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I know this sounds kind of silly, but I'm going to make a pretty bold statement here: most people choose a CMS without ever really assessing their needs. Here is what typically happens. Within a larger organization, a push might come along to update the web site and related processes, or to reduce the costs associated with the site. Nine times out of ten, a CMS is the recommended solution. By contrast, designers and design firms often need to build sites faster and with more advanced features than they can code manually. Again, a CMS is usually the arrived-upon solution.
At this point, instead of taking a moment to stop and properly assess their needs, both parties usually rush off and pick the CMS that seems to offer the most power, or that the majority of their peers recommended them. Now as you can imagine, this approach leads to a lot of problems and a lot of dissatisfied clients. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to help you choose the CMS that's right for you is to properly understand what you need it to do. Now that usually involves stopping the process for a moment and being honest about what your needs are now and what they're likely to be in the future.
The first thing to do is take time to assess what isn't working now. Now obviously if you're considering a CMS, there is a reason for it. Identify these problems by writing them out, talking about them as a team, and then prioritizing them by the severity of the problem. Now usually, this is going to help identify issues in your workflow or processes that can be corrected before a CMS is brought into the mix. Adding a CMS rarely solve broken workflows. These systems all have their own inherent processes, and some of those are pretty complex.
Introducing an added layer of complexity before you've worked out your internal processes is a recipe for disaster. Next, take some time to make a list of all the things that you need a CMS to do for you. Now prioritize this list, and avoid making what I call the kitchen-sink list. Notice, for example, that I said, 'need' instead of 'want', and it's easy to get a need and a want confused once you start looking at all the CMS features. For example, you might need to have sites that you build be editable by your clients once you're finished with development.
Now you might also want to occasionally tie in other services, like Google Maps. Now when comparing systems, you might come across a CMS that has a Google Map plug-in but not quite a strong an editor as maybe some of the other systems that you've looked at. It's easy to rationalize choosing this CMS by saying that it makes you stronger overall. However, in this case, you would have ignored your primary need in favor of a feature that really won't be used by all clients. That is not a wise move. Now by having a list of carefully considered priorities, you can eliminate the distractions and stay focused on what really matters.
You also want to consider what your needs are likely to be in the future, and will the needs of your clients change over time? How will is your organization going to grow, and how will this affect the needs of your web sites and the capabilities that you need from your CMS? Now while you want to avoid picking the CMS that has too many features that you're never going to use, you do want to try and predict how your needs are going to scale up in the future. And it's impossible to predict everything, but having a CMS has room to grow in the areas that you think you'll need is just as important to your overall success as picking a CMS that fits you right now.
You're going to want a CMS that scales with you and not one that forces you to go through another search in two to three years time. Finally, be brutally honest in your abilities and the abilities of your team. Content management systems come in many different flavors and many different degrees of complexity. Don't bite off more than you chew by choosing a system that's outside of your technical comfort zone. Unless you have the time and focus required to expand your skill set, a CMS that requires more technical knowledge than you or your team possesses can often actually do more harm than good, and end up costing you a lot of money in consultants or lost work.
Be honest about how much time you'll need to put into learning a new system and whether you're really going to need to hire new team members to manage that CMS. By doing an honest skill assessment, you are more likely to pick a CMS that you can be productive in right away rather than one that you're constantly struggling with. Occasionally, this might mean bringing in outside help or finding a hosted solution to do a lot of the technical work for you. Now, that's a larger discussion. In our next movie, we're going to talk about how to assess when to consider outside development help versus handling a CMS on your own.
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