Reasons why a CMS fails - how to ensure successful implementation

A CMS has been regarded as a holy grail by many companies when managing their websites. However, if not implemented correctly, they fail or at the very least not deliver the ROI expected.

The first CMS’s started to be used in the late nineties. Since then the CMS market has developed incredibly – in terms of the scale, functionality and types available.

Having project managed a number of CMS implementations, I have experienced at first hand why they can fail. Dealing with these issues early on will ensure a greater chance of success in any implementation you may be involved in.

Deal with these top reasons early on in the project to ensure success:

Requirements gathering
Organisational management and communication
Training
Publishing processes
Quality control
Resistance to change
CMS implemented incorrectly
Budget
Team capacity
Wrong CMS purchased

 

Requirements gathering

This is the most step you take before you even tender for a CMS. Understand that for 90% of scenarios, your requirements are not unique. Someone will have the same requirement and have probably implemented in successfully (hopefully not your competitor). Therefore, for structured methods of requirements gathering in a disciplined way.

It is useful to remind your content owners that a “requirement" is a necessary attribute in the CMS - a statement that identifies a capability, characteristic, or quality factor that has tangible value to the visitor to your website.

You therefore need to focus on “needs” and not “wants”. It will be too tempting to focus on the “nice to haves” in the CMS so you need to quickly get back to the real need for the CMS.

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Organisational management and communication

Many organisations have internal problems which prevents a CMS being used correctly. Organisationally set your web teams up correctly so that they serve the business units rather than the IT department. Instead of trying to fix the internal issues, they use the CMS as a band aid for the internal processes. The results from such projects are often far from optimal.

Good communication is a key to the success of any CMS project! Beware of the communication lag and use all the tools available (intranet, newsletters, team briefings, management meetings etc.) to communicate with all the stakeholders correctly. It’s truly poor management to push through a CMS project without consulting those people who have to live with its consequences.  Very quickly the CMS becomes the enemy rather than a tool that will help staff to work better.

Finally, have the organisational resource to make sure the website will be changed, updated and refreshed regularly. In addition to this, tie in the web analytics and SEO processes early on. Managing these processes might sound costly and extensive, but every little bit of effort and every penny spent on getting a proper organisation in place will save a multitude of efforts and costs downstream by reducing significantly the time required to maintain your site.

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Training

In my experience, for most organisations, training is an after thought to a CMS implementation. Even when it’s planned for in advance, the effort required is underestimated and given low priority. It’s often delivered by technical teams rather than professional trainers or experts on the user side of the CMS.

A token gesture in training means:

At the Met Office I designed the CMS training course that provided practical training of the most common features the editors would use including:

A second training course for administrators was also designed for the web team who had the strategic responsibility over the whole CMS.

Finally, don’t over look the training on writing for the web!

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Publishing processes

Wikipedia defines content management as "a collection of procedures used to manage workflow in a collaborative environment." This is the key. You need to ensure that you have a content strategy and a publishing process that delivers to that strategy. Designing the right processes for your organisation will take time and can prove difficult. However, without it you will fail.

A key process to look at is the content editorial process. At the Met Office, I defined the different types of editors and publishers the organisation needed and had this as a formal process. This was then tightly related to the workflow and approval process in the CMS. A note of caution here. Implementing unnecessarily complex workflow and publishing processes will slow down the publishing. Your CMS should facilitate the management of content, not act as a barrier preventing the dissemination of new content.

Put the responsibility for content with the person who is the subject matter expert – not his/her manager. This will ensure accuracy, consistency and ownership of content. The result is that your site is used more.

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Quality control

A CMS is just a tool to efficiently publish content to a website. Sure, you can configure tools that helps editors to quality control their content. In the end, quality web writing needs a human touch. It's up to the editors to produce decent copy and it's up to the organisation to provide the right training and set up the quality control processes.

Many organisations don’t focus on quality content management processes. This could be due to the fact that content management is a small part of their editors daily activities; their experience levels are insufficient; their computer skills are insufficient or there might be a lack of understanding of the importance and impact of quality content management throughout the entire organisation.

Finally, many organisations underestimate the amount of time required to produce quality content. Skilled writing needs research, extensive review and editing. These things all take time. However, getting this wrong has a direct impact on quality.

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Resistance to change

Let’s face it, people don’t like to change. Especially where learning a new technology or software is concerned. And a CMS is not like e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. No matter how slick the interface is, a CMS is something no one wants to spend any more time than absolutely necessary. It’s also a software tool that typically only a few people in your organisation will use with any frequency. And it’s around these core users that you should build your process around.

Three key areas to look at with respect to the editors are training, communication and making web publishing part of the role. At Deliotte I was able to add web publishing as part of the editor’s job description. This meant that they could officially spend time on training and learning the CMS. It also meant that their managers recognised the vital role they played.

Finally, be aware of resistance to change from key parts of the organisation. Some will regard it as a threat to their current way of working, others will create blocks to your success. You will need to use all your people skills to find a way round this, including any NLP techniques.

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CMS implemented incorrectly

When purchased the CMS’s benefits are clear, but after delivery and implementation, it looks quite different because of various reasons such as: templates don’t look pretty, functionality doesn’t work like it should, and the user interface is too hard to work with smoothly. Maybe the system itself is not the problem, but the way it was implemented is causing difficulties.

Whilst at the Cabinet Office, everyone blamed the CMS for the cumbersome publishing process and the lack of resilience. Once I reviewed it, the core cause was the incorrect implementation of the CMS templates that caused the database to expand the log files exponentially so that system ground to a halt.

Finally, experienced professionals should manage the implementation of the CMS and not the people that are available who are probably not best suited or qualified to lead the project.

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Budget

Every finance director will want to spend next to nothing on a CMS. Often this is because they don’t understand the value of the web (as a real example, in 2000, AXA UK were seriously considering scraping their intranet to save money!). On the other hand, the business units will have ambitions that are much greater than their budget allows. Try and limit the scope or chunk the phases across different financial years.

You not only need the budget for the purchase of the CMS, but also for the correct implementation. Organisations will need professional help, especially if this is their first CMS implementation, as they will not have the in-house skills and expertise for a successful deployment.

There also needs to be a budget for post-implementation activities (probably for 2-3 years) to bed down the CMS. A lot of organisations are under a misconception that after all the investment in getting the CMS up and running, the system will do all the work itself and nearly everything goes automatically.

A CMS should be viewed as a sensible and important investment, rather than a cost.

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Team capacity

It’s very easy to underestimate the amount of work that is needed in maintaining a CMS based website. As the devolved publishing process takes root in the organisation, so the requirements for change and increase of functionality will start coming in.

Where sufficient capacity is missing, both quality of work and morale will suffer. The solution may not be as simple as increasing the team as this requires more management and coordination effort to function properly. This is where you will need to revaluate the requirements and start to prioritise the increased work.

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Wrong CMS purchased

It will take a brave manager to admit that they actually purchased a wrong CMS. Rather than shoehorn the requirements with large configuration changes, consider if it's better to admit a mistake and start again. In two of the organisations I worked in, they refused to do this with the resulting website frustrating for the visitor to use. It also added a great deal of costs in maintenance and managing their content.

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