Your CMS is Making Your Web Development Harder

Paul Langevin

Your CMS is Making Your Web Development Harder

Anyone who has built a complex website with a modern content management system (CMS), and one without, knows what wonderful marvels CMS's are. A good CMS provides a development team with thousands of developer hours (that’s my PC way of not saying man hours) of code that has been tested and burned-in on a multitude of websites. The prevailing wisdom is that a good CMS greatly reduces the cost and time to deliver a website, particularly for advanced sites. The prevailing wisdom is true - on average. Advanced websites that just a few years ago that would have been 5,000* hours in custom coding can now be done in just 500** with a CMS. At the same time, CMS's make things much more difficult to deliver on a 500 hour project.

A Classic Paradox

Ninety-nine years ago another famous paradox was solved by Paul Langevin called the twin paradox. In 1905 Albert Einstein published his famous paper on special relativity. The basic concept is that time is experienced differently by two observers when moving at different speeds relative to each other. The fact that time is not constant seemed counter intuitive to people from that age (and to modern day college freshman, or at least me as a freshman). The ramifications of this revelation is extraordinary. For example: Let's say you had twin web developers, Bob and Able and you tasked them with the same 5000 hour website. If you built a hyper-fast rocket ship and put Able on it, then shot it out fast enough from Bob for a duration of 250 Bob hours, then had it turn around and come back, Able would miraculously have the project done in just 500 Bob hours. This is because Able would have experienced 5000 Able hours in just 500 Bob hours. I’m not making this stuff up, the universe really works this way. What is even more interesting is, in theory, if you built the rocket to go faster than the speed of light you could achieve what every client actually wants: To have the project done yesterday. Note to all developers, don’t even hint this is theoretically possible, because then it will become expected. I am certain this is why project management was essentially invented by NASA. They weren’t trying to get to the moon, they were really trying to develop software faster. Eventually, they realized it is too complex to build rocket ships that can go that fast. So they went to Plan B and settled upon building content management systems.

The CMS Paradox

The problem with CMS's is similar. To illustrate, let’s say that Bob and Able both have project owners, Kate and Allie. Kate hangs back on Earth with Bob, circa 2005 without good CMS's, and Allie goes with Able on a “CMS rocket”. Now let’s say this is a real world development project. The Standish Group data shows that the average project time overrun is 63%. So to both Kate and Allie in their worlds, the projects that were supposed to take 5000 hours will really take 8,150 hours. While typical, overruns are not expected, basically everybody is upset. No es bueno. However, if Allie and Able connect back to Kate and Bob’s world, Kate and Bob would be very impressed with Allie and Able's project that got completed in just 815 hours (because of the time dilation of the CMS rocket). So to Allie, the project is 63% overbudget, while Kate references it as 83% under budget. Problems occur though when we in the CMS world can't reference the non-CMS world's perspective.

Stakeholder, We Have a Problem

There is another problem with the CMS team. They are on a freaking rocket! Even if only metaphorically. It takes a long time to figure out how to pilot truly advanced crafts and keep your skills well honed. Hint: we are talking about Drupal and other advanced level CMS's. There are many, many moving parts that must be understood and commanded. There are more things to potentially go wrong, or at least be critical about, and fixes generally tend to require more involvement. They also require more support and a well thought out preemptive maintenance plan. Strategic planning becomes increasingly important because just being a little off course will require significant course corrections later. Wow, this metaphor practically writes itself!

The Magic Carpet Ride Has Side Affects

In the end, today’s CMS's are modern miracles, but there are hidden costs. One of the most significant is increased project uncertainty. One of the key promises of a CMS is that it allows you to do more in less time. They do achieve this, and the great ones will have a transforming impact on your web efforts. However, being able to accurately determine how much effort it will take to deliver a specific set of features becomes significantly more complicated. To be successful in the CMS world, you have to have an acute understanding of uncertainty and develop new tools to deal with it. In my next post, we will explore uncertainty's ever increasing role in determining project success and failure. I will also explain whats up with the * and **.

Related Posts

Work Smarter, Not Harder to Link Build

Erin Tuohy
Read more

Making Money with Your Drupal Website

Read more

Apps: Making Drupal Distributions Work

Tom McCracken
Read more

Making the Move to Timeline

Tabatha Patterson
Read more

Cleaning Out the Closet: Making Your Website Content Count

Daniel Donaldson
Read more

Why Web Development is Like Building a House

Randall Knutson
Read more