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December 14, 2015

The Force Awakens: Content strategy and project hype

With the most anticipated film of the year—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—coming out this week, I couldn’t help but think about movie hype and how sometimes it leads to disappointment.

The same thing can happen when hype builds around content strategy. Excitement about implementing a new strategy can be good for an organization, especially when the alternative is hostility or resistance to change. But too much enthusiasm can have unintended consequences and result in failure. Here are some of the pitfalls of project hype and how you can avoid them.

Problem #1: Choosing tools too early

Star Wars

Star Wars at Heroes Con 2015 (photo by Gretyl Kinsey)

If your company uses outdated tools that make your content development process slow, tedious, and draining, you may be desperate for new ones. But over-excitement about upgrading your tools can make you more vulnerable to the “ooh, shiny!” factor when you’re looking at new options—and more likely to choose tools without proper investigation. Selecting tools too hastily increases your chances of getting stuck in a workflow that’s just as inefficient as your current one.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker learned a valuable lesson about choosing the wrong tools for the job when he ignored Yoda’s advice to leave behind his weapons for a Jedi training exercise. You don’t want to make a similar mistake.

The solution: Take a step back and remember that your content strategy should come first. What are your business goals? What does your content development team need to achieve those goals, and what factors are standing in the way of them? Your content strategy should inform your tool choice, not the other way around.

Problem #2: Burning through your budget

When you’re overly eager to start implementing your content strategy, you might be more likely to overspend—especially in the early stages of the project, when you still have most or all of your budget available. If you go over budget in an early part of your implementation, it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll make up for the loss in a later phase, whether or not that’s actually feasible. (We’ve seen companies fall into this mindset, but it’s a trap!)

Unexpected budget cuts or changes can crop up at any time in an organization. Implementations can also uncover costs you didn’t anticipate at first—maybe your conversion will cost more than you initially estimated, or your output requirements will become more complex halfway through the project. If you’ve been spending over budget in your excitement, your project will have a more difficult time surviving a sudden blow to the budget, and you might not be able to implement the solution that your organization really needs.

The solution: Plan carefully, spend wisely, and always include a budget backup plan in your content strategy. After all, you don’t want to end up like Han Solo, who spent most of the original Star Wars trilogy in debt to Jabba the Hutt.

Problem #3: Ignoring the sequence of your strategy

Implementations don’t always go exactly as planned, and they can sometimes hit a delay or come to a standstill. In your eagerness to keep things moving, you might be tempted to catch up in other areas if one part of your implementation starts lagging behind. However, content strategies usually involve phases with dependencies, and it’s important to pay attention to the order of these phases before you try to change it.

Jumping ahead to one stage of your implementation to offset lag in another—or trying to implement phases in tandem rather than in sequence to save time—can cause more problems than the delays themselves. The order of your content strategy matters. For example, before you can train your team, you need to know what tools you’ll be using, but before you can choose your tools, you need to define your content goals. If you skip ahead to a phase of your project without completing that phase’s prerequisites, you will most likely have to waste time and resources repeating that phase properly at a later time.

The solution: Stick to your strategy. If your project falls behind, find out what’s causing the delay and address that directly. Resist the temptation to skip ahead. Can you imagine what would have happened if the rebels tried to destroy the Death Star before Princess Leia brought them the plans?

Problem #4: Intimidating your team

If you’re the only one who’s excited about your content strategy implementation, there’s nothing wrong with trying to motivate the rest of your team—but be careful not to go overboard. If everyone around you is facing an intimidating learning curve or major changes to their everyday work experience, hyping up the project could backfire. If you make your team feel pressured, however unintentionally, they might respond with even stronger resistance to change, which is the opposite of what you want.

The solution: Be a leader. Give others the education, encouragement, and support they need to be on board with the implementation. Emphasize the ways your new strategy will improve things for your content creation team—and, if they have concerns, listen and address them. Remember Leia’s words of wisdom about the Empire’s heavy-handed rule of the galaxy and take a more diplomatic approach with your team.

It’s great to be enthusiastic about your new content strategy, but too much hype can set you up for failure. As Yoda told Luke, “Adventure… excitement… a Jedi craves not these things.” A calmer, more controlled approach will lead to a more successful implementation—and help you channel the Force of your positive energy into something you can use to your advantage.