Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

Localization strategy and the customer journey (premium)

June 8, 2015 by

This premium post is a recap of a presentation delivered by Sarah O’Keefe at Localization World Berlin on June 4, 2015. It describes how and why to align localization strategy to the customer journey.

The new buzzword in marketing is the customer journey. What does this mean for localization?

The customer journey describes the evolving relationship between a company and a customer. For instance, a simple customer journey might include the following stages:

  • Prospect: conducts product research
  • Buyer: purchases product
  • Learner: needs help to figure out how to use the product
  • User: uses the product
  • Customer: owns the product, uses it occasionally
  • Upgrader: needs new features or has worn out the product and needs a new one
  • Repeat customer: buys the next version
Funnel with trade show, research, SEO, engagement, white paper, prospects, and emails going in at the bottom. Purchase is the output at the bottom of the funnel.

The marketing funnel ends with a purchase.

The idea of the customer journey is replacing the sales and marketing funnel, in which the end state (the bottom of the funnel) is a purchase.

Instead, the customer journey acknowledges a more complex relationship with the customer.

Stages of customer journey in a circle: research, buyer, learner, user, customer, upgrader

The customer journey continues after buying.

In the traditional marketing funnel, content is critical before the “Buy” decision. After that, content is not important. In a customer journey, all stages are critical and consistency is important.

There is content required at each stage of the customer journey:

  • Research: web site, marcomm, and white papers
  • Buyer: e-commerce and proposals
  • Learner: training
  • User: documentation
  • Customer: knowledge base, support
  • Upgrader: what’s new

Unfortunately, delivering this content with consistency can be quite difficult because it is created in lots of different places in the organization.

Corporate organization chart shows content being developed in different locations: training is under the CIO, proposals are under the COO, and so on.

The organizational chart makes consistent content difficult.

The localization maturity model is helpful here. The original was developed by Common Sense Advisory, but I have created a slight variant:

Instead of reactive, managed, optimized, negligent, and so on, we have anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance

With apologies to Common Sense Advisory, I have simplified their maturity model

Minimum viable localization is somewhere between level 1 and level 2 (between reactive and repeatable in the true maturity model). In most organizations, the localization maturity is different for different types of content. If you think about your content and map it against the customer journey, it probably looks something like the following:

Marketing content gets a 2; user documentation gets a -3 on the CSA localization maturity model.

Localization maturity varies by content type

Seen from the customer journey point of view, the problems are obvious. The prospect and buyer gets pretty good localized content, the learned gets something acceptable, and the user/customer gets the dregs. The company then attempts to redeem itself as the customer moves into the new buying cycle with better delivery for the upgrader/potential customer. This seems like a dangerous approach. A better strategy is to move all of the content into alignment at the same maturity level.

Consistency is critical. We recommend starting with the following:

  • Consider using a single vendor to make consistency easier. At a minimum, avoid fragmented, siloed localization efforts.
  • Work on voice and tone in source and target languages. Assess how they are different for different kinds of information.
  • Implement consistent terminology.

For some localization service providers (LSP), the need for consistency presents a business opportunity. A customer might choose a single vendor to make consistent content delivery a little easier. For a specialist LSP, this could be a problem. For example, a company that focuses on transcreation of marketing content would not be well-positioned to take on technical training materials. A company that specializes in a particular industry, such as biotechnology, might be in a position to argue for more investment by their customers.

For localization buyers, here are some recommendations:

  • Establish long-term vendor relationships. Commodity buying is not going to get you the quality you need to support a great customer journey.
  • Make sure the translation memory is available, updated, and shared among all your vendors.
  • Consider assigning LSPs by product rather than content type.

Localization strategy needs to change to support a customer journey. Here are some basic tips:

  • Understand your (or your client’s) customer journey
  • Understand localization requirements at each point in the journey
  • Develop a strategy that addresses each requirement
  • Ensure that you have terminology management, translation memory, and other assets in place across the enterprise
  • Different parts of the customer journey need different approaches to voice and tone. Include those in your customer journey planning.
  • Different locales may have different customer journeys. Align your translation priorities accordingly.

The customer journey is only as good as the weakest link in the content and localization chain.

 

Reducing tedium in content workflows with exceptionally mobile technology

June 2, 2015 by

The content lifecycle can involve many needlessly tedious tasks. Perhaps the most tedious of tasks is review tracking. There are many ways to send content out for review. Some people prefer using a manual process, others prefer automated workflows. Whatever approach you use is fine, provided one critical detail: that the reviewer actually read the material.

To date there is no sure-fire way to ensure that reviewers read the material assigned to them. No matter how many alerts they receive, and no matter how many times you bug them, there is no systematic way to ensure that reviewers read and comment on the material in a timely manner.

But what if there was?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, there is a wonderful technology being adopted for any number of purposes, from photography to package delivery:

DRONES!!!

Drones are small, highly maneuverable, emissions-free (well, the electric ones are), and they can be piloted automatically using sensors and programmed instructions. They would be the perfect companion to any writer who is desperately chasing after reviews!

drone copter

Flickr: Richard Unten

Imagine the ease of producing a review copy of a document and having a drone fly it over to a reviewer. To ensure that the reviewer doesn’t miss the delivery, you can configure the review system to monitor the reviewer’s workstation. When activity is confirmed, the drone can fly over, sound off an airhorn, release confetti and drop the document off for review (perhaps with a piece of chocolate for an added incentive and an advance “thank you” to the reviewer).

A few days before the review is due, if you haven’t received feedback, the drone can be sent out to gently remind the reviewer of their responsibility. You can use the same routine as you did in the initial drop-off, or you can equip the drone with any number of attachments to provide an extra incentive. (Please consult your employee manual and HR department before enabling air-to-surface projectiles.)

If the review date arrives and you still haven’t received feedback, you can then switch the drone to Bloodhound Mode. The drone will seek out the reviewer and follow them until the review is complete. Depending on the accessories you equip the drone with, it could play an audible alarm, flash lights, and record what the reviewer is doing instead of reading the material. You can even tie the cameras into your company’s intranet so everyone can see first-hand just how busy your reviewer is!

The applications aren’t only limited to reviews, though. Authors who are approaching their own deadlines can be “motivated” by a friendly visit from the drone squadron, as could subject matter experts who can’t seem to find the time to share critical project information. Add an extra battery or fuel tank and you could even send them out to check on your localizers!

Employing drones in every step of the content lifecycle will achieve results and add excitement to any work environment! You’re certain to see an immediate return on investment as well. As your traditional “office drones” are freed up to perform more meaningful work while the flying drones handle the chasing and hounding, productivity will soar as high as morale will carry it! So choose your features wisely and RELEASE THE DRONES!!!

Renovate or rebuild? Construction as a content strategy model

May 26, 2015 by

Does your house have good bones? Ugly paint, terrible carpet, and dated appliances are all fixable. But if a room is too small, a door is in the wrong place, or the rooms don’t match your requirements (need a downstairs master bedroom?), then you have a serious problem.

Content can also have good bones. Or not.

The content audit is like a home inspection. What information do you have already? Is it the right information? How is it put together? What sort of issues are there in the content? Do you need to update your kitchen, er, content?

Meeting building codes

If you don’t meet building codes, you are going to have a serious problem with your city building inspector when you try to sell your house.

Your content strategy needs to take into account the content building codes, which may include the following:

  • Requirements for accessibility
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Reader expectations

Build these into your upfront construction plan, or face huge expenses later when you fail your inspection.

The foundation

You need a strong foundation for your content. Unfortunately, that can be difficult because foundation requirements vary by industry.

Back to our house analogy: Here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, we have clay soil. It’s fabulous for making bricks and growing tobacco, and very little else. With clay soil, you generally build either slab or pier-and-beam foundations. Very few houses have basements, unless they are built on the side of a hill. Unlike California, we don’t worry too much about earthquake-proof foundations. In coastal areas, we worry about hurricane tie-downs and possibly flooding.

With content foundations, you have a couple of different problems: Only a few lucky industries have bedrock content architecture that you can rely on. Everywhere else, you can count on seismic shifts in your requirements every few years. There will be new content platform that you must support, new regulatory requirements, new languages, changes in available skill sets, and new requirements for integration across the organization. (You thought you were building a house for your family, but now your quirky cousin from Maine is living with you. And she brought two tons of books with her.)

Overbuilding

Kitchen with missing appliances. Remodeling in progress.

Kitchen remodeling // flickr: sellis

One of the biggest home renovation risks is overbuilding. A little granite here, an appliance upgrade there, a few dozen custom cabinets with inlaid wood, an inability to say no to those organic bamboo floors, and suddenly your kitchen looks like something out of Food & Wine. It’s fabulous, but you are the Queen of Takeout. Why do you have a built-in wok and a triple oven?

Some organizations need industrial-strength content. Others just need to reface the cabinets or maybe clean the range for once. Before you start your content strategy work, understand your neighborhood. Will you get your investment in content back? What is your ROI? Will additional investment give you better results?

Scorched earth: when is razing appropriate?

In some housing markets, complete tear-downs are common. The house is sold, and then the new owners raze the building and build something brand-new on the same site. Tear-downs usually occur in desirable areas where land is very expensive—the land is relatively valuable compared to the building.

Perhaps you have a great web site URL and terrible content that populates it? Or perhaps your content is so dingy that it would be cheaper to start over. If you need to redesign all aspects of content production from who creates it to its delivery mechanism to the information architecture, it may be less expensive to start over than to try to glue your new design onto avocado-colored 70s content.

Cosmetic fixes are cheap

All renovations are deeply painful for the content owners and the inhabitants of the house. Basic fixes, like new paint or a new look-and-feel for your output, are faster, cheaper, and easier than moving walls or breaking down content silos.

But is a cosmetic fix going to fix your problem?

A word about rental property

If you live in rental property, your redesign options are limited. You can paint and move furniture around, but you probably can’t do more. If you are publishing content on a host platform, like Facebook, Medium, or Pinterest, you are constrained by what your landlord allows.

What makes a good leader—and a successful content strategy

May 19, 2015 by

General Stanley McChrystal offers sage leadership advice you can apply to your content strategy.

Here are your marching orders:

Acknowledge change resistance

Within the US Army, General McChrystal encountered high change resistance because people in the organization become very attached to existing processes:

[An individual’s] very identity is wrapped up into how things have been done.

The same is true in content development: workers become very adept at using the current tools and feel threatened when approached with the possibility of implementing new processes. The fear of the unknown is universal, and a strong leader will counteract that fear by resolving to…

Share information “until it’s almost illegal”

On the surface, this advice to overshare is surprising—it’s coming from a military official who had access to classified information the general public will never see. That said, company initiatives (content related or not) gain supporters much more quickly when management is painstakingly thorough in communicating the business requirements driving the changes, seeking input on the evaluation criteria for new tools, and so on.

Harness data to make it useful

[T]he idea that big data is suddenly going to give us the answer to the problem is something that [is] incorrect because the speed at which data is being created and changed stays ahead of our ability to harness it.

A company can supply vast amounts of data through multiple channels: tech comm, marcom, support, etc. Unless customers can pinpoint the information they want when they want it, that sea of data is useless. Therefore, our content processes must be intelligent to ensure information is findable and useful.

Moving past content strategy roadblocks (premium)

May 11, 2015 by

Keeping a content strategy implementation moving forward is important, but it isn’t always easy. You may have to deal with an extremely slow-moving project or unexpected delay. You may even have to put a project completely on hold. Here are some common obstacles that get in the way of progress, and some ways you can work to overcome them.

Obstacle 1: Funding

Don't let roadblocks stop your project. (flickr: Ryan McKnight)

Don’t let roadblocks stop your project.
(flickr: Ryan McKnight)

Content strategy is ultimately about improving your company’s bottom line, but there are always up-front costs involved. Even if you’ve proven that your strategy will have an excellent return on investment, you may have to work within limited financial constraints. Funding for your project may only be available during a certain time period based on your company’s budget and fiscal year. You may be required to use your funding by a specific date or lose it, and that date may not align with your project schedule and goals. You may also have funding alloted to your department by an executive or manager, only to have that budget cut or delayed until later.

Tips for dealing with funding constraints:

  • Do what you can with the money you have. If you end up with less funding than you anticipated, adjust your strategy accordingly. This may mean starting with a small-scale pilot project, converting only the most essential legacy content, or breaking up the project into less expensive steps that are rolled out one at a time. It’s not ideal to slow down a project because of funding, but it’s better than stopping altogether.
  • Plan in advance. Once you know that financial limitations might be an issue for your project, plan ahead as much as possible. This will help you stay in the confines of your budget so that you can work with it, not against it. The more you think ahead about potential limitations, the less chance they’ll have of throwing your project off-track.
  • Keep business goals at the forefront. Remind your management of the ways your content strategy will improve the bottom line, and have the numbers to back it up. This may increase your project’s chances of surviving a budget cut.

Obstacle 2: Bureaucracy

The larger your company’s size or the more complex its management structure is, the more difficult it can be to keep a project moving forward. When implementation decisions must be approved my many people at different levels (and sometimes in different departments), it can take a long time for any action to happen—and it can be far too easy for the project to come to a stop. It can also be a struggle to get past unexpected challenges or new circumstances that change the project’s direction.

Tips for dealing with bureaucratic constraints:

  • Demonstrate your expertise. Do the research it takes to develop a clear understanding of your content-related goals, your plan for implementing them, and the ways they will help your company. You will most likely need to explain the reasoning behind your project to many people in order to get things started. The more knowledgeable and confident you are, the more you’ll be taken seriously as you’re trying to gain support.
  • Know the chain of command. Learn how to navigate your company’s bureaucratic structure and use that knowledge to make helpful connections. Talking to the right people can go a long way toward moving a project forward, especially if you find yourself limited by how long you’ve been with the company or the position you hold.
  • Plan around slow movement. You know that it takes your company a long time to make changes, so build extra time into your implementation plan to account for this. Likewise, if you see the need for a future content strategy, don’t wait—start working on it as far in advance as you can.

Obstacle 3: Scheduling

It can be difficult (and sometimes feel impossible) to fit an overhaul of your content creation process into your company’s already-busy schedule. When faced with a choice between taking a major step in an implementation or sticking to production deadlines, most companies will choose the deadlines—especially if the implementation is still in its early stages. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect a company to delay its product releases for the sake of a content project, but if they never schedule time for the project, it can easily fall by the wayside. This leads to a “we say we’re going to do it but it never happens” kind of mentality.

Tips for dealing with impenetrable schedules:

  • Point out the costs of putting the project on hold. Your company’s executives keep delaying the project because of the financial risk they face if it interferes with product development. But not completing the project has its own risks. Fixing an unsustainable process costs money—more so if you have to fix it quickly. Waiting until you’re forced to make a change also runs a greater risk of interfering with production deadlines than solving your content problems gradually. If you can show how much delaying or stopping your project will cost your company, you have a better chance at getting things moving again.
  • Take small steps. Encourage the people in your department to fit in work on your new content strategy whenever possible, even if it’s only a little at a time. Even if you’re too busy for a full implementation, you may have enough downtime to start laying the groundwork. Take advantage of it. If you find yourself at loose ends waiting on a review or approval, maybe you could start coming up with specs for your content’s new output types or prioritizing your legacy content for conversion.

Obstacle 4: Learning curve

Your content project was your idea, so you understand all the ins and outs—but that doesn’t mean everyone else in your company does. Sometimes the learning curve for working in a new authoring environment or content management system can be so steep that implementation takes twice as long (or more) than you’d originally planned. In a few cases, it can even keep a project from getting started. If your executives anticipate a severe learning curve, or don’t have a solid understanding of the project themselves, they may be slow, fearful, and hesitant to sign off on a new system.

Tips for dealing with a major learning curve:

  • Educate those with a stake in the project. If you’re a content creator and your managers or executives are having trouble understanding your needs, provide them with information and resources that back up your content strategy. Knowing exactly what your implementation will involve—and what it will accomplish—will give them less reason to worry. Conversely, if you’re in a management position and your content creators are facing a learning curve, let them know what they can expect to change, provide quality training, and look into the possibility of offering follow-on support after the implementation.
  • Provide reassurance. Learning curve is often compounded with fears about how an average day at work will change. Some people who are really struggling to learn a new system may even worry about job security. As you deliver training, address their concerns and show them how their workday will change for the better. This will give them more motivation to learn and less reason to slow the project down by resisting change.

Obstacle 5: Surprises

Unanticipated events or challenges can crop up at the most inconvenient times and put a project on hold. These surprises can be negative (such as losing money on a product release that was expected to succeed, or having a crucial employee leave unexpectedly) or positive (such as being bought out by another company with better resources, or having to focus more on a product that’s suddenly in high demand). Either way, they can interrupt or even completely derail a content strategy project.

Tips for dealing with disruptive surprises:

  • Prioritize your content goals. If something puts your implementation on hold, which parts of the project would have been the most beneficial to your department? Which goals are the most important to keep working toward? If the surprise that stopped your project was a negative one, which parts of the project could be put aside for later while your company mitigates the disaster? Instead of letting a challenge stop your project, let the answers to these questions guide your decision-making in moving forward.
  • Have a backup plan. Many of the surprises companies face are caused by circumstances outside their control. Your company isn’t immune, and your content strategy should show an awareness of this. Make sure that you include plans for what you will do if something goes wrong during your implementation, or if your company undergoes major changes. That way, instead of getting stuck when you run into a new challenge, you’ll have an idea of where to go.

Content strategy implementations don’t always go smoothly, but there are plenty of ways to combat the obstacles that get in the way. Learn how to navigate your way around any roadblocks you might encounter—and remember that it’s always better to keep a project moving slowly than to let it come to a complete stop.

DITA training call for participation

May 1, 2015 by

One of the major challenges in implementing DITA projects is training. Although we (and others) offer fabulous live, instructor-led training, there is also a need for asynchronous learning–where can a student go to learn DITA independently? To address this need, Scriptorium is starting an open-source effort to develop training content for DITA.

We have chosen GitHub for the repository, and you can find the project here:

https://github.com/okeefescriptorium/ditatraining

The content is licensed under Apache (same as the OT) with the possible exception of a few graphics that we might get from Flickr under Creative Commons.

The materials include short videos that help explain key points.

We are also adding external links to information that people have already published.

If you are a DITA user, and especially a DITA expert, we need your help. Please consider contributing content to the repository. We have providing a starting point with basic DITA content, but there is an enormous amount that needs to be done.

To contribute, you’ll need to know a few things about how to use GitHub. If you are already involved in other GitHub projects, you can fork the ditatraining repository. If that sounds vaguely obscene, you might want to read GibHub for Beginners.

There is a very basic style guide provided as a DITA topic at the root level of the repository. Here are some highlights:

  • Most content uses the learning specialization.
  • Include author names in the prolog, along with a creation or modification date.
  • Each learning module has instructional content and assessments.
  • We have provided a recommended file structure and topic breakdown.

Our next step will be to publish the learning content into an interactive web site. More on this later.

Will you help us build a DITA training resource for the community? Please participate on GitHub, or contact us to volunteer your help.

Campaigning with your content

April 28, 2015 by

The recent slate of announcements for candidacy in the 2016 US presidential election got me thinking—how do campaigns relate to content?

With every election cycle, candidates start their campaigns earlier, spend more money on them, and distribute them in a larger variety of ways. Your company’s content is just as important and serves a similar purpose—it’s the most direct way you engage with your audience.

(flickr: Theresa Thompson)

(flickr: Theresa Thompson)

Political candidates use different campaigning styles for different demographics based on what they believe will be most effective. One group of voters might respond well to campaigns based on facts and statistics, while another group might respond better to campaigns that tackle hot-button issues.

Just as a candidate may run different ads focusing on different aspects of their campaign, you may need to reach your customers in multiple ways. Gather as much information as you can about your customers (or potential new customer base) and use voice, tone, style, and presentation to make your content (and, by extension, your product) more appealing to them. The more diverse your audience is, the more important it is to make sure your content is appropriate for the demographics you’re targeting.

Another way you can connect with your audience is by using more channels of distribution. Candidates deliver their campaigns in numerous ways—running TV and print ads, giving speeches and debates, meeting face-to-face with potential voters, getting volunteers to campaign for them door-to-door or over the phone, and spreading their message via social media. Similarly, you should deliver your content in a variety of output types (such as print, PDF, HTML, EPUB, or webhelp) and optimize your electronic delivery formats for different devices and browsers. Find out which output types your audience prefers and focus your efforts on those especially.

Sometimes campaigns can affect candidates in a negative way. If a campaign includes factually incorrect information or demonstrates a lack of understanding of crucial issues, it can hurt a candidate’s credibility. A scandal (such as illegal use of campaign funds) can also be extremely damaging. Don’t let your content do this to your company.

Evaluate your content to make sure that nothing about it is harming your company or holding it back. Inconsistencies in your content’s style, language, and design can make your company seem less professional. Content that is inaccurate, difficult or confusing to use, unavailable, or that has accessibility issues will frustrate your audience and fail to provide them with a positive customer experience.

When you create content, you’re campaigning for your company. Customers ultimately decide whether you fail or succeed, and content is one of the most powerful ways to reach them. If you’re efficiently producing high-quality content, the company has a better chance of doing well in the polls. And if you’re not, it’s time to start thinking about a content strategy that can get you back on the campaign trail and help you win the election.

Content strategy and the big picture

April 20, 2015 by

What’s the best way to minimize conflict when developing and implementing a new content strategy?


Keep everyone focused on the big picture:

Conflict is inevitable, especially the unproductive kind. When people take their eyes off the bigger picture and focus narrowly on their own needs and views, conflict fills the gap. People who put aside their preferences, styles, assumptions, inflexibility and selfishness are seen as part of the solution.

On content strategy projects, I’ve often seen personal preferences affect the evaluation of tools and processes. Employees understandably get very attached to tools when they master them. That mastery, however, creates a tendency to view all other tools through the prism of the incumbent technology: the dreaded “tool myopia” described in Content Strategy 101.

Another common pattern is shifting the burdens of inefficient processes to other departments: “As long as I get my stuff done, I don’t care about how my department’s inefficiency affects you.”

Both of these content strategy showstoppers require all parties to focus on the big-picture business requirements. Upper management also needs to be very clear that supporting those goals is mandatory. Do the current tools and processes bolster business goals such as shorter time to market, the breakdown of content silos, or more efficient localization? If not, the new content strategy must address the deficiencies with new tools and processes.

Couple the implementation of those new tools and processes with thorough training and good communication, and you’ll reduce conflict and align your content strategy with the big picture.

P.S. I’ve yet to see “support each employee’s personal preferences” as a company’s big-picture goal. If such a business existed, I’m sure we’d all want to go to there (to paraphrase 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon):

Content strategy: What’s your exit strategy?

April 13, 2015 by

You’ve probably heard the announcement countless times: “Please locate the nearest emergency exit.” Chances are you ignore these exits most of the time, but you feel safer knowing they’re there. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant or movie theater or travel on public transportation that didn’t have an emergency exit—so why would you develop a content strategy without one?

In a recent blog post, Alan Pringle brought up the the importance of having an exit strategy, and I wanted to expand on that idea. Without a plan for what to do if your implementation doesn’t go as expected, your company could face tremendous costs—in terms of both time and money—trying to move on to a system that works.

We’ve had some organizations come to us for help when they ended up stranded without an escape. This tends to happen as a result of some common content strategy mistakes:

Exit strategy plus extra legroom. flickr: Kevin Jaako

Exit strategy plus extra legroom.
(flickr: Kevin Jaako)

  • Choosing the wrong tool for the job. It can be difficult to resist trying out that shiny new tool that claims to do it all. Maybe you think it will provide a simple, all-encompassing solution to your content creation problems. Maybe your time for implementation is limited, so you don’t dig any deeper to make sure this tool really is the best choice. It’s not until after you’ve installed and begun using it that you realize it doesn’t serve your needs, after all. Now, you need to find another solution that will work—and, in some cases, deal with the painful process of extracting your content from your new tool.
  • Making hasty decisions. Your manager has agreed to help your department produce content more efficiently, but you only have a few weeks before you’ll lose your funding. With the deadline looming, you can’t stop and think about an exit strategy when you come up with a plan to move to a new system. Then, after you start trying to create new content—and after you’ve blown your budget—you discover that the new workflow actually has more problems than the old one, and you need a way out.
  • Not customizing your strategy to your needs. It’s good to pay attention to industry trends, but before you decide to follow along with them, you need to consider the issues your company is facing. Maybe you notice that all of your competitors are migrating to a certain content management system or using a new tool with great success. Before you jump on the bandwagon, do enough research to determine whether this is really the right solution for you. Remember that every company is unique, and if you measure your business by others’ standards, you may end up making a decision you regret.

While you should always have an exit strategy in place, you can reduce your chances of having to use it by being more careful in your content strategy planning:

  • Put your requirements first. Instead of buying a new tool and hoping it will solve everything, identify your current issues, needs, and goals and then choose your tool(s). Tool selection should be the last step in your equation, not the first. Keep in mind that you may need a combination of tools or services that provide your optimal workflow, rather than a single “fix-all” tool.
  • Think about the long term. A “quick fix” solution may help you in the short term, but if it doesn’t address the root of your problems, it won’t be sustainable. If you don’t solve the larger issue, you’ll be more likely to need an emergency exit in a few years (or even months). Your short-term solution could even fail altogether.
That didn't go so well—I'm outta here! flickr: Lord Jim

That didn’t go so well—I’m outta here!
(flickr: Lord Jim)

Exit strategies aren’t just helpful for dealing with the fallout of an implementation gone awry—they’re also a vital part of planning for your company’s future. Your content production process may need to scale up if your company grows larger or expands to serve an international audience. You may have to adapt your process to a company buyout or new management structure. Whether your company goes through major changes or not, you can always count on advances in technology affecting content development. In any of these situations, you’ll eventually need a way out of your old system, and planning for that in advance will help things go more smoothly when it happens.

Here are a few exit strategies you can put in place:

  • Keep your content in a standard format. Avoiding proprietary formats and sticking to standard ones (such as XML) will help ensure that your content is still usable in the event of a company buyout or major technology overhaul. It also means that you can transfer your content from one authoring tool or content management system to another without a painful, expensive conversion process. Along those lines…
  • Choose tools you can get out of easily. When evaluating tool choices, eliminate any that would be difficult to change if you realize they don’t work as well as you’d hoped. Watch out for strict file format requirements, workflow issues, or contractual obligations.
  • Try a pilot project. Instead of jumping headfirst into implementing your new content strategy, use a representative subset of your content to test things out on a small scale. That way, you can get a better idea of what works well and what needs changing before you make the full switch to a new system.

Even the best content strategies can end in failure. No matter how well your plan may be tailored to your needs, you could run into all sorts of unexpected roadblocks when you try to put it in place—change resistance, learning curve, or budget cuts, just to name a few. Before you implement a new system, you need to account for what could go wrong, and be prepared for what you will do if that happens. Don’t forget to build in those emergency exits. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck in a system you can’t get out of.

The perils of early adoption

April 7, 2015 by

It finally happened. A part of your production pipeline has failed too many times, and everyone is in agreement: you need a hero.

You’ve identified your needs, researched your options, and your best option is something new. It’s on the cutting edge, promises to solve your problems, and supposedly has none of the issues that led to this point in the first place. But is this really the hero that you need? Before turning on the Batsignal, there are a few crucial things you need to take into account when you’re considering becoming an early adopter.

Support

If you’re working with a new software vendor or implementing an upgrade to an existing vendor package, how much can you count on their support? If you run into a problem, there may not be a handy solution, either creating a bottleneck in your pipeline or forcing you to adopt unsavory workarounds. Is there a user community you can reach out to, or are you at the mercy of your vendor’s support?

Integration

How does this new process integrate into your current pipeline? You may have procedures in other parts of your pipeline that are specifically there to deal with your old process. You may even need to create entirely new procedures to handle the idiosyncrasies of your new process. Depending on the extent of these procedures, implementation may be significantly more difficult than anticipated, and in a worst case scenario, may be completely infeasible.

Cultural entrenchment

Processes can often ossify, with the result that any level of change can be very painful for an organization. How ready are you to dig out entrenched behaviors or practices that could sabotage the efforts of your new process? I’ve witnessed one instance of switching to a different project management platform where a developer lost hours of productivity because the hours tracking system was different.

No more heroes

A vendor or service can be as innovative and flashy as it likes. If what they offer doesn’t fit with the way you do business, you need to be ready to make hard calls about what you really need as opposed to what you think you need. Whether you’re looking to switch from a waterfall production method to Agile or Kanban, or changing your publishing platform from Word to InDesign, think of your options less as heroes and more as gears that keep your system working smoothly.