CMS: Making Your Workflow Flow

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Creative, innovative, and informative content is the key to success for any business, website, or blog. Fresh content offering a new perspective or vantage point on a topic keeps readers engaged with your site and coming back to you again and again.

But there’s a challenging side to content development and creation (that no one necessarily likes to talk about): content management systems and workflow. In the back ends of blogs lie mysterious fields, time tables and post schedules. You’re concerned with the creation of content itself, and not while having a plan can be disastrous, having a clunky plan with murky waters can be equally as debilitating (and dreadful).

Here’s the good news: At HOW and PRINT we have a bevy of content creators from industry pros, design and editorial interns, staff writers and editors all creating content for you to view, read and hopefully learn from. And, we’re all unique in our own ways.

Creatives all come at content creation with our own strengths and weaknesses, our own writing styles, our own personal experiences and familiarities with things like WordPress, InDesign, Photoshop, etc. We’re unique. We’re human. We may not always know what that “/lid?=Blahbityblahblah” does, we just know to use it because our style document says to. But what about that box thingy down in the corner that we never use – what does it do? Why is there? And what does any of this have to do with my content!?

If you’ve ever crafted content or seen the back-end of a website, you’ve probably expressed some of the exact same questions and frustrations (and you don’t touch 90% of the available tools). The point is, with a content management system in place that can be clearly articulated to all authors, you can increase not only the quality of your site’s content but also improve authors’ workflows.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher On Optimized Workflow with Successful Content Management


Content creation and management guru Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere, has prescribed a course of action on how to manage expectations, authors and workflows all through the use of an integrated content management system.

It’s time to bridge the gap between the technical, SEO, traffic driven teams and the content creators to help your site function at it’s fullest. Here’s how!

Authors and Workflows

A model is an ideal—a perfect example of what you’re attempting to create. In reality, future-friendly content requires not just databases and fields, but also humans: people who will consistently adhere to the model when adding and managing content.

Humans aren’t robots. they can be erratic, inconsistent, and emotional about their beloved content or defensive about their job descriptions. Which means a model doesn’t have a chance of surviving unless those humans—be they writers, editors, marketing managers, communications specialists, or multiple other folks tasked with content updates and additions—understand what the content model is trying to accomplish, and how it will make their content better.

Yet, too often, those folks have no idea what the database developers intended, how certain fields work, or why it matters. To improve both the relationship and the process, your job is to serve as the bridge: the person who can understand the needs and viewpoints of both sides and make a case for all parties to adopt some new practices in the name of better, more flexible content.


Photo from Shutterstock

Making models that are visual, and that clearly show the interconnectedness and interdependencies of your content, is the first step. But to truly help your content authors succeed, you’ll also need to know a bit about the existing publishing process and how it’s working for them.

If you’re already involved in regular content creation and editing, you may be all too familiar with your current workflow (or lack of flow, as it may be). But for those often outside the day-to-day—like content strategists, information architects, UX designers, or any outside consultant—this analysis is a critical first step to addressing pain points and improving the author experience.

As you’re evaluating the existing process and considering how it could be improved, you should keep several things in mind:


When was the CMS implemented and why? What were the goals, and who was involved in the process? Knowing the history can help you understand underlying reasons for why things are how they are now.

Reviews and approvals

Who has to approve content before it goes live? How long does it take to get content from draft to publication? How much of the workflow happens inside the CMS, and how much outside of it?


What does it take to publish content now? What will it take if your content models are implemented? Must users go through multiple screens to do it? Can they see what the end result will look like? How much does maintenance cost the organization? Understanding how complicated the system is now can help you streamline it without sacrificing structure.


Are CMS users filling out templates fully or leaving fields blank? If so, why? Are they confused, rushed, or simply unconvinced of the value of those fields? If templates are routinely incomplete, systems and logic will break down. Best to find out why—and how much it’s costing your organization or a2ecting your users—now.


Are CMS users entering content without regard for consistency? Do multiple authors do things differently? Are they using WYSIWYG editors to override style settings, such as changing font colors and sizes? These issues point to a lack of training, but might also be due to an existing model that doesn’t have what they need—so people just make it up as they go. If you can understand why they’re doing it, you can determine whether you need to address the tool, the people using it, or both.

Training programs

Who teaches people to use the CMS—technical teams or content-focused professionals? Do training materials talk about the content itself or just the tool? Are they written in jargon or plain language? Do they speak to how publishing content according to the guidelines supports communication and content goals? If training materials focus on features rather than processes and results, they’re likely a problem.

You may always have less-than-perfect tools and people who are less than perfect at using them. But if you can be the bridge between technical teams and content managers—explain to both how the other operates, and help both get what they need—you can go a long way toward easing the CMS pain. You’ll also be able to determine if the conte
nt model you’re recommending is unrealistically complex for your team’s workload, skill set, and priorities—and either make the case for getting them more training and resources, simplify your model, or take a staged approach.

After all, ideals are great. But the best content model is the one that actually gets used.


For more great tips on creating killer content and managing it more effectively check out Sara’s book, Content Everywhere!

Looking for more great information on improving your site and interactive content? Be sure to check out HIDC! This year’s HOW Interactive Design Conference speaker lineup is our best yet. Guided by working practitioners, you’ll explore theory and real-world strategies for creating powerful user experiences.