Custom CMS vs WordPress?

cmsVsWordpress

I worked with a group recently who had to address the issue of moving forward in their business with regard to how to best work and service their clients. It seems that they were concerned about providing a level of work and they felt that only a custom CMS could do the job. Since I was asked about it, I told them what I thought. Now I'm a huge fan of WordPress and they knew that. Therefore you could imagine my response. To be fair it was not that easy. I do believe the right tool for the right job. To find out exactly what "the job" is, I had to start probing with questions.

I started asking them who their clients tended to be and how they work with them now. What I was really after is their reasoning for using the processes that they were currently using. I was told needs that clients would have and then the solution or solutions that would be implemented to meet those needs. I would listen and then they would eventually tell me that "WordPress would not be able to do that". The funny thing is, I did not hear anything that left me thinking WordPress could not do what needed to be done.

The issue seemed to be with the knowledge of the groups developers. They were under the impression that WordPress was not a true CMS and did not offer the functionality or flexibility that they needed. It seemed that one developer had dabbled with WordPress a few years ago. Now I know that the platform has matured quite a bit in that time so I took on the responsibility of letting them know just how WordPress could be leveraged to build great sites for their clients while also providing a standard that would not have to be built from scratch by their team.

We spoke about the dangers of having a close proprietary system that only a few developers work on from their team. It would be very difficult to scale that model for them and train others. Plus their is a tendency of small dev teams to create very biased software since they miss out on open source peer reviews. It's very easy to build things that is best from their point of view but not from the point of others. This can be dangerous and rarely do the best decisions get made. It's important in a project to not reinvent the wheel since it is costly and by building off of the work of others, you get to benefit from them.

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." - Issac Newton

Even Facebook does this. I once saw an interview with Mark Zuckerberg and he said how they look up to Google and benefit from learning from them. Translation? Let's see what they do that's good and bad and try to out-do the good things and not do the bad things at all. This is valuable. Example: if we need a way to create pages quickly for example, making pages in WordPress does not get too much simpler.

It's also important to reuse as much as you can. If I can bend custom post types to my will as a developer, I should since that saves time having me create that functionality with a custom build then chase down bugs within that. Who needs that? No one needs that and definitely not you or your team.

I can go on making cases to strengthen my point but I think you already get it. Henry Ford could not have built the company had he not learned to leverage what he had to create a smooth process for producing cars for the general public.

In the end, custom work can be valuable but it should be used only when necessary and quality code should be reused as long as it fits the job. Using WordPress is using quality code. I can build my custom solution on top of it and deploy a quality site without going over budget on time or money if I understand how to use it.

So next time you have that custom project come up, do yourself a favor and checkout WordPress. You won't regret it!

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Hey, I'm Jeff Freeman

A WordPress web developer from Peoria, IL who likes to travel, and enjoys coffee, craft beers, kung fu, biking and working on interesting projects.

Giving Technical Presentations To A Non-Technical Audience

technicalPresentations We’ve all had to do it. Well maybe not all of us but it helps to think we all had to do it while we are doing it. What is it? Giving presentations. Maybe you have been blessed with giving presentations to an audience whom may not be very forgiving to your message. It’s important to know who your talking to. I’ve written about this before. What happens when the subject matter is fairly technical and the audience is not? Too dry and you'll hear them snoring and drooling. Too vague and you probably wasted their time and yours.

Now there are lots of different styles to approaching this some may make light of the situation and some may be all business. While I like both styles, again I think it's important to know who you are speaking to. I enjoy some presentations that are very technical, but I know they work because I like the technical subject matter.

I personally enjoy a nice mix with breaks of light heartedness. We are not always talking about straight up jokes but some humor may reach people better to make your point. That might be a humorous image or saying. This also seems to help because it usually will bridge a gap between you and your audience especially if they view your skill set to be much higher than theirs which leaves them feeling slightly intimidated.

One other thing that I like to use is visuals. This can be charts, graphs or anything else for that matter. I usually put together a slide show that I use to complement my talk. The nice thing is that the slides can be available for the audience to view online at a later date. There are many free and paid tools to use for this. I've been using Prezi lately and it's been fun and easy to use.

One other thing that I feel is important is to make time for questions and answers. Usually I try to save them for the end of the presentation but not always. If the audience is small I might take a question during the presentation and some times I solicit those questions by asking something like "Does that make sense?" or "Do we agree?" All that is a verbal cue to let them know they can get clarification. This way you don't leave them in the dust if they are confused about something early on. If they get clarification, they can then build on that and get more out of the whole experience.

One other thing I like to do before starting presentations is ask a few questions. It may be something like "How many people have used Product A/Service B or so on". This can help set the pace on where we are starting from an understanding point of view.

Overall, I try to be relaxed so my audience can feel relaxed. Try to have fun if it's appropriate. It makes the whole experience much better for everyone involved.

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PG

Hey, I'm Jeff Freeman

A WordPress web developer from Peoria, IL who likes to travel, and enjoys coffee, craft beers, kung fu, biking and working on interesting projects.

Lessons learned by giving away work

giveAwayWork

Some times it’s tough to know what direction your code/design/project should take. One great way is to observe how it is used. When you do that you can also be gathering feedback. That feedback can be very valuable and can help you determine where to go next. What is the next feature that should be built? How will users use the new tool that we made for them? Will they even use it at all? All these are great questions and are difficult. Without feedback, they are almost impossible to answer.

Now gathering feedback can be tough. It also depends on the nature of your project. Is it free or is it a premium service/product that people are paying for? I've found that people are a lot more forgiving if the product is free, though you may have a bit harder time getting good feedback. If people pay they tend to be more vocal. You can also observe people in user testing which can also show you how people are using the theme/plugin. Some people may have difficulty telling you about the issues that they had but observing them gives you a clearer picture along with other feedback you have gathered.

If you have ever created a plugin to host on WordPress.org's plugin repository you will know that they provide you with a forum for users to let you know of any issues or problems that they may have. If you see some issues keep occurring then you may realize that you have a flaw in maybe how you designed your plugin. The forums tend to only show problematic issues. They don't really help in the way of gathering information for better user experience for example (I know fixing flaws helps but I think you get what I'm saying).

I saw a show on tv that was about gun manufacturers once. Now this was a huge cannon weapon that can be operated by one person but would have to be set up on a tripod first. This was designed for war-time conflicts. The manufacturers issued a few weapons to soldiers and then observed how they used their weapon. They noted that depending on the environment, the gun may be used differently. They also observed how the gun was carried. Remember, this was a war time scenario and the soldiers had no time for things that did not work properly. The manufacturers witnessed the soldiers slinging the massive gun by the barrel and carrying it over their shoulders when moving. This was a pain point for the engineers. They imagined the weapon being moved a certain way but the soldiers found a way that worked for them and was easier. The manufacturer took that information and instead of trying to do away with it, tweaked it and made it better. Had they not observed the soldiers using their product in the trenches (literally), they would have been clueless to know how to improve it.

So sometimes it's easier to give your product/service away to test. That's what beta testing is all about. Your payment is free feedback. That feedback when used correctly will help you find tune that product/service into something that is much more beneficial to you and your team and your users.

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PG

Hey, I'm Jeff Freeman

A WordPress web developer from Peoria, IL who likes to travel, and enjoys coffee, craft beers, kung fu, biking and working on interesting projects.