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Feature Article

Judy Glick-Smith, The GlickSmith Group, Inc.

Planning: The Key to Successful CMS Implementation

So you think you need content management? The temptation is to call your Information Technology (IT) department and ask them to help you choose a content management system (CMS). Being very tool oriented, your IT department will love buying you the latest "silver bullet" without ever looking at your content requirements or your internal processes. This is the best prescription for failure.

Implementing a CMS is a system development effort. Just like any other system implementation, planning is the key to success. Planning involves an assessment of where you are today, where you want to be in the future, and what you need to do to get there. Your assessment must cover a review of your content, an evaluation of your content development processes, and an assessment of tools available to you. This can be a daunting task, but, when you are thorough, you are much more likely to succeed.

We are living in a world where our work increasingly screams for automation. Companies are asking their knowledge workers to do more and more in less and less time. This also applies to content; after all, every organization creates content. However, we continue to generate content as if we were still working in the industrial age in a lineal, "siloed" way. As a result, organizations have commoditized the content development process. Just like manufacturing and systems development, organizations are sending content to be created offshore, where it continues to be generated in a lineal fashion. As long as organizations continue to believe that "anyone" can write, this will be the case.

According to Dr. Peter Drucker, the key to survival for an organization in the coming years is access to information that enables decision-making and facilitates innovation. [1] Those of us involved in content development instinctively know that this is our ultimate goal. We know that we could be more efficient if we had content management. We are also aware that content management would benefit the entire organization.

Where organizations often fail when implementing content management is in not realizing that the implementation is a system development effort, and should be managed as such. As Philip W. Metzger and John Boddie wrote in Managing a Programming Project: Processes and People, "Poor planning boils to the surface as a source of problems more often than any other problem [in systems development]." [2]

This article discusses the planning process that is critical to success in the implementation of content management for the enterprise.

Identifying Long-range Goals

Tying into Organizational Strategy

Most organizations have a strategy, which may or may not be written down, for moving forward. In an ideal setting, upper management develops a strategic plan for the entire organization, each department develops their strategic plan based on the corporate plan, then each group within a department develops its strategic plan based on the departmental plan, and so on. Theoretically, this approach ensures that everyone is operating from the same place and is supporting the higher-level goals.

More typically, employees have flawed perceptions of management's overall strategy. This can result in the implementation of systems that inadequately support the true vision of the organization.

Clarification of the corporate goals and strategies is absolutely necessary to the success in content management implementation.

Developing Departmental Strategy

As described above, a departmental strategy should support the corporate strategy. If a corporate goal is to reduce time-to-market from six months to four months, a departmental goal might be to automate one third of its processes, enabling it to respond more quickly. This goal could apply to any department in the corporation.

However, strategic planning at the departmental level needs to be integrated across departmental boundaries. To do otherwise fosters a "siloed" environment in which each department is working independently, often "re-inventing the wheel" again and again.

Strategic planning across departments certainly applies to the content development process because all departments in all organizations develop content, although some may have a greater need than others to manage their content. When deciding how to manage content, it is important to form a strategic integration team that holds regular meetings to ensure departments are communicating with each other, sharing best practices, and discussing content commonality in the context of supporting the corporate strategic plan.

One of the sub-groups of the strategy integration team is the content integration team. The content integration team is responsible for:

  • Assessing where the corporation is today with regard to
    • Content
    • Processes
    • Resources, both human and technical
  • Defining a vision for the future based on the corporate strategic plan with regard to
    • Content
    • Processes
    • Resources, both human and technical
  • Developing a tactical plan for implementation
  • Choosing tools to support the new vision, if required
  • Implementing the new system

The remainder of this article describes these responsibilities.

Assessing Where You Are Today


The temptation to skip over content analysis is almost intoxicating. Content analysis is often a daunting task, especially in environments with years of legacy documentation.

However, looking closely at what content you already have will help you identify the types of content you produce and the level of granularity you need to manage.

There are many ways to do this review. I have found the most effective is to divide your content into types and then categorize the content in each type. Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy (by Ann Rockley with Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning) details the steps for conducting a content audit. [3]


Everyone follows basically the same process for content generation and publication:
  1. Create
  2. Review
  3. Manage
  4. Deliver

When analyzing how content is created, it is important to break down each high-level process into the sub-processes that define it.

Recently, I was asked to develop release notes for the release of a new version of software. I asked how the process for developing release notes worked in the past and learned that all of the information existed in various forms in various places. Someone, never the same person, would access the information, if they could find it, and build the content for the release notes.

After I had identified the process and all the sources of information, it was very easy to streamline and formalize the process. Now anyone in the company can write release notes for future releases.

The Human Connection

There are three sets of people involved with content:
  • People who use the content
  • People who create the content
  • People who own the content

We say it over and over to remind each other: Know your audience. For each content type, ask the question, "Who is using this content?" Be very thorough in your research. We all have known of instances where our content is being used by more than one audience type. This often happens because we failed to recognize that audience type in our original analysis. However, that audience often discovers that some particular content exists, and, even though it doesn't meet their exact needs, they make do with it. Here lies a wonderful opportunity to be of service to a group of people you were unaware of previously.

Besides learning about who uses your content, you also need to determine who is creating content in your organization and why. In most organizations, everyone creates content for various reasons. It is important to open a dialog with all the groups in an organization. Only through this dialog will you learn the details about organizational content generation. This also has a side benefit of fostering an environment of inclusion, making everyone feel that content creation is a team effort. Once you know who is creating content and why, you can formalize processes to accommodate everybody.

Content ownership is another critical part of the human connection that needs addressing. In a "siloed" environment, people tend to hold information close to the vest, not wanting to share content, processes, or even end user information. As a member of the content integration team, take responsibility for assuring them that they continue to own their own content. This effort is not about taking anything away from them, but to allow the organization to better function as a team to meet the overall strategic plan.

Technical Resources

In conjunction with learning what content is being generated and who is using and creating it, ask about the tools being used. You may find that the legal department of your organization is already using a content management system to produce contracts. The marketing department may be using a completely different one to develop proposals. You may find that developers are using a tracking tool that puts content in a SQL database so that they can generate reports. You may discover that the content generated by the system design group is in XML and can also be used by quality assurance, training, and deployment.

Be nosey. Ask. Make the connections.

The "As Is" Document

Once you've done the analysis of where you are today, create an "as is" document that describes who owns and generates content for whom, how, and why within your organization. Workflow diagrams are helpful in showing the flow of content within a process. They also show duplication of effort and help to identify content that has no purpose.

Defining a vision for the future

The Vision

Identifying where you are today will enable you to present a better picture of where you want to be. Through your analysis, you will have identified who your audiences are, how they need to receive information, and you will have an understanding of who is creating content, how they are creating it, where they store it, and why the content exists.

The mandate for the content strategy team is to develop a vision for content creation and management that meets the strategic goals of the organization. The vision may require balance, especially when goals conflict. Using our example from above, consider the situation where the organization wants to reduce time-to-market and also wants to reduce capital expenses. Balance comes from finding solutions that maximize optimization of processes while minimizing the cost of new or expanded tool sets.

Gap Analysis

Identifying where you are and where you want to be allows you to see the holes in your overall content generation and management environment.

Document these deficiencies thoroughly. The workflow diagrams you developed in the "as is" document during your original analysis are excellent tools to help illustrate areas where you can improve.

A thorough gap analysis should also identify metrics that can assist the overall organization in meeting its strategic goals. Keep your gap analysis focused on the greater good rather than on the a cost/benefit analysis for your particular department.

Developing a Tactical Plan for Implementation

The Project Plan

Once you have the analysis documentation developed, you can begin developing a project plan, which includes dependencies and responsibilities.

Your gap analysis gives you the missing pieces by showing where you are and where you want to be. The content integration team will need to make business decisions based on its new-found knowledge. One such decision might be to discontinue a duplicate document that is generated by two different departments. The decision would need to include ownership, storage location, and publication issues. Another business decision might be to standardize on tools.

The Request for Proposal

Now that you have completed your vision and your gap analysis, you know whether or not you need to acquire additional software to accomplish your goals. If this is the case, you will want to develop a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP reflects the detailed requirements for the tools you require to implement CMS.

In Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules, Steve McConnell wrote, "If you insist on fixed-price bids on the basis of a vague requirements statement, you'll get high bids from the competent vendors. The only low bids you'll get will be from vendors who don't understand software development well enough to know the risks involved in incompletely specified software." [4]

While Mr. McConnell was speaking of software development, this also applies to any systems development effort, including the implementation of content management. The more specific your RFP is, the better the quality of the bids will be.

Reviewing Proposals

Because the content integration team has done all its analysis, it is better equipped to make a decision on tools to support newly designed processes. Vendors will be champing at the bit to show you the new features of their products. Avoid the temptation to be drawn in on features. Stick to your requirements. To do otherwise can cause confusion in the decision making process.

The Updated Project Plan

After you decide on the tool, you can finalize your project plan to include training, implementation of the tool, re-structuring of content if necessary, population of databases, and any other tool-related tasks not already included on the plan.


On the surface, the planning process sounds simple:
  • Assess where you are today.
  • Envision where you want to be and develop your requirements.
  • Identify gaps between where you are and where you want to be and design your system.
  • Develop an implementation plan that integrates with corporate strategy.

Expect to spend thirty percent of your implementation on planning. Resist the urge to cut corners. The up front work will pay off in the long haul. Read Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy from cover to cover and let it guide you through the entire process. I use this book as the text for my Content Management class at Richland College. It is solid and breaks down the implementation process in the level of detail that you need to be successful. (No, the authors aren't paying me to say this!)

Content management is a new way of thinking about the way we deliver information to our users. Content management will be one of the ways organizations will support the new work of the next two decades. Successful implementation is critical to the success of the organization.


  1. Drucker, Dr. Peter F. 1999. Management Challenges for the 21st Century. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
  2. Metzger, Phillip W. and John Boddie. 1995. Managing a Programming Project: Processes and People. New York, NY: Prentiss Hall.
  3. Rockley, Ann, Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning. 2003. Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.
  4. McConnell, Steve. 1996. Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press.

Copyright 2004, The Rockley Group, Inc.