Days without a CMS incident

We welcome guest CMS Mythbuster Clint Lundmark to the blog. Clint oversees some large-scale CMS platforms in Portland, Oregon and literally has a sign in the office announcing the number of days without a CMS incident. Where there’s a sign, there’s a story and we had to hear what’s happening.

A while back I inherited administrative support for our CMS we migrated to a year earlier. It wasn’t the best situation. The system was considered flakey and unreliable. Users were unhappy, support staff was getting late night phone calls, and management was explaining each and every incident to other management, users and other stakeholders.  Yes, I actually created a sign counting the days between CMS incidents.

It was unhappy times in CMS land.

In learning how to support our CMS, I was getting up to speed on both the product and our implementation. Given the problems, my first thought was we picked the wrong CMS. I was frustrated and could not understand how this particular solution had any market share whatsoever. “Who would ever buy this” I would quietly yell while shaking my fist in the air to no one in particular.

Then something changed.

I started to focus on learning the CMS outside of our implementation. I discovered when we deployed our CMS there was a specific business process that made sense in the old CMS but didn’t translate well to the new publishing environment.  The team had forcefully implemented that same process in the new CMS which meant customizing core functionality so that it would all work like before. As it turned out, changing that core functionality had a serious impact on the system.

Coming in new to the project, I was able to take a step back and ask why. Why was this business process important and why did we need to customize our CMS platform for it?

Not only did we not need the customizations, they were the main culprit causing outages, user grief, and CMS pain. It turns out our CMS had a completely different way to handle the same process using out-of-the box functionality.

We spent hundreds of hours customizing our CMS, only to eventually find out it wasn’t needed in the first place. Needless to say we backed out all the related changes and instantly went from a few days between incidents to 23, 91, and eventually 238 days!

We still keep the sign for good measure, but are happy to report that users are more satisfied and the real incidents are few and far between.  After a 238 day run we did have an incident, but it occurred shortly after we upgraded the system.

Our lessons learned were to be wary of going against the grain of how a CMS is intended to work. Customizations may be necessary, but they come at a real risk and long-term cost to the organization.

It’s like the old parable of the ham. Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Getting a new CMS is a chance to revaluate the way web publishing works inside your organization.

So, what was the business process that lead to the fateful customization?  In our old CMS there was limited access control.  The “normal” thing was to have publish operations approved prior to going live.  It worked OK considering the CMS published in batch once every half hour. In our new CMS we forced all content through a custom approval workflow.  It resulted in EVERY published add and change going through the workflow engine regardless of need. We had to write custom code to guarantee it always went through the workflow path. Unexpectedly, normal out-of-the-box operations like move, rename and unpublish also got caught in our code and no longer worked as they should.  The excessive quantity of workflows on a workflow engine that was not designed for that level of load caused performance issues. Further, content was getting stuck in workflow instead of publishing.

After better understanding what we did and why, two things surfaced. The first was that we could easily use out-of-the-box permissions on content editing and publishing, coupled with an only as-needed workflow. However, the ham in the story is that, as it turned out, the communications team didn’t want to approve content anyway. They were responsible for creating most of the content and we gave publish access to a select few additional authors who follow standards and guidelines to produce interesting, informative content.

When requirements dictate changing how a CMS fundamentally is supposed to work, we need to be asking ourselves if we’re cutting off the end of the ham.

Embrace your CMS and enjoy more incident-free days.


Clint Lundmark is a guest author to the CMS Myth based in Portland, Oregon where he oversees large-scale CMS platforms. If you are interested in sharing your own CMS stories from the trenches, please e-mail us at



CMS Myth - Running First Meetings with Prospective Agency Partners

Part 3 of a 10 part series

(The right digital agency partner can make or break your organization’s online success. And yet, unless you’re extremely lucky, your partner will only be as good as the process by which you find and select them. In this 10-part series, we’ll share what we’ve learned from our clients about agency selection processes that lead to successful, enduring relationships.)

Ready for your agency selection process to get fun? In the first two parts of this series, we discussed the importance of getting early internal alignment and curating a tight list of qualified potential partners. Both are essential steps but—typically—a lot of work. Not to worry; we promise things will soon move faster and be more fun!

Meeting prospective agency partners for the first time is exciting. Inside of 90 minutes with 2-3 of their senior leaders, you’ll be taking away important first impressions. Did they come prepared? Does it seem like they can help solve your challenges? Are they a style fit? Can you imagine being “in the trenches” with them? You’ll also be making a first impression with these agencies. Do your needs align with their skills and experience? Do you and your team seem like a style fit? Are there any cautionary signs warning of problems ahead?

We’ve seen first meetings work really well. How?

  • Brief the agencies ahead of time on your goals and metrics, as well as what you see as your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. If there are constraints like a deadline or legacy technology, let them know. Share your hidden assets too—prepaid license fees or already created content, for instance. Likewise, be explicit about the role of your partner and how you see them adding value. Finally, be transparent about your process and timeline, as well as your goals for this first meeting. Remind them it’s a starting point. This briefing note should be brief—2-3 pages will work if you’re concise.
  • Offer budget guidance, even if only a broad range. You should know your organization’s appetite for investing digitally. You should also have a sense of prevailing market rates for similar projects and relationships. Nobody’s expecting precision here, but being as forthright as you can will align everyone’s expectations, encourage realistic solutions, and attract agencies appropriate to your size.
  • Drive the agenda for your time together. Lacking guidance, some agencies will fall back on generic “about us” presentations and case studies. You need a basic set of facts to qualify your prospective partners and you’ll definitely want to review relevant end-to-end case studies, but ensure they also come with (1) a strategic perspective on 1-2 of the challenges you highlighted in your brief, and (2) an early point-of-view about your goals and how they’d approach addressing your challenges. They’ll be uneasy about offering such early strategic thinking, but hold your ground and remind them that you’re curious about their approach to problem-solving, not the quality of their solutions.
  • Invite the right group of core attendees. This is a first meeting so strictly limit your team’s attendance to those whose success will be linked to the agency’s efforts. Invite your senior leaders only if you think there’s a real risk of roadblocks down the line. Everyone will have opportunities later in the process to participate and meet your favored candidates. Don’t forget to brief your attendees about why they’ve been invited and what role you want them to play.
  • Encourage open, discovery-oriented conversations. These meetings should be considered conversations, not formal presentations and certainly not uncomfortable inquisitions. You’re looking to assess interpersonal fit and gauge their approach to problem-solving. This won’t be accomplished if the focus becomes racing through a stack of PowerPoint slides instead of having a thoughtful back-and-forth dialogue. In fact, consider enforcing a 10-slide presentation limit. We’ve seen it done!
  • Round out your research by proactively asking for references. Asking for client references at the end of the selection process overlooks their immense value as early sources of helpful counsel. References—if they’re 4-5 relevant ones who’ve done what you’re seeking to do—can validate your assumptions, comment on your budget and timeline, and even tip you to unexpected bumps down the road. And they can of course also provide insight on their experiences working with the agency you’re considering. Even there, go beyond cursory questions about their overall satisfaction. Of course they’re happy—they’re references, after all. Invest the time to unpack the work that was done and how and why it was successful.

With this preparation in place, you’re ready for show time! You should expect these first meetings to be high energy and a lot of fun. You’ll meet some really smart people eager to work with your team and make you successful. And you’ll be leading your organization towards a very important decision. At the same time, you’ll also be making first impressions about your fit and desirability as a client. Ready to get underway?

 We’ll be continuing this 10-part series over the coming weeks and months. If you’d like, please tell us what you’d personally put on your list of best practices for finding and selecting agency partners. We’ll incorporate the best of the best in our series and share credit with you for your contribution. Horror stories and happy anecdotes are particularly welcomed!


What You See Is Scrambled Eggs

As if this Friday couldn’t get any better, Paul Ford just published a wicked-amusing account of his trials and tribulations wrestling with a WYSIWYG editor — complete with a 484-character headline and some utterly necessary animated GIFs. Don’t even bother reading our longwinded thoughts on why people hate their CMS. Paul captures a day-in-the-life of author experience real-time fiddling with Kinja, […]

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The Inside Scoop on CMS at The New York Times

The publishing industry may be rethinking its business model, but this much we know — It’s dead serious about getting CMS right. The New York Times is the latest publisher to lift the veil on its digital publishing operations with a refreshingly open look at the platform it affectionally calls Scoop. The blog post by Luke Vnenchak, director […]

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Ditching RFPs and Creating a By-Invitation-Only Shortlist

Part 2 of a 10 part series (The right digital agency partner can make or break your organization’s online success. And yet, unless you’re extremely lucky, your partner will only be as good as the process by which you find and select them. In this 10-part series, we’ll share what we’ve learned from our clients […]

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Giddy about Governance at the U.S. Treasury Department

It’s rare to hear organizations talk positively about shared services and governance models, but tuning into a recent episode of Federal News Radio, U.S. Treasury Department Chief Information Officer Robyn East speaks to the significant progress the department has made around enterprise content management specifically. Fierce Content Management also picked up the discussion, in which East says […]

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The Auto-Magic Content Migration Myth

Few elements of a rolling out a new CMS driven website or redesign are overlooked during planning as often as content migration. I think there are a few reasons why this happens: Many project sponsors are still unaware of the critical importance of content strategy. Those who understand the many ways content can derail a CMS project may […]

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Starting Right with a Plan to Win

Part 1 of a 10 part series (The right digital agency partner can make or break your organization’s online success. And yet, unless you’re extremely lucky, your partner will only be as good as the process by which you find and select them. In this 10-part series, we’ll share what we’ve learned from our clients […]

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10 Things Your Prospective Digital Agency Partner Wishes You Knew

Time consuming. Unwieldy. Ineffective. In case we’re not being clear, we’re not big fans of how many organizations approach finding and selecting digital agency partners. Maybe you recall our 2012 rant about “Death by RFP“? In our experience, most start their selection process with great intentions—to find a suitable partner whose capabilities match up with […]

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Catch the CMS Myth at J. Boye this year

I will be presenting at the J. Boye Conference on Thursday, May 8. My presentation “Digital Project Management and Content Strategy” will be from 11:15 AM – 12:00 PM. Description: After all these years building CMS driven websites, there is one thing I wish more people were aware of: content matters. Sounds silly right? After […]

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