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Best Practices

Ann Rockley, The Rockley Group, Inc.

Why start with analysis and design?

One of the most common mistakes that we see is a company picking the tool first, then trying to make their content management requirements fit the functionality of the tool. However, analysis of why projects fail identifies that one of the main reasons for failure is lack of analysis and design. This article draws on recent literature to identify the main reasons for why content management projects fail and provides some possible solutions.

In the late 1990s and the early part of 2000, the acquisition and implementation of content management systems was one of the most common IT projects. However, many of these projects have failed to show the expected results. A sampling of some recent quotes in the press help to identify the reasons why so many projects have failed.

According to the authors of Making Technology Investments Profitable, 50% of all IT projects fail [1]. This is a view supported by P.G. Bartlett, VP Marketing at Arbortext. In a recent interview, Bartlett points out that content management projects fail at the same rate as IT projects and he points out why:

Content management projects succeed or fail at the same rate as other large IT projects. Almost invariably, the problems arise not from tools or software but from trying to obtain significant benefits from a "quick and dirty" implementation. In most unsuccessful implementations, they hoped that they could just buy some software, bolt it on to an existing process, and the benefits just roll in. The problem is that most of the benefits arise from fixing process problems, and fixing them requires not only a change in tools but also a change in behavior.

In successful implementations—and we have seen many—they invest the time up front to plot out a long-term plan that addresses problems and opportunities in a comprehensive way. The knowledge to create these plans typically does not exist within the organization because the discipline is still relatively new, so they bring in experts to help. [2]

In a summary of a Feb. 2003 Jupiter Research report about why content management systems fail, pointed out that many of the reasons for failure stem from lack of planning or insight into what functionality is needed from the system:

Web content management tools often fail to live up to their promise... The report found the bulk of companies surveyed felt they overspent on content management platforms, and the tools in those platforms are under-deployed. Sixty-one percent of the surveyed companies said they still rely on manual processes to update their Web sites.

One media company spent over a year and $250,000 working its content management package into its site production process. The company recently realized that its content had little structure to speak of, and that because it had not made a strict separation between content and presentation, the company's broader needs for reusing content elsewhere were effectively blocked.

Another problem found is the core requirements of content management (such as support for workflow, lending structure to content, and facilitating reuse) turn out to be far from the minds of platform purchasers, the report said. [3]

Furthermore, in a recent article on managing content management system selection, Martin White points out that organizations don't always determine their workflow requirements and benefits:

Current CMS applications have more than enough power to handle the most complex of content management processes, but how many organizations have worked through the workflows behind document preparation, and (of even greater importance) identified where there could be benefits in re-engineering the workflow to gain the maximum benefit from the CMS application? [4]

Analysis is critical

These quotes point out that analysis is critical in successfully implementing a content management system and associated processes. It is difficult to effectively select an appropriate technology without understanding your processes and business needs. Best practices developed as a result of successful projects show that you need to figure out “what’s going on” with your content, how it’s being used, how it’s being managed, as well as the processes you use to create, publish, and store it. During the analysis phase, you:
  • Determine where it really “hurts”

    Change happens when the current content creation and management processes are no longer acceptable. The organization is “hurting” and wants to change. To discover where your organization is hurting the most, you need to understand the dangers and challenges you are facing , the opportunities you can realize through change, and the strengths you can build on to implement these changes. Without a clear understanding of the issues facing your organization it is difficult to select a tool that addresses your issues.

  • Identify your content life cycle

    Within your organization, content is developed in many different ways, by many different people, and by many different departments. Development may follow an established process or it may not, and if so, it may differ from department to department. To implement a unified content strategy, you need unified processes so that everyone involved in developing, storing, and publishing content does it the same way, or at minimum is able to interact effectively with each other and share content. Best practices advise that before selecting tools, you need to examine your content life cycle and any issues associated with it. If you select tools without understanding how content progresses through its life cycle, chances are, your tools will not support your desired content development processes.

  • Perform a content audit

    Before you can model your content—and subsequently, unify it—you need to gain an intimate understanding of its nature and structure. Best practices instruct us that performing a content audit is critical before making any technology or design decisions. During a content audit, you look at your organization’s content analytically and critically, allowing you to identify opportunities for reuse and the type of reuse. Once you see how your information is being used and reused, you can make decisions about how you might unify it. Without a content audit, you will not understand the scope of the potential reuse and the type of reuse, both of which are critical when designing content models and selecting tools. For example, your content audit may illustrate that you need to manage granular reuse (small objects of content). Failure to realize this may result in the selection of a tool that does not effectively manage granular reuse.

Using your analysis as a basis for the understanding of your needs you can identify:

  • Criteria for the selection of your technology
  • Criteria for your business case and calculation of return on investment
  • Process improvements
  • Goals and vision for your project
  • Content reuse and management requirements

Your findings from a solid analysis enable you to make informed decisions about your tools selection.

Design follows analysis

Design is frequently a task that is begun after tools are selected. You can neither complete the design phase without selecting your technology, nor can you effectively select your tools without an understanding of what you need the tools to support. Best practices recommend that you analyze and design first, then select technology, but to help you understand the full extent of what you want your tools to do, you can start preliminary design as soon as you are completed your analysis. During the preliminary design, you start specifying the criteria for selecting your tools.
  • Preliminary content modeling

    Preliminary content modeling enables you to start identifying your content structure, reuse strategy, and granularity. The complexity of your reuse and the level of granularity required will provide valuable information for the functionality of your authoring and content management system. For example, if you have identified that you would like to automatically populate reusable content wherever it's required (systematic reuse), you will need a tool that supports systematic reuse. Your models will identify the degree to which systematic reuse needs to be supported.

    Preliminary content modeling also helps you to determine how authors will write content. The preliminary models will help to identify if existing authoring tools are sufficient for your content authoring requirements, if a structured editor is required, or if forms are appropriate.

  • Preliminary workflow

    Workflow is the way in which you control your content life cycle. It is also the way in which you manage your reuse. Preliminary workflow design enables you to start defining reuse rules and the best practices for content management throughout the content life cycle. The way in which you want to manage reuse is valuable input into the required functionality of your tools.


Analysis is critical to the success of your project. Skipping analysis and moving to tools selection can compromise your business requirements. Both analysis and design are critical to success. You should always take the time to perform a thorough analysis of your corporate requirements and your content. Preliminary design will assist you in developing additional criteria for tools selection, ensuring that your tools will support what you want to do with your content, from the time authors create it to the time it's stored in your content management system.


  1. Keen, Jack and Bonnie Digrius. Making Technology Investments Profitable. John Wiley and Sons, 2003.
  2. Interview with P.G. Bartlett, Vice President-Marketing, Arbortext, Inc., The Content Wrangler ( Feb. 12, 2004.
  3. Study: Content Management Fails,
  4. White, Martin. “Managing Content Management Selection,” E Content magazine online,

Copyright 2004, The Rockley Group, Inc.