Interview with a vampire: interviewing to find processes that drain efficiency

Alan Pringle / Opinion1 Comment

When you’re considering an overhaul of your publishing workflow, you may find yourself becoming a metaphorical version of Van Helsing, the vampire-hunting character from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and the many, many movies based on the Dracula story). You need to find all the efficiency-draining aspects of your current process and eliminate them.

Fortunately, you don’t have to arm yourself with wooden stakes while lurking around graveyards at sundown to find those inefficiencies. Instead, you can rely on interviews conducted in the comfort of an office.

In his Core Dump blog, Keith Soltys reposted excellent advice from Seth Park about choosing a CMS system. The advice, however, applies to any process change, particularly the second point in the list:

Start with your requirements, starting with your users. If you’re going to be changing the way people work, you are signing up for several years of hearts-and-mind campaigning. Make sure that (in addition to your compulsory OS requirements, editor integration, publication system integration, etc.) you’ve thought through each and every way each user will touch the system.

Interviewing team members working in the current process (and in the new one) is an excellent way to get information about requirements—and the inefficiencies you need to eliminate during the changeover.

The benefits of interviews are twofold: they provide management with an excellent opportunity to learn about how things really operate, and they also give team members the chance to offer input on how to reshape the workflow. Switching over to a new process goes much more smoothly when all team members have the opportunity to contribute. (You can read more about managing process change in a post I wrote earlier this year.)

So, who should handle the interviewing? If it all possible, hire a consultant. (As Seth Park mentions in his CMS advice, “Don’t be afraid of a reputable consultant.”) Having a third party conduct the interviews—perhaps as part of an assessment of your current workflow and the modifications that would increase efficiency—may lead to more honest answers than if a member of management asked the same questions. Also, a consultant will likely have more experience in asking the right kinds of questions based on previous experience with other process implementations.

To keep expenses down, the consultant can conduct the interviews through web meetings and phone calls. If you just don’t have the budget to hire a consultant, consider drawing up a list of questions and then asking someone outside of your department to help with the interviews. You could also implement an online survey through a web-based tool such as SurveyMonkey.

Choosing new tools and processes is always daunting: dealing with new technology is challenging enough, but you also have to consider how those who work in the process will handle the changes. Taking the time to ask team members about your workflow and how to improve it can yield some very positive results—and expose the inefficiencies that are causing your workflow to bleed both time and money.

Related but gratuitous video clip: At the age of eleven, I made the mistake of taking a peek at the 1979 version of Dracula while it was running on HBO. The following brief scene, which features Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, gave me nightmares for years to come. If catacombs, rats, and vampires scare you, don’t watch the clip. Consider yourself forewarned.

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

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