In a conversation over lunch at the conclusion of a job interview, I explained to the hiring manager and his colleagues, my WEIRD way for choosing a new Enterprise CMS platform, a plan I used with success for a couple of clients.
My guiding mantra for most of my thinking in the business world has been to simplify things as much as possible. It makes for a clearer understanding and agreement on objectives and controls the tendency to buy into cutting edge technologies as an early adopter -- hopefully avoiding the pitfalls of early release feature sets and functionality that could be bug ridden. (Yes, it happens. Some of the best new features out there in the CMS space are troublesome at integration time and play havoc on your delivery schedule).
By adopting a keep it simple approach, I’ve encouraged clients to integrate newfound technology after launch, allowing time to make the right decisions and implementations away from the hard target date of a major re-platforming launch. My WEIRD way evolved from that simplify mantra.
Over lunch I learned two things:
- sometimes companies with job openings will treat you to lunch if they think you have some magic answers to pressing problems they are facing and
- once they pick your brains, that job offer dries up and blows away like so much dust in the wind. (Apologies to the 70’s rock band Kansas for the shameless use of their catchy refrain.)
I really wanted to work with this company. They were at a juncture that would be a great insertion point for my skills and experience. Had I known that the outcome of our conversation would not result in a job offer, I’m sure I still would still have shared my thinking with them on how to select a CMS platform.
Regardless of intent, if there is a need for help, I want to help. My host treated me to a nice lunch at a white linen napkin type restaurant in the heart of the downtown district. The menu was impressive and wine was included in our lunch plans. I should have known something was afoot!
While waiting for our order to arrive, I was quizzed about how one would go about selecting a CMS system. It wasn’t a typical interview question posed to see how my thought processes work; it was plain and simple, a question about how best to proceed in dangerous waters. It was an opening I used to describe my keep it simple approach.
The WEIRD Way
WEIRD is my acronym for Wish, Evaluate, Investigate, Review and Decide. Hear me out. It gets better. Here we go.
Over the salad course, I explained how it works. First is Wish: essentially the creation and development of a Master Wish List. I explained how we used this approach at a recent e-Commerce company to define the selection criteria and determine the critical components of the next CMS platform we were charged with sourcing.
The team began with an honest assessment of what we liked about our current setup and recorded our agreement in an Excel spreadsheet. The team favored the way we could use the project and site structure organization of our current system, regardless of the type of content, to find the stuff we were looking to access.
We could search by the type of file type like HTML, .doc, pdf or images in project folders since files and other elements lived in folders organized by project (or product). Alternately we could navigate through the site structure and find the file we wanted by where it lived within the site organization. We liked that -- two paths to navigate for finding content.
We liked the way our in-line editor worked; we could click on an Edit icon, right on the browser page, and bring up the content within the CMS template with all the fields there for our use -- not just a body field or titles and headlines -- but every field in the actual template. It wasn’t truly an in-context editor, but we liked the control it gave us in the maintenance of content.
Also in universal favor was the way our current system handled flash and video files, how the publishing workflows were highly flexible and well integrated across all the different sites we controlled using the console. There were other items on the “like” side, but for brevity's sake, the list was comprehensive.
As our entrees arrived, I wrapped up the wish list overview by describing how we next, based on our preferences and what we knew about our content needs, described and agreed upon lists of “must haves,” “nice to haves” and prioritized items from the “likes” and “nice to haves” that, if pressed based on what was out there in the CMS world, we could negotiate away, such as which features or customizations we could live without if necessary for launch.
The result was an exhaustive spreadsheet compiled with all the things we agreed were important to us in a new CMS. We would revisit this spreadsheet repeatedly during the next exercises, refining our Wish List based on what we were learning about offerings in the CMS world.
EVALUATE our options
Next, along with a review of the dessert menu and our orders, I described how with a license to CMS Watch reports, the team divided up the work and went off to evaluate the different CMS offerings both proprietary and open-source.
With some 200+ players in the CMS space, it was a large task made simpler by process of elimination -- removing from consideration those that did not give indication that they offered some of the features we liked or deemed necessary on our wish list. At team meetings over the course of a few weeks, we compared our findings and refined our choices down to a few offerings, updating the Wish List as we went.
INVESTIGATE and REVIEW
In our team meetings, we narrowed our choices down to a few proprietary and open-source solutions. With a narrowed field of focus, we began researching and interviewing prospective integration vendors: companies to help us manage the install and various customizations.
Each prospective vendor was sent a rather exhaustive RFP, modeled in large part from our Master Wish List. As the returned proposals were reviewed, it helped further refine our options for the eventual CMS we chose. We added comments to our Master Wish List about our vendor proposals, the pros and cons, costs and our impressions of their offerings.
A blurb about customizations
Out of box is a myth. In every re-platforming I’ve been involved in, there are a number of customizations required which in turn play a significant role in the eventual selection of a platform. The customization required help determine which CMS platforms support customizations better than others, what estimated costs of those customizations would be, how much time in the project effort should be blocked out for the work and validation of said customizations.
In my experience (for whatever it's worth), as few customizations as possible should be factored into the initial launch. Subsequent deployments after the initial launch are the right time to start integrating customizations; their impact is less significant to budgets and timelines than those chosen for the initial launch. Save your money, put the bulk of your customizations in the product backlog.
With returned RFPs in hand, our reviews complete and initial interviews with prospective integration vendors behind us, it was time to choose. With dessert behind us and the lunch tab on the table, I announced which CMS platform our team chose.
Then a moment later, the questions poured out. My host paid the lunch tab and we exited as I explained our selection and the guiding criteria for that particular choice. Whether my prospective employee agreed or understood our CMS choice, our simple WEIRD methodology met our team needs and delivered essentially what we wanted with few surprises.
We paused on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and said our good-byes. I thanked them for lunch, for listening and asking great questions, and made my trial close, expressing my interest in working with them and my confidence in my ability to be an asset to their efforts.
A brief email arrived a few days later. Although they were impressed with my qualifications and experience, they went with another candidate. Did I not get the offer because they didn’t like the WEIRD approach, or the result? I’ll never know. As Kansas vocalists Lynn Meredith and Joel Warne would have said, “All we are is dust in the wind.”