WCM Field Notes is a regular column written in collaboration with Jon Marks (@McBoof), Head of Development at LBi. This issue lists 15 questions you can use to judge the state of your content management project.

There is a little creek that I know where the water don't smell too rosy. Lots of little boats with the words CMS emblazoned on the side are bobbing around, being pulled along by one current or another. A few boats are rowing slowly, inching their way upstream, but most don't have any paddles. You know the place I mean. Maybe you're already headed there, or maybe you're there already.

To find out exactly where you are, count how many of the following fifteen apply to you, and then refer to the scoring at the end of the article.

How Far Up the Creek? 15 Questions


  1. Is your leadership lost?
    Your main stakeholder doesn't get it, and doesn't listen properly to people that do. Let's be honest -- they're an idiot and they're running the project into the ground.
  2. Is the software wrong (Part I)?
    Deep down inside, you know you picked the wrong software. It looked great in the demo, but it isn't looking so great any more. You really wish you'd gone with the guys without that slick sales machine.
  3. Is the editorial team represented and engaged?
    No-one in the editorial team has been involved in the CMS selection. But don't worry -- they're sure to love it, train themselves and jump in with big smiles.
  4. Are there elephants in the room?
    The biggest issues on the project are never actually discussed -- the two or three elephants that sit quietly in the corner during every meeting. If anyone has the nerve to explore these issues, the entire foundations of the project could start to shake. It is far easier to take the Ostrich Approach to risk management.
  5. Is your agility process on crutches?
    You have unimplemented requirements that are in a spreadsheet that is older than your children. This is bad if your children are walking, worse if they are talking, and shoot yourself if they are at school. Either you are implementing far too slowly, or your requirements gathering process is ridiculous.
  6. Are your code ninjas Peter Sellers in drag?
    The Crack Developer Ninja team that your systems integrator paraded in the pitch meetings have vanished in a magic puff of Ninja Smoke -- just like they do in the movies. They've been replaced with a junior bunch that seem to be learning on the job. To make matters worse, the same person that selected the systems integrator is the person responsible for sacking them. Which will make them look pretty stupid, so that isn't going to happen.
  7. Is your point person going to be your point of failure?
    If a certain key developer gets hit by a bus, it's game over for the project. You know the person I mean. And the bad news is that the Head Hunters are on the look-out for just such a person and, when they find them, they're going to offer them the salary they deserve, not the pittance you're paying them.
  8. Are you burying yourself with out-dated software?
    You're not on the latest software version as it is too much effort. The vendor's Pro Serve team has quoted you somewhere between a week a few months for what the press release called a "simple upgrade". You've decided now isn't the best time to take on this upgrade, knowing full well that it if you haven't done it by now, you probably never will.
  9. Are you investing enthusiastically in your demise?
    Your system relies on cutting edge technologies such as Visual Basic 6, TCL or Perl. And lots of proprietary scripting languages. Developers would rather go to a knitting class than a training course covering your technology stack.
  10. Are you institutionalizing problems and weaknesses?
    It takes you more than ten minutes to get a finished article live. It should be nearly instant, but less than ten is okay if you have some caches that are flushed on a timer. More than ten normally means hours. Which, as you know, sucks the big one.
  11. Is the software wrong (Part II)?
    Adding or changing a simple content type is a lot of work, involving work at every level of the architecture -- database changes, recompiling code and massive front end changes. You suspect it really shouldn't be that difficult.
  12. Are you heading for the chief delusional officer demotion?
    You've decided to build a monolith, and plan to launch a new CMS, Search, Community Site, eCommerce engine and Analytics package across 12 regions and 29 languages on the same day. You like the idea of a Big Bang, but never expected it to sound like a paddle snapping.
  13. Are you subconsciously planning an early and involuntary retirement?
    You've got a lovely plan and budget up until launch, but that is when the money runs out. You have no Support and Maintenance budget, and haven't quite figured out who keeps the thing ticking after it goes live. As I've said before, the real success of a project is determined by the ease of delivering Phase 2, but you'll worry about this later.
  14. Have you developed an unfounded yet profound faith in your RAID set?
    You haven't done a proper Disaster Recovery exercise in a year. In fact, you're not even sure your database backups are running. Note that if you answered yes to this, stop reading this article now, ask to see the last few backups, and come back when you are more at ease.
  15. Have you soiled the relational soup?
    You're having ridiculous arguments with your suppliers about the contract. You are demanding some useless deliverables mentioned by the Statement of Work that you know will never be looked at, but you don't want to get ripped off. In return, they're serving you with Change Requests left, right and center for anything not explicitly mentioned in the finest detail.


So, how many of the above statements apply to you? Here's our back-of-the-napkin diagnostic and statistical manual:

  • 0: You're lying.
  • 1 - 3: Smile, and bask in the knowledge you're a whole lot better off than most other people.
  • 4 - 8: Things are pretty average, and you can still salvage the situation.  Seek out some sage advice.
  • 8 - 13: It's pretty painful. Don't leave sharp objects lying around the office. Immediate remedial work required.
  • 13 - 15: Resign. Now. The problems are bigger than you. Save what's left of your dignity. 

It's Worse Than I Thought -- Help!

Sorry mate -- this was the Identify Your Problems edition. You'll have to keep paddling against the current while we whittle what we know about project recovery into the next version of this column.

In the meantime, here are a few articles aimed at keeping you shiny side up during your next content management project: