New year’s resolution: conduct a digital standards audit

The start of a new year is a great time to conduct an audit of your organization’s digital standards. Digital standards are important since they allow for a decentralized group of people—like contributors throughout various departments, a large in-house digital team, or external digital design firms—to work on the same sites, channels, etc. while maintaining digital quality. An audit will reveal how complete your set of standards may be. It will also shed light on what standards are already documented, which ones can be easily drafted, and which ones are wholly missing and need to be heavily defined.

The steps for doing an audit are listed below. For some motivation in getting started, check out Lisa Welchman talking about the importance of standards in this video.

Find standards-related information you already have

Pulling together existing standards documentation is the first step in creating a comprehensive set of digital standards. After all, if you don't know the standards you already have, you can't identify the ones that are missing and need to be created.

While your organization may not have formal digital standards, written documentation about issues that impact digital channels likely exist. Your task is to find this documentation. Be a detective and look for it in all sorts of places. For instance, you may not have a formal standard (or policy) on digital privacy, but privacy may be discussed in a memo from a division vice president. Similarly, you may not have formal standards related to accessibility, but you may find your organization has either a style guide that mentions accessibility or a checklist of to-do items related to accessibility.

Create a repository and take inventory

Once you've scoured your organization for documentation, create a repository of all the files you uncover so everything is in one place. Consider creating a wiki to house the documents or link out to the relevant information wherever it exists. Inventory what you've found so that you can identify what's missing. When we conduct an inventory for a client, we group topics into these four categories, and you could do the same:

  1. Design
  2. Editorial
  3. Publishing & Development
  4. Network & Server

If you found information on allowable font colors, indicate that piece of the puzzle under Design and note the source. If you found statements related to your company's copyrights and trademarks, note that information under Editorial and include the sources too. Keep in mind that a standard might be relevant to multiple categories.

Examine your inventory for gaps

Once you've finished the inventory, you can see the gaps in topics. Standards gaps generally fall into two categories:

  1. Gaps that can be easily shored up by documenting an as-is state. Server and Network infrastructure standards are usually good examples of standards that are in place but not formally documented. For example, what are the parameters for web hosting? What about load balancing? Your IT department likely has load balancing under control, but how it is done is not formally written down. Set up some meetings with the IT team and write things down like, "Our company website is hosted on two or more mirrored web servers. These servers are mirrored every 5 minutes and are load balanced using DNS round robin. Load balancing is to be provided by Citrix Netscalers...."
  2. Gaps that need to be heavily defined. There will be some digital standards topics that are wholly unaddressed at your organization. Common examples might be HTML structure and the use of select tags (e.g., H1) within them, allowable files and their size limitations, and metadata schema. Flag such topics to be addressed as a next step in your standards project—a step that requires you to devote time and resources to gathering stakeholder input and definition.

Create a standards writing to-do list

Once you've compiled the standards-related documentation and inventoried it, make a to-do list of standards you need to write. That way, you can adequately plan your schedule and approach. These are the types of standards you'll need to add to your writing to-do list:

  • The standards in the gaps as discussed above.
  • The standards for which you found related documents – For example, if you did find that privacy was discussed in a memo from a division vice president, use that documentation as a starting point to write digitally specific privacy standards.

We think you'll find that following these steps makes for a great start in creating a comprehensive set of digital standards. You can make fast progress at the outset and be able to plan for creating standards you don't yet have formally documented. That should feel good!