Have a strong enough opinion on anything and you will inevitably provoke a discussion. 

And my recent series on the three to five year web content management replacement cycle did exactly that.

Getting to the Root of Web CMS Churn

David Hobbs is an author, consultant and fellow contributor to this site who contacted me to share his perspective on the problem. Hobbs takes a Product Management perspective to web projects, which he shared in his book, Website Product Management.  

Hobbs’s product management perspective results in a slightly different take on the web CMS churn. While he agrees with the basic premise of the problem, he identifies a different cause: website redesign.

He believes redesign gives a team the opportunity to look at what he calls “the bones” of a website project — in other words, the platforms and processes that support it.

And in examining those bones, Hobbs pinpointed two main areas of focus: whether the project was initiated for long term success and what governance was applied in its ongoing maintenance.

Short Term Solutions

Viewing a web CMS platform and its associated processes can expose flaws in the original implementation very quickly, revealing a solution that wasn’t built to last for the long term.

To avoid this, Hobbs gave three pieces of advice:

  1. Start by defining the vision for the new site, before deciding anything related to implementation or platform. A broad view, which includes business needs, people and process avoids the tech-centric trap that many companies fall into. While it’s always tempting to bill this as a technical problem with a technical solution, that’s a sure route back to the same issues.
  2. Focus on the bones, not the skin. Too many organizations focus on what the site looks like on day one. Hobbs recommends prioritizing content strategy and the delivered experience. Prioritizing how the thing will work, rather how it will look.
  3. Make maximizing impact your goal. Focus on implementing tools and processes to have the broadest and longest term impact.

Uncontrolled Growth Exacerbates Underlying Problems

When a site has multiple stakeholders publishing content and creating micro-sites, it results in bloat, visitor confusion and poor search experience.

Hobbs and I agree on this point, but where I recommend having a strong content strategy and sticking to it, Hobbs takes it further.

With his product management approach he refers not just to having a content strategy, but having an iterative change strategy — organizations need to effectively manage ongoing change.

Left unabated, the combination of the two problems — the poor implementation foundation and the uncontrolled building on top of it — creates a situation where the only way forward is to knock the whole thing down and start again, with a new CMS.

The Role of the Advisor

After making his points on website redesign, Hobbs took me to task on a point I made in one of the articles:

    “Please invest in understanding the needs of the organization, your audience and your users before doing anything at all.
    Do this before the first vendor meeting or demo, before the first chat with your favorite consultants, your agency or analyst organization of choice.” 

Hobbs correctly noted that many organizations need help at this stage, which is a good point. A well conducted discovery phase of a project is fundamental — and not all organizations have those skills. 

The onus then is on the organization to ensure it receives quality advice, which means understanding in advance any conflicts which the consultant or research firm might have.

While I agree with both of those arguments, I hold to my original statement that organizations need to take the first steps before passing the project off to an advisor — though I still owe Hobbs a response as to when that hand off should take place.

This is only a small taste of the many points Hobbs raised in response to my articles. His writings can give you a stronger sense of how a product management approach works when dealing with a web CMS implementation. 

Our discussion revealed more commonalities than differences, and I look forward to our ongoing conversation.