Developers are the real key to success

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Janus Boye in 2000 with some skilled developers

If you don’t work with great developers and know how to manage them, you can forget digital strategy, good project management, quality content or user experience design: your project will fail.

During the past months I’ve come to realize the importance of developers and how they are managed. In the few web projects that actually succeed, a common characteristic seems to be a combination of experienced developers and a manager that often has a technical background.

As a customer you don’t necessarily need to employ great web developers, but you need to employ somebody who can manage them. The developers can be working at a system integrator or at your vendor of choice. Either way the developers need to be directly involved on your projects. If they are not employees of your organisation, you need stronger project management skills than if they are on the inside, so that you can ensure that other clients and priorities are not taking over.

Some vendors are really good with developers. Take Microsoft with their Microsoft Developer Network, which has helped spark the romance with a product like SharePoint found in IT department around the world. Among the big vendors, IBM and Oracle also both has extensive developer communities with user groups and events geared at the technically savvy. Among the smaller vendors, this is more the exception than the rule. Alterian and FatWire are examples of vendors that don’t really offer much in terms of connecting with developers and a developer community, while Ektron and Sitecore are smaller vendors that have done more than most in their league.

For you as a customer this is important to take into account. It means that it is difficult to find great web developers experienced with Alterian or FatWire. It is also more difficult to convince great developers to take on an Alterian or FatWire project and learn the products, since it is far from as attractive to write on the CV compared to those vendors that treat developers with more interest.

If you have managed to pull off a success without great developers, I would love to hear from you!

Janus Boye

7 thoughts on “Developers are the real key to success”

  1. As a recovering C programmer, I agree that developers are certainly important. Also, as you point out the network of developers around a product is an important consideration when choosing a CMS. In addition to managing the programmers (or finding someone who can do that for you), *product* managing your own CMS implementation is important as well. You could have phenomenal developers in a strong network and wind up with a beast if different components are implemented inconsistently. This can happen not only on initial implementation, but, perhaps even more likely, after initial launch.

  2. Excellent point, Janus. As a CMS vendor, we can see that every day. Having the right developers with CMS product knowledge is one of the crucial parts of the project success. Marketers need knowledgable developers not only to finish the project, but also to get most out of the CMS and implement the CMS in the best way. Even if you have top developers, they may mess up the project if they do not learn how to use the product and do not follow best practices. That’s why we are investing heavily into our developer community (devnet.kentico.com), developer documentation, certified training and (in the near future) into developer certification, implementation methodology and our first Kentico Conference.

  3. Janus, Great Post. Appreciate the recongizition of Ektron (and yes, I agree that Sitecore also engages with their Developer Community well). We always talk internally about “winning the Developer war” because at the end of the day, all vendors can, or at least should, be able to speak to the business problems that a Marketer has, but the developer experience at the end of the day is what often makes the project successful or not.
    -Dave Scalera
    Web Solutions Evangelist, Ektron

  4. I agree totally that developers are crucial for the success of a web project. But apart from the importance of technical skills, I’ve seen quite a few projects fail even when the developers on a project are skilled.

    My advice for companies about to embark on a CMS project are:

    - Get information about the developers that will be assigned to your project during the bidding phase to ensure that you won’t be stuck with inexperienced developers.
    - Insist that at least one of the developers attend all meetings. This is important to make the personal connection with the developers as well as really understand what your goals are. If you’re successful, it will make them go the extra mile to ensure that the project is successful.
    - Make sure that the project leader is technical, or that you get access to the lead developer on your project. If a lot of communication about implementation details are done through a non-technical project leader, crucial details might be lost.
    - Ask for their advice. Many developers have extensive web experience, and could be an important resource not just for the implementation phase, but the whole project.

    This is based on many CMS projects where I’ve been either a developer or project leader. Now I’m working as a developer for a CMS vendor, and I see the same problems with CMS projects, but from another angle.

  5. Janus, I couldn’t agree more with your point. At Digirati we aim to professionalise developer roles by turning them into true engineers. This means that they can engage with the customers, understand their problems and create innovative solutions. So often developers are pushed into the background to the detriment of the project. This creates a vicious circle where developers are then treated with increasing disrespect to the point where companies prefer them completely out of sight, preferably outsourced to another continent.

    PS. Although Alterian doesn’t promote a large developer community (I believe they are trying to rectify this at the moment) our engineers find that it is a very strong platform to develop with.

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