Lean content strategy

Sarah O'Keefe / Content strategy10 Comments

Lean manufacturing begat lean software development which in turn begat lean content strategy.

What does lean content strategy look like?

Here are the seven key principles of lean software development.

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Build quality in
  3. Create knowledge
  4. Defer commitment
  5. Deliver fast
  6. Respect people
  7. Optimize the whole

How well do they map over to content strategy?

1. Eliminate waste

Waste bin labeled TEAM WASTE

Eliminate waste // flickr: jeffdjevdet

Interestingly, many content strategy efforts focus only on eliminating waste.

Here are some common types of waste in content:

  • Waste in formatting (formatting and reformatting and re-reformatting)
  • Waste in information development (end users do not want or need what’s being produced)
  • Waste in delivery—information cannot be used by end user because it’s not in the right language or the right format
  • Waste in review—oh, so much waste in the review cycles

Too often, strategy projects end with waste reduction. After creating a nice automated XML-based process, waste in formatting is eliminated, and we declare victory and go home. Unfortunately, the organization is now producing irrelevant content faster, and the content organization is now positioned as only a cost center. Typically, the next step is that executive management demands additional, ongoing cost reductions rather than looking at possible quality improvements. Eliminating waste cannot be the only priority. (I expanded on this theme in The commodity trap.)

Ellis Pratt has a great lightning talk overview of types of waste in lean content strategy. I believe that he is the first person to combine the concept of lean manufacturing/lean software development with content strategy.

UPDATE (January 5, 2016): And here is a presentation from Joe Gollner on Lean DITA.

2. Build quality in

How do you measure quality in content? “I know it when I see it” is really not a good answer. Some content quality factors include:

  • Writing quality—mechanics and grammar
  • Usability—the ease of access to information
  • Technical accuracy
  • Completeness
  • Conciseness

All of which Scriptorium notoriously put together into the QUACK quality model.

Building quality in means that the process of creating content supports a high-quality end result. Accountability in content reviews is one technique; content validation to ensure it conforms with required structures another. Software authoring assistance can help with writing quality.

The process of creating and managing content should assist the content creator in producing high-quality information.

3. Create knowledge

The fundamental purpose of content is of course to create and disseminate knowledge. As an aspect of lean content strategy, we can identify several groups that need knowledge:

  • End users need information to use products successfully.
  • Content creators need to accumulate domain knowledge, process knowledge, and tools knowledge to become better at their jobs.
  • The user community needs a way to share knowledge.

Any content strategy must include ways to support knowledge creation inside and outside the organization.

4. Defer commitment

Our basic process for content strategy is to first identify key business requirements, and then build out an appropriate solution. The temptation, however, is to make critical decisions first, especially in tool and technology selection. Defer commitment means that you should:

  • Store content in a flexible format that allows for multiple types of output.
  • Keep your options open on deliverable formats.
  • Be open to adding new content based on user feedback or other new information.
  • Assess localization requirements regularly as business conditions change. Look at a list of supported languages as an evolving set, not as set in stone forever.

Also identify areas where commitment is required. If your content needs to meet specific regulatory requirements, these requirements change very slowly. Don’t defer a commitment to a legal requirement.

5. Deliver fast

This is true across the entire effort: content creation, management, review, delivery, and governance. Reexamine those six-month production cycles and lengthy review cycles, and find ways to shorten them.

Keep up with new products and new output requirements. Don’t let the market pass you by.

6. Respect people

Lots to think about in this area, but here are some basics:

  • Content creators: Respect their hard-won product and domain expertise.
  • End user: Respect the end user’s time and provide efficient ways to get information. Do not insult end users with useless information, like “In the Name field, type your name.”
  • Reviewer: Respect their limited time and help to focus reviews on adding value.

7. Optimize the whole

Optimizing inside a content team will only take you so far. The content team must reach into other parts of the organization, where they can:

  • Identify the origin of information and use it. For example, if product specifications are stored in a product database, then product datasheets should pull information directly from the database. Here’s what they should not do: Export from the product database to an Excel file, send the Excel file via email to the content creator, have the content creator copy and paste from the Excel file to the product data sheet file.
  • Identify content reuse across the organization and eliminate redundant copies.
  • Understand silos and why they occur. Find ways to eliminate or align silos.
  • Reduce the number of content processes in the organization.

 

Lean content strategy. What do you think?

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

Twitter

Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

10 Comments on “Lean content strategy”

  1. Thanks for the mention, Sarah!

    Rahel Bailie had mentioned Lean in content strategy a year before me (http://www.slideshare.net/rahelab/how-far-to-lean), but in a different context – how to apply content strategy in a Lean manufacturing environment. I think I was the first to propose applying Lean to content strategy outside of a Lean manufacturing environment, but someone might have been there before me.

  2. Excellent post full of great info!

    So if we stop at the first one, is this list in ‘order of importance’ for what do do next? 🙂 I’d definitely put quality and create knowledge as the next two in order, same as you have here.

    Since I work in an existing infrastructure, I’d be inclined to skip the ‘commitment’ part, and go straight to deliver fast etc.

    On translations – I’m curious in a world where google translate is getting better, how important (or less important) might this become since it is quite expensive to do, even on a single language or two. Are there languages that are a must, because the country won’t accept products except in their native language (didn’t Quebec have an initiative like that some time back?) That might make for an interesting future blog post – exploring the world of translated content strategy.

  3. I concur with the lean content strategy principles, but isn’t that a photo of Al Green?

    Also, I can confirm that Quebec still has very strict conditions on translation of every piece of documentation that comes into the province with any product.

    The localization of our content involves customizing it for particular markets, not just changing the language. For example, we need different website referrals for Canadian English and Canadian French, optional equipment lists, etc. Google translation (even if it worked) cannot do that for you. . .

    1. Yes. There’s a note on the YouTube video about the presence of Al Green instead of Bill Withers!

  4. Great thoughts on lean. People often tend to relate lean content strategy to MVP and I am glad you ditched the trap. Lean is certainly a way to start small and focused and I has nothing to do with MVP.

    And I particularly liked the ‘Respect People’ aspect. 🙂

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