Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bridging the gap between the various stakeholders of your Sitecore implementation

I see a lot of Sitecore implementations of varying sizes and complexities and one of the common themes I notice is the disconnect between the various stakeholders. I see these stakeholders as fitting into some high level groups; marketing (including sales), developers, and business users (content authors/end users). It’s an interesting observation where the distinct groups can often end up fighting from their perspective because they tend to have different thought processes, knowledge areas and goals. The purpose of this post is to look into the viewpoints of each stakeholder group to provide awareness of where they are coming from and hopefully spark discussion in the community.

Marketing & sales

For a marketer or sales person some of their key goals might be:
  • Building brand awareness and engagement
  • Generating leads
  • Making conversions
  • Consistency
Ultimately the marketing and sales departments live and breathe the brand, and the consistency of that brand is an important concept. While title case vs sentence case might not factor into developers thoughts, or each of the many content editors, marketing teams will pick up on it.

The website is ultimately one tool in the arsenal in which to interact with customers of the company. A consistent website, with the correct branding and which ties in well with social media is a great baseline to have. Once this is established, it can be built upon to get more awareness (and engagement) which in turn leads to the ultimate goal of leads and conversions. Perhaps the company is selling a product or even a service, it makes no difference their journeys are very similar.

Think of a product sales company like Coca Cola and contrast that with a service company such as your local job listing website. They both focus heavily on a clean/consistent website experience, which then draws visitors from the multitude of marketing efforts across online channels and offline channels.

Developers & technology department

For a developer (or others in the information technology department) some of their key goals might be:
  • Deliver on time
  • Deliver quality (free of bugs and using best practices)
  • Be given a clear outline of requirements
  • Use the latest technologies/frameworks etc.
A lot of developers will get short sighted when they start working on a Sitecore project. For them the real focus is generally on the technical side of equation, thats all the cool technologies they work with and the complex code they get to write. On top of that is the constant worry of being able to deliver on time and with as few bugs as possible (believe it or not, most developers don't like seeing bugs they caused in a production environment).

The Sitecore website itself is generally not the only development work they are involved in. There are often intranets, business applications, mobile applications, services and database/business intelligence. So they are in the unique position of seeing the full puzzle technically (not just the single piece), which will often affect decisions and outcomes. For example the use of less modern front end techniques (responsive design with JavaScript libraries) due to the need to support a legacy browser (internet explorer 6) because of that one mission critical business application.

Business user

For the business user, both those who edit content on the website or other who are end-users their goals might be:
  • Empowerment on how to use Sitecore
  • Key website features are implemented
  • Stability of the platform and website
  • The website looks good
The business users are generally not the strongest technically, so when they come onto a platform like Sitecore they can often get overwhelmed at all of the features. They are generally split across a number of business units, each of which has core website functionality which they are in charge of (and worried about). Don't forget they have primary jobs that need to be completed, so if there is a large amount of content to migrate or work on, they often can't be dedicated full time like developers could.

So where is the gap between these users?

How I see the problem can occur is that the developers often won't have an end goal in site (what the vision is for the brand and website itself). They are in many cases working on minimal requirements, so end up having to fill in a lot of gaps. The marketing and sales departments place a lot of planning into where the brand is heading and like the business users know exactly what the web site needs to achieve and how it needs to do it. The business knowledge is part of their day to day work, so they assume others (developers) are aware of obscure rules which can affect functionality.

So the developers get through an agile sprint, they used what requirements they have to build out some key functionality. The design might not be all there (or there at all - quite often it comes at the end) but thats easy enough to put in later... Then the demo day comes along and marketing/business users are in there eagerly awaiting a look at the results. It inevitably comes out that there is key logic missing from a feature or perhaps an entire feature is not in the scope at all! Then theres the poor business users that are being shown how they can edit content with the experience editor, but what about the design, thats a key concern.

This all culminates in a team of developers with lists of action items that have come out of this demo. The business users are losing confidence due to all of the issues that came up, it can be obvious deadlines won't be met when the scope is getting longer and not shorter. The marketing department were on Twitter for most of the demo but noticed no fewer than 73 casing errors across the website. Okay I joke about that last one, but heres one of the major issues, a focus on content over functionality.

Content editors, whom generally aren't fully across the platform like developers (in terms of the full stack) or marketers (with knowledge of the great marketing features Sitecore has to offer). They may have been given basic content editor training, but often this is early on well before a full solution has been delivered. Quite often these editors are thrown in the deep end of a half complete solution they might not fully understand and are expected to work on large amounts of content (of varying types). The key gaps can include:
  • Not enough planning/scoping which leads to incomplete or missing features
  • No real ownership of content where developers might become the de facto owners
  • Late delivery of key design and branding elements
  • The goal posts are constantly moving which makes the project a game of catch up - this leads to less functionality overall, unless deadlines are moved as well
  • Lack of training (specific to the solution) for the content editors

Bridging the gap

  1. Set aside more time in the planning phase and include more members of various business units together. Instead of using business analysts in one-on-one environments, getting groups together in workshops are a great way to get the most information out. Everyone has a different point of view and can work together to ensure all points are covered. Later on, more detailed analysis can be performed to lock the scope down, but at least this way everyone feels they have contributed and had their thoughts heard.
  2. Nominate a knowledge area expert of the business to champion the content. This person would be across all types/areas of content of the website and would be able to work as an intermediary between other stakeholder groups. It ensures that communication lines stay intact and that someone owns the content aspect of the Sitecore implementation.
  3. Branding/design and other related templates may not always be possible to be delivered early on in a project. It's important here to share the end goal between all stakeholders and keep everyone informed. if the developers know how the site will be branded, they can work to it. If the content authors know exactly when key assets are to be delivered, they won't think the plain site in the demos is the end result.
  4. Scope creep is almost always going to happen on any technology project. If the project is run in a proper agile way, then the business can add as much functionality to the backlog as they want. It comes down to how much of that work can be achieved in the number of sprints the project has until competition. The developers are happy because they don't feel as much pressure - theres only so much work that can be allocated each sprint. The business is happy, because all of these features are listed out to be chosen by them for each sprint.
  5. The general content training at the beginning (or before) the project starts is a great way to get business users across the Sitecore CMS. The important part is to continue to share knowledge with them as the project continues along. This may be in the form of in-person training, video training or even user guides. At the end of the day, they feel empowered to use the CMS and work with all that great customisation the developers have made.
Bridging the gap between various stakeholders is a lot easier said than done, and a single article like this one isn't going to fix things overnight. Ultimately all I can do is bring the issue forward for discussion, show readers the various viewpoints and hopefully work on perceptions of the various stakeholders involved in your Sitecore implementation. This gap is of course in no way limited to Sitecore, it's right across the technology area, this is just a topic point in which I primarily work in and write about.

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