10 lessons learned from one of the world’s largest online projects

Mastering the craft of publishing in a digital age. That is the core of activities at McClatchy, USA. Get insights of the project from project manager Brian Kirlik here.

December 09, 2014

Newsrooms all over the world are on the look out for how they need to change their newsroom.

29 markets.
About 6,000 employees.
On average 270 million page views monthly.

That’s the scope of American media company McClatchy. And also the scope of one of the world’s largest online projects.

Needless to say, implementing one unified content management system for  The McClatchy Company is a huge task.

Nevertheless, McClatchy is well on the way to rolling out the CCI-owned CMS Escenic to all 29 markets.

At the CCI User Conference in Helsinki, Finland in September 2014 McClatchy Interactive’s Senior Vice-President for Market Services, Brian Kirlik, shared his insight to the lessons learned in the project.

The basics first.

In October 2012 McClatchy decided to move away from its homegrown CMS and go with Escenic. The maintenance of the old system had become a burden. The company was also looking for a system that would serve as a catalyst for a sweeping digital transformation of habits and workflow.

The first market, The Kansas City Star, went live on June 3rd 2014. The second - The Wichita Eagle - went live in August with five more websites to come before 2014 turns into 2015.

Below you will find 10 lessons learned in the first two years of one of the largest online projects in the world.

Don’t listen to “We used to…”

Shifting to a new CMS requires a new approach and lot of change. But you’re unlikely to reach your goals if you pattern your new decisions based on today’s realities.

“In the beginning, we wanted the team we assembled to serve as an incubator for new ideas. We asked the group to resist any thought or temptation to do things like we’ve done in the past.”. If we followed the established path, we we’re certain that we wouldn’t meet our goals,” Brian Kirlik says.

Know that your blood pressure will go up

One moment you’re on top of the game, things are working fine and you get things done. The next day, you struggle and nothing works the way you want it to. Changing technology is tough enough. Toss in cultural and process change and pressure builds. Good days and bad days are part of the routine. The project team tried to minimize the highs and lows, pay attention to the weaknesses and focus on success.

This is a journey, not a 100-meter sprint

18 months. That’s the time span from when McClatchy decided to go with Escenic until the first site went live. McClatchy wants to automate and unify as much of the online project as possible and wants to be able to deploy new sites almost with the push of a button.

“We could have built and launched the Kansas City Star in much less time as a stand-alone project. But that was not our big-picture objective.”

Instead, McClatchy was using the Escenic project as a means to re-invent how it works and tells stories to master the craft of publishing in a digital world. Part of that process involved waiting about eight months for the newest version of Escenic’s Widget Framework. So while the first launch took 18 months to achieve, the second market went live about eight weeks later. Launches three and four occurred just four weeks after the second launch

This is a people project

McClatchy has always believed its transition to Escenic was much more than a redesign or technology change. Those were tasks within a much larger effort that tackled preconceived beliefs about how the company’s journalists create and publish conent.

As Brian Kirlik puts it: “If all we did was replace old technology with new technology and not change how we think and work, what will we have accomplished? Probably nothing. We would have brand new technology but one massive lost opportunity.”

Everything changes all the time

“We will never get to the point where everything’s done. Everything chances all the time. So don’t panic. There’s no handbook for what we’re doing. Nevertheless, we’re committed to pushing forward,” Brian Kirlik says.

Use the online project to streamline your development process

Don’t be shy about turning things upside down. McClatchy tried to improve how developers commit code to becoming a more mature agile development organization and everything in between. That work has created a stronger organization, improved quality and reduced time to market for new features.

“We’re trying to become a matrix-based, team-focused company. For us, that means everyone having a shared purpose to create value for the company, not just perform the basic functions of their role.

Let your developers challenge the status quo

Don’t put artifical boundaries on your technology resources. Try to create an environment that allows them to maximize their potential. Certainly provide a structure, a strategy and over-arching goals. But allow your team the latitude to solve problems and create new knowledge and ideas

Automate

Automate as many processes as possible. McClatchy knew from the get go that it’s project went well beyond building one web site. It was about creating a structure that will enable the company to streamline workflows and rapidly get new features to market. That requires all the automation that you can get your hands on.

Get help

Even with a bunch of talented and experienced developers, you can benefit from experienced, external help. McClatchy Interactive got help from two consultants from CCI.

“We really benefitted from the guidance from our CCI consultants. Because they’ve done this before, they helped us move forward and avoid mistakes.”.

Celebrate. And stay positive

Be sure to acknowledge the collective and individual success that comes your way. Be realistic but optimistic. And celebrate major milestones such as a site launch with a proper toast to a job well done.