Wondering about workflows..

In my long history with content management systems one of the things that comes up time and time again is the idea of ‘workflow’. This always surprises me as in my experience it is the first piece of functionality that either gets turned off or worked around on every CMS I have been involved in!

Like many issues around web content it has always seemed like an attempt to solve a problem with the technology rather than get to the root of the issue. Which is usually more to do with internal processes and people than a piece of software. You either trust the people you ask to provide content for your website or you don’t – and if you need to have checkpoints in place then fine but they should be there already not just created for the benefit of the software you are using.

In my opinion anything with the potential to create bottle-necks on websites can be a problem and workflows seem to inevitably create these. Either that or people treat their responsibilities to the workflow in the most casual manner as they don’t see it as a core part of their role. The longer the chains in these workflows as well the more likely they are to break as well.

The CMS we are about to start implementing has a more flexible and targeted workflow tool than I have worked with before. In the past it has always been a bit all or nothing (with me settling on nothing!). This has led me to revisit my thinking to make sure there aren’t areas where *something* might add value rather than just add bureaucracy. There is content on our site (and sites I’ve managed in the past) that clearly needs to pass through some kind of editorial approval process before it is made public but it still seems artificial to push that through a tool that currently exists outside of the authors ways of working. That said the primary channel for this content is online and if it started and ended on the web would that help to make people think in a more web native manner about the content?

I am a fan of some kind of ‘peer review’ or ‘paired publishing’. A second pair of eyes is often a godsend especially when it comes to things like optimising the readability or formating of a web page and just avoiding those ‘woods for the trees’ moments. With the right kind of people this is also an opportunity to just double-check things like SEO (we are a ways from that yet but it is a goal of mine.) I like to think this kind of ‘low impact’ workflow wouldn’t create any major snarl ups in the publishing process and would also prevent any glaring errors getting published.

Has anyone had a positive experience using complex workflows for web publishing?

One comment

  1. Never had good experiences with complex workflows on ‘general’ CMS sites. We too have clients ask for very rigid complex workflows and then ask them to all be turned off at the 11th hour, as they need to get the content online and Bob is away on holiday and he is the only one according to the workflow they defined who can approve the content ;)

    The only successful one we’ve done was for a large publishing company that have a process for collaboratively writing procedure documents. In this case drafts can be commented on inline and the draft with comments passed through various teams in a workflow. It then comes back to have the changes/comments merged in. That is a very specific example though.

    The peer-review 4-eyes type thing can work very well. We’ve done that in Plone before where it is very easy to just add a rule to the workflow to say something like ‘anyone can approve this except the original author’ which works pretty well.

    -Matt

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