Four Kitchens

Your CMS can do better — for you, your team, and your organization

6 Min. ReadDigital strategy

When pursuing a redesign, organizations usually view external users as their top priority to ensure their new website is a success.


To protect your investment in any redesign, you need to prioritize the needs of your internal users, too.

Consider the critical importance of your publishing workflow. Every organization has its own process, from setting content status levels to notifying teams about changes and when their input is needed. Without a properly designed CMS that supports each step of the process, your teams will struggle to communicate and deliver their best work.

You can’t afford to think of your CMS as a “set it and forget it” tool. This is especially true if your organization uses Drupal. For all the platform’s power for building websites, its out-of-the-box editorial interface is extremely limited.

You need your site to always reflect the latest, most important information about your organization. If you don’t personalize your CMS in a way that serves your internal workflows, you’re placing your website’s long-term health at risk.

Stakeholder interviews are crucial to establishing an effective workflow

A core difficulty in designing digital projects is their inherent complexity. At one level, every organization has a distinctive process for publishing new content to their site. But at another, every person on a team who is part of the publishing process may have differing needs.

The right design partner will plan your CMS workflows with these preferences in mind. They should conduct stakeholder interviews to get a clear picture of your publication workflow needs from the people who use it most. Your end users can provide vital insights into their needs, but your design partner should cast a wide net to inform their approach. Editors, administrators, and any internal stakeholders who engage with your site’s content should also be consulted.

Without this specialized input, developers are likely to create a system that’s biased toward their own creative process.

How an organization’s personality informs its CMS

Understanding the work styles of your teams delivers a clearer understanding of how your CMS should function. Do most people on your marketing team thrive with a clearly defined path to work through decisions? Or are they more spontaneous and drawn toward flexible systems that allow for experimentation? Then, you need to consider how other teams such as product, content, and human resources will interact with your site’s backend. Ultimately, your team’s personality types inform how they will interact with your CMS.

From a practical standpoint, only organizations with small website content teams can program CMS functionality around individual preferences. But stakeholder interviews provide critical insights about how your institutional personality is supported by its workflow.

For example, if your organization needs to ensure every item is approved before publication, your design team can build around that priority and ensure strong content governance. But before your CMS can be customized to your needs, your design partner must fully understand how your teams work together.

Document the ways your teams collaborate to serve their needs

Though every CMS needs to support each step in your content workflow, digital publishing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. New technology and collaboration tools have led to the proliferation of cloud-based software that impacts how teams work together.

Confluence, Trello, or Asana may support your teams’ planning priorities while Slack, Jira, and email all communicate information to different teams. Before long, redoing your CMS has morphed into technology Thunderdome as stakeholders battle to defend the tools they must retain after launch.

Your team may have a wide variety of tools to create, review, and publish content.

Rather than fighting for the survival of their favored tool, each stakeholder should document how they create and publish content to inform the design of your CMS. Once your design team can map out the value each tool adds, they can determine where it fits in your digital workflow.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel with your CMS workflow

Many CMSs, including Drupal, have the flexibility to function as a central content repository that brings all your tools to a single resource. But that doesn’t mean your updated CMS should serve this purpose.

For one, it’s unrealistic to expect all of your stakeholders to ditch their existing processes for a new, home-brewed workflow. Rather than trying to create a replacement, your CMS should provide a reflection of the people, tools, and systems of accountability that are already working for your teams. No website platform can be the best tool for everything and still be efficient.

Plus, building a custom solution into your CMS to satisfy every need just isn’t cost effective. A developer can create functionality that pushes your published content out to Facebook and Twitter. But it’s never going to work as well as Hootsuite. If your teams are using a tool that’s working well, you can either connect it to your CMS via an API or accept it as part of your process.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for parts of your workflow that are running smoothly.

Content moderation means flexibility for your teams

As teams document their processes during the Discovery stage of a project, you and your design partner should gain an idealized portrait of how digital content is created. But in practice, the day-to-day publishing process is messy. This is the case across the board — not just for you.

Your CMS has to have the flexibility to support instances when the ideal workflow isn’t possible. For example, the typical content moderation workflow may incorporate four stages between the first draft and publication. But in some cases — such as articles going live with an embarrassing typo that needs to be fixed right away — your team needs a way to expedite the process.

If your workflow is too rigid, simple publishing tasks become frustrating exercises in button clicking. Allowing such workarounds can be scary for organizations that worry about people abusing the system. But your CMS doesn’t have to be rigid for your organization to ensure proper governance.

For content governance, training is more valuable than programming

For organizations that value content governance, a CMS provides the opportunity to incorporate a powerful gatekeeper in publishing. Your developers can program a bunch of rules ensuring that site editors can’t upload content that breaks with your design standards. But these validation processes are complex and costly to create.

Instead, your organization should incorporate a strong editorial training program that outlines the best practices for your site. A training program will save you development time by providing teams with documentation that outlines best practices for using pull quotes, sizing website images, and other publishing details. Training also gives your organization the flexibility to change its guidelines later when circumstances dictate when you need to break your own rules.

Digital workflows focus on internal communication

Content moderation is essential to establishing safeguards in your organization’s publishing process. But it’s just the beginning of building a digital workflow.

A CMS allows your content team to publish an article from its initial draft through any design and editorial review your organization requires. But to be effective, your CMS needs to communicate the details around those stages. The ones your team uses in the real world.

content publishing workflow
An example of a editorial review workflow.

The following custom features of your CMS quickly expand the scope of your digital workflow:

  • Notifications: Your site editors need to know when content is awaiting their approval—shared through appropriate communication channels.
  • Permissions: Prevent embarrassing errors by identifying contributors that can create but not publish content. Plus, permission levels allow editors to expedite publishing as needed.
  • Revision tracking: Content teams need a way to identify editorial changes and track when they’re made.
  • Dashboards: Allow each team member to recognize which content items need their attention in a single view.

Incorporating these features into a digital workflow constitutes a complex and costly investment. However, integrating your CMS into how your team works and communicates leads to content that’s timely, accurate, and consistent with your site’s design.

If your end users face unreasonable requirements to use your system — if they struggle to publish content — then they’re less likely to feel a sense of ownership toward your site and your CMS. And in terms of ensuring your website looks its best and functions as it should, you want that ownership. There’s no stronger connection you can create.