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May 11, 2015

Moving past content strategy roadblocks (premium)

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.