Have you ever asked yourself, "Is it just me, or does everyone have these same problems when implementing a CMS? I have. So I decided to do a little survey to find out. The results were fairly consistent, sometimes surprising, and they give me hope that by combining our collective wisdom we will find better ways to bring rational content management to the world.

The Survey

The survey was pretty simple -- one multiple choice question seeded with 15 "CMS Challenges." Respondents were asked to rank their top 5 and could add their own alternative challenges. They also had the opportunity to submit comments and advice. There were a total of 33 survey respondents with a breakdown of 58% practitioners, 33% consultant/integrators, and 9% content services providers. I tallied the results in a few different ways -- first by looking at which challenges people most often ranked anywhere in their top 5. Next I analyzed which challenges they most often ranked #1. The third breakout was based on role -- practitioner, consultant/integrator, and content services provider. The most revealing results were based on the #1 rankings, which I describe here.

The Results

The top 5 challenges (most often ranked #1) were: # Clarifying business goals # Gaining and maintaining executive support # Redesigning/optimizing business processes # Gaining consensus among stakeholders # Properly scoping the project It's gratifying to learn that issues I've run into on CMS projects are not unique. "Properly scoping the project" was actually the most popular answer, showing up in the top 5 most often. But the overall winner was "clarifying business goals." Of the 33 respondents, 27% ranked it #1.

Take Away: Focus on Business Goals

So why is it so hard to define business goals? I assert that many wayward CMS initiatives are ill-conceived from the start. As one consultant commented, "Make sure you know why you're doing it, then how you plan to reach those goals, and only then plan requirements." Seems obvious, but, based on the survey results, it's not always done. There are usually perfectly valid reasons to implement a CMS, but frequently not enough time is taken to develop the business case. Moving forward with unclear goals impacts every aspect of your project from what system you choose to what resources your need. Projects without clear goals inevitably fail to meet expectations.

Take Away: Build Stakeholder Consensus

The other way to interpret the "clarifying business goals" top ranking is that the process of gaining consensus among stakeholders and executives is frustrating and time-consuming. The harsh reality is that content management is not foremost on the minds of most business people. Their own individual business goals (sales, market share, productivity) are top of mind. The challenge is to convince these stakeholders that there is a direct tie between content management and meeting these goals. Now there's a challenge! But therein also lies the reward.

Take Away: Esprit de Corps

To me, the top challenges can be summarized into a single statement: The hardest part is getting a disparate group of people to work together towards a common goal. Some interesting trends emerged in the comments. Among consultants and integrators, a common theme suggested that client companies tend to shortchange business analysis and requirements gathering. It's human nature to want to get in there, pick a system, and start playing with it right away. But we must fight that urge. Plus, companies try to squeeze the budget and schedule based on assumptions of out-of-the-box functionality. When they actually get to implementing, they find that they've doomed the project to cost and schedule overruns and unmet expectations.

Take Away: Least Important Factors

Equally as interesting as the top challenges are those that ranked the lowest. The bottom 5 challenges (least often ranked #1) were: # Technical issues with CMS product # Project planning or project management # Usability or user adoption issues # User/stakeholder involvement # Finding or keeping skilled technical resources These findings are tricky to interpret. With technical issues and skills ranking so low, it seems to indicate that CMS products have matured enough that they no longer present show-stoppers. But, I remain skeptical, especially around "usability or user adoption issues." While I do believe that system vendors are making strides in making their products usable, I believe these lower ranking challenges are still issues, but are largely overshadowed by the business challenges that top the list.

Take Away: Promote Healthy Project Processes

Overall, the message from the survey is clear and echoes a quote that has appeared on my Web site: "Healthy processes consistently produce healthy outcomes." Michael Schrage, MIT Media Lab--eMarkets I think we can all agree then, that healthy CMS project processes consistently produce healthy CMS implementations.

About the Author

Rita Warren of ZiaContent, Inc. is an independent content management consultant with more than ten years helping clients deliver content in compelling and sensible ways. Those interested may download the full survey results and comments in PDF format.