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Migrating an interview with Bill Trevor

Website Migration Handbook
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Bill Trevor was the Project Manager who led the Mass.Gov effort to replace the Web Content Management System, visual design and navigation. He is a consultant specializing in Information Architecture, Website Migration and Optimization, Project Management and Social Media Marketing. His views are his own and in no way represent the views of Mass.Gov or the Commonwealth.   

You migrated 26 sites and around 700,000 content items into your new CMS, and some of the sites were previously on other platforms.  How did you coordinate with all of the stakeholders?  What were the initial discussions like, and how did you stay engaged throughout the process?

With any project (especially one of this size) communication is key. We held frequent stakeholder meetings at both the migration coordinator and senior management levels for each of the 26 sites. We formed a "migration liaison team" that included one representative from each site to ensure information was broadly communicated. We also leveraged a wiki so stakeholders could receive notifications if there were any updates related to the migrations.

A primary goal of the project was to maintain one platform that easily presents a single view for web users looking for information on Massachusetts government.  Was that goal met?  Why was a new platform needed to make that happen?  How did you convince people to move to a single platform, and how much variance did you allow between websites?

Since its inception, Mass.Gov has been focused on maintaining a single face of government. The goal of this mantra is to create a state website that constituents feel comfortable navigating around, no matter the agency/department providing the information they seek. Too many state websites have a "single facing" homepage only to disperse into as many different websites as there are agencies. Mass.Gov takes the opposite approach and as far as I can tell, is doing it the best. The new Content Management System (CMS) will enable Mass.Gov to keep that guiding principle true while allowing some flexibility to content authors to slightly alter their web pages without losing that single face. Constituents want to be confident that the site they are visiting is an official state sanctioned site and Mass.Gov makes that happen. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues to pursue the goal of IT consolidation. Why not offer a single enterprise level CMS instead of having 160+ different systems, visual designs and site navigation structures. This website consolidation has been in the works for many years (termed Portalization) and the new CMS will allow Mass.Gov to continue the push to bring more sites on board.

How different is the experience now for web users looking for information from Massachusetts government?

While it may have been an ambitious project, Mass.Gov saw the replacement of the CMS as an opportunity to also update the visual design (4+ years old) and the navigation schema (7+ years old). The prior versions of the Mass.Gov site templates were very rigid, narrow and leveraged the old Yahoo category navigation schema. You know, the one where you saw topics, clicked them, saw sub-topics, clicked them and so on and so forth. Mass.Gov has introduced a modern mega-drop down, in the same style of ESPN or Target, quickly exposing level 2 and 3 topics from the banner on every page.  Another addition is a similarly fashioned left navigation that allows users to expand a drop down menu from the left column to get a peak at what content lies beneath that category. These features reduce "number of clicks" and help to flatten the information architecture. We put a new "modern minimalist" design on top which offers more space for agencies to showcase content along with an easy to maintain slideshow template and a wider page layout.

How did you develop content inventories, and what did you discover when you did them?

We used everything we could find. Some agencies kept good inventories of their own and we leveraged those. We also used free tools like Xenu to spider sites and export the findings into excel to obtain a comprehensive view. For better or worse, the old CMS was a very linear tool and so it was a lot of work but attainable to export the navigation structure from the old site and dump that into the new tool to build the underlying folder structure. One thing to note, most agencies saw this as such a large project to simply move their existing content/navigation into the new CMS that few took the opportunity to redo their IA. We did, however, try to get agencies to see the value in a pre-migration ROT (redundant, outdated and trivial) analysis because the less content you migrate, the less you have to QA/tweak.

What simplifications did you make the project a success?

Keeping the scope in focus and using it as the barometer for any requested change. We used our daily scrum (15 minutes) to update each team member on what we accomplished yesterday, tasks for the current day and to discuss any issues blocking progress. These meetings kept team members honest and ensured everyone was on the same page. I also cannot stress the importance of a parking lot page and Executive Sponsorship. We had great support with the upper management circles who really listened when something came up that might derail us and helped to determine an effective resolution without busting scope.

How much of the migration was automated and how much was manual?

We had really great partners from the CMS vendor (Percussion) and a rocket scientist (well he was considering becoming one) who did the automated migration. Again, we did a lot of research and heard the horror stories about how poorly content migrations ended up but I can say that the automated portion of the project fairly cleanly migrated 85% of the agency content. This included documents and images. There was some content that may have gotten lost in translation but the vendor did a great job translating the old to the new. It was no small feat and only caused minor delays. We knew the cleaner the content was after it migrated, the less work the agencies would need to do prior to their site going live.

How much was dropped from the old sites?

Because the old tool had a separate navigation component, Mass.Gov knew exactly what was live on the old website when we took our final content snapshot. Mass.Gov migrated every web page that was live at the time of the snapshot and the numbers of pages dropped due to issues was probably less than 2% of 400,000 pages. This was most likely due to malformation in the page code.

How did you track progress as you went forward?  

We used every resource we had at our disposal! Scrum was a tremendous help. Our main tracking methods were MS Project, our Wiki and Sharepoint. We leveraged MS Project to track milestones, resources, critical path and high level project points to senior management. Our Wiki was the main communication mechanism for our stakeholders as they were able to comment, ask questions and view schedules/timelines in real time as the project evolved. Internally, we leveraged Sharepoint as a means to track issues / bugs / fixes during the configuration and implementation of the CMS.

The old saying goes something like "You have your choice of schedule, scope, and cost — pick any two."  How did you do against schedule, scope, and cost?

Scope was always a challenge but we kept focus via daily scrum meetings and constant sessions with our stakeholders. The schedule did take some hits to ensure the product was scaled appropriately and that the content was migrated as clean as possible. This did not result in a significant delay and by the time we launched the first websites on the new platform, we were within the margin of error for our original project plan we drafted some two years prior.

If you could do it over again, what would you change?

If time was not a factor (we were dealing with fiscal year funding deadlines at times) I would have preferred to have spent more time analyzing website Information Architecture. Due to the enormity of migrating to a new toolset (fear of the learning curve) we recommended that agency staff focus on QAing the content that migrated and getting comfortable with the CMS. I still believe that this was the right decision but some sites are now looking to overhaul their IA. 

What were the biggest constraints you had, and how did you overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge is that Mass.Gov is the top level website and maintains the CMS tool but does not control the governance model used by the 26 sites. While not a bad thing, it was challenging to get agreement and consensus on some aspects. In the end, we had a very strong communication model that served us and our stakeholders well. Absent this, we might still be migrating websites. 

How is set up for ongoing management of the site?  How many sites are still on the horizon to be moved to the new platform?

Mass.Gov took great care to develop authoring documentation and posted it to the Wiki. This way, it is available 24/7 and is continually updated by the team. Gone are the days of printing out a training manual as the minute it is printed, some aspect is out-of-date. Mass.Gov is also working to make short video tutorials that authors can watch to see click by click how different content components are created. Now that the CMS is in production and the original sites have launched, the next phase has commenced and "portalization" of state entities not on the CMS platform has begun. There are several large sites outside the Mass.Gov platform and the hope is to migrate as many as are willing to leverage this enterprise CMS and join their fellow agencies in expanding the single face of government.

Website Migration Handbook

First published 08 February 2012