Filed under: Content management
We have a real problem with CMS workflow…
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with organisations to help them select a CMS. When sitting down with them to develop business reuqirements, I end up having the same conversation again and again regarding workflow. It goes something like this:
Client: We have a real issue with the quality of the content on the site, and there’s no accountability or audit trail for what is being published. We want to use the new content management system to more tightly manage publishing, and to keep track of reviews and sign-offs. Workflow features should be able to help us with this, allowing all content to be reviewed by the appropriate content owners, managers, and if necessary, legal and the web team.
Me:That’s certainly great in theory, but in practice, you won’t make use of anything beyond the simplest of workflows. Workflow can be used for a final “quality control” step, but it doesn’t work for editorial review.
[A long discussion then commences…]
This has become a sufficiently frequent topic of conversation for me to coin the following expression:
One of two widely known CMS secrets: workflow doesn’t work.
This is something that I addressed in the article Is workflow the wrong metaphor?, and I’m not alone in saying that the fundamental model behind workflow rules doesn’t match the reality of content writing and editorial review processes.
The real problem is this: nothing is changing. Few organisations realise that workflow is not going to do what they want, and vendors don’t seem to be in a hurry to offer any alternative approaches (with a few notable exceptions).
It is worth looking at how the marketplace operates to understand why this is the case:
- Organisations looking for a CMS read vendor marketing materials, and all offer extensive and powerful workflow features. These same features are discussed in many of the industry reports, and included on standard lists of CMS features.
- Organisations naturally assume that this functionality works in practice, and seeing the potential benefits, ask for it in their tenders and requirements lists.
- Vendors see that organisations consistently ask for workflow features, and often very powerful features at that. This forces them to promote their workflow functionality in their marketing materials, and to develop ever more sophisticated workflow features.
- Vendors know very well that workflow isn’t used in practice, having only 1 in 50 clients ever making real use of it. The problem is that customers don’t believe them, instead responding: “you’re just saying that because your workflow features are weak!”.
- At so it goes on, in this self-reinforcing cycle, with no opportunity to have a real discussion about best-practice (or even just practical) approaches.
Somehow we need to spread the word that the “accepted wisdom” around workflow is wrong, and that new approaches must be innovated. The challenge is that there’s a lot of customers and a lot of vendors to reach…
Footnote: workflow does, of course, work in certain circumstances. Where there is a well-defined, consistent and repeatable business processes, workflow rules can be used to automate them. This is the exception, however, with few (if any) editorial processes working this way for general web content.