Best practices in fostering cross-functional collaboration when using CMS platforms

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    Collaboration - the act of working with someone else to complete a project or task together, comes down to the obvious factors of cross-functional teamwork that describe a group of people from different areas, skills, and expertise working together towards a common goal. For this article, these can be considered as the dynamics and play between marketers and developers, as well as other stakeholders. 

    While some people have a certain way of working and doing things differently, and others go with the flow, the concept of cross-functional collaboration is important when it comes to onboarding and using a uniform platform together to create a deliverable. This is the case when using a headless CMS. Whether you are a brand, an agency, or a team looking to adopt or test a headless CMS platform, this article will explore the best practices of how your development and marketing team should and can work together. 

    What is cross-functional collaboration?

    Companies are increasingly seeking to adopt agile frameworks that not only improve the overall digital experience development effort but encourage the involvement of all counterpart teams from the very beginning. Effective collaboration in this context advocates the need to ‘go back to basic’ in practicing and co-creating together between developers and marketers, creating a continuous conversation, ideation, testing, and thus, continuous learning cross-team.

    The roots of collaboration and communication

    Starting from the basics, while the three C’s of teamwork are deeply ingrained in any leadership, management, and collaboration, the coming together of the developer, marketer, and at times project managers, and designers act as a sort of orchestra performing a symphony together. All are intertwined in tasks and activities, all working together to the one objective of delivering the client the best result possible. As such, every team that goes forwards must consider itself as working in sync cross-functionally at all times. While certain work ethos demand on the reliance of information from other teams and functions, the constant sharing and creation of work, these make up the essence of the three C’s of teamwork, the foundations of any good cross-functional collaboration: 

    • Communication: Where teams must be able to clearly and efficiently talk, question, answer and share, while offering guidance if needed amongst each other 

    • Collaboration: Teams must agree on organizational methods and tools for working on shared tasks while being transparent about the methods that will be undertaken

    • Coordination: Teams must have visibility on each other’s progress in the workflow

    The Golden Rule of Communication

    When it comes to communication, misunderstandings and misalignments can create hiccups and mishaps to the overall process towards the product development, and sometimes, a completely different end-product. This leads to pitfalls in cost overruns, delayed time to market, and a rift in the project and amongst team members of going back to the drawing board. Avoiding such issues requires the golden rule of communication in having a common shared vision of what the outcome of the project must be, a clear voice in leadership amongst team members in decision making, as well as effective communication and collaboration, and a proactive approach in risk management.

    Successful communication and collaboration can take place using a framework that builds upon defining amongst your team their preferred communication, methods, and interaction styles. 

    Such a framework should include:

    • Outlining communication styles and methods, frequencies of cross-team/functional updates and feedback loops, meetings, responsibilities, decision-makers, and ownership in each task

    • Identifying and defining what success will look like amongst team members and to a certain case your client, key performance indicators (KPIs), deliverables, and project milestones of your project

    • Sync commercial, management, marketing, and technical objectives and expected deliverables across your cross-functional teams

    By putting in the time and effort at the start and developing such a communication framework between all stakeholders, is key to setting the foundations and rhythm of your project going forwards of effective communication and reiteration that may be required throughout the progress of the project. 

    Agile Collaboration & Coordination

    Yet even with the obvious and need for communication, one Stanford study finds that around 75% of cross-functional teams work inefficiently or even dysfunctionally together. The reason for this is based on the inability to reach at least three of five criteria: Meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, meeting the required specifications, reaching the customer’s expectations, and/or maintaining and aligning with the company’s corporate goals and KPIs. All this is a cause from lack of communication to affect coordination and collaboration. It goes without saying that with communication comes collaboration and coordination. This comes to adopting an agile approach that involves key stakeholders such as your development and design team with your marketing and management team to improve collaboration, and communication, all towards a common goal and solution.

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    How can developers and marketers work together using a headless CMS?

    When it comes to using a headless CMS as a developer and marketer, whether you’re looking to test and adopt a headless CMS, or to deliver an end-product for your brand, team, or client, it comes down to the organization and understanding of the expectations you want out of the final product, and the way you would go about it. 

    A headless CMS gives you the range and flexibility to grow your business and technological needs while accommodating solutions that cater to the tech stack knowledge and skills of your developers, and the opportunities for engaging and personalized content and customer experiences your marketers can orchestrate through a headless CMS setup. 

    Yet with any migration and adoption of new technologies can come challenges. Marketers and developers in the headless CMS context are like the main engine (the headless CMS), engineer (the developer), and helmsman (the marketer) of a ship - while both have very different tasks, you need both and the engine to be able to reach the next station and your destination. 

    Most likely, your marketer won’t have the technical knowledge to custom programs, merge and deploy updates. Likewise, your developers may not be too fussed when it comes to omnichannel strategies, content management & distribution, and such. Both individual’s tasks are different, yet both would agree that each other’s tasks are essential to the success of the solution you are seeking to create, and to your business. Yet, cross-functional collaboration sometimes does not always come naturally. 

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    So how can this all be fixed? It involves the integration of all parties in the development and ideation process from the beginning rather than sporadically or isolated. A lack of team alignment and communication makes up 97% of employees and executives who view it as a negative contributor to the outcome of a task or project. Additionally, 86% cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication, is the main reason for workplace failures. On the other hand, when cross-functional teams collaborate, this leads to an increase in successful innovation by 15% and reducing the time to market towards projects and developments by 20%.

    Best practices to adopt when using a headless CMS platform

    These best practices extend beyond the scope of the relation between developers and marketers but can be applied as well to any persons or stakeholders involved in the project using a headless CMS platform. 

    The first and foremost step, however, Step ‘Zero’ if you will, is to bring everyone on the same page in all things headless. Before your project officially kicks off, it is vital to put in place stakeholder management and headless education to make sure all parties are on the same page in terms of knowledge, and pathways forward. 


    Find out how Fundbox made the move to headless by onboarding and working together in understanding the concept of ‘headless’ and the ‘JAMstack’

    1. Finding the who, what, when, and why? 

    Starting from the root of your project at the very beginning, whether that be a client-facing site creation, or you are migrating to a headless CMS; the key is to identify in this investigative phase the key activities and milestones that need to take place, and identifying the relevant stakeholders and teams that must be involved. Usually, this will involve a discussion of the project overview, client kickoff session, defining the technical, design, and marketing standpoints, and finally, the content migration and planning of how your or your client’s content will fit with the headless CMS. 

    With your who, the biggest initial challenge is the ability to translate your client or upper management’s requests to the CMS. This makes it essential to have the relevant people and teams, such as involving your developers at the very beginning of the project. Involving such technical teams allows for the initial ideation of possible components that can be created and adapted to the requests accordingly with the CMS. 

    For your what, why, and when, define and set the ground rules of your cross-functional team, whether that be a leader in the form of a project manager to keep in sync, deadlines and milestones, checkpoints and sign off dates, delegate and hold team members accountable while being a client or upper management-facing. 

    2. Figure out your workflow for design and development stages

    Once you have figured out the who, what, when, and why, the next step is to determine the workflow for your design and development teams in how they will work. This can be defined in the infographic below, outlining the investigative phase, design, and development, reiteration, onboarding, and launch, while involving different stakeholders between your management, development, marketing, and design teams together. One key aspect is to encourage checkpoints throughout the workflow pipeline, for teams to check in, share plans, understand each other’s work, and provide feedback to one another.

    Workflow stages for cross-functional collaboration What do your team members do?
    Stage 1: Investigation Research, observe, understand and plan accordingly. Kick-off call with the client or internally to better understand the needs and requests. Involve all parties from development, marketing, and design to allow insights and planning to take place.
    Stage 2: Design The design and marketing team will define the plan and create mock-ups of each page based on the requests and needs of the client or internally is needed.
 The marketing and design team then creates a specification document to pass on to the development team in phase 3. 
Check-in with the project manager and client about the mock-ups and the vision of how they’d like to see the solution. 
Reiterate if needed on mock-up designs and specification documents.
    Stage 3: Design & Development (Building) The developer will take on the design team’s mock-ups and start building into the headless CMS. 
In parallel, a check-in with marketing and design should take place from the developer’s side to test and confirm the design and usability. 
Reiterate if needed on design and development’s building till it fits the specifications.

    Stage 4: Design & Development (Training) The project manager will meet with the client or relevant internal teams to train on how to use a headless CMS. At the same time, this is the opportunity to ask for feedback on the overall site functionality and its usability. 
Reiterate if needed on design and development’s building till it fits the specifications.
    Stage 5: Design & Development (Fixing) The developer team fixes and reiterates if needed any snags or bugs in the setup.
    Stage 6: Onboarding The marketing team or relevant persons will be onboarded on how to insert content, or the migration process will take place internally. 
The marketing team will also SEO check the site to see that it is ready.
    Stage 7: Launch Marketing, project manager, developer, and designer will present the solution to the client or internally, and pass on any documentation that can aid in the usage of the headless CMS, and its components.
    Stage 8: Maintenance Post-launch, the marketing, developer, and design team should continuously monitor the performance of the site while looking at different insights that can take place to create further content, SEO, components, and development to the overall solution.

    3. Communication between developers and marketers and the product you are creating

    Challenges can arise when it comes to communicating the needs of your client or upper management from marketer to developer, and likewise, editor, project manager, or designer, equating to a loss of communication in what is desired or needed. 

    This is why it is essential to foster and encourage cross-functional communication between all teams from the very beginning and allowing the space to voice outlines and input towards the solution. For example, a developer can spot and explore something like a custom application or component, as well as whatever is native and available in the CMS already, while a designer and marketer can work towards ideating a user-friendly wireframe and the content it can host. 

    In short, all teams can work together in fostering cross-functional communication and collaboration through the setup of embedding developers within marketing and design teams and vice-versa. This is through adopting a squad setup that champions one team across various functionalities working towards a singular goal (for example, launching a new website), where it would include a developer, designer, marketer, editor, and project manager from the very start. 

    Some useful pointers towards cross-functional communication and collaboration across all teams include: 

    • For marketers, designers, and editors, take the time to outline details and the requests/requirements as much as possible, while including the main business goals you need to achieve. This can be in the form of a detailed brief and specification document that is then passed on to your developer. 

    • For developers, provide solutions and knowledge to marketers (as the role of an editor) so that they can input content and self-serve best to the brand or client’s needs

    • For all teams, continuously provide feedback when it comes to usability, learning, and onboarding from developers and vice-versa with the marketing, design, and editorial team. Take time to understand and establish the required lead time, cycles, sign-offs, and processes that must take place between both teams. Additionally, have regular check-ins regarding the client’s request, share challenges, opportunities, and feedback throughout the project’s timeline.

    • Onboard each team accordingly based on the ability to properly use the CMS further along the line, while providing each other documentation such as an explanation of what each component for example does. 

    4. Putting together a product-focused team setup

    One way to bridge the gap when using a headless CMS and creating solutions together is to bring in a project manager. This is a great way to handle your CMS implementation or relaunch with a defined set of deadlines and milestones to reach, a one-time endeavor. They not only aid in understanding the client and their needs but also have enough knowledge between marketing and development to pass on the right translation and information to initiate an implementation plan. 

    The project manager can be briefed by marketing on the digital strategy, and outputs, and thus write the specifications of how the project should be built, acting as a guide for developers on how to build it, and serve as the communicator between developer, marketing as well as design to define their tasks and to sign off each stage of the pipeline to keep the work going. 

    On the other hand, another way to bridge the gap when it comes to a permanent CMS implementation and reiteration is with a product manager - someone who can continuously lead, hold responsibility for the overall process and workflow as well as post-launch maintenance, and drive the general developmental direction of the product’s lifecycle. 

    Key Takeaways: Practice makes perfect

    Best practices are nothing without practice. There is no bulletproof solution or method in how your development and marketing teams should work together when it comes to using a headless CMS, but the main point is that despite the differences in skills, tools, and knowledge between marketers and developers, one cannot exist without the other when the headless CMS is the engine and driver to it all. 

    The golden rule to it all is to always manage the expectations of your client towards the headless CMS outcome, and push your team, whether they be a developer, marketer, or designer, to always move forwards in the workflow process. The key to success between developer and marketer is communicating and sharing consistently; to rather focus on the speed and delivery of the final CMS solution, to the value, communication, and usability of your product working together and for any external parties. Practice makes perfect, a start with one step towards collaboration and establishing concrete frameworks that advocate learning and communication between your teams. 

    Storyblok offers a completely free trial experience where you can see how things work for yourself between your developer and marketing teams. If you and your team or enterprise are looking to adopt a headless CMS, or are looking for a solution, Storyblok is the right place to orchestrate and manage your content. 

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