By Michael Silverman, CEO, Duo Consulting
Maybe you are beginning to think about developing a content management systems for your organization’s website. Or maybe you are just about to start a CMS project. In either case, you are probably wondering how to improve the chances of a successful outcome, considering the large investment at stake.
At Duo Consulting, we’ve worked with hundreds of businesses and organizations on Web and content management. We know what makes a project successful, and we’ve seen the usual mistakes. In this article, we share what we’ve learned. The good news is that with planning and some good advice, your organization can avoid the Top Ten Mistakes of Web CMS Projects:
Mistake #1 Making Decisions by Committee
Successful content management projects usually have small decision-making teams of three or fewer people. The team should be empowered to review work, make decisions and communicate progress with the rest of the organization. One person on the team serves as the main decision-maker and primary communicator with the development team. Our experience has shown that three people on a team is enough to gather input, break a tie if necessary, and make good- quality decisions. Another good idea is to make sure there is representation from the IT and marketing areas, as well as from content contributors and site users.
Decisions made by large committees often lead to disappointing outcomes. Some groups ﬁnd it difficult to make a decision at all or can end up with poorly-made ones. Large committees increase costs and the timeline to implementation. When it takes a long time to come to a decision, people on the team become frustrated. The amount and quality of contributions to the project often decreases.
From the File: In one professional services ﬁrm, 18 employees – two each from nine ofﬁces located around the world – were assigned to participate in design decisions. With input coming from such a large group, making decisions took longer and longer, until ﬁnally, a whole new committee (a much smaller one this time!) took over.
Keep your project team as small as possible. Large committees often lengthen and weaken decision-making on Web projects.
Mistake #2 Not Appointing a Project Manager
Having a project manager can help organizations save resources and minimize frustration during a CMS project. The project manager usually serves as the voice of the project team and helps manage deadlines and priorities, especially when changes arise – as often happens with lengthy projects.
Without a project manager, CMS projects can easily get sidetracked, causing delays, duplication of work and general confusion about next steps. We recommend that project teams appoint one person as the project manager. In an even better scenario, the Web content management project is the top priority of the project manager. This can save time and money, especially if you are working with a consultant or outside vendor.
Mistake #3 Failing to Make a Project Plan
Having a pre-determined project plan helps the organization and members of the project team prepare the resources needed for a successful outcome. A project plan should include the budget, the high-level milestones of the project, a timeline, and assignments for who is responsible for each milestone. Then, when a milestone must be moved, the plan can be adjusted.
Without a project plan, there is no clear direction on how to get from the beginning stages through to the ﬁnal implementation. Projects without plans are vulnerable to stalls and severe delays, as there is no accountability or agreed-upon priorities.
From the File: A medium-sized nonproﬁt organization had several projects going simultaneously, but none had project plans or project managers. Resources were moved from one project to other, depending on the latest crisis, and budget problems developed when expenses weren’t planned for. After plans were developed for each outstanding project, all of the projects were ﬁnally able to move ahead.
Project plans keep CMS projects on track by assigning deadlines and responsibilities.
Mistake #4 Picking a CMS Before Doing All Your Homework
The initial research phase of a Web content management project is the most critical part of the project. This is when you deﬁne your requirements – the needs of your users, the skills and abilities of your contributors, your technical parameters, etc. If you choose a CMS package before doing this research, you risk spending for software features that you won’t use. Or you might restrict growth of the site by prematurely choosing a package that doesn’t allow for expansion. None of the CMS packages currently available offer every available feature. Taking the time to do careful research and a thorough requirements list at the beginning of the project pays off in the end.
From the File: One client felt sure that a .NET solution would best meet their needs. But after a careful discovery phase, an alternative CMS was identiﬁed that reduced costs and had less restrictive licensing.
Carefully research your requirements before picking a CMS. You will want a tool that is adequate without being overkill, yet also provides room
Mistake #5 Ignoring The “Simple is Better” Rule.
A common temptation in CMS projects is to add new business processes while building the system. This is almost always a mistake. Adding new processes creates confusion, slows down the project and may ultimately result in lower adoption of the ﬁnal system. Another temptation is to add steps to the content management workﬂow, like assigning additional approvals. Our experience has shown that the more steps in the process, the slower the time to publication.
Eventually less content makes it to the site. The most efﬁcient content management processes have streamlined the steps to publication to as few as possible.
From the File: Keeping a balance between a brief, efﬁcient workﬂow and having adequate quality control can be a challenge. One client we worked with wanted to have four approval steps before new content could be published. The result was stale or outdated content, as the process for approving new content took weeks to complete. As an experiment, the client reduced the approval to just one step and found the amount of new content increased, as well as the quality and the speed to publishing.
Simplify your workﬂow as much as possible. Make exceptions for unusual cases when necessary, but don’t build your system around the exceptions. Aim for one- and two-step processes whenever possible.
Mistake #6 Underestimating the job of moving old content into the new system.
Content migration – the process of moving information from the old system into the new one – is often ugly. And a frequently-made mistake is to minimize the complexity of content migration until it’s too late. When content migration isn’t addressed early, you may end up with a major delay just before launching. Another problem with ignoring migration is that often significant issues and questions are brought to the surface during migration. Addressing those early can save time and improve the overall quality of the site. To avoid this mistake, determine early in the project how existing content will get into the new system. Be prepared for about a week of clean-up and page-by-page review.
From the File: While some CMS packages do provide a way for importing content, others do not. One client discovered a week before launch that their preferred method of migration – re-entry by hand – was estimated to take months to complete. To avoid a delay, they prioritized the most important content and entered it right away, then continued with the remainder after the launch.
Plan early on for how you will move old content into the new CMS.
Mistake #7 Waiting Too Long to Plan for Site Hosting
Shopping for hosting is like shopping for a car. You can pay as much or as little as you want, but you’ll likely get what you pay for. Hosts vary greatly in the services they offer, so ﬁnd out early what your needs are, the level of support your organization requires and how much tolerance you have for downtime.
Hosting is often left until the end of the project, sometimes with disastrous results. You need to know early if your hosting service can support the new CMS and what changes (and additional costs) will be required. Another issue is determining who holds and has access to your site’s DNS. Find out if the host provides trafﬁc reporting and make sure the tools and reports offered meet your needs. Inspect the licensing for the new CMS carefully, because costs can vary depending
on the hosting environment and licensing arrangements. Determining these requirements up front can save time and frustration when it comes time to launch.
Mistake #8 Not Making Usability a Priority
Any tool that is difficult to operate discourages users. That applies as much to Web sites as it does to machinery. When a CMS system is difficult to use or navigate, authors will not add content (or add it only infrequently) and your audience will get discouraged and stay away. The site overall will become stale, and the whole investment of time and money is compromised. Experienced Web designers and developers understand Web heuristics – the shortcuts and cues that are familiar to Web users – and can employ them to make your site as user-friendly as possible. Essential to usability is testing. A simple test involving three to ﬁve people can identify aspects of the site that need re-worked to enhance usability. But testing shouldn’t be a one-time event. Testing throughout the development and deployment of the site provides ongoing insight into how your users are really using it and what you can do to serve their needs and keep them
From the File: While everyone wants a user-friendly site, creating one requires experience and a commitment to simplicity. A client, who wanted to gather contact information via a form, had a site that required visitors to navigate through three separate pages, each with animation, scrolling text and heavy graphics. After re-working the architecture so that visitors could get to the form in one step, the number of completions dramatically increased.
Make it easy for users to meet their objectives as quickly as possible.
Mistake #9 Not Using Real Content in the Prototypes
Using fake or “stand-in” copy during the early stage of a CMS project has risks. By not using real content, it’s difficult to get an accurate sense of the page layout. It’s then possible to design for copy that is longer or shorter than the actual content, causing major headaches, re-work and delays. The best outcomes happen when real content is used for mockups and early stage examples.
From the File: A professional services ﬁrm was unable to provide sample biographical content, so mockups were made with only a rough guess about the actual biographies’ lengths. The mockups were approved by the client, but when the real copy arrived, it was clear the layout wouldn’t work – it was much too small.
Even if you think you know your content, use real copy to develop the prototypes. It saves time and money in the long run.
Mistake #10 Waiting Too Long To Start Adding New Content
The number one reason CMS projects don’t launch on time is because the content isn’t ready. When content is not prepared or not entered until the last minute, you miss the chance to conﬁrm your page layout and the usability of the site. Early on, identify the new content to be developed, the priorities, who will be responsible and a time line for getting it done. Start entering content as soon as possible. Finally, don’t wait until every last piece of content is entered before launching. Launch as soon as your priority information is up and ready; then, continue updating after the launch.
As you’ve probably ﬁgured out by now, this list has a few themes. The ﬁrst is that planning is critical. Knowing what you want to accomplish and then determining a map for getting there is essential to a successful CMS project. The second theme is that with a CMS in place, a Web site is never ﬁnished. The whole point of a CMS is to make it easy for everyday users to update your site so that it can always be fresh, relevant and accurate. The third and most important theme is that a good advisor – someone with experience and expertise – can be a huge help during a CMS project. An experienced advisor can steer you away from mistakes and point you toward best practices.
About the Author: Michael Silverman, founder and chief executive officer of Duo Consulting, has over 20 years experience as an entrepreneur, executive, and innovator.