How Many People Does it Take to Screw in a Content Management System?

CMS lightbulbI was in a meeting last week where someone remarked that he thought web development has become too specialized. Meaning  that us agency types may be over complicating projects by having ultra-specialized roles that create awkward handoffs, increase project costs and result in less efficient processes.

I’m the first to agree with limiting the number of cooks in the kitchen, yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that building websites today does require more specialized skills (and processes that can effectively integrate them). In fact, when it comes to CMS implementations, I’ve found that many projects go off track when the wrong people do the wrong tasks (i.e. Developer doing information architecture).

This prompted the question of ‘how many people does it take to screw in a content management system?’ A cynical myth buster may say ‘you don’t screw them in, they screw you’ – but we’re staying positive here.

Project teams will certainly vary based on project size and complexity. However, we’ve found the following roles are critical for success:

The Core Project Team
Almost all CMS implementations will need these roles.

  • Project Manager: Essential to keeping the project on track, on budget, coordinating all the people and setting the right expectations every step of the way.
  • Information Architect: Perhaps the most critical role in determining the website’s structure, navigation and taxonomy. Don’t start a project without one.
  • Copywriter/Editor: Even the most distributed organizations need an editor to ensure a consistent voice, strategy and approach to content across the entire site.
  • Front End Developer: Handles the CSS, XHML and all front end display templates, modules and widgets.  Typically a different role and skill set than an application developer.
  • Web Designer: Even if you’re not redesigning the site, a web designer is key to ensuring the site brand, UI and styles get translated effectively into the new CMS.
  • Developer: Responsible for the core CMS integration, custom application development and the messy technical stuff nobody else knows how to do. Prior expertise with your flavor of CMS is critical.
  • Quality Assurance Engineer: Tests, tests and then tests some more. The key is having this role separate from the core development team.
  • Business Users: You can’t forget the end users that need to be involved with this process from start to finish. They need education, hands-on mentoring, kind words and perhaps alcohol to get them through the process. Remember, this is new to them and not likely in their job description.

The Extended Project Team
Larger and more strategic implementations likely need these roles as well.

  • Business Analyst: Sifting through complex organizational workflow and business processes requires careful thinking and an experienced analyst.
  • Content Specialist: Responsible for handling the important tasks around how content gets classified and migrated. Works hand in hand with the Information Architects.
  • Search Engine Specialist: Getting SEO right out the gate is a business critical task. An SEO expert will ensure the CMS implementation is in alignment with the SEO strategy.
  • Database Administrator: As the technical complexity increases, so does the need for roles like a database expert.
  • Analytics Expert: Organizations committed to measurement will need an analytics guru working alongside the development team.
  • Web Strategist: A high-level strategic thinker can help guide the overall web strategy and tie it to the overall business goals. This person can also help determine how and when to implement new tactics such as social media, rss, podcasts and video.
  • Flash Developer: Sites that have rich content delivery will require some expert attention from a Flash developer and/or designer.

So, add them up, and that’s a lot of folks. It’s important to realize these are roles and not necessarily unique people. However, it’s harder and harder to find those ‘Swiss Army knife’ folks that can bring best of breed thinking to each of these areas given the depth of subject matter expertise required.

The most critical part is to understand what your project needs to succeed. Then audit your current team and prioritize how you invest in resources. The good news is there are plenty of external agencies, consultants and contractors who can augment your existing team.

Do you agree with the above roles? Did I miss any? Bonus points for any funny punch lines to “How many people does it take to screw in a CMS.”

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

More articles from Jeff Cram


7 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Bradley Holt says:

    In Soviet Russia, content management systems screw you!

    For those who don’t get the reference see:…/Yakov_Smirnoff

  2. mox says:

    I think it is important not to scare away small organizations from CMS.  What you say is a wise caution for enterprises …

    CMS delivers freedom from ongoing updates performed by highly technical staffers.  True, you need the initial development done well … however, CMS is the best solution for low-resourced organizations. (Especially, considering award-winning open source products are free!)

  3. Jeff Cram Jeff Cram says:

    That’s a very valid point mox. thanks. In the case of the small site, obviously many of those core roles are typically combined. A lot of times, all 3-4 developer positions are one person and the PM is a luxury.

    However, with that said, often times the needs of a small organization are just as strategic and important as a larger one. Time and time again, I’ve seen small companies get blindsided not knowing what they are getting into.

    And often the web plays a bigger proportional role to the business, so getting it right is mission critical. Most of the time, I just see a lack of knowledge about everything that could go into the approach, so they can’t even prioritize.

    Jeff Cram

  4. apoorv says:

    well – a CMS implementation. especially in an enterprise scenario will probably also need an architect profile and testers. In fact, if it is a large project and the CMSneeds to integrate with let’s say a CRM, a portal etc then you will probably need an integration specialist, performance architect, security specialist, infrastructure architect also.

  5. Dave says:

    I’ve been delivering web projects to business since ’95 and while we certainly didn’t start with all those roles they’re pretty much what we have recommended for the last 5-6 years. Only the bigger guys in our market can afford that approach though.

    The bigger sites with clear business drivers and an obvious ROI opportunity will go for it if the business case is clearly presented. For others it’s a case of get them a decent first up design, content and CMS platform / framework in place, that will support all the  best practice stuff and opportunities around Stats analysis, SEO/SEM, community development, self service, integration etc. Then introduce that stuff in prioritised phases as business case and budget allow.

    We find it really important (and difficult) to have staff who have more than a couple of skills so we can follow the demand for various services. It’s also a sales and education challenge having all the small agencies, web shops, IT companies out there who don’t have the breadth of knowledge/skills, don’t apply best practice across a delivery and quote accordingly. To compete you have to cut out or cut back on what you know you should be doing or lose business. And that’s only going to get harder in the current climate.

  6. Joel Cass says:

    I love your point on "Copywriter/Editor" being part of the core team – as someone who has worked on multiple CMS projects in various different implementations, this is often that most difficult person to find – clients just don’t want to write content, they seem to think, "I bought this expensive CMS, it should write it’s own content…".

    Often the copywriter is the last person to do anything, and unfortunately this is where most of the problems are found – fields don’t exist, content is not rendered properly, the editor tool does not do what it’s supposed to… And it’s already too late – the site was supposed to be launched _yesterday_!

  7. Jim Oles says:

    In our organization headcount is a particular focus. We are a company with many brands across the enterprise. So when you itemize the skills required about – how do large companies “package” these skills into a position? I hear the terms web content manager, Ux/i designers. Are there other “standard” jobs that are typically called for?

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