XM Cloud website, in 5 minutes, or less

I’m old enough to remember when WordPress first shook-up the website publishing game, coming out with its famous ‘5-minute install’. Prior to that, even the most straightforward self-hosted website involved many steps, tools and processes, well beyond the ability of most non-technical users. Nowadays, there are plenty of basic ‘1 click’ hosted offerings, but still not many other legitimate enterprise-level site management and publishing tools that allow you to build and publish a new non-technical, author-friendly, website within 5 minutes, or less.

Enter XM Cloud…

Let me walk you through the key steps to have a brand-new, fully-functioning website in minutes. Start from Sitecore’s Cloud portal, and go to XM Cloud.

From XM Cloud app, click the big purple button to ‘Create website’

Let’s go ahead and choose the Skate Park basic site template.

You should get a message that says the building process may take up 2 minutes.

2 minutes later, your site is ready for WYSIWYG editing in Pages, Sitecore’s new easy drag-and-drop authoring platform.

Before you can share your new (default ‘Skate Park’) website with the world, you will need to setup hosting. For this, go to the Sitecore XM Cloud Deploy app, find your new site, select the 3 dots and select ‘Set up hosting’.

The easiest (quickest) way to get your site hosted is to setup a Vercel installation. Once you have done this once for the environment, including the XM Cloud / Github integration, you are good to go for future sites.

Because we have an existing Vercel installation, we just need to ‘Create and link’.

From the Deploy app, you should now be able to see a Hosting URL against your site. Hit ‘Publish all sites’, let the process run and try the URL.

And with just those few steps, in under 5 minutes, you should have a brand new demo ‘Skate Park’ XM Cloud website, just like me, built and published and ready for visitors.

2021 thoughts to explore further

Here is a list of thoughts I picked up from readings and podcasts throughout the year. I should have captured better notes so I could attribute each to its source, but suffice to say that these are all other people’s ideas that I have, at best, expressed in my own way.

A bit of googling for each will get me on the right track if/when I follow any of these up into more thought-through ideas.

  • Pareto principle: 80% of outcomes come from 20% of the effort
  • How would I behave differently if the consequences don’t matter?
  • There is a direct relationship between higher team performance and greater/effortless team collaboration
  • The most useful and impressive superpower to have in the current world is to be indistractable
  • Question for each day – what small bit of chaos might I deal with today to make everyday from now on better?
    • Place one foot in chaos while keeping one foot in order – I know this is from Jordan Peterson
  • To live my best life I am required to bear the heaviest load (of responsibility, of work, of duty, of societal contribution) I can possibly carry – Jordan Peterson, again
  • 3 key questions I need to be able to answer for any organisation or activity I am involved in:
    1. what are we doing?
    2. why are we doing it?
    3. where do I fit in?
  • 2 universal qualities of great leaders (according to Simon Sinek)
    • Courage
    • Integrity
  • Work at the edge of competence. Just enough to be challenged but not out of depth. Doing this will ensure growth, development, engagement. It’s hard to get bored or complacent with this approach
  • Much of happiness is hope
  • Imagine where I want to be in 5 years, and work backwards from there
  • Effective managers spend almost half their time on ‘Communication’
  • To get what I want from my team, I should model it
  • Best productivity app is thinking deeply
  • To help get unstuck, I should help others get unstuck with the same problem

Systems over goals

I came across this idea earlier this year and I keep coming back to it when thinking about stand-out takeaway insights from the many hours of podcasts I’ve listened to in 2021 so far. Attributed to Scott Adams, the essence of the idea is that implementing systems is more effective than goals, as a way of making progress towards anything.

Here are some links that lay it out better than I can

So, a good example in my life is running. I regularly run. In fact, most days running is the first thing I do. I have a system for starting my day that normally starts with going for a run. My system is that on certain runs, I will do something a little more challenging than the previous week. At least once a week, my system for running expects that I will run a longer distance than the previous week. If I run, according to my system, I will improve. There is no endpoint – it is a perpetual cycle of progress. I may include specific goals at varioius points that provide temporary focus into my system, but even without explicit goals, the system keeps me running.

When I apply it to my professional life, I see systems all over the place in how I operate. I have systems for the types of meetings I run each week. I have systems for managing my workload and processing tasks. I have systems for how I plan my work objectives each year, and systems in how I track my performance and ensure professional growth and development. Again, specific goals may also apply from time to time, but largely, my professional progress is a product of the systems in place to ensure perpetual motion forwards.

I have systems in place to help ensure I am a good father and husband. For example, I have scheduled daddy-daughter dates that ensures an even allocation of quality time. I have patterns of behaviour for how I say goodnight that helps to keep the relationship close. These are important aspects of my life and systems help keep my actions in sync with my values.

I like this idea of systems over goals because I was doing it before I realised it was a thing. I like this idea because I know it works for me.

Web product roadmap

One of the non-negotiables in leading the strategic management and improvement of a large, complex web environment is having a roadmap of activity for a given period of time, broken down by program and project that clearly outlines the main outcomes to be delivered. Activities in the roadmap should all align with strategic priorities and be designed to deliver improvements in key performance indicators.

I’m really pleased and proud of the roadmap my team has been working through in 2021. Our current roadmap divides our projects into the following programs; strategic priorities, core website inititiatives, marketing projects, technology & performance improvements, PMO projects (that we are supporting), and ‘other’. Whilst we plan the roadmap a year in advance, each quarter key members of my management team gather to discuss specific planning activities for projects commencing in the upcoming period.

Strategic priorities this year have including projects for search engine optimisation, conversion rate optimisation (including the introduction of new technology), product page redevelopment, the introduction of new lead generation opportunities (and technology), the redevelopment of one of our application portals, and the redevelopment of the ‘discovery’ phase of the user journey for our primary audience.

Somehow in addition to all this, we have maintained a busy centralised website publishing service, and worked through a range of more ‘BAU’-style projects designed to maintain and improve our main public website and support of a range of annual marketing campaign-style activities. Most significantly of all, we have been able to balance delivering all these improvement activities whilst simultaneously rebuilding our underlying core content management system, Drupal. This has increased significantly the level of complexity and planning required to ensure we don’t hold up work, whilst at the same time, avoiding delivering work in the old version of our CMS that will need to be rebuilt in the new version.

The year is not over yet. I only hope we manage to deliver most of what we’ve planned to achieve. And it’s now time to kick-start the planning process for the 2022 roadmap!

The Hyperactive Hive Mind

I recently finished reading ‘A World Without Email’ by Cal Newport. My key takeaway is that the biggest challenge to effective modern work practices is the presence of the Hyperactive Hive Mind (HHM), which Cal defines as:

“A workflow centred around ongoing conversation fueled by unstructured and unscheduled messages delivered through digital communication toosl like email and instand messenger services.”

Email is the not the problem, but a workflow that relies on sending and responding to pings and dings is. So much of the modern work day is taken up by responding to messages that arrive un-requested and un-expected. How can we possibly expect to do deep, thoughtful, planned, strategic work when we are being pulled back and forth into sending messages and having (video) conversations about topics we didn’t expect to be thinking about today. Nobody planned the modern way of working – we just gradually fell into the current patterns based on the evolution of the technology.

A few specific ideas and reflections:

  • Operating in the HMM makes us miserable. It does not make us feel good to constantly need to manage incoming messages
  • Asynchronous communication is not good for efficiency – sending, waiting, reading, replying, waiting etc. Synchronous communication can be far more effective, but requires planning
  • Our current workflows are not based on optimal productivity and effectiveness. We need to take the time to design workflows and not just default to whatever the tools we use expect of us
  • Context switches are costly. Focus on doing fewer things, but doing them well.
  • A test of good processes is if significant, effective amounts of work can be accomplished WITHOUT any kind of unstructured and unscheduled communications. What are my common work processes, and can they occur end-to-end without disrupting someone else?
  • I should defer any non-urgent conversations to scheduled 1:1 times. Remember that asking someone a quick question is always costly – it distracts them from the task they are doing. Minimise the amount of distractions you generate for your team.
  • Focus on building systems of working that generate the best overall average cost i.e. focus on systems that work best most of the time, rather than tailor for edge cases
  • Work on the things that will make work easier. Remember pareto principle – 20% of effort generates 80% of the outcomes
  • Working in pairs, particularly in programming, creates 2x efficiency overall
  • Technology is not additive, it is ecological i.e. different technologies change the way we work
  • There is nothing more valuable than a team of people producing maximal value

From service to strategy

Planning your way to a more productive web team

The following is a modified version of a presentation I gave at Higher Education Websites Conference 2018

If you want your web team to play a more strategic role at your organisation, you won’t succeed by operating like a website help desk.  The following is an outline of how I’ve led web teams from a “service-model” to a more strategic approach. The reality is that you will probably never be able to avoid operating some kind of service desk, but what you want to focus on is giving your team as much scope and space to work on the projects that are most important to your business that will deliver the most value.

So the big idea is not very original – plan all your big rocks first. This is the concept made famous by Stephen Covey. It’s usually applied to personal goals and productivity, but it can equally apply to managing web projects as well. The idea is that you need to ensure that you plan and schedule in advance the major projects you want to achieve in the coming year.

The ability to confidently do this kind of advanced planning is dependant on a few factors –

Is your team clear on your scope of responsibility? You need to know what you are responsible for, and what you are not. Seems really obvious, but it’s critical in ensuring you are planning projects that fall squarely within your realm of responsibility.

You then need to align your areas of responsibility with the business strategy, vision, roadmap etc. To move to a strategic web approach, you need to connect your projects to this existing strategy, either at the organisation level if you are a centralised web team, or at the functional or business area level, if you operating within a defined area of your organisation.

I’m suggesting you don’t need to come up with your own web strategy. I’ve tried to do this numerous times, and as good as it might feel to have a web strategy you can hold in your hands, it’s a really difficult process, the strategy itself is quickly out of date, and you run the risk of developing a strategy that you’ve constantly got to (re)align with the broader organisational strategy.

Much better, and easier, is to align your activities to existing strategic priorities. A simple process to follow is to take each line item, and work through with the relevant stakeholders to identify how each strategic focus area might inform the kinds of web projects you need to deliver.

As part of this process of strategy alignment, you need to ensure you have appropriate high-level, senior executive, support. You can do this by forming a web governance body / reference group / steering committee – whatever you like to call it. As long as it’s full of important people who have a view on how your organisation should do business online. Use this group to not only input into your plans but also use them as an escalation point for supporting you in the many times you will need to respond to stakeholders by defering or declining their non-strategic web initiative request.

The next thing to do is ensure you have good stakeholder engagement and communication mechanisms in place. If your institution is anywhere near as complex as ours, you will need a matrix of different mechanisms – some formal with agendas and minutes, some more informal. Hopefully many forums already exist that you can just tap into and include a standing agenda item about the web. You will need to be deliberate in seeking stakeholders out and engaging with them in some kind of ongoing way. The reason for doing this is, is to ensure you have the channels in place to gather information about future website requests, so that you can anticipate and match these where there are links to strategy.

And we’ve found it’s not enough to just hit the highest level in the tree either, as you can’t assume information always flows smoothly up and down the structure. But definitely map out who and how you will engage with your stakeholders and ensure you have good coverage

So, with the 3 key things in place:

  1. a clear view of strategy,
  2. a web governance structure, and
  3. good relationships with all your key stakeholders,

NOW all you need to do is map out all your “big rocks”

I suggest you run a high level scoping activity for each of the big projects you identify. Note things like relative size, complexity, when the site was last updated, and your assessment of it’s priority. Then schedule all these most important projects through the year. And take it to your web governance body for their approval. And this list then becomes your annual program of strategic website projects

Now even with this structure in place, we still get a lot of jobs that pop up through the year, of course. So to handle this, establish a process where all web jobs, large or small, come in through a centralised queue. If they are bigger than business as usual, they need a business case developed. And from there, scope the work out, and if it is significant enough to impact the delivery of your approved strategic work, then escalate it to the web governance body to review. It’s their call whether the job is important enough to bump other jobs off the schedule.

Once you are underway, you can use any type of tracking mechanism you like for your program of work. Whatever you use, make sure it is shareable to keep your stakeholders informed, and as a general communications tool, so that anyone within or outside our team can see the volume of work and relative priorities, at any point in time. The key thing here is clear visibility, for your own team as much as for other stakeholders

In order to stay on track it’s imperative that at any point in time, your team and everyone else, is clear on what the big rocks are!

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

I have been refining my thoughts and developing my thinking on KPIs over the last few years. In simplest terms, I think of KPIs as indicators of ‘whether we are winning or not’.

A good KPI should indicate, in no uncertain terms, whether our activities are helping us realise the results we are responsible for. It should be largely self explanatory. It should include clear visual communication clues and I like to present results as ‘% change’ compared to previous periods.

A KPI should clearly indicate whether performance has been good or bad. In order to understand this, KPIs should be presented in a context where current performance can be compared to past performance e.g. MoM and YoY. Ideally it should also be able to be compared against a benchmark (e.g. avg historical range) and a target (e.g. +10% YoY).

In order to be a key indicator, it should relate as directly as possible to primary business objectives. If my website was selling widgets online, website KPIs would relate to the volume of widgets sold, the conversion rate of visitors to site, and the volume of leads generated (as a precursor to a sale).

For bonus points, each indicator should have someone accountable for it, so that everyone knows where the buck stops. Each KPI should be consistently measured from an identifed source, with any additional calculations or formulas or assumptions easy to reference.

So, when tracking KPIs, at a minimum, I capture:

  • Name
  • Description (short)
  • Result
  • % change compared previous month
  • % change compared previous year
  • Commentary e.g. insight
  • Owner
  • Source

It could end up looking something like this in Excel

Starting again at 42

I am writing this post on the eve of my 42nd birthday. Given birthdays are an opportunity to reflect and celebrate, my intention in (re)starting this blog is to develop a system of reflection and learning on what I’ve done, where I’m going and how I’m going about things… in life generally, perhaps, but with a focus on my professional (work) life – I hope.

I don’t recommend you ‘like, comment and subscribe’, at least for now, as I don’t know if this will develop into a habit of substance, or be a short-lived experiment. I’m surprised you are even reading this now TBH. Perhaps go away for now, and come back in a few weeks to see if there is more to see. See you then?

What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

I found this book very helpful in pulling together all the good parts of different productivity systems and combining them in a way that keeps the gospel and working out it’s implications as the primary focus of our lives.

The book is very systematic and detailed, with helpful summaries and action points for each chapter.

If you’ve read much Steve Covey, David Allen and Scott Belsky, you will find a lot of his productivity theory familiar. I was able to skip over some bits that I’ve previously read and already benefited a lot from, from the other authors.

A few things I found particularly helpful:

  • schedule my whole week, and not just 9-5, so that I can actually give prayerful thought to how I can plan to do good
  • no man has a right to be idle. Be productive, so that I can do more good
  • integrate prayer in all aspects of productivity and planning
  • serve up (those above me in authority), and serve down
  • if you have the planning and architecting of your life right, at any given moment, you can ask the question ‘what’s best next’ and proceed in that way
  • planning my week is about maximising myself

You can buy this online from AmazonHere is the table of contents.

Some of my notes and key take-aways:

The book is all about combining theology and time management.
Productivity is about

  • effectiveness (not efficiency)
  • character (not technique)
  • God and others first
  • engagement (not control).

Measure productivity by results not activity
Focus on outcomes, not activities

This is about doing all things in the best way to the glory of God.

We need to learn how to work and be effective in a knowledge economy, where work is not defined, and we need to manage ambiguity and overload.

Do the RIGHT things, not just more of the wrong things in an efficient manner

The most important reality is a person, not a principle.

Being productive is maximising my stewardship of time, talents and resources.
It is in the mundane things we do everyday that we serve God and others
God wants us to do good works (Matt 5:16), so be productive to do as much good as I can

Be abundant and liberal in doing good
Be useful! Be joyful in obedience
Love is the guiding principle of productivity. Put others first
Character manifests itself in action (By their fruit…)
Let all your debts be motivated by love

Get everything out of your head in prayer
Only secure people can serve (i.e. justified by faith)

Decide what really matters, and then do it.
Do one thing at a time, and do first things first

What is my purpose – overall reason for existence – glorify God and enjoy him
What are my principles – the things I would live and die for
What are my core beliefs – gospel
What are my life goals – the things I really want to do and God wants me to do

Create a structure and routines for my week
Time is like space, it gets filled up, it needs to be managed well
To get more done, reduce – schedule to 70% and focus on getting each thing done.

Delegation is great because it’s also an act of love to empower others

Pray, pray, pray as I plan.

If I find I am procrastinating too much, maybe I am doing the wrong job?

Don’t spend all my energy climbing the ladder only to discover I am on the wrong ladder!

Be proactive – intentional, planned, prepared – about doing GOOD!

  • who will I intentionally seek to bless this week
  • what opportunities do I have
  • what blocks or risks are involved
  • what do I need to do to prepare today

Christian love disposes Christians to be public spirited – Jeremiah 29:7

Be creative, competent and audacious in doing all the good you can in the world

Make being useful the main design and ambition of your life, so that the world would be better for us having lived in it.

Cadbury Boost

“What?! You can’t afford $1.44 for a 60g chocolate bar. I don’t care if it is ‘NEW’ from Cadbury. You’ve got a mortgage” I scream at myself in a high pitched nasely whine – you know how it sounds.

“I don’t care if it is called ‘Boost’. Where is the special guarana or ginseng or caffeine? – absent Sir. It’s got nothing – just milk chocolate and caramel – MEGA boring.”

“It’s just after Easter for crying out loud. You don’t even feel like Chocolate.”

On to the review (cause I did actually trick myself into buying it in the end. You know how you can trick yourself? By waiting in line at the cash register, then grabbing the bar from the ‘impulse rack’ at the last second and slamming it down on the little grocery conveyor belt device so that the checkout chick sees it. And once she’s seen it, there’s no going back. She gives you that knowing look and you give her a nonchalant shug, like, ‘hey lady, i know it’s chocolate, but y’know what? I don’t care – I can eat chocolate cause I exercise lots and need energy’.)

So anyway, the Boost bar…There are 3 main layers most probably based on the structure of the earth itself – a soft
smooth outer chocolate shell (the earth’s dense rock surface), a thin layer of caramel (liquid iron), then a thick rich chocolate center (solid iron core).

It does in fact taste more expensive than your other run-of-the-mill chocolate bars. It feels rich in the mouth and boasts a pleasant malty aftertaste.

BTW, did anyone see the comedian on Rove last night. He was very good – not in a witty observantionist intelligent kind-of-way, but more of a bizare and theatrical and dark and absurb kind-of-way.