I travel a lot. Iím in a lot of airports (some good, some bad). So flying analogies usually work for me. But a recent trip that ended at Miamiís beautifully redone American Airlines terminal made me realize why one analogy I hear too often is misguided.

Youíve probably heard someone say, ìWeíre trying to rebuild the airplane while weíre flying it.î Sound familiar? Itís usually uttered when you need to justify why all work has to stop on anything except todayís mega-project.

In the media industry, we often hear about the big redesign or the CMS replacement or the new subscription system, or all three at once, keeping everyone busy. Having working on all of those kinds of projects, I understand why focus is critical. But are we really rebuilding an airplane in flight?

Having watched the transformation of MIA over the past three years, it struck me that the transformation of online media isnít analogous to trying to fly and rebuild airliners simultaneously, but it can be analogous to how you can rebuild a terminal while still handling millions of passengers a month.

The key is to have a long-term vision and design and then to build incrementally, opening new sections as they are completed, closing old areas to tear them down and replace them. Adding features as you go while still moving in one unified direction toward a well-conceived design.

Airports seldom get to start from the ground up. I can think of only the new Denver airport that got built entirely from scratch. We all recall the fiasco of its shiny new technology failing in the early days and know the hassles of traveling so far out of town, so perhaps building from scratch isnít a great solution, even if you can. While at WSJ.com, we did a nearly complete rebuild, and most of us wished we hadnít by the time the two-year project was finished.

Rebuilding an active terminal (or online news site) requires careful planning and attention, but it doesnít require that you buckle all the passengers in for a turbulent ride. If you know where you are going, you can add features as you go, giving passengers comfort that things are improving and making them willing to ìpardon the dust.î

While Iím on airport analogies, let me mention a couple of others that struck me:

New features take some time to gain adoption. MIA added a great new rail system to ferry passengers along its lengthy concourse. At first, many passengers kept walking right past the train stops, but slowly Iím noticing more using the train, especially when they need to go more than one stop.

Why not fix obvious user interface mistakes? Iíd like to know what grade in the Texas education system they teach the alphabet goes D, B, A, C, E. If you get on the train at DFW, thatís the order of terminals. Donít be confused into thinking terminal C is close to terminal D. Itís as far away as you can get.

Happy flying.

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