How To Evaluate Your Adobe AEM Project Success (Before You Start)

Check out the big brain on Brad

 

A long time ago in a school system far, far away (Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be exact)…

I spent the first ten years of my school life in accelerated programs and split classrooms. I had off-the-charts test scores, attended special schools for academically talented students, and hated every second of it. In the paraphrased words of Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I was a smart mofo. In 9th grade, I transferred to a public school and discovered the magical art of complacency and laziness. It was all downhill from there.

Since I was new to the school, breaking into the already-established social groups was a slow process. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the various social groups in a typical midwest American high school (sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads), you would find me sitting smack-dab in the middle – in the Venngina, as I like to call it. I didn’t fit into one particular social clique because I was a little bit of everything – an amalgamation of all. I normally sat the back of the class with the Metallica potheads, goth girls wearing black wedding dresses, and other clock-watching loners who counted down the minutes until 4:20 PM. No reading, writing, and arithmetic back there, just puff, puff, give.

To say that my high school grades sucked because of my complacency is an understatement. I went from being the next Doogie Howser to barely scraping by. I got straight C’s and D’s my senior year in one of the worst schools in Michigan. My high school has only a 55% graduation rate, my history teacher is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a prostitute, and we made national news when a basketball player dropped a sack of weed onto the court during a game.   When you barely graduate from a school like this, you’re a dumb-ass. Even Joe Gunchy, the world’s worst Adobe Architect, could graduate with honors from here. To me, high school was a four (nearly five) year sentence that I had to serve because my parents and Michigan law forced me to attend.

Related: MEET ADOBE AEM’S BIGGEST ENEMY – JOE GUNCHY

Sometimes in class (when I wasn’t skipping), we were allowed to trade papers with our our neighbor to grade each other’s tests, reports, or quizzes. When that happened, no matter who in the Venngina I sat next to, I magically got all A’s.  Other times, we were allowed to grade our own papers. When that happened, I got A+’s!  The rest of the time, our papers were graded by the actual teachers (the ones who weren’t in jail). When that happened, I got F’s.

But, then I got wise…

Instead of reading books, I learned to read people. Instead of studying the subject, I studied the teachers themselves.  Understanding how a teacher prepared their lectures and graded material provided great insight into how to prepare for quizzes, tests, and exams to achieve top scores.  It isn’t cheating, it’s simply understanding the evaluation criteria and details of what good looks like before doing the work.  When I figured out this secret, my grades changed drastically. I spent less time doing unnecessary B.S. and had more free time to do more important things in life – like mope around, play Hacky Sack, and listen to The Cure.

Checkin’ Homework

Why do you suppose my self-evaluated grades differed so greatly from my instructor-evaluated work? According to me and my lenient peers, I was on course for an Ivy League life.  But, according to 100% of the Michigan colleges that didn’t agree with my D’s get degrees philosophy, I was on course for a life as a Walmart cashier.  The difference is, as a self-reviewer you have personal stake and pride-in-ownership which leads to overlooking the small details and errors. These ultimately add up to large errors when aggregated and break the proverbial camel’s back. This is why having an impartial reviewer is important.

Related: YOUR BABY IS UGLY: HOW EXPERIENCE, CANDOR, AND EMPATHY CAN SAVE YOUR ADOBE PROJECT

As consultants, we’re often called upon to evaluate a client’s Adobe AEM platform to determine how flexible, scalable, and (re-)usable it truly is. We effectively get to grade their homework and we need to do it thoroughly and impartially. Unfortunately, this engagement usually happens after the fact, when the platform is already live in production. So, the remediation of the findings often remain unattended, or fixing them causes significant refactoring of code and regression testing of the platform until it becomes entirely unusable, unmaintainable, and is scrapped entirely.  

Start. Right. Now.

What if you knew the grading criteria of a best-in-class Adobe AEM implementation before you began? That is, what if you knew the definition of good as defined by industry best practices, my kick-ass blog, and Adobe then designed your platform to those standards right from the start? This article does just that.  I will show you the evaluation criteria I use as well as additional input from Adobe to ensure you start your project the right way.

Evaluation Overview

I’ve broken down the evaluation into three major sections: Component and Template Reuse, SEO Best Practices, and the Authoring Experience. We will do deep dives into each section in future articles.

Only use this evaluation if the following statements are true:

  1. You renounce the idiot Adobe ArchitectJoe Gunchy and all his work and ways (and all his empty promises) and surrender yourself to the Adobe Best Practices Gods
  2. You are creating a reusable platform consisting of templates, components, and services to be used by more than one brand or business unit to create independent websites or micro-sites
  3. Your platform will provide the flexibility for a brand to create a best-in-class unique site, while keeping within enterprise standards and guide-rails. Play with whatever you want, as long as you stay in the yard, if you will
  4. The primary user of the platform will be a brand manager or business-level user, not a nerdy developer
  5. Your SEO mojo needs help and you want to improve your ranking, easily

Component and Template Reuse

You will review component and template documentation, architecture, and code to validate its capabilities for reuse and ensure the platform’s readiness for the creation of additional sites.

  • Verify proper use of component inheritance for maintainability and extensibility
  • Verify proper use of composite design in component architecture
  • Verify components and templates are void of styling in the markup

SEO Best Practices

You will review template dialog options for the integration of SEO Best Practices.

  • Reconcile inventory of templates and components against a checklist of brand-specific SEO recommendations to ensure inclusion of Schema Markup, canonical tags, social integration, and more.

Authoring Experience

You will find opportunities for simplifying the Authoring experience.

  • Ensure proper use of contextual help, field labels, dialog field validation rules, component and template naming conventions, paragraph system, and more.

Evaluation Execution

Again, I will dive into the details of each in future articles. For now, munch on this:

Component and Template Reuse

To ensure the platform templates and components follow best practices for creating reusable, extendable components and services:

  • Verify there are no styles, colors, or brand-specific functionally embedded into the components that cannot be re-configured without custom component development efforts.
  • Verify proper use of composites in component and template design to maximize reuse and simplify the extension of the components for brand-specific functionality that deviates from the platform baseline functionality.
  • Verify no embedded site-specific labels or copy are used in templates or components that cannot be changed through properties or placeholder labels and values
  • Verify proper use of overlays for overriding platform functionality that will not affect other sites hosted in the environment
  • Verify ability to display custom, site-specific error and exception pages independent of other sites hosted in the environment
  • Verify supporting Java models are void of brand-specific functionality or configurations that would require code changes to incorporate into a new site
  • Verify components do not duplicate functionality for ease of maintanance
  • Verify use of Touch UI, versus Classic UI for editing pending deprecation of Classic UI in 2018 (and deprecation of Coral UI 2.0)
  • Verify proper use of the paragraph system in templates to maximize flexibility
  • Verify consistent authoring experiences across components
  • Verify flexibility of AEM Tagging hierarchy for use on other brands
  • Verify flexibility of workflow processes for other brands

SEO Best Practices

To ensure the platform templates and components incorporates industry SEO best practices into the framework:

  • Verify ability to auto-generate site-independent dynamic sitemap XML
  • Verify ability to customize page URLs
  • Verify ability to include Canonical tags into pages
  • Verify ability to include Meta description and custom Meta tags into pages
  • Verify images include Alt Text
  • Verify ability to include Schema markup (JSON-LD) in pages
  • Verify ability to include OG tags in pages
  • Verify ability to easily adjust page Redirects
  • Verify ability to include Meta robots tags into pages
  • Verify platform follows best practices to reduce Page load time
  • Verify ability to generate Robots.txt
  • Verify ability to display custom, site-specific 404 , 500, and general exceptions pages
  • Verify ability to include Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools integration

Authoring Experience

To ensure the platform templates and components incorporate industry authoring best practices and integrations into the framework:

Evaluation Categorization

The output of the evaluation should label its findings into categories to simplify future prioritization of the recommendations to enhance the platform for more flexibility or reusability. I use a high, medium, and low scheme:

  • High – Immediate need to modify or update platform functionality to accommodate additional brand sites into the platform. Failure to modify or update this feature would not allow additional brand sites to leverage this feature.
  • Medium – Limitations of platform functionality that require future modification or update to accommodate addition brand sites. Workarounds or simple configuration exits for the interim until planned updates can occur to update the component or template.
  • Low – Simple recommendations such as Authoring inconsistencies that still allow platform adoption by other brands, but limit usability.

Adobe Best Practices

Adobe has a ton of information on development and implementation best practices. Start reading the links below to get you on your way.

https://solutionpartners.adobe.com/home/enablement/training/aem_training.html 

Implementation Guides

Step-by-step technical guides to help implement a single Adobe Experience Cloud solution.

Implementation Best Practices

 

Laziness and complacency forbid me from writing conclusions. Therefore:

If you like this blog, leave a comment or SHARE it on your social channels.

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How Much Does the Adobe Marketing Cloud Cost?

One of the first questions a client asks when I recommend solutions of the Adobe Marketing Cloud is, “How much does the Adobe Marketing Cloud cost?”

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

-Joe Gunchy, the world’s worst Multi-Solution Architect (read more about Joe here)

Adobe generally will not just give you pricing for a few reasons. One, they will not lose a deal to a competitor on price alone. Their words, not mine. Second, they sometimes offer discounts for bundling solutions if you’re procuring more than one product, which you eventually will.  In fact, it’s estimated that 83% of Adobe’s top clients own three or more solutions of their marketing cloud.

Got AE?

Some accounts may not have a dedicated Account Executive (AE) tied to your client. Whether you get an AE or not is determined by who your client is and what major industry vertical they operate within. The sales team is divided into Adobe’s strategic accounts (the top ~60 global accounts across all verticals), vertical-specific accounts, and the rest of you.  Knowing this is important because the AE is not only responsible for managing the overall relationship with the client, but also helps provide the coordination and orchestration of the individual Solution Sales Representatives to execute against your digital strategy. See also: bundling.

When there is not a dedicated AE, the wrangling of sales reps may come from you, which looks just like this:

“I wish I had an AE.”

 

Pricing Pre-work

To start the pricing conversation with Adobe, some pre-work needs to be done by you (and client) before you ever engage with the sales team.  Each solution is priced differently, requiring some product-specific information gathering. Here’s a good starting point:

Analytics:  Number of server calls per year.  Page views is a good proxy (also include mobile SDK usage and secondary server calls for multiple report suites).

Target:  Server calls per year. Number of page views per year is a good proxy (also include mobile SDK usage and secondary call usage (like email integration)).

Campaign:  # of active contact records, they don’t charge CPM. It is also product tiered (Standard/Premium/Ultimate)*

*Adobe has gone through more name changes than P. Diddy.  -me

Media Optimizer:  % of spend display, search and social.  CRM for Dynamic Creative Optimization (number of records).  Per click charged for click tracking on non-managed channels (redirects from emails, search engines, etc. – for attribution tracking)

Audience Manager: based on events (page views, log ingestion events, CRM ingestion events, etc)

Social: Price based on number of social profiles (Facebook accounts and twitter handles) and users of the solution (seats).

AEM Sites (On-premise)

  • number of content authors
  • page views per day (if there are peaks that we should be concern about)
  • Page caching level (usually 95% and higher)
  • Require Commerce Framework or connector
  • Require Multi-site manager – charged for Author only

AEM Assets

  • number of asset users / workflow users
  • number of assets being working on or changed daily
  • Is there a need for Branding portal  – SAAS offering
  • Is there a need for Asset Share – publish instance required
  • Dynamic Media or S7 – SAAS by monthly server calls
  • InDesign Server – catalog producer or InDesign manipulation

AEM Communities

  • Number of instances to support the volume
  • For Enablement Module – number of users

AEM Forms – licensed by CPU Core

  • Number of transaction per day
  • Complexity of the form

AEM Mobile

  • Use cases (1-3 apps; department solution; enterprise solution)

For AEM Managed Services, also consider:

  • SLA – 99.5% (basic), or 99.99% (BIG price difference here. Choose wisely based on your client’s needs)
  • Amount of storage requirement – primary for AEM Assets
  • Additional environments – dev, test, …
  • Additional backup requirements
  • Additional network I/O
  • Additional CDN (Cloudfront) storage
  • Additional CEE hours – for the managed services staff

Don’t forget to allocate a bucket of consulting hours for potential engagement of Adobe Professional Services for provisioning, setup, and guidance.  That’s a nice way of saying, “Don’t F it up.”

Conclusion

I skipped school the day they taught writing concise conclusions, so instead I’ll leave you with this picture from 2017 Adobe Summit. Here’s me and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen:

Shantanu: Yo, Brad. What’s good, homie? Can I take a picture with you?
Me: Fine. Make it quick. Ryan Gosling is about to give a crappy interview…

 

Blurry like a Big Foot picture

 

 

Jumping into Adobe AEM Development

Got a great note from a reader asking advice on whether he should dive in and learn AEM development:

I am a User Interface Designer with minor Front End Developer skills. I was recently hired by a major eye wear company  for the sole purpose of migrating a version of one of their Native Apps over to AEM. I have no real experience with AEM Development, but I am a fast learner and I already have the AEM portal experience mastered (along with creating articles, collections, layouts, etc..)

My question is: Do you think it is viable/worth it for me to dive head first into AEM Development and try to learn the various languages/frameworks necessary to be able to customize an AEM app? Or is it something that would take years to understand and a complete change of my skillset?

Kind of a random question, I know… but your article was great so I thought I would reach out for advice. Thank you Mr. Meehan!

Seemingly Unrelated Story Time…

I grew up in a stereotypical, plain vanilla American suburban neighborhood – complete with station wagons, paper routes, penny loafers, Golden Retrievers, the works. There was even a pool up the street where you could pay 50 cents to swim all day.

I didn’t know how to swim until I was almost 11 years old, and none of my friends knew it. I could have won an Oscar for Best Actor for the work I did in that pool. I had all the individual skills to be a swimmer, but I never put the pieces together. If I held onto the side of the pool with my hands, I could float and kick my legs – no problem. When I was away from the wall, I would just walk with my feet touching the ground and paddle my arms so it looked like I was swimming. But, once I felt the curvature of the floor move towards the deep end, I would turn around and go back the other way because I knew I would be over my head.

Fast forward one muggy Michigan summer…

Somehow my ultra-conservative mom made friends with a backwoods, country bumpkin lady who had just moved to Michigan from a little town in West Virginia. She looked exactly like Willie Nelson in drag. I can’t remember her name, but it was one of those redneck stoner names where two regular stoner names are mashed together to make it even more rednecky, like “Misty Sue” or “Deena Jo”.

One day we were at the pool (or “swimmin’ hole”, as she called it) and she saw me walking in the shallow end, paddling my arms. She knew I couldn’t swim and I knew she was about to expose my secret as soon as she finished the Virginia Slim cigarette dangling from her lips. She paced back and forth along side the pool like a junkyard dog, watching me. I knew I was doomed, so I stayed in the pool until my hands and feet were as pruned as a crocodile’s scrotum. Yeah, I said it.

When I finally got out of the water, she took the last drag from her cigarette, dropped it into a can of warm Shasta soda and shook it.  Ssssssssssst.  She slowly walked over to me, grabbed me, then said, “Ya know what time it is, hound dog? …It’s swimmin‘ time!”

At first,  I thought it was weird that someone just called me, “hound dog”. Then, I was relieved because I thought she was going to say, “Hey, everyone! This kid can’t swim!”  Then, I realized “swimmin‘ time” loosely translated to “throw me in the deep end”.

I tried to scurry away and break her grip, but I couldn’t. She had me a crazy country wrestling hold I called, The Full Willie Nelson.  The more I struggled, the more my sunburned back scraped across the stubble on her leathery legs, until I could take no more. I conceded and wilted onto the scalding concrete.

fullnelson

She lifted me up over her head and threw me into the middle of the diving pool, which was the deepest part of the L-shaped pool. I sunk down about three feet, panicked, and started kicking my legs until I got to the surface of the water. I kept kicking my legs and flailing my arms and realized that the more I kicked and flailed, the more I moved closer to the safety of the wall. “Holy sh*t, I’m swimming!,” I thought.

I spent the rest of the day jumping into the deep end on my own and swimming back to the wall, all while Mrs. Willie Nelson smoked and watched from the edge.

Get to the Point…

Adobe is selling the hell out of AEM right now. Internally, they simply don’t have the capacity to keep up with all of the services opportunities to stand up, develop, and manage the platform, so they’re turning to partners to do the work.  If you’re hiring, you’ll be lucky to find a single AEM developer just sitting on the bench. And, if you do, they won’t be there long.

Time to jump in!

You already have some of the individual skills required to start developing in AEM. Most importantly, you’re already familiar with the tool. If you do this now, you can ride the demand wave for the next four years or so until the market evens out.  By then, you’ll be leading your own team.

The easiest way to learn it is to just jump in and do it.  Learning to code is the easy part. Since Sightly, we’ve enabled most of our front-end developers to create templates and components on their own without much back end coding. Template and component development is a good place to start.

Don’t get over your head!

You don’t need formal training,  but you do need a mentor who can take a look at your design and code to make sure you’re developing using best practices. Most of the clean-up work we do is directly related to a client hiring a development team who oversold their capabilities, didn’t follow any standards, and left the client with a non-scalable platform littered with hundreds of templates and components. Hundreds!  Don’t be that guy.  If you don’t have a mentor, get involved in the Adobe developer forums. There are some incredibly talented men and women on there who were once in your shoes and will answer any question you have.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Helen Hayes, whoever that is…

“The expert at anything was once a beginner.”

-Someone named Helen Hayes

Jump in the pool, hound dog. It’s swimmin’ time.

 

The Fastest Way to Develop an Adobe AEM Project

We’ll Always Have Paris

A snowstorm was in the forecast so my youngest daughter Sophia and I went to our local Wal-mart to replenish the essentials: bread, milk, and self-esteem.  Since we’d probably be cooped-up in the house for a few days, Sophia suggested we do a jigsaw puzzle together. It sounded like a good way to pass the time and do some father/daughter bonding together, so we headed to the toy department and selected a 1000-piece puzzle of a painting of classic Paris.

If you’ve ever done a jigsaw puzzle, you know a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle is around 999 pieces too many. So, like any lazy man would do, the first thing I did when we got home was I opened Google and typed, “The Easiest Way to Solve a Jigsaw Puzzle.”  To my surprise, pages of results filled my screen; however, I was too lazy to view more than a few so I visited the first three or four sites that explained the same basic process for solving the puzzle the quickest way:

  1. Study the picture on the box to get a clear understanding of what you’re building
  2. Dump all of the pieces onto a work area and turn them face-up
  3. Sort the pieces into various piles containing the edge pieces and pieces of similar colors
  4. Assemble the edge pieces first to establish the boundaries.
  5. Assemble the larger objects in the picture, or “sub-assemblies” individually
  6. Move the sub-assemblies into their general location within the boundary
  7. Fill in the remaining pieces to connect the sub-assemblies
  8. Drink a beer (I added that one)

After reading the instructions, I dumped the box onto the kitchen table, saw the overwhelming mound of pieces, then jumped directly to step #8, which ultimately resulted in being without a kitchen table for over a month. However, Thanksgiving Day was rapidly approaching and we needed to kick our jigsaw production into high gear so we could actually eat at our family table.

We studied the picture on the box, then flipped the pieces over one-by-one while simultaneously sorting them into their respective piles. We also picked through each pile to find any pieces with lettering or words on them, such as street signs, addresses on buildings, the artist’s signature, etc. Aside from the edge pieces, these are the easiest to identify and assemble.

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We assembled our boundary with the edge pieces, then quickly assembled all of the signs and things with lettering. Easy money. Then, we did the “divide and conquer method” where I worked on the Eiffel Tower and Sophia worked on the Moulin Rouge sub-assemblies. My son Connor even jumped in to work on the hot air balloon. These were all different colors, sorted into different piles and we could work independently of each other while still working to accomplish the same goal.

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Finally, we moved the large sub-assemblies into place and filled-in the remainder of the pieces to connect them together. The sky in the picture actually took the longest – probably because all of the pieces were the same, plain color. Boring. If you get stuck here, go directly to step #8 and call it good.

Solving the AEM Jigsaw Puzzle

If you approach your AEM project like a jigsaw puzzle, you can gain efficiencies by following the same basic steps as above.

  • Study the picture on the box to get a clear understanding of what you’re building  – Study all of the creative, wireframes, business and functional requirements documents and matrices to have a clear understanding of what you’re ultimately creating. If your client is doing an entire digital transformation of multiple properties but starting with one site as a ‘pilot’, it’s important to consider the components, templates, and services of the other web properties to promote true reuse (and less work for you). Adding flexibility to accommodate for future state reduces development time, the number of templates and components, and regression testing effort in the future. Always consider the future state.

“We were recently engaged to consult on the first phase of a multi-site migration. Phase one consisted of only one of the client’s many web properties. The client considered this their ‘pilot’ site that would be a proof-of-concept for future roll-outs of other brands under their umbrella. There was a larger corporate-wide decision to use AEM as the enterprise-wide WCXM platform; however, there was a great disconnect between the individual brand managers who were approached the migration of their brand sites as separate projects entirely. So, separate RFP’s went out to agencies to bid on the work individually and the intercommunication between the brands and IT to standardize on the approach was non-existent at best. So, each RFP response was estimated ‘from scratch’ without any consideration of creating a library of common, reusable templates, etc. I evaluated the other properties to find commonalities and opportunities for standardization resulting in a potential (and realistic) savings of almost 20-30% on subsequent roll-outs by reusing the components, templates, and services. By evaluating and designing for the other web properties first and understanding the ‘big picture’, the pilot site set the groundwork for establishing a true, enterprise-wide system and standard for the subsequent brands to use and follow.”

  • Dump all of the pieces onto a work area and turn them face-up – This is the favorite part of the project for any true nerd (myself included) – that is, the technical discovery process to understand what systems, integration points, and other Adobe products that you’ll be working with. This discovery could take the form of stakeholder interviews or Technical Audit sessions where you uncover all of the existing technology collateral and web properties to determine what’s staying and what’s going away. Ultimately, these pieces will all be connected in the finished product, but it’s this discovery process that gets the technical architect warm and fuzzy.  Your organization should have a technical audit template or discussion guide to use as a basis for the interviews.  I prefer to send the document template to the client before the formal interviews for them to complete as much of it as possible (and to ensure the right people are in the room to answer the questions).  Then, it becomes more of a review of their technology landscape as opposed to an interrogation. Sections in your technology audit document should include:
    • Hosting
    • Platform information for each web property (CMSs, client-side frameworks)
    • Data store requirements and connectivity
    • Web services integration
    • VPN or IP Whitelisting requirements
    • Application and web server configurations
    • Source code repositories
    • Security and performance testing integration
    • Coding standards
    • Analytics platforms
    • Mobile support
    • User-generated content (UGC)
    • Single Sign-On integration
    • e-commerce
    • Search
    • Social channel integration
    • CRM integrations
    • Globalization/Localization
    • Mapping/Geo-location services
    • SEO
    • Accessibility requirements
    • Third-party services or vendors
  • Sort the pieces into various piles containing the edge pieces and pieces of similar colors – At this stage of the project you identify and document the templates, components, and service integration points to build.  You should already have a good idea of the parts you’ll be building if you did a good and granular job of estimating your project in the first place and had a successful technical audit.  Having self-contained blocks of functionality allows you to divvy the work across your development team when development begins. This organization exercise will also help identify commonalities to define a component inheritance model, meaning, establishing base functionality of common components and extending them when the functionality of a component deviates from its parent. The correct place to document this is in your Technical Design Document (or Specification).  Again, I’m not a fan of old school printed documents, so I use Google Docs or a wiki to author this specification. For a more Agile approach, define your components in Jira or a Trello board. Other self-contained pieces include custom widgets and xtypes, custom replication or flush agents, roll-out configurations, site search collections, workflow models, processes and launchers, and campaign and segment definitions for personalization.

“Sometimes when you start a jigsaw puzzle, you find pieces that are already attached.  You may even get lucky and have four or five pieces already connected together. You could break these apart and reconnect them, but why?  It’s already done for you! The same thing happens in a project. There are legacy features and functionality that already exist that someone will want to rewrite for the sake of rewriting, just to have it all in the WCXM system. An example of this is user generated content such as comments, ratings, and reviews of product data. Why reinvent the wheel and recreate that functionality when you can simply find a way to leverage it in its existing state? Rather, spend time fortifying the ability to retrieve and store that data in its existing state.” – Me

  • Assemble the edge pieces first to establish the boundaries – In this case, the “boundaries” are defined as the templates, scaffolding, site and URL structure, navigation components that you’ll ultimately use to build out the pages and content.  In my story above, I also mentioned assembling pieces with words or lettering on them. These equate to simple, content-managed components where an author enter values to input fields to create content. You should build these components before any other components. In my previous article “Develop your AEM Project in this Order“, I explain this approach and the importance of this order in more detail. Check it out.
  • Assemble the larger objects in the picture, or “sub-assemblies” individually – If you were successful in defining self-contained pieces of functionality in your Technical Design Document, these can now be developed independently of other development efforts. Examples of “large”, self-contained pieces of functionality are booking and reservation web services, login and registration features, or anything else that the primary function of the site is dependent upon. Prioritize these at the beginning of the project by their complexity and true importance to launch. These are the critical features of the site that must be completed in phase one.  Of course, you’ll tell the client they’ll get all of it when the site launches, but let’s be completely honest. There are always features that get pushed to a ‘phase two’ because they were either underestimated, managed poorly, pushed aside, had the wrong developer assigned to the work, or just weren’t production ready.  Now, if you had to decide between launching a hotel site with the ability to find a room with a booking search service or the ability to watch a 30-second video of the hotel in a custom video player (when the standard video player would work), which would you/the client rather have at launch?  Exactly.

“First get the car running, then you can wax it.” – Me

  • Move the sub-assemblies into their general location within the boundary – This is where a majority of the JavaScript interaction is integrated. In this step, you’ll connect the components to their corresponding services, connect data sources, etc. If you read and followed my “Develop your AEM Project in this Order” article, you should also have an established user/group base who are able to enter and manage content, manage form submissions, and search at this step. You should also have basic approval workflows configured.
  • Fill in the remaining pieces to connect the sub-assemblies – These are the finishing touches on the site.  The tedious ‘sky’ pieces in my puzzle story equate to the little CSS/style tweaks you do to get it all ‘pixel perfect’.  First impressions are lasting impressions, so give your team time to make these final touches so a customer’s first visit to the site is memorable.
  • Drink a beer – To celebrate your success with your team, not to drown your sorrows in booze.

Here is our finished product which is now framed an hanging on Sophia’s wall. In total, the puzzle took us over a month to complete. But the conversations and laughs we shared at this table will be remembered forever. Au revoir!

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Adobe AEM Implementations …from Hell

I am a single dad with three kids: Sophia (10), Connor (13), and Ariana (15). Together our initials spell, “S.C.A.B.s”.  As Team S.C.A.B.s, we love to embark on regular adventures, such as weekend getaways to Chicago, hiking through trails where Jesse James and his gang hid from the law, or just exploring the great city where we live.

This fall we decided to do something I enjoyed as a kid: visiting a haunted house. But we didn’t just select any haunted house, we chose The Edge of Hell, one of the top-rated haunted houses in the country located in one of the many vacant buildings in the forgotten part of the city. As we waited in line to buy our tickets, we were greeted by rat-eating monsters, a galloping headless horseman, and fire-breathing, tattoo-covered hipsters in desperate need of a tetanus shot.

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I paid for four tickets into The Edge of Hell which cost me $25 a piece plus tax for a grand total of $117. NO REFUNDS.  Honestly, the receipt alone scared the hell out of me, but I’m cheap.  The kids seemed to be in brave spirits, so we assembled in a standard conga line in order of age: I led first, Ariana was behind me holding my shoulders, Connor held onto Ariana, and little Sophia held onto Connor with her eyes closed tightly.  We ascended the stairs near the entrance and our adventure began as the door and our last glimpse of light disappeared behind us.

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The first thing we encountered in The Edge of Hell was a pack of large mechanical dogs (or “Hounds of Hell”) that popped out of a wall and barked rabidly at Team S.C.A.B.s.   Instantly, I heard Connor yell from behind me, “Daaaaaaaaaad!  I want to leave!”

“Connor, we just got started. Where are you going to go?” I asked.

Right on cue, an acne-covered teenage monster emerged from the darkness. “Chicken Exit,” he said, pointing to a steel door to our left. Before he even finished his sentence, Connor’s hands released from his sister’s shoulders and he walked towards the Chicken Exit.  Sophia, not realizing where Connor was leading her, followed him with her eyes still shut tightly. Before I could object, the door slammed shut behind them. “NO REFUNDS” echoed in my head.  The S.C.A.B.s were now reduced to just “A” and “B”.  Thanks a lot, Teen Wolf.

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Ariana and I continued on. We finished the tour and we found Connor and Sophia waiting near the exit with the other chickens. Connor was staring off into space, still grappled with fear.   As we approached, Ariana folded her arms and said with her Big Sister attitude, “I think Connor should have to pay you back the $25.”

Connor paused, then stoically said, “Make it an even $30.”

“What’s the extra $5 for?” I asked.

“New underwear,” he muttered.

Why am I telling you this story on an AEM blog? Because it’s my job as a loving father to take every opportunity to embarrass my kids. But there is a point…

Fear is a powerful emotion and is amplified by surprise and the unknown. When you don’t know what’s hiding ahead, your senses are heightened, your pulse races, and the slightest deviation from ‘normal’ is enough to ruin your day (and likely your pants).

My kids have never been through a haunted house, but I have.  Imagine if I could tell them what was around every corner before we reached it? Or even better – what if I could guide them through the haunted house with all of the lights on?  I could take the fear of the unknown and every element of surprise out of the equation.

That’s your job as an architect or technical lead; that is, to help guide your clients through their digital transformation or AEM implementation with the lights on. This is likely their first foray through this process, but not yours. They have questions, they have concerns, and you have answers. Guide them.

I’ve recently been selected to take on a new role called the “Global Adobe Alliance Manager.”   It’s my job to act on our clients behalf to help guide them through the entire life-cycle of their digital transformation using Adobe’s offerings.

Your company might not have a dedicated person for this role, but there are some things you should be doing to help guide your clients through this process from start to finish:

  • Web Context Experience Management (WCXM) system evaluation and platform recommendation – If the client has not yet selected a platform, it’s your job to help provide them an unbiased recommendation to satisfy their business and functional requirements. You’ll likely be reviewing three to four platform options and providing a gap analysis of each. You may even help them define the platform selection criteria. Your recommendation should also consider their in-house technology expertise. Are they primarily a Java shop or .NET? If the vendor themselves (Adobe/Sitecore/Acquia/Whoever) responded to the evaluation, you can help the client vet their responses or translate WCXM geek-speak into something their business leads can understand.
  • Procurement and licensing negotiations – You should have a clear understanding of the architecture of their proposed system as well as the basic user journeys of the visitors to help determine how many (and what type of) licenses to purchase. You will also help determine the level of effort to develop features or functionality that are not part of the out-of-the-box offering. This all contributes to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the platform and must be considered.
  • Architecture reviews – Did the client themselves or another agency define the architecture?  Review it. Does the client have their own hosted environment? Do they partner with a hosting provider like Rackspace? Do they know about Adobe’s Managed Services offering? Have they considered security, Single Sign-on options, or a robust caching strategy using a CDN?  Is there dynamic data? How is it being retrieved? How often is that data updated? Can that be cached, even temporarily? You need to call these things out when you’re doing a review.
  • Best practices recommendations – Does the client want something that goes against usability or the platform’s best practices? Are they asking for guidance on governance, mobile, personalization, globalization, or digital asset management? More importantly, are they not asking about these things? It’s your role to provide them the thought leadership in these areas and they must be considered at the beginning of the project.  They don’t know what they don’t know. Bring these topics to the table early.
  • Code reviews – Has your client decided to take on the development of the site in-house and it’s their first attempt at developing and AEM project (see also: the idiot Joe Gunchy)? Or, is your client working with a different implementation partner and they want a third-party agency to act on their behalf to do a review of what’s being developed?  These are perfect candidates for formal code reviews. Even if it’s your agency doing the development, you should be doing code reviews internally with your team and including the client’s technical leads, giving them full insight into what they will be taking over when the project development is complete. Even though you’re developing it, it’s their code and they will ultimately own it. If you have apprehensions about showing them their code, let’s be honest – something’s wrong with it.
  • Continuous integration recommendations – You must have an established, repeatable build process for compiling, and deploying both your code and content packages to the various environments.  If you don’t, you’re wasting the client’s time by doing these repetitive tasks that can and should be automated using free, open-source tools like Maven, Jenkins, and Puppet. True, there are some upfront costs (hours) associated with setting this up, but I challenge you to compare this to the time spent manually deploying to the various environments over a week, a month, or even a year. The return on your initial investment greatly outweighs that time and continuous integration is a must-have for every project.
  • Training and enablement – Once development is complete and you hand the ‘keys to the site’ over to the client, are you confident they know how to use each component, template, or even the AEM interface itself?  At minimum, you should provide an AEM overview and a site-specific training to the client to include each component, template, scaffolding page, workflow interface, etc.  Don’t show them the out-of-the-box Adobe Geometrixx demo unless they actually work for a company that sells shapes. C’mon, man. Show them their site using their stuff.
  • Support and documentation – The client will have questions, even after you’ve trained them and they’ve taken control of the site.  Be a good partner, be available, and answer their questions.  I’m not a big fan of printed, formal documents. Instead, I prefer to create a page (or pages) hidden from the site navigation within the tool itself with supporting documentation, useful links, and support contact information the client can refer to as they use the tool. If they find more efficient ways to use a component, they can update this page themselves thus alleviating another obsolete, printed document.

 

If you find this information useful, please share a link to my blog. If there is a topic you’d like to discuss, please use the comments below.

 

Usability Tip: Use Categories to Prefix Component Names – Part 2

In my last article Usability Tip: Use Categories to Prefix Component Names (LINK), I showed how pre-pending a category name to the beginning of the component name aids in sorting and is a quick way to help find the component you want to use.  After receiving a few questions regarding the post, a follow-up article is due in the form of a Q&A:

Q: “Why not use the componentGroup property?”

A: This is an excellent way to sort components when the content author manages only one site. You can use the componentGroup sort and categorize and restrict access to the components by use of permissions. However, if the content author manages more than one site within the same instance, this approach breaks down. It is possible to have two or more components with the same name but have different functionality.  Joe Gunchy would totally do something like this. My approach uses the site name for the componentGroup property, then further segregates them by adding the category to the name itself.

Q: “Would you be willing to share your macro list of categories for reference?”

A: Yep.  Here is the list of categories I used on my most current implementation:

  • Content – Any straight, content-managed components like Promotion Pods, Rich Text Editors, or anything that a content author uses to fill in the copy, imagery, or other content on the page.
  • Layout – Column controls, tabbed-panes used to divide a page into additional content areas
  • Navigation – Buttons, links, calls-to-action, list of links (footer, side rail, related links), etc. that help the user navigation the site.
  • Search – Components related to search functionality, faceted results, pagination, etc.
  • Social –  Components used to share or display social content such as “Add This”-type features, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube
  • Video – Brightcove, YouTube, or any video player, thumbnail library, carousels, etc.

What other categories can you suggest? Please let me know in the comments and we can add them to our list!

Reusing Tabs or Fields From an Existing Dialog

Joe Gunchy is a dummy!  (read more about Joe here. He’s an idiot) He has 7 different components that all have a a group of fields he named, “Link Properties”.  Link Properties allows a content author to include a button (or text link) on a page with a name, color selection, link URL, ‘open in new window’ selection, and the ability to attach a downloadable content from the DAM. 

The Dialog creation and validation for the first one took about an hour to complete.  Then, he delegated the creation of the other 6 components to the developers on his team.  He told them what fields should be on the Link Properties dialog and which fields were required.  All 6 developers spent an hour and a half on theirs (after all, there is a learning curve to all of this).  All of the fields are represented in their Dialogs, but the names of the labels, the order the fields appear in the Dialog, and the validation messaging is different for each variation of the component.  Some put all of the fields on a separate Tab (which they named “Tab 1”), while some just appended the fields to the bottom of a really, really, really long Tab. 

What if you could create the “Link Properties” Tab once, then reuse it with, say, two lines of code?

“Whatever. You get what you pay for.” – Joe Gunchy

This is perhaps one of the most useful AEM tips I’ve learned.

Once you’ve defined a field that is used on an component Dialog, it isn’t necessary to recreate that field every time you need a similar field on another component. You can easily reuse the field and all of its properties like its labels, help text, and validation rules. For example, if I continually include a field on a Dialog for an “Approved By” name, I can create this field once and reuse it by taking advantage of AEM’s “everything is a resource” rule. That is, every piece of content in AEM has a path and can be retrieved and displayed. In this case, we want to retrieve a JSON representation of the field we want to reuse.

Here’s how…

  • Select the component widget you want to copy into your new component’s dialog.

Navigate to the parent component dialog and find the field you want to copy. In this example, I want to copy the “playSpeed” field from AEM’s out-of-the-box carousel component.

Path: /libs/foundation/components/carousel

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  • Copy the path of the widget as shown in the address bar beneath the menu items. In this example, the playSpeed widget has the path:

/libs/foundation/components/carousel/dialog/items/carousel/items/playSpeed

This path will be pasted into a property on your new dialog with the extension “.infinitiy.json” added to the end. For example:

/libs/foundation/components/carousel/dialog/items/carousel/items/playSpeed.infinity.json

  • On your new component, create a new widget by selecting CREATE > CREATE NODE.

In this example, I named the field “playSpeed” to match its parent. However, you can name the field anything you want. Select cq:Widget as its type.

Create a new Widget

Create a new Widget

Define the name and type

Define the name and type

In the properties editor, add the following properties:

Name Type Value
xtype String cqinclude
path String /libs/foundation/components/carousel/dialog/items/carousel/items/playSpeed.infinity.json
4

/libs/foundation/components/carousel/dialog/items/carousel/items/playSpeed.infinity.json

/libs/foundation/components/carousel/dialog/items/carousel/items/playSpeed.infinity.json

Note the value of the path property is the path copied from Step 3 with .infinity.json added to the end.

Save your work.

You will now have a field on your dialog with the same values as its parent, including its label, description, and validation rules. This gives the content author a consistent, familiar authoring experience across multiple components.