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Technology & Engineering August 14, 2014

Why Training Is Vital For Successful CMS Projects


We’ve all been there. You’ve worked with an agency to produce a website with a new enterprise content management system that meets all of your needs. It has been through rigorous testing successfully. You have a handover and are told “here’s your website, nice working with you, goodbye.” And that’s it.

Your pals at the agency go on to their next great project and spare little thought for the one just completed. The client (that’s you), meanwhile, is left — after the initial burst of positivity from having a shiny new CMS — frustrated, struggling and going through a time-consuming process of figuring out how to use and manage the solution that has been delivered.

The fundamental consideration of how someone actually uses the all-singing, all-dancing digital solutions developers conjure up with their mystical powers, all too often comes last when it should come much earlier on.

Don’t underestimate the importance of training

I’m sure many a Project Manager has felt that special brand of Project Manager Creeping Dread™ when a client says, “This looks fantastic, great work… how do my content editors use it?” This is what happens when training is an afterthought and not a key consideration. Clients themselves are also guilty of thinking about training for their content editors and marketing staff too late. Training is important to get the greatest value out of what might be a major investment, you must ensure that your staff can not only use this new system, but use it well.

To start on the road to getting top quality training and documentation, make sure it is firmly on the agenda from the start. Rather than letting it be a side issue, try to make a point of requiring good training for the members of your team that will have to take over and use the enterprise CMS provided to drive your business.

If training is put on the backburner, it is much harder for your agency to provide it in a comprehensive and efficient way. Instead they will end up scrambling around to put last-minute documents and sessions together. The knock-on effect is that training will simply not be as good and, therefore, your staff will not be as good at using the system, causing delays and/or a poor quality website that is technically sound, but lacks adequate presentation and organisation.

With effective training behind them, your content team will have the confidence and comfort levels to get the very best out of the system.

Laying good groundwork

Like anything, laying good groundwork is important and the more people involved who contribute to informing and questioning from the start, the better the end result is going to be.

This should be part of the groundwork for the website in the first place but ensure that you make it clear who, from a staff point of view, is going to be using the website. Are they experienced content editors who have worked with this kind of CMS before, or are they completely new to web content management?

Discuss training early on so it isn’t a surprise to anyone and outline the business case. Training is an investment in the future of your digital platform. If you have a staff force of well-trained, confident editors running your website then the difference in the quality of content, presentation and organisation will be marked, and will make a big contribution to the website or solution engaging potential customers and selling to existing ones.

Get your soon-to-be expert editors and content managers involved in these conversations so that they can ask questions and express the good and bad of how they work now (this knowledge ought to have been brought into discussions before the build, but is useful to reiterate here so that your agency can show you how best to achieve the desired results).

Follow on from early discussions and assessments of training requirements by getting a full overview of the CMS. This could be a big launch meeting or a simple webinar, but have your agency give an introduction to the CMS so that when the time for full training comes, everyone has seen the system before, has heard some of the key terms and you can get straight into the real stuff.

It’s also important to make sure someone is responsible for maintaining and updating good documentation from the start. You might get your agency to produce a guide or a wiki, or you may decide to develop your own guide over time. However you do it, avoid underestimating the value of having top notch instructions. High quality guides/wikis are the difference between a new member of staff being able to hit the ground running or struggling for perhaps months. They can and should also evolve over time as you discover and record the best ways of working based on experience.

What Does Good CMS Training Look Like?

Good training can take many forms but there are some basic points it’s worth ensuring are in the mix:

  • Don’t let sessions be either too long or too short. Make sure there are proper breaks between sessions and that people have time to take things in without being overwhelmed. Don’t feel that training must go on for days on end; if anything, this may end up confusing people.
  • Don’t just find out how to use the system, think about your goals and talk about the best way they can be achieved with this system — if you have local country editors translating a website, how can they do this efficiently whilst still providing quality for their market and maintaining brand consistency?
  • Do ensure that training is mainly hands-on rather than hours spent looking at slides and hearing something in theory.
  • Do allow mistakes to be made! Obviously you want to avoid serious errors that could cause problems, but people do learn a lot from doing it the wrong way and then finding out how to fix it.

Overall training should be concise, clear, allow lots of hands-on practice and provide useful resources that can be relied upon thereafter. Point people in the direction of relevant documentation and helpdesk systems, or other means of obtaining ongoing support.

Challenges and Opportunities

Training can be a source of both headaches and opportunities. Timing can be tricky; getting someone qualified to carry out training booked-in at the same time as staff who need training can be hard, especially if there are teams around the world all requiring the same session. Try choosing a regional centre and then bringing your staff from that area together to receive training.

Judging the ratio of trainers to trainees can also be awkward. You want the best value possible so the received wisdom is to schedule a session and then send as many staff as possible. However, this could be counter-productive, as the more trainees a trainer has to manage, the less one-to-one time they can give each trainee. More trainees can also make it harder to keep the session well-organised and free from tangents.

Make time for training to be carried out properly, with well-balanced sessions in manageable groups. This will result in more confident staff making fewer errors and requiring a lot less support time down the line.

If done well, training can be part of creating an ongoing, cross-functional relationship. Trainers work directly with staff who use the website day in, day out — this is a great chance to find out what works, what doesn’t and what problems there are with the system. This is really valuable information as it shows what is working in practice from a user and workflow perspective.

If there are multiple rollouts, quality training allows you to continue to learn and develop the relationship and the system, helping both to evolve. Each training session improves, and any issues with the system can be identified and fixed. Trainers also get the opportunity to find out even more about what various teams/team members need from a system — building cross-functional relationships where everyone can learn from each other.

These sessions can be a really useful source of feedback as well as providing necessary skills. Any lessons learned could be collated and shared in a document or presentation, and then applied to the progress of this and future projects.

Training as an Investment

In this post I’ve advocated for training as an important investment. It’s an exercise in spending the time and money learning something well now so that you can be effective in the future. Better trained teams and content editors produce higher quality, better organised content. They know how to use your enterprise content management system and website to their full potential. They know how to troubleshoot issues. They work more efficiently because they are confident and comfortable with the interfaces. They make fewer mistakes and require less ongoing support. They form a cross-functional and ongoing relationship with your agency that is beneficial to all parties.

These are all great reasons to invest in quality, well-resourced training that avoids the often last-minute, under-resourced sessions that will leave you with just the basics.

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