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MACH Best practises: Lessons from the real world

Steven Shaw
Beam of light on the horizon

Lessons from the real world

This article is based upon content that was presented by Kin+Carta as part of the Contentful Storylines Tour 2023 in both New York and London. This was first presented by our Vice President of Technology - Brian Browning and Technical Director - Kerrigan Baron. We gathered these lessons from our teams that have implemented MACH-based projects, more often than not including a Content Management System (CMS) at the heart of the implementation. 

1. Customer Experience leads the way, so create your vision with this in mind

Reflecting on some past projects; in particular those involving legacy platforms, technology often led the way into a project; for example “we need a new CMS” or “we need to go through an upgrade process to get on the new version”, but this on its own, rarely delivers any real value. It's an effort to stand still. These moments should just be the opportunity to change but not the core "Why".

Our experience is that it is best to start with an understanding of the customer experience and what part of that experience you can change to deliver value.

Ultimately, customer experiences are designed to influence behaviour; by starting with what behaviours we want to incentivize, and crystalizing the vision for that experience, we can start with the end in mind.

2. Even in an agile world, it pays to do discovery right

We all know the benefits of agile: flexibility, stakeholder engagement and speed. But too many times, projects suffer from not having clear direction as we move into the development process. With MACH it's easy to dive in and start to develop a proof of concept, but be careful not to let that PoC become "the project". 

Building a solid set of initial requirements, mapped to an actionable roadmap and signed off by client stakeholders is the best way to ensure agile delivers what you expect. Work together and agree on that north star with the understanding that even if the road you take might change, you will ultimately know where you’re heading.

With that established, it’s important to build the technology roadmap that will achieve and deliver that larger vision.

3. Start small, build momentum and scale when you have success

Sometimes, MACH projects are way too ambitious to be successfully executed at scale. If you compare this to the monolith world, which often involve a rip-and-replace of entire ecosystems or tech stacks, it’s important to educate business owners on the business value (speed, agility, performance, security, improved conversions) of MACH technology.

While IT departments generally are aware of the benefits, reaching out to the business and educating them is absolutely critical to drive funding and investment.

Start small, with a PoC or MVP and then develop that into a project, then a programme and eventually, a Center of Excellence.

4. Niche opportunities abound, don’t be afraid to be specific

Getting started with your headless CMS can be achieved successfully when done in narrow and specific ways to solve unique problems in a complex digital environment.

One K+C example is a client who uses the CMS to load email content and have it translated automatically; a process that replaces a time consuming, spreadsheet-based process that was challenging for all involved.

Just because we’re only solving a niche problem doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to capitalise on; this is especially helpful when starting small and trying to build momentum within an organisation.

5. Look for innovative ways to use MACH technology

MACH technologies aren’t just about rebuilding your website. They are an opportunity to deliver something unique and innovative.

Kin+Carta has a customer who has developed a powerful website builder that utilises a headless CMS. But instead of having non-technical authors edit directly within the CMS itself, they developed an innovative editing experience that simplifies and focuses their customers on very specific tasks. The result is an experience that the end users love and rave about while still maintaining the power and flexibility of modern, headless CMS tools like Contentful.

You don't have to replace your entire platform. Sometimes a Niche opportunity using MACH technologies can deliver just as much value.
Steve Shaw, Technical Director

6. Content modelling can make or break your MACH project

MACH projects uniquely benefit from a well-reasoned, thought out and organised content model. Good content models allow for flexibility in how content will be disseminated across multiple experiences and channels.

Poorly designed content models will significantly limit content reuse and performance. But, this does come with a word of warning, you have to start somewhere, and one of the real powerful elements of working in an Agile way with Contentful is you can test-and-iterate a model.

7. Design systems improve consistency, scalability, usability and trust

Incorporating component-based design systems are the key to scaling MACH-driven digital experiences. They ensure consistency across channels, content reuse, and more importantly, improve customer trust.

When customers experience a consistent design language across web, mobile and in-person experiences, the brand is reinforced and conversions improve. This consistency also extends to the naming conventions and taxonomy of the platform. Ensuring each team member knows what a "Hero banner" or an "Info panel" is and would look like can really speed up implementation.

8. Don’t forget your content authors and administrators, bring them along

We set out at the start building from customer experience when crafting digital experiences, and rightly so. But it’s easy to overlook the experience of content authors and administrators. These are the stakeholders who have the most say over whether a particular product or digital tool is well regarded and expanded.

Many content authors are familiar with traditional DXP experiences (folders for content, WYSIWYG editing, etc); MACH experience can deliver that and much more, but it requires special attention to deliver a compelling experience for them. Focus on that to ensure take-up and positive feedback from the people who actually run the platforms.

Test your platform with these stakeholders early and often and bring them into your team for the best results. 

9. Go beyond core analytics to include human empathy measurement

The digital experiences that we craft and deliver are consumed by real life human beings. While core analytics tell us that an event happened, they don’t often help us to understand why it happened.

In the ideal world integrating some Human Empathy (HxM) technologies will allow you to gather quantitative and qualitative experience data. Look for technologies that can provide you with a deep understanding of the user experience and include data such as:

  • Frustration click areas or heat maps
  • Session replay
  • User journey mapping and visualisation
  • Chat and support feedback with sentiment analysis

Using HxM we can better understand where specific parts of an experience may be causing confusion, abandonment or click rage. Incorporating HxM tools into your analytics will also allow you to better ideate and execute experiments to solve the issues users have over time.

10. Explore the power of static site generation and delivery

Static sites seem to make people think about the Internet from the 1990s, using tools like Dreamweaver to build your static websites.

The truth is that static sites are highly performative and secure. Many aspects of today’s digital experiences don’t require fully dynamic rendering and yet, many MACH projects don’t take advantage of Static Site generation (SSG), Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR) or similar delivery models.

Combining the power of today’s headless CMS tools with MACH hosting providers offers a compelling way to dramatically increase performance, security and trust. Static sites also work seamlessly with edge-based personalization and other forms of dynamic rendering when and where needed.

11. Performance-tune all of your MACH Ecosystem

Thanks to a more modern technology stack, many aspects of a MACH-driven experience will provide performance improvements on their own.

By optimising your performance throughout the stack we can deliver even more impressive results. Focus on payload optimization; do you really need all that data in every request? Avoid multi-layer references or fetch depth issues.

Adjust the UX design to fit a composable approach instead of recreating limitations or restricting authoring capabilities based on issues with previous implementations.

12. Document your MACH success and share it widely

Make sure to define the performance of an existing digital property before redesigning with MACH technology so that you can demonstrate the power of the transformation afterwards.

Look for comprehensive metrics and go beyond the obvious KPIs (general analytics, conversions, etc) - to include things like Lighthouse scores, performance metrics, customer service stats, survey results and human empathy measurement improvements. With this data in hand, champion the improvements to the business and ask for more investment.

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Moving beyond the first project

We have also been asked for any lessons for those that have delivered that first MACH/Headless CMS project and want to embed the technology further. So what happens after point 12? Here are a few more lessons from scaling and adopting MACH throughout an organisation:

13. Productise your platform

This one can be difficult for small to medium organisations but those that are mature and have good engineering teams can really benefit from productising their platform or ecosystem. If you empower different cross-functional teams to own their own space where they can be super focussed on their product, this then combines to be worth more than the component parts.

What platform feature or domains you break apart into products is up to you, but one successful client took their ecommerce journey and broke that down into a Home page team, Product Page team, a Basket team and a Checkout team. Each team clearly has a dependency in the journey but they broke the technical bonds down and worked closely to agree the data flow and contracts with MACH principles and APIs. 

As a result, each team could then work independently to optimise and iterate their own product against their own set of measures and KPIs. 

14. Form a steering group to help direct the teams in a common goal

Once you've started to deliver MACH success you'll want to figure out where to go next. With the above productization in mind, you can scale out to add more teams as you iterate over your platform. 

What those teams will need is guidance and direction for the work they deliver through cross-collaboration. A key responsibility of this group will be to provide the more macro integration approach, this could be the standards used, the libraries that should be created and shared across the teams. 

This team will also have overall responsibility for ensuring that a distributed monolith isn't created. This is when the dependencies between each of the parts of the platform can no longer scale or operate independently without other areas becoming unstable. 

15. Ensure that your platform is backed by living documentation

As the platform grows ensure you maintain your documentation along with it. You'll get new teams being spun up, new members moving in and out and you don't want to lose that knowledge. Having a central living documentation platform like Notion or Confluence can help maintain a start up feel with speed of onboarding backed by the rigour of enterprise. It's essential for your team to know where to go if they need some answers. 

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