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Good Change Management is Key for New AEM Content Authors

For people who write, edit, update or otherwise create and maintain web content, moving to a new enterprise CMS can be a pretty exciting process.  I’ve never met a content author or publisher who didn’t want at least a little something more from their authoring interface.  Typical questions and comments include:

  • “Can we make it more like my WordPress interface?”
  • “Do we really need all these workflow approvals?”
  • “Can’t I just create it in a Word doc and upload it?”
  • “How about automatic metadata suggestions?”

And of course, there’s my personal favorite:

  • “What does this ‘wizzywig’ mean anyway?”

The requests are pretty standard– WYSIWYG aside– so common, in fact, that you’d think CMS vendors would have discovered the “killer app” years ago and by this point we’d simply be endlessly refining it.  To some extent that’s true, but different user interfaces continue to offer different means of accomplishing similar tasks.
For top-ranked CMS tools like Adobe Experience Manager, a good argument can be made that they really do make life easier for content authors, addressing questions like the ones above and more.  Like any other new tool, though, AEM isn’t going to be an automatic hit with this key constituency unless you make sure they understand its controls intimately.  That’s where good change management comes in.

Change Management as a Critical Path Item

That’s right, I said good change management.  For every project or solution owner who still thinks (contrary to plenty of evidence) that “if you build it, they will come” remains an acceptable rollout plan for content authors– they’re smart people, they’ll figure it out, right?– there’s another two who think a quick email announcement and a video tutorial will do the trick for everyone.
Good change management understands that even an audience with a single unifying factor– like, for instance, job title and responsibilities (e.g., the modern Digital Content Manager or as we said in the 90s… yes… “THE WEBMASTER”)– is hardly homogeneous.   Different people learn in different ways, at different speeds.  For that matter, different people communicate in different ways, too.  Good change management requires not just communication and training, but plans for communication and training that are followed by sound execution.
This is what makes good change management part of your AEM upgrade or rollout’s critical path.  If you make your content authors aware of the training, and get them to consume it; if you provide quality training that addresses the different learning styles of your audience; if you encourage the audience to complete it and incentivize that behavior?   Only then can you start talking about a successful project go-live, no matter how error-free your DNS changeover was.

Communication and Training Plans

An internal communication and training plan for an AEM rollout will have a number of areas of focus, but for the intent of this post we’re focusing only on the content authors.  Ideally, they will be defined as a stakeholder audience with specific goals and objectives that you want them to achieve (namely: the ability to quickly and easily post/edit/administer content of any sort).
Recognizing this, your training plan should consider and ultimately, provide different styles of training.  A day or half-day of in-person instruction prior to go-live should be de rigeur, but it’s not a panacea either.  Guided video tutorials, a written manual (stored in a document library subject to a good search engine– hello, SharePoint Online) and even that old standby the quick reference card are all relatively easy to produce and sure to provide return on the small investment it takes to create and provide them.  Your content authors will thank you.
Of course, you also need to get your users to the training materials you’ve invested in.  A good communication plan targets dates and messaging types (we sometimes call this a communication architecture), mapping the path that iteratively builds your users from awareness (“I know we’re getting a new CMS”) to understanding (“I can use the new AEM tool”) to commitment (“Sure, I can create a whole new content vertical complete with metadata in just five seconds with that drag-and-drop interface… want my help?”).

The Content Author is Usually Right

As we mentioned above, there’s a good deal more to the change management aspects of rolling out a new CMS than simply addressing the content authors.  As the single most important audience of end-users after your customers, however, they’re an incredibly vital group to get right.  Make sure you intend to get a communication and training plan in place for them before your next upgrade or re-platform project kicks off.

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Rich Wood

Rich Wood has been planning, designing and building enterprise solutions and internet sites with an emphasis on stellar user and customer experiences since 1997. Rich is a National Director for Content and Commerce Platform work in Perficient Digital. One of the rare breed of strategists to truly understand both the business needs of the customer and the platforms that serve them, he is a keen advocate for and accomplished speaker/writer on issues that surround that inflection point. His work has been published on CMSWire, Sitecore and Microsoft partner blogs, and his own LinkedIn page as well as our various blogs here at Perficient, and he has spoken at multiple major conferences including Microsoft's SharePoint Conference 2014. Married and a father of five, Rich enjoys spending time with his wife and family. He is a native of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a graduate of Marquette University.

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