When CMS Projects Fail: What You Need to Know, Part 1

CMS projects fail. The majority don't go according to the plan. Very few are representative of a truly successful web content and experience management system implementation. Others just never take off.

The software has been purchased, training conducted, iterations started, but there's still nothing to show to the executive sponsors. A year goes by, and frustrations build up. Integrators come and go, and consultants are parachuted in to put out fires. Internally, the organization loses hope of ever seeing any useful output from the CMS and declares it dead. Champagne, anyone?

What can you do to avoid tripping over the same potholes that have already been made? While I cannot offer a fail-proof recipe for all situations, here are some insights from the implementations I've done in the past.

Buying the Wrong CMS-Vendors are good at selling their products, as well as road maps and visions. Companies are good at skinning demos to show you exactly what you want to see, with a few shiny baubles. Two of the most common pitfalls in the procurement process are overbuying and the Uncle Johnny syndrome.

I often see organizations fall for the demos and end up buying a CMS that is more expensive, complicated, and feature-rich than it needs to be in the hopes of growing into it. Usually, 5 years later, the organization is still using the most basic publishing functionalities, and none of the fancy add-ons. The Uncle Johnny syndrome occurs when an organization makes a software selection decision based on what CMS is being used by its relatives, friends, neighbors, or the competition.

Overdoing/Doing It Wrong-Choosing the right tool for your specific scenario is only half of the battle. Preparation, process, and expectation-setting are also crucial. Many organizations don't realize the effort and price that go into the implementation. Properly gathering functional, technical, and other requirements is critical and should not be underestimated, or underbudgeted. Plan to spend at least three to five times the software price for the implementation.

"Floss" your content thoroughly before doing an inventory in preparation for your content migration. Don't underestimate the impact of the (usually messy) content migration on your timelines and budget. Avoid a common pitfall of overarchitecting your CMS implementation, but do take the time to design and code for scalable growth. Keep it simple, and carry out incremental, iterative code releases.

Lack of Proper Resources-Depending on your level of organizational maturity in regards to information and content management, you may find yourself lacking certain functions internally to make the best of your CMS implementation. Ideally, you should take a holistic approach to content management practices. If your web operations HR layer is thin, adjust your expectations and do not expect the CMS itself to take care of all issues. Software is important, but it is rarely useful without people and processes behind it.

If you don't have enough of the right people to fill in the web operation's holes, hire them. Developers are not marketers or SEO gurus. It's OK to wear multiple hats every now and then, but not too many and not too often. Web content strategists, information architects, and user experience ninjas are all vital parts to a successful web content management exercise. They have to be present in the overall CM process, either internally or externally. If taxonomy or web analytics is a new field for your organization, hire a specialist. Mobile strategy is likely to need resources versed in responsive design, app development, and mobile content. The same goes for social media.

Managing Change Is Hard-If you avoid heavily involving internal stakeholders throughout the project, nobody will use the CMS. If you fail to institute a project management discipline, your implementation may never see the light of day.

Break down departmental silos to move your CMS implementation forward. Involve all departments and functions, including IT and business. Users are more likely to embrace the organizational change of introducing a new CMS if they're close to development cycles and have the ability to give input and get their hands dirty with the new system in an incremental manner.

Your internal compatriots will refuse and reject change and put in roadblocks. Your job is to communicate well that the train is about to leave the station and they have tickets to join the ride.