CMS Implementation Pitfalls

Over the years I've read a number of very good pitfall lists for CMS implementations, and after 17+ years in the business I figure the karma cart has come around and it is time for me to contribute to the topic.

Overthinking automation for the content migration

To be sure, automation has a place in content migration for any CMS implementation. In days gone by we often saw initial implementations of CMS solutions, but today almost all CMS implementations are replatform projects in which content is migrated from one CMS to another. The existence of structured content, combined with large volumes of content, seems to demand automated migration, but that is certainly not always the case.

Each CMS stores and manages content differently in terms of granularity and metadata, and inevitably the attribute set for content in a new CMS will have new attributes (specific to the CMS itself), some common attributes, and custom attributes that need to be created. Automation is often valuable when the content is more like data, with extreme granularity and strong typing. Short strings, lookup values, numbers, dates, and other such information is ideal for either a) automated migration or b) integration between the new CMS and an external data source.

Content that is more unstructured, such as articles, pages, images, videos, and comments, is highly dependent on both the content structure and the template designs for the new CMS, and with this type of content a manual migration approach is often the better option. If the very sound guideline of migrating no more than 20-45% of existing content into a new CMS is followed (which is an excellent rule), then the overall amount of content to be ported is reduced from the start. Then, considering that the combination of new content structures and a new template engine will require a fair bit of content adjustment and tweaking to get things looking just right, the manual migration approach is more efficient in the end than to try and write code for automated transfer.

A CMS implementation will typically require both automated and manual content migration. The important pitfall to avoid is to think only one is needed, or that the two approaches can't be used in combination.

Starting content audits too late

Assuming the amount of content will be reduced by half for any CMS implementation (the guideline that you should not port more than 20-45% of your content to a new environment), getting started early with a detailed content audit is critical. The overall body of existing content must be known, and all the metadata for the content must be known as well. In addition to the core content information you'll need to know the connections to the business side of things -- who owns the content, how it is generated and published, and how it is reviewed and approved. It is quite common for a large percentage of business owners to have inherited content from others, and if the content has been around for a while the business owners may not even be aware that they are owners.

So, a detailed content inventory must be established and mapped to business owners, and those business owners must be aware of what they own so that they can make decisions on what content stays, what content goes, and what content needs to be revised.

Not planning for incremental cutovers

Most websites and portals driven by CMS platforms are past their first generation, either because the CMS platform has gone through major upgrades or the site/portal has been replatformed from one CMS to another. Given the complexity of content, the highly integrated nature of CMS platforms, omni-channel publishing, high availability requirements, and  many other similar constraints, it is very prudent to design a cutover approach in which sections of a CMS can be turned on in a phased approach. Most environments today simply have too many variables to control to pull off a "big bang" launch of a CMS in which an existing production environment is built out and tested on a new CMS and launched via a cutover.

Consider instead doing things like standing up DAM functionality first, or setting up a forward proxy to split traffic between legacy and new environments. A bit of solid initial planning in this area can greatly reduce cost and risk while getting a new CMS solution up and running faster.

Engaging content authors too late in an implementation

All CMS platforms approach authoring and publishing differently, and while features such as preview, version control, local formatting, and tagging may look the same on paper they can be very different in terms of how they feel to an author. Authors are not focused on exploring the myriad features and functions of a CMS; rather, they are focused on getting content written, staged, reviewed, and published. Over time all content authors develop tips and tricks to get comfortable with the tools they use, and introducing a new CMS platform is a major change. It takes time for content authors to acclimate to a new CMS, and in many cases they can offer valuable insight and feedback to help bolster and validate requirements.

All CMS platforms in use today are pre-built frameworks that can be put into use in test environments very quickly. Content authors should be brought onto the implementation team very early on to let them adjust and to get their valuable feedback.

Not training content authors and developers on core functionality for the new CMS

In some cases CMS vendors will gather requirements and identify scenarios and then build out a base solution as part of an implementation project. The thinking often goes like this -- content authors and developers don't want to see the "vanilla" version of a CMS, nor is it a good idea to expose them to an experience with the new CMS that won't be the "real" one they will see. The very real pitfall in this thinking is that it doesn't let content authors and developers see into the breadth and the design of the CMS, so down the road in the implementation they will be unable to distinguish quickly between core features and custom features.

The suggestion for this pitfall is to conduct full training for content authors and developers so that they understand how the new CMS platform was built. Given this knowledge they will be much more capable of making design decisions for the new CMS, and they will be able to solve problems using process/configuration changes instead of custom development. And, when new features/functions are available in the new CMS, they will be aware of the expanded functionality and can take it into account when solving for the business requirements.

Taking a "lift-and-shift" approach to the content migration

Implementing a new CMS is very complex, and a common line of thinking specific to the content migration goes like this -- we have a lot of content, but we don't have time to sort it all out now, so we'll move it all into the new CMS and sort it out after the cutover. We'll build new templates that mimic the current site design, and shortly after the cutover we'll swap out the templates to show the new design.

This logic rarely, if ever, plays out successfully on implementation projects. First of all it throws out the notion that content targeted for migration should be cut in half from the start. Beyond that it ignores the delicate and complicated interplay between content and publishing templates, how the visual look of content is not simply a function of the template design. Publishing requires templates and the source content to be sure, but it also requires attribute configuration, information architecture, security, navigation, SEO/SEM indexing, and targeting/personalization.

The reality is that "lift-and-shift" migrations bring a significant amount of messy configuration elements with them into a new CMS, and the time it takes to reproduce a visual display of an existing site is far more work than it would seem. Plus, a site has to be tested in two major phases, one for each set of templates (existing "mirror" design and the new design). Far better to get content organized from the start to avoid the complexity and risk of this type of content migration.

Treating beta as a process, not a product

Make no mistake -- running a new CMS in beta is a product management exercise, not just a phase in an implementation project. You have a set of requirements and scenarios to test and validate, and you need end-to-end feedback loops to take in comments and corrections and to push new code frequently. A successful beta of a new CMS solution must account for infrastructure, hardware, system integration, services, and the assumption (from the user's perspective) is that feedback will be reviewed and used to update/improve the product.

Running a beta is part of an implementation project to be sure, but it can't be viewed as a period of time (weeks or months) in which the new CMS runs for the purpose of collecting feedback. The test results and feedback must be reviewed on a regular basis to validate or adjust requirements, and then additional development/QA cycles are needed to push updates to the beta environment. This is fundamentally a product management exercise.

Letting developers over-customize based on programming language bias

All CMS platforms are built on established programming languages. The most common languages for CMS platforms include Java, .NET, PHP, and Python. It is very common for developers to start working with a new CMS, and because the CMS was built with conventions or design choices that seem unusual the developers gravitate toward custom code and whatever their comfort zone might be. It is true that CMS platforms have imperfections in their design, and that some features might be faster to build out with custom code than by leveraging the framework of the CMS.

Custom code gets very dangerous very quickly for a few reasons. First, CMS platforms are extremely complex, and the skills needed to write custom code for them (modules, add-ons, extensions, etc.) require a deep understanding of the CMS design. Second, custom code requires unit, integration, and regression testing. If features in a CMS are built out using configuration options then the testing is already done for the most part and you can focus on functional testing. Introducing custom code brings with it the need for more robust testing to ensure the new code won't cause major issues. Third, custom code always poses a challenge for upgrades, and CMS platforms are upgraded frequently, often multiple times a year.

To be sure custom code is often needed when building out a CMS solution. The pitfall to avoid is jumping in too quickly with custom code to try and build functionality in a smarter, better way. All good CMS platforms have been proven out and tested across hundreds, if not thousands of implementations, and vendors typically have very rich knowledge bases with problems/solution archives. Leveraging the core CMS design and functionality is the best approach for minimizing risk and ensuring viable support in the years ahead.

Marketo's Big Coloring Book is AWESOME

Heading into the Christmas season this past December I came across Marketo's Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book, and after it got me laughing I flipped through it again and started playing around with the sections. The buzzwords were easy to find (and accurate), and I was tempted to cut out clothes and play Dress Up a Marketer but didn't get to it, at least not yet. Marketo Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book

Then it was on to Conference Matching, and I learned about the big conferences and their strange logos. Sorry to see that Content Marketing World is in Cleveland. From there I went to the Book Match-Up, and I read through ALL of the following:

  • The NOW Revolution | Amber Naslund
  • YOUTILITY | Jay Baer
  • Likeable Business | Dave Kerpen
  • Purple Cow | Seth Godin
  • Optimize | Lee Odden
  • UN-Marketing | Scott Stratten
  • The Referral Engine | John Jantsch
  • Content Rules | Ann Handley
  • Fascinate | Sally Hogshead
  • Crush It! | Gary Vaynerchuk

All interesting books, maybe with the exception of Fascinate (creepy) and Crush It! (overly optimistic and irritating). So, this post is basically a shout out to Marketo to say you had a great concept and it was fun and I learned quite a bit. Well done!

Thoughts on Work Passion

Over the holiday I read through a long list of social media and marketing books to catch up, sharpen the proverbial saw, be on my game, yadda yadda. Overall the books have been good and center on the same core themes of being honest and transparent, embracing social media, going with hub-and-spoke publishing (mostly from a blog), and generating good, fresh, useful content. Today I skimmed Gary Vaynerchuk's "Crush It!" and was somewhat amazed that the small volume contains pretty much all the hype, horrible philosophy, and empty logic I've come to detest over the years. Wake up every day and leap out of bed and into your clothes and work work work because you love it SO much! Don't love it? Something is wrong with you. Monetize all of your interactions! Need something to drink mom? That will cost you a quarter. You too can make a billion dollars! And it is easier if your dad hands over the family liquor store business as a starting point.

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk

The thing is this -- "passion" exists in a thousand forms, and the measures of success are often not money, followers, power, prestige, and on down the line. We are not all sellers of the Sham-Wow. In fact, were it to be the case that all of business was a big infomercial with loud, hyper-passionate people, exploding heads would surely become a reality.

I suppose this post is for me and anyone who views struggle as more real and more valuable than passion. Passion is analogous to the brief stops on the mountain peaks as you make your way up and down, up and down, over and over again. For some reason all of this makes me think of the Thoreau quote, when he is talking about finding God and realizing that you only catch him in glimpses, and usually not where you are looking:

''Let God alone if need be. Methinks, if I loved him more, I should keep him—I should keep myself rather—at a more respectful distance. It is not when I am going to meet him, but when I am just turning away and leaving him alone, that I discover that God is. I say, God. I am not sure that that is the name. You will know whom I mean.''

Passion is right there with happiness in the category of things that are by-products and not the primary thing for which you search. I got to Page 9 in Vaynerchuk's book and was utterly turned off by the comment "skills are cheap, passion is priceless." Oh how simplistic and silly. Skills and passion go together, and most of the time skill building is a long, arduous process with plenty of moments that aren't whiz-bang fun. Give me someone with solid skills anytime on a plane or at a cocktail party, because conversation is bound to be far more interesting than talking about how to make a billion dollars or how to monetize mowing my lawn. I get all of that nonsense from SkyMall.

 

The Joy of Macros and Queries

So it is 2011 and I find myself whipping out all sorts of queries and macros to take care of all my office automation needs, and I find it sort of funny given that many early days in consulting were spent falling asleep on an Access 2.0 book. I'm glad I have the skills to be sure, and they pay off in the form of being able to squeeze all the value out of content and data, yet at the same time I lament the unchanged state of office documents, office suites, and the way people handle them. I've come to understand that the core problem is really very simple and it goes like this:

The real value in information isn't in the information itself. It is in the relationships between information.

Word documents are a headache because you can't reuse content chunks and weave in data, and Word documents aren't reports. You can't spin lots of permutations without a whole lot of manual labor.

And Excel, the backbone of data handling for countless organizations. Who hasn't dealt with the endless challenges of stuffing all sorts of things into the column/row format only to format it heavily, turn it into a report, and then realize sorting and grouping and calculations don't work. Then there are the master works of all the people who formerly loved cell phone cases that would swivel horizontally on the belt clip. Yes, you know you are out there. Big sheets, lots of spot calculations, obscure references to lookups and values on other sheets. Touch one thing the wrong way, Indiana Jones, and poison darts fly at your head.

Fun with macros

To all you young turks out there let me toss out the idea that the relationships are golden. Learn to love data, because it is really cool when liberated and not strapped down into a cell by 42 formatting attributes. Like I heard on a TED talk -- data is the soil in which this generation will grow ideas and innovate.

To all my colleagues who have loved their spreadsheets too long, well,  let it go my friends. Just shoot Old Yeller in the head and let's move on.

Back from Governor Dodge

Back from a camping trip out at Governor Dodge State Park and it was grand, with great friends and perfect weather. Mel was cooking and blowing us away as usual, and I'm sure her comments and photos will beat anything I can post up here. Behind me is all the camping gear, which I'll sort out and stow and clean up a bit, then get ready for the fun return to work tomorrow. A trip to Hole in the Wall after dinner now that the fall stretch is here, the fade of summer into fall and winter, and then we all go hibernate for a while. Must press on and finish Littell's "The Lonely Ones" before the end of the month, and I still have some 300 pages to go.

One thought to end with, a question to our friends in Wisconsin. What is up with the gaper's block? Three major incidents, two on the exact same stretch of road near Madison, and there was NOTHING to see. Some guy changing a tire. Another guy whose bike may have fallen off the rack on the back of his car. Seriously -- press on and go looking later on YouTube. Took us an extra 1.5 hours to get home thanks to all this, but we can't really be upset about it. You do have New Glarus after all!

Back from vacation

Back from vacation and I had a great surprise -- a woodworking book and a great note from Ron Nelson. There is something peaceful about the weeks following a vacation, not all boo hoo sadness and that sort of thing. No, it is more like reflection, a time when you think and plan a bit for the next round. This time for me was all about camping. I'd built a new roof rack, out of solid oak this time, and I encourage everyone with a plane and a saw and a weekend to craft a car roof rack. Why pay $200 as an entry fee into the "now I must buy expensive accessories for every item to be ported" club? Oh, and you want locks?? That is $50 more. Ha. Just bolt the thing down and see if the perps come prepared with a deep 5/8" socket and a Crescent wrench. Like they would want it anyhow.

So I got back and started to clean up and get organized. Stowed the rods and reels and cleaned up my tackle box. Aired out the ponchos and packed up the Thule roof top bag (which I love by the way -- the smart solution to the whole rack/storage thing). Meandered around the web and bought a nice, smallish fixed blade knife and some good old 550 cord. Researched how to tie knots for tent guy lines so that I dispense with those annoying plastic things that have already started breaking.

I also went out and bought an old school Coleman propane lantern. I have a nifty little fluorescent one, and for a moment I was in the marketing tractor beam of the bigger fluorescent ones, but I just can't believe that they throw enough light, or the right quality light, and who the heck can preview these lanterns in the blackness of night?

Plus there is something nice about the fat propane tanks and how they screw into everything. And they get hot. Doesn't that fend off bugs, at least a little? Well, that is all part of the meditation phase I guess, being stuck with one foot in the next generation and the other foot in my own experience growing up. It is a wonderful place in history really, to be standing right smack on the dividing line between computers and computers with the INTERNET. Two vastly different worlds.

And so I sit on the deck decompressing, wireless with the laptop, listening to the hiss of the gas burning hot in the lantern. I think about a Kindle and how I'll probably get one soon, but I have stacks and stacks of books to get through yet.

One of my professors gave the memorable advice that until you get to the point you can recite poetry from memory it will never really be with you, and he was dead on about that. One great drawback to the internet age is that we lapse into thinking we can lookup anything on demand, so we go wide and shallow instead of deep. I think about the great satisfaction of tying knots -- just a few that I know, but I KNOW them -- and how those skills keep us in touch with our past. A month ago I pruned limbs off a tree in the back yard and remembered how to tie a Swiss seat from the army days to keep myself safe. Whatever it may be that serves as the touchpoint. A beloved old pocket knife, like the Barlow one that belonged to my dad. The worn cast iron skillet. The Mitchell reel, still working like a truck after 35 years. Nice to have these things in life.

Four Management Principles

Getting going with the week and I'm looking at something on the office wall that my friend Garrett posted up. Not sure of the source (probably HBR knowing Garrett) but here they are, a theme to kick off the week:

  • Be a Strategist :: have a position on the future.
  • Be an Executor :: someone who gets things done.
  • Be a Talent Manager :: engage and get the best out of people.
  • Develop People :: find and nurture the next leaders.
  • Personal Proficiency :: physical - take care of yourself | social - build a network of friends | emotional - be self aware | intellectual - have learning agility | spiritual - integrate work into your whole life.

Simple but to the point. And now back to the Monday.

The Radio Tower

My dad was a radio operator in the Navy in WWII, and he was on the U.S.S. San Fransciso, good old CA-38. He had a lot of good stories about the south pacific, and he said that many times he watched the entire ship going under the waves beneath him while up in the tower, so an interesting way to work. My mom stopped by this past weekend and dropped off some of his old books, and I was happy to see a unique set of specification manual type documents that only a former Navy guy could love.

When the day had ended I sat up and flipped through the pages and looked over all the lengths and tonnages and the sizes of the guns. I learned that CA-38 was a heavy cruiser, second only in the big hierarchy to the battleships, which clock in around three times heavier and have guns (16") twice the size.

Then come the light cruisers, then the destroyers. One would have thought the destroyers would be higher in the chain, but my guess is that they are lighter and faster. More reading for the future I suppose.

At any rate, I'll use the ship punching through the waves as my theme for the day. Not unlike IT projects I guess, sitting in a radio tower and looking out across the horizon, sometimes into blue skies and sometimes into pelting sleet and hail in which you can't see a damn thing. Sometimes on the water and sometimes watching your whole ship get slogged by waves.

Random thoughts

Very busy lately here at Data+Graphite, so some random thoughts to keep us all company while the snow starts to fall on Chicago. Right now it is rainy, wet snow, so no good there. We need the monster flakes like in the 70s. On we go. How Stuff Works

A huge thanks to the crew at HowStuffWorks.com for one of the best forms of internet usage in recent years. Funny, informative, and just good. Even the kids love to listen, which I must say beats Junie B. Jones. They are out of Atlanta, and I'm working on two projects in Atlanta right now. Maybe fate will route me past their offices one day.

Plone

Ah, the CMS I wish I had married years ago. Installed it again today and tooled around the Zope framework, and it is grand. I can just feel it. Trouble is I've spent all my learning curve time on eZ Publish, and SharePoint, and I don't know if I have the energy to slog through Zope and Plone. Love the idea though, and I'll be watching as they continue to push for better releases.

Google Wave and Google Voice

I now have access to both. Voice is great but a bit chaotic as it rings numerous phones, including a direct number for Skype. The drawback of working in places where I can't get a cell signal I guess. And what is going on with their translation? It seems that the folks in the southern U.S. have been forgotten, because messages from that part of the world come through in text looking like MadLibs.

Parallels

Still can't say enough about how useful Parallels is, particularly now that I've upgraded and the tools work for Microsoft as well as all the Linux distributions. FINALLY a solution to the wacky screen resolutions with Linux on laptops, albeit in a strange way.

The Mighty Battle

Working on a short list right now for a multi-tenant application and it has come down to EPiServer, eZ Publish, Kentico, and Plone. All good contenders, so we'll see who wins. For those of you in the assessment world, I've taken to recording videos to show functionality for the most important use cases. Seems to be the way to go because it is a far better vehicle than text for showing how things really work (take that, huge grids on cmsmatrix.org!). OK. Back to the coffee and the work.

Fully reloaded for OSS

Just finished up rebuilding an Ubuntu machine and it went surprisingly well. This time around I was after some integration of the LAMP stack with PostgreSQL, and while the config settings and whatnot differ a bit for that server, it was quite similar to MySQL. The biggest trick wasn't with the server per se but with the connection to phppgadmin on Apache, because you have to set the enhanced security flag to false for phppgadmin or else you won't be able to login from http://localhost/phppgadmin. Now it works like a charm: phppgadmin working

Next I'll be doing a clean install of eZ Publish 4.2 to see how Roland Bendetti and his product  crew have been doing since they adopted a more formalized roadmap. Not sure that it will matter with a manual install, since they seem to have put a lot of work into more polished installers for the masses (a good idea there), but maybe along the way they fixed the strange issue where you had to select the right combination of languages to get the demo template set in place.

After that it is back over to EPiServer to spend more time with their latest product. They have a lot going on too, and I'm curious about where they are headed with consolidation of various packages and bolt-on features.

Settling in with the Day Grid Balancer

So it has been a few months since I've been using the Day Grid Balancer, and I find it to be quite effective, and now I am tossing my old sheets up on the wall as a reminder of progress. The more marked up and filled in the better, the more I've done. It has become a unique blend of "Getting Things Done," both the Allen AND Black versions (for those of you who know that there are two good "Getting Things Done" books out there) with my Rhodia notepad and Day Grid Balancer sheets and an inbox. In the past I'd gone to extremes, with weekly papers and notes all marked by week and year, and then I'd scan/fax them as a set and load them into a content management system. Interesting to be sure, but a big waste of time really. Life is a whole lot more loose than that, full of corrections and mistakes and an endless list of things that don't matter and will never matter, so for me it is best to simplify. So far so good with the new system.

my daily grid balancer

Heaven is the virtual machine world

Kicking off the day, and I tell you, nothing beats the world of virtual machines. I am using Parallels on OS X, which is only around $70 right now, and I can run pretty much anything I want, and the Coherence mode is amazing (if a bit manic at times). Nice way to start work, without firing up all sort of machines or going the dual boot route or any of that stuff. picture 3

Shift to mobile has started

I've always hated phones, at least in the past, maybe because I don't like the interruptions or I have yet to find a mobile device I like. The Samsung Blackjack was one, a really durable phone all things considered, and as of late the Samsung Jetset through Cricket has been very good. So I guess I don't like the phone much yet I really like phone technology. I've supported a PBX system, sourced a VoIP solution and managed the installation (Mitel), then run a bunch of analytics against said Mitel system. While doing that I switched the home phones to Vonage, and in all the new technology beats the old hands down. So today I've fired up Google Voice -- 708 406 9066 -- after getting an invitation, and I'm looking forward to having a main number that I can manage behind the scenes. I'm also writing up a big SharePoint application assessment, and the more I'm in SharePoint the more I'm thinking about the mobile aspect of it. Much to look into on the mobile side, what with so many things headed that way, and functionality such as LED lights and, finally, the ability to project presentations so that you don't need a computer. Help me, Obi-Wan. Sales in the west are terrible. Installing SharePoint is our only hope.

The idea of projects/work and jobs

Just read a good post on Executive Update about looking for work, not necessarily a job, and I completely agree with the theme in that article. It may very well be the case that those of us with deep expertise and solid experience across various industries end up as contractors in one form or another. In late 2008 I wound down a company, worked on a couple of contracts, built up a profile, and did a lot of connecting on LinkedIn, and certainly a great deal of this was driven by the economy, but it was, I think, an early showing of what Gartner has been trumpeting related to HR, that in the days ahead it will all be about talent, networks, and projects. Even to the level of office space -- the need for physical space drops off too in many cases with the connected nature of the world. I'm going to use this post as a placeholder so that I can come back and think about related measurement. How do we measure and track success in this sort of working world? What are the personal KPIs, both for ourselves and for people looking to measure our skills and success? Surely the data mining of keywords in resumes won't do, because any fool can pack a resume full of keywords and get good results in searches. Maybe recommendations on LinkedIn? Star ratings? An aggregate of LinkedIn, eBay, and Survey Monkey results? No idea. All I know is that the change is coming, and at this point it seems equally exciting and depressing.