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:

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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.

conga_line-gettyimage_0

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.

HM-Chicken-Exit-Med

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.

 

Adobe AEM the right way!

Welcome to “Adobe AEM the Right Way”

Since 2008, I have been involved in implementing many large-scale Adobe® AEM (previously CQ5) projects for numerous clients and industries, including the largest hotel chain in the UK, major international airlines, breakfast cereal manufacturers, major credit card companies, and professional sporting leagues at one of the largest global digital marketing agencies in the world.   When I’m not working on our agency-specific projects, I assist other corporations with their Adobe AEM projects through professional services consulting.

People only call professional services in two situations: at the beginning of a project when they’re just getting started, or when they’ve gone off the beaten path and have gotten stuck.  While it might be the shiny, flawlessly executed case study that wins new business for the agency, it’s saving the project in trouble that gives you the experience to execute your future project the right way, every time.  Here I will share all of the insider knowledge gained from these projects in crisis.   I will focus on best practices, performance, and usability so you can learn from other people’s mistakes and avoid them on your site.

Do you know…

  • Your AEM project should be developed in a certain order?
  • You can save 20-30% development time on your next AEM project by using a few basic tips on your current project?
  • 5 components you should create now to start your reusable library of components?
  • The best way to organize and categorize your sidekick and templates for increased author usability?
  • When to migrate content from an existing platform to AEM and when to start over?
  • The correct way to structure your site and Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to support multiple sites, languages, or regions?
  • How to tune your site for performance using a robust caching strategy and simple tips from Yahoo!?
  • The right way to retrieve and display dynamic content?

…you will.

Who should read this?

This site is for architects, IT managers, developers, and business analysts who are starting a new Adobe AEM project and want to do it the right way.