Getting the most from your CMS: Governance

Keep It Running Smoothly (aka Governance)

A content management system (CMS) can be a significant investment of time and dollars. The key benefits are that it puts content editing in the hands of the people who are experts in that content, and that developers can work more efficiently to create one set of functionality. Those benefits only materialize when the right resources are in place. In this CMS Foundations series, I’ll explain the most important elements and activities to help you get the most from your CMS.

Somewhere between bureaucratic formality and frantic chaos lies organized governance. The best CMS programs hit that middle ground. Here are some basic points that any good governance plan should cover:

People & Roles

It takes a lot of people to run a complex website – here are some website roles that may get involved. While everyone should have a say, you will need a single point of authority to make the final call.

The executive sponsor is crucial. They are the champion of the website and of the governance policy. They should be backing the site owner as a governance leader in decision-making and authority.

The site owner does the most work: this can be a full time job depending on the size and complexity of the website and organization. It can be hard to pinpoint the right person to shoulder this role in a complex organization, and it can be tempting to name multiple owners to “work together”. However, the fewer decision-makers the better.

There is often a layer of business leaders between the executive sponsor and site owner – we’ll call them oversight. This can be a single person but is usually a group of representatives from various business areas (content owners, global leaders, IT, etc.)

However your company breaks down ownership and governance roles, try to centralize as much as possible. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of nimble, authoritative decision-making. When every decision has to go through a committee, then every decision is a slow compromise.

Style & Design

You should always aim for consistency in look & feel. Every part of a website, plus every other property, needs to feel like it came from one company. Three activities help keep everything looking professional and consistent.

  1. Brand standards. Company branding style guides often include elements that work well in print, but not so much for digital. Work with your brand leader to establish digital-first styles that will represent the brand’s values. That will serve as the basis any website or other style guides.
  2. Design system. This is one of the best areas to get bang for your CMS buck. Leverage the power of templates and individual content and functional components. It takes some planning – and sometimes a lot of politics – but I guarantee that creating and maintaining a documented, easy-to-use library of building blocks will be worth it.
  3. Editor support. Documentation and training help editors create professional, easy-to-use pages. However, they will inevitably run into trouble or have questions. When that happens, they’ll need somewhere to go for answers. Whether it’s a dedicated support person, or an internal message board, make sure editors can get the help they need.

Policies & Processes

What are the rules of working within your CMS? Make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Establish a meeting cadence for the governance team, and stick to it.

Make it VERY clear who gets to make decisions on what, including spending approvals. Keep decision making as close to the website as possible. Limit the decisions that need a committee, and keep that committee as small as possible.

Once you’ve invested in creating a strong CMS program, you’ll be able to reduce the number of expensive, large updates needed. However, when enhancements or redesigns do come along, they can cost a little more, due to the rigidity of the CMS and the special technical skills needed.

Decide on a process for functional updates, and stick to it. Everyone should know who to contact when they want to add a feature, or if they’ve found a bug. Everyone should know where their request or project sits in the pipeline and when to expect it to be completed (if at all).

Make sure any IT processes are included in CMS governance. For example, will there be periodic infrastructure updates, and if so, how and when will those be conducted? May external vendors deploy code, or do all functional updates need to go through the IT team? What are the security and testing requirements?

Incorporate any rules or advice around SEO, acceptable domain names (for companies with multiple websites), translations, analytics, and any other policies that may be appropriate.


Finally, keeping all stakeholders up to date is vital to the health of CMS and website maintenance.

As the website changes, it’s vital that everyone be up to speed on what the changes are, and how they impact stakeholders. Some changes may be so impactful that you’ll want to notify customers.

Similarly, any changes to governance policies or processes need to be communicated.

Publish a schedule of when the governance team is meeting, what they’ll discuss, and what they’ve decided.

Communications are not haphazard – they need to be intentional and planned. A schedule or program for updating stakeholders as necessary will keep everyone informed and on the same page.

Governance can be simple or intensely complicated. A governance program can be as small or broad as your organization needs it to be. The important thing is to create one that works for your organization, stick to it, monitor it, and update it as needed. In doing so, you’ll ensure quality, consistency, and agility.

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