this question of “it depends.” I don’t know. There is shadow digital all over the place. People with marketing cards are like, who? A tangent. It’s a crazy place. So the first thing you need to know is what do you and how are you controlling it. And who is touching it? Who is touching it is really important. Because you cannot help people work together if you don’t know who they are.

That’s sounds really, really obvious. But I’m telling you. Someone told us earlier today, I have such a bad memory sometimes, early today about the left hand not knowing what the right was doing. They were far along on a project before they draw these people in. Usually someone says something like in the afternoon, everyone is having a therapy session about what’s going on. I’m like this is the first time we’ve ever been in the same room together talking about the website. Just in the room. I’ve never met you before.

So basic management is sort of getting to this basic level. And then you get to this responsive state. I know I shouldn’t use the word “responsive.” But it did exist prior to us.


And that’s where you got total integration and Lisa doesn’t have a job. That’s when digital isn’t anything. It’s just integrated with the overall business.

Now if you’re a dot com, you don’t have the problem of separation, because this is what happens online. If you’re a legacy business. If you make something like that, integrating digital with your business model, it takes a lot of effort. There’s just a responsive statement. You don’t have to worry about what we’re going to do with digital because it’s just part of the business process. An executive suite that understands how this is going to work. You’re thinking omni channel. Everyone likes to say that word. That’s where you are.

You need to enjoy that while it lasts because it’s never going to finish. As soon as you get to that point again something new will come along. And you have to launch that. In fact it’s already happened. You have websites and then you have social. And now you have mobile apps. Right? All of those things are on a different point. So you have to be really, really clear about where you are.

So that’s kind of like Lisa’s how do you get into governance problems and how do you pull yourself out.

So the second thing I see people do a lot of is thinking they can be done. So that leads to what I was just talking about. You’re never done. I’m going to talk a lot about not being done. You continue to iterate, iterate. You all design so you probably know that. But that’s true of the enterprise. It’s always changing. Sometimes we’re just trying to get control over something somehow. People wrap their arms around it and try to be done.

So I worked on projects. People said when is digital going to be done? Well, what do you mean? Creating this online ecosystem that is going to exist in perpetuity and you need to be organized for it. There will always be new things coming in and old things going out. They’re either going to come in violently or nicely. If you have perceptive leadership inside your organization that is visionary, so it has a broad line. Or sometimes people are aren’t trying to be aggressive, but they don’t have the vision to see those things.

Sometimes you get disrupted. Some things come out of nowhere and just knock you off your feet. Right? So our job is to figure out how to deal with that. To deal with that in a way that that’s how it works. So this idea that there is going to be a sort of perfect world if only the executives would fill in the blank or if only this sort of perfect world would happen, all of this would be about. We know that about our own lives personally. Being alive is rich. It’s a rich experience that we all have. Working inside an organizational system is going to be the same way. Really that’s what I see myself doing a lot of sometimes. Sometimes it feels like therapy. Working with people to get them to understand that.

This is my favorite one. His name is W endall Wallace Web. I worked really hard on that.

I named him. I wrote this e‑book. And it was things like standards of collaboration. Things like that. But one of the things that it talks about web – and you can tell from an organization’s website what is inside. Just like the phonology in the 19th century. If you’re smart or whatever. Things like that. Was it true. –

So you can look at someone’s website. When I pulled one back up, I was curious to see I don’t think there was anything on that form that isn’t still going down. Right? So you can tell a lot. If you don’t have a single sign‑on, that tells you a little bit about something that is going on with I.T. Whether it’s unintentional or doesn’t make a lot of sense. So lack of coordination inside the organization in terms of how you’re creating your online presence shows up online in interesting ways.

And what’s even more so is really exposes this truth about how people work together. And that is a constant tug of war.

Even the meekest person, and sometimes usually the meekest person in the corner is trying to win all of the time. I am giving this talk and I want them to think it’s really good. Am I wrong about this? You want to do a really good job. So you have this internal tug of war inside the organization. People are going my website, my website. Or my IT, my IT. Going back and forth and back and forth. And poor users. Why do I have to fill my name is 17 different times? Or whatever? It’s not because no one knows how to make single sign‑on work. That’s easy. I’m not saying it’s easy to get from whatever disaster mess you have in your stack to single sign‑on. That’s another issue. It’s not that you can’t figure out how to do it. It’s just the back and forth. And the same thing with the intricate design.

You can invent something amazing. The execution. People. They don’t want to allow it to happen. Sometimes this are these territorial battles that go back and forth. That’s not good. And I think it’s the individuality that does that. –

Oh, no. I think I may have forgot to start it.


No, I did. I did. User error. So two things you can do better. Obviously govern. No one every wants to talk about governance. I talk about governance in one slide. I have this book Managing Digital Governance by design. It’s good. You should read it.

If you write a book and then you keep working and then you get better at what you do. It’s two years, which means I was writing it four years ago. Have you learned something in the last four years? So have I.

So what is governance. It’s really simple. So when I go inside an organization and I see these fights going on, there are usually these aspects. And one of them is who should be in the room when you’re deciding what your strategy should be. Whatever that strategy is. Digital strategy or strategy for pricing or manufacturing. Doesn’t matter. And based on that strategy, who should be in the room when you’re writing policy. So when I say policy versus standards, I mean think of it this way. Policy is what keeps your organization safe. Standards is what keeps whatever it is you’re making. So policies protect the organization and provide an opportunity for it. So if you don’t want to get sued by making apps, then don’t collect e‑mails of minors. That’s a policy. A standard might be something like editorial standards. Things like that. I don’t really care what those things are. I’m not trying to tell you about a vision. What I’m trying the tell you when I’m talking about governance is make sure you know who is supposed to make those decisions. Because nine times out of ten that’s the problem. You’re in a conference room, you’re calling it collaboration. You’re saying you’re trying to come to a consensus. And I have a consensus horror story, I won’t tell you now. But you can ask me later. It didn’t get done because one person out of 30 didn’t agree.

Usually in an organization there are people who know more than other people about things. – So maybe you’re not the best person to be sort of –


I don’t want the I.T. person designing my content, right? Graphic design. And I certainly don’t want that writing standards. Now they may have rich opinions that can form what those standards are. They may be able to tell me things that you can or can’t do when you’re designing. It’s important to have them in the room and to have a conversation and to provide input into that. But should they actually be the decision maker? Probably not.

So what I see is a lot of feel good, trying to be nice to each other things, which is good. But it doesn’t always work all of the time.

So identifying who actually should be in the room when these decisions are being made and who the deciders are. And across the board, usually organizations, particularly for digital channels, is nowhere to be seen. You’re banging your head against the wall. Every single project that you have. You have these long discussions with a group of people, 75% of which don’t even need to be in the decision‑making component, trying to bring people along for all kinds of good heartfelt reasons.

So what I want you to do is figure out who the deciders are outside of the context of the project, in general for all of your things. All the way from design and publishing, development. Who decides what the taxonomies are. Just understanding who those people are. Most of the time it will be okay. Most of the time people aren’t fighting. So that’s what governance is. Right? And I’m going to go down a crazy train path for you because you guys probably are all about standards. But a lot of people don’t like standards. So if you ever believed that in the next however many minutes I have, I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to go through a list of things that are standards based that I think can also be creative. And somebody put up your hand if I’m wrong about any of these.

It’s on the sheet. Standards. – Telephony. You can do some creative stuff with that. Radio. Standards based. Film. Standards based. Television. Standards based. I’m telling you I say this every time. I can tell you to the level, to the depths of my soul how much I wanted to be here. I had the outfit and walked around with it on. I told you that now though, not in public.


Standards based. – Okay. And then the W3C. You can’t even get more standards based. The standards are normal and useful, required. Right? You and I wouldn’t be here without standards. When our teams get messed up, we’re not liable. Standards are normal. This is not an exceptional thing. This is a really deep fabric that matters. Standards base. Where do you think there is some way you can operate outside of the standards. – all the time.

Who is supposed to be in the room when you’re talking about strategy? Policy? And the last thing that I’m going to say is I want you to decide your collaboration model with intent. Right? I’m going to get back to the questions at the end. We have a problem right now in 2017. It’s not what you think I’m going to say. It’s that org chart model, that thing that we work on, they don’t work together. So you have this nested hierarchy and an object‑oriented container. It just doesn’t work. We’re going to have to come up with different types of collaboration models. And so I’m not going to talk about it. I’m going to show you. It’s music. That’s how it works. Here is example number one.


I lost my clicker. There it is. Okay. Collaboration.

Two. Bass player. Recording studio. Collaboration tip. We just did it.


Can you see that? Can you see that? How many people? How many are playing right now?

And watch. –

And thank you. –


Creative. Do you like it? – It’s a framework. How much can they talk about this? Some. Facing each other. A



[Talking over the music – can’t understand]

We have a different set of tools. – it’s a really obvious thing. They have sheet music. Somebody thought this is some complicated maybe we ought to write down some basic stuff. So we were all operating from the same things. Do you think he just randomly decided to – or was it kind of – but it’s good. –

Now, then we get to this last one.


This is like one of the biggest battles. A double chorus. A really giant orchestra. So different pieces of different sets of instrumentation for vessel music. One thing that no one else has. Where is he? Yeah, like. He’s really working to keep this together. His heart and soul is in it. Creative? It may not be your taste, but it’s kind of hard not to get a little worked up. So there’s different size of groups, different sorts of things. They need different sets of tools. And they all operate to a standard even when I was singing with him, we had to do something. We had to know like okay what song. I’ve seen teams that work like hey let’s play it again. And that’s it. And they’re like wait!

If you’re in an improv group, that may be interesting. If you’re working inside a large organization and you’re trying to get a specific thing intentionally done, you probably can’t afford that. I love to be spontaneous. There are lots of times and places in my life to do that. There are lots of times and places inside. But most of the time that’s not the work you’re doing. Right? So just understand what you’re trying to do. So back to us, and so that I don’t – I’m going by my clock and not the clock. The clock says I have two minutes.

This org model that we have is about finishing things and absolute finite development. It’s about the way that enterprises are organized and the way your job is organized is to do something very, very cookie cutter specific. But it actually forces the enterprise to work in different ways. I’m looking at you. You can’t make those things while still behaving in a hierarchy. It won’t work. Right? This is a mesh. It’s a closed mesh. And it’s constant. And it’s infinite. And it’s always moving and it’s always changing. And we create to create organizational structures that actually support that. That’s why we struggle. There’s something I probably won’t see the end of. The destruction – I’m talking about the way enterprises might function.

I’m going to leave you with this right‑hand piece here. I’ve been using this example because I like it. Thinking about it. – another guess? Follows a movement from seven – you get like a marching, you get like – but you don’t get that. It’s exactly kind of what you need. So over here, oh my God, whatever it is. But whatever they want to change, so there is trust. Right? And from my perspective, the trust is actually going to come. We know what we’re trying to do because we know about strategy. We know we are operating in a safe zone because we understand our policies and we know we’re going to make something generally good because we know what the standards are. You can’t have that trust if you don’t know what those directions are. Does she know? Is she competent? We don’t have that message, that sort of DNA, that standard, then you can’t grow like this. You’re not going to be able to handle the single sign‑on and things like that because you won’t be able to work together. My message to you is we need to start moving in this general direction. So how can you, going back to the original question create something of value and still maintain a sense of personal agency and autonomy. And I think the answer to that is you need to create this environment where the strategies and standards are clear and that anyone can lead.

So we’ve been talking a lot about shifts in leadership. – So everyone has the opportunity to lead. Right? It’s going to take a lot of energy. So when you see something that you want to do, you can lead. You don’t have to wait for these sort of hierarchical things to happen. If you’re right and you’re followed a shared vision and a pre‑shared strategy, if you’re right – I’ve never seen a good idea that was generally a good idea in enterprise where a person took ownership and actually led. Is that true? If somebody has something good in your personal or professional life you know it and you want to get on that band wagon. Trust that people will actually lead. And follow you. No matter where you go.

That is the message I have for you today. That is blah, blah, blah about me. I don’t have time for questions. Because I talked all the way to the end of the line. I hope that was helpful for you. And my very last message is do a good job. Right? If you’re having a bad day every now and then, but bring it. Bring your best self to the table. Mean it. We’re right in the middle of huge transformations.

So I hope that was helpful to you.


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