Museum Case Study

Flexibility without compromise: A nonprofit museum + Speed & Function

The Challenge

Inside Museum Photo
Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash

For organizations such as museums and galleries, which primarily offer an in-person experience, visitor numbers are a critical way of measuring impact, raising funds and fulfilling the organization’s mission and vision. The arrival of Covid-19 highlighted the importance of having a strong digital presence, and in particular, a fast, reliable website that offers an outstanding user experience. A website serves a function far beyond providing information; it is a tool for powerful storytelling – about the organization itself, and about the exhibitions taking place at any given time.

However, building and maintaining a fast, sophisticated site with an outstanding user experience is challenging in the nonprofit world, where budgets are tight and in-house digital teams are typically fairly small.

For one US-based museum, hiring Speed & Function to support and augment the internal digital team has helped meet this challenge, particularly throughout the pandemic when the museum was forced to close to the public and its website became exponentially more important.

The Approach

Approach Photo
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Since 2018, Speed & Function has provided technical support and expertise to a museum on the East Coast of the US, which outside of the pandemic has close to one million visitors per year.

The museum’s digital team is small and consists of mostly content editors and managers, with one in-house developer. In 2018, Speed & Function was contracted to augment the team on a short-term basis and work on a small CMS-based website redesign project. This initial project went well and built rapport and confidence in S&F, leading to the two organizations building a long-term working relationship and the completion of several complex technical projects.

S&F has approached this working relationship with the organization’s nonprofit status in mind. The organization works with tighter budgets than would typically be found in a for-profit organization, so flexibility and knowing what the various options are for each project have been important factors in creating momentum and also in allocating ongoing funding to web development work. 

The S&F team nevertheless maintained their commitment to creating a truly collaborative relationship through incorporating Scrum ceremonies, working with Agile methodology and ensuring that each piece of work that is undertaken has a clear purpose and is estimated accurately so that it can be completed within budgetary requirements.

The Outcome

Photo by Fahim R. on Unsplash

S&F often works on a small initial contract with clients. This enables them to build trust, get to know each other’s preferred way of working and iron out any problems. The first project for this organization took around three months and involved some website redesign and content migration. This particular organization had been working on their website redesign for some time before hiring Speed & Function. Since working with S&F, they have been able to launch the new site and upgrade multiple features, which would not have been possible without this additional support.

S&F is on hand to support the organization with emergency developmental operations support when needed. For example, the first time there was a security breach, S&F got the website back up and running in less than 48 hours.

A larger project which S&F supported in 2021 involved replacing the legacy image bank with an IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) image delivery system. This system greatly increases image resolution while reducing transmission size to just-in-time delivery. 

It also enables anyone on the content and digital team to pull high-resolution images from an external image database and upload them to the website, without needing to store the images on the museum’s servers. This project has multiple benefits, including:

  • The increased ability to tell visually powerful stories through utilizing compelling, evocative imagery
  • Streamlining editorial time in house
  • The ability to resize and manipulate the images without lots of additional work, and zooming into the images without them becoming pixelated
  • The ability to easily crop a specific region of a picture if needed
  • Images being stored in a responsive fashion, reducing the need for manual work to crop/edit the images
  • Massively reducing content editing time
  • In depth zooming in without taxing users’ bandwidth or burdening the organization’s servers.

The Secret Sauce

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Bringing in external developers brings up questions for many organizations, including for this organization: Will they be responsive and communicate well? Will they passively wait for instructions or be active partners in the development process? Will they understand us and our specific needs, or will they try to use a cookie cutter approach? 

Speed & Function aims to answer these questions proactively and early, building trust and achieving alignment with the client early in a project. Specifically, this is accomplished by:

  • A thorough discovery process at the outset to gather as much information as possible, learn exactly what the client’s needs, priorities and concerns are, and collaborate and problem solve together.
  • Clear contracting. This clarifies the client’s key priorities and establishes how the two teams are going to work together. For this organization, the priorities included responsiveness, budgeting guidelines and restrictions, availability for urgent or difficult situations such as data breaches, knowing what the build options are for each project, and pace of turnaround.
  • Focusing proactively on building a collaborative working relationship. A project manager is assigned to focus on making sure the two teams can work together in a deeply collaborative way. The PM organizes and facilitates regular stand ups, demos, and retrospectives, as well as communicating closely with the client around availability and scheduling.
  • Flexibility, responsiveness and communication. These have been key to the success of each project S&F has worked on with this organization, and toward building and maintaining a high-trust relationship.

In addition, for a non-profit organization such as this one, the cost of bringing on external developers  can be prohibitive. S&F works with the budget requirements by setting out different options for each feature or project, presenting various options such as what is nice to have versus what is essential. If an idea is out of scope for the client’s budget, S&F will eliminate certain aspects, decrease the number of hours to do the work and re-estimate the cost, working with the client to make their goals affordable.

Overall, Speed & Function’s knowledge and support has protected and upgraded this organization’s website, enhancing their web presence and as a result, their ability to create an impact for their visitors, whether on- or offline. S&F’s responsiveness sets them apart from other developers this organization has worked with in the past, and the relationship is strong and ongoing.

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