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Situation: The United Way for a large US city had a first generation web site that was mostly a web-based brochure and wanted to greatly expand the functionality of that web site. They wanted to include an online version of their very popular human services directory, "Where to Get Help". It had several hundred pages of useful information about 25,000 social service programs but was expensive to publish in a paper format and was impossible to keep up to date because of frequent changes in program funding, client eligibility guidelines, office locations, and staff contact names at several thousand agencies in the area.

They also provide a "donor choice program" for all their local contributors so they needed to make available an up-to-date directory of the thousands of agencies for whom they were authorized to accept donations.. A third online directory was needed to list available volunteer opportunities so that those wanting to volunteer could be matched with agencies in their area needing volunteers. Beyond this, the United Way wanted the site to be "the place to go" to get information about how and where to give and where to get assistance in the region.

Action: Working with others at a large software technology firm, reviewed the RFP documents, met with the department heads at the United Way office to understand their specific needs, then developed a detailed scope of work. Spent 2 months meeting with various United Way departments to define and document all the details of the required functionality, then developed sketches showing the layout and content of every page and logic flow diagrams showing user paths. For each page requiring user input, defined the location and size of each input field, the related user instructions, the error checking rules, and the wording of each error message.

After the detailed Java coding was completed by a multi-national group of programmers, tested every option on every page using a pre-written detailed test plan. Tracked each problem found and verified when it was corrected. Conducted usability tests both with internal staff and with selected United Way staff. Before formally launching the site, facilitated a complete review of the site with senior United Way managers to insure usability as well as consistency in the look and feel of each page of the site

Result: The fast track project that involved several hundred web pages and 3 large databases was designed and developed within 6 months then were transferred to a commercial web server and formally launched a month later. The online "Where to Get Help" directory now displays accurate, up-to-date information, and includes a lookup capability by agency or key word. Unmatched key words are kept in a separate file that is routinely examined for additional key word terms that can be added to improve usability.

The volunteer / agency matching feature is also working well to provide volunteers with many nearby opportunities to "make a difference in someone's life", as well as providing agencies with a new source of volunteers. The online directory of agencies for the donor choice program is also working well, aiding those donors who want to target their donations for particular causes or for specific nearby agencies.

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