Full transcript of transitioning from strategy to implementation podcast

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00:00 Bill Swallow: Welcome to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way. In episode 11, we’ll talk about transitioning from a developed content strategy to implementation of that strategy.

00:20 BS: Hi everyone, I’m Bill Swallow and I am the Director of Operations here at Scriptorium. I’m here with Alan Pringle who is the Chief Operating Officer at Scriptorium.

00:29 Alan Pringle: Hey, there.

00:31 BS: In this podcast, let’s assume you’ve finished putting together your content strategy, you have to sign off, you need to move forward and now it’s time to implement. So when we say implement, what does that mean?

00:44 AP: Under the implementation phase of your project, you’re looking at the tools and technologies, actually putting them in place to support the business goals that you’ve outlined in your content strategy. But it’s not just about tools and technology, you also really have to consider the soft skill aspects of a project and that includes change management, and it includes training. Those two things are just as important or more important than the actual technology itself. But it’s really easy to get hung up in, “I’ve gotta implement this tech and that’s all I have to do.” That’s rarely the case.

01:23 BS: Right. So that there are a lot of different pieces that need to come together when you approach that implementation phase, and not all of it really can be planned for or outlined on paper to the point where it’ll just magically happen.

01:37 AP: And what you said really points to something else that I think is very important, and that is continuity. It is very good to have someone who helped develop the content strategy move over into the implementation phase maybe as a project manager. Now at Scriptorium, because we do both the analysis work to put together the content strategy and then we help implement, it’s just a matter of moving one of the people from the analysis side into the implementation side of the project. But that’s not always the case. People do work with other vendors, they do a lot of work themselves too. So if you are going to do this work and you’re not going to have a lot of outside help you do need to try, if at all possible, to really focus on continuity and one way of doing that is to get someone who was involved in the planning and strategy aspects in as part of your team for the implementation.

02:42 BS: Right. And if you’re employing the content strategist in that role you may also want to bring on an actual project manager as well, someone whose 9:00 to 5:00 job it is to make sure that the project runs smoothly, this way the content strategist is able to mitigate a lot of the issues that come up and certainly issues will come up during implementation, you can almost bet on it. A lot of times once you start digging into any kind of content strategy implementation, any kind of implementation of any kind, you start to find things that weren’t anticipated, you start to run into issues, you start to identify additional needs or additional opportunities that you need to somehow incorporate into your plan. So a lot of that work really needs to be managed by the strategist on the team where then the project manager is able to keep the other pieces moving and/or shuffle things around as needed to make room for this additional stuff that’s come up.

03:51 BS: So a lot of these changes… They could be new systems are identified as needed in other groups to make things happen. It could be that new systems that were anticipated aren’t going to happen. It could be changes in personnel, changes in resources, changes in duration due to deliverables or due to changes in business needs. It could be simply a change in funding. There could be suddenly a spending freeze and then you need to be able to mitigate that issue and figure out how you can get other pieces moving while you’re waiting on approval or waiting for the ability to spend money on, let’s say, a system or new hires or what have you.

04:37 AP: And there is one temptation when money becomes scarce and your budget is cut, there’s often a temptation to say, “Let’s just cut the training and stick with just the tools. We’ll get by.” No, you won’t. Spending a tremendous amount of money and time on tools and not investing in the people that are going to use them is a way to pretty much guarantee you’re going to have a failure because you cannot just throw a tool or new technology at people and expect them to know how to use it. So you really got to balance like I was talking about earlier, the whole soft skill change management thing versus the hard stuff, the tools, and the technology.

05:23 AP: Something else you said made me think of another thing that I think is worth mentioning. I think a good content strategy plan is going to have a little bit of wiggle room built in because it’s inevitable something is going to change a little bit here and there, and your plan needs to allow for that. It’s just being realistic, and I think that’s especially true, say you’ve got fiscal year issues where the company can pay for the strategy assessment work in this fiscal year, and then you do that. And then for the actual implementation work, it has to be in another fiscal year. That may mean there’s a few months separating that strategy work from the implementation work. So what are you going to do during that break, that period of time? There’s a good chance during that period of time things may shift, may change. So when you pick back up, you’ve got to think about a lot of the things that you just talked about, and be sure that they’re covered before you jump in, assuming that the plan that you have is absolutely ready to go because if it’s been a few months, that may not be the case.

06:51 BS: Right. As fiscal years flip from one to the next, it could be that funding changes, it could be that new systems are approved in other areas that weren’t necessarily on the road map the year before. It could be that there is a significant change in personnel, either for the better or for the worse.

07:14 AP: Yes.

07:14 BS: A lot of these things can happen and yeah, if you do have that break, especially if it’s longer than say, three months, it’s real easy for the content strategy piece to start collecting dust, and in that case, if you do get approval to move forward with it, the first thing you should do is not necessarily start with step one in your plan to get things implemented, but it’s to review the content strategy, and see if anything has changed that’s going to impact that before you start spending any money.

07:46 AP: Absolutely.

07:48 BS: So another piece that I think is really important when you look at implementation is the purchases that you’re going to be making, and it’s not necessarily to say, “Let’s take a look at tools themselves,” but there are a few things that I think really need to be said about the purchase of tools and the implementation of tools. Chances are, if you’re implementing a large enterprise-wide content strategy, you’re going to have a lot of different systems that need to interact, and one of the key things that you need to keep in mind is that it is your job, both as the strategist and along with the project manager, to keep all of the vendors involved in working on this grand implementation, aware of each other and in the same room and talking to each other if these systems need to interact in any way.

08:42 AP: And in the same room may be difficult, but thanks to virtual technology, web meetings can handle that, and I know that’s certainly been true on our end where we had vendors who were located even on different continents talking to each other. Because you’re right, nobody needs to be working in a vacuum, and they can’t, and that includes employees of the companies, of the vendors doing the work, and your employees as the company who is implementing the strategy. So everybody needs to be talking, and status reports, weekly meetings, all these kinds of project management 101 things absolutely need to be part of what you’re doing to make sure that everybody knows what’s going on and what their responsibilities are.

09:32 BS: Right.

09:32 AP: And a lot of times, procurement. If you’re in a bigger company in particular, procurement is going to spell a lot of stuff out in contracts about who’s doing what, when, if there are any penalties involved for not doing things by X time, all that sort of stuff. So a lot of times, you’ll have some legal stuff to back you up, but that in no way, shape, or form means that you don’t need to be doing your weekly status meetings and whatever else to keep things rolling because the communication is much more important than the legal niceties behind the scenes.

10:10 BS: Right. The big takeaway here is that there can’t be any assumptions made with anyone in any part of this interaction. The vendors certainly need to be told upfront what their responsibilities are, what systems they need to integrate with, who the touch points are, and so forth. And they needed to be brought into these weekly communications, and they should be communicating to you weekly on their status, issues that they’ve run into, and so forth. But on the flip side, it behooves you to do the same thing with them. So if there’s a decision on the table that may change how certain systems can interact, it might be good to give them a heads up. You may not be able to share all the information at that point in time, but giving them a heads up will certainly keep the costs down for you because they’re not running and implementing and developing in one direction, and then get 80% down the road and then have to change directions.

11:07 BS: And two, it just gives them an idea. They may actually think of a solution that you necessarily didn’t think of ahead of time. Or there might be a hidden plug-in that they’ve done for yet another client for a special need that they don’t sell in their usual product that might actually fit this scenario if you’re running into some kind of a road block. So it’s good to keep them in tune with what’s happening on your side as well to make sure. After all, at this point, you’re pretty much all in it together to make this implementation happen, so it behooves you to be open and honest with at this point, your partners, to get this implementation resolved.

11:51 AP: No. Absolutely. And I think you’ve pointed to the most important overarching thing on these kinds of projects or the implementation phase, and that is good communication. That sounds so hackneyed and so trite, but it is absolutely the truth. Your internal communications have to be good. Your communications with and among the vendors that you’re working with has to be really good. If you were working with a consultant to help you get this done, they need to be in the mix too. So everybody needs to be talking to everybody else. And like I said, it sounds so tired and done to death but it is absolutely the truth.

12:32 BS: Yeah, another big thing to think of, again, it comes down to budget and being realistic within that budget. So it’s not necessarily knowing that you have X lump of funds and the tools that you want cost X, Y, and Z. You also have to factor in all of the implementation cost both internally and externally to make this stuff happen. A lot of times, you’re going to have to get IT involved or other departments involved, and depending on your type of organization, that may or may not directly cost you or it’ll at least cost the company in lost time against something else that was planned for.

13:10 AP: Somebody is paying for it. That is the bottom line.

13:12 BS: Absolutely. Time is not free.

13:14 AP: No, it is not. And just because you’re doing a project internally, does not mean you have carte blanche to do whatever and whenever. I know on some projects, I’ve seen for example you mentioned the IT department, you get a percent of an IT person or a chunk of their time guaranteed for your implementation. There is no bottomless well here. This is not an all you can eat buffet, basically.

[chuckle]

13:45 AP: And that’s just being realistic, and don’t fool yourself into thinking just because you’re doing something with internal resources, that you’re free to do whatever, whenever. That’s not going to go over real well if you waste people’s time especially when they’re your co-workers that you may have to see later on something else.

[chuckle]

14:01 BS: It’s very true and actually that ties into another real important overarching thing that you need to keep track of, and that’s your company’s business goals. Your company had a business plan or has a business plan and it maybe constantly evolving, and your content strategy is definitely a part of that business plan but at the end of the day, everyone needs to be getting the real work done as well. And I’m sorry to say that as important as a content strategy is and as the implementation goes, it takes a backseat to getting the real work done that brings in the money for the company.

14:40 AP: Well, and if things were done smartly, you’re going to have a scenario… This is ideal. It doesn’t always happen but it is ideal where people have set aside, “I’m going to work this amount of time on ‘real work.'” The stuff that you have to continue to do. Your usual responsibilities and then when I use X hours on getting this new thing implemented or you may have these people here are going to keep things running as they are in the old system while these people over here are going to be working on implementing and getting the new system up and running so you can do a pilot project, for example. So, if you’re smart about your strategy, you are going to maybe define those things upfront. So like you said, the real work of the day still gets done even while the strategy of getting the new stuff up and running occurs.

15:35 BS: Right. And as you mentioned, there are so many different ways to go about this, and there’s unfortunately, no bulletproof way of going about it. In some cases, you may need to divide and conquer. So if you have a large team be able to say, “Okay, five of you are on this portion of the implementation, the rest of you are getting existing product out the door and then in six months we’ll switch people over as needed, as certain phases or certain deliverables are completed.”

16:05 AP: Right. They could be iterative. You can slowly subtract from the old stuff and slowly add to the new stuff, and that really is an effective change management tool as well. By doing things slowly and not basically… Well, it’s one option. It doesn’t always work this way but it does prevent shock to the system, if you are more deliberate about it.

16:29 BS: Right. And then of course there’s always the option to outsource some of the pieces that can be done by anybody. So if you are doing, for example if you need to convert all of your content from one format to another, there are plenty of services and other people that could be doing that whether it’s automated or whether you prefer to have a human go through and re-edit as they’re going. That effort can be outsourced to some degree.

16:58 AP: And it’s worth noting that… We talked about internal resources earlier. Internal does not always mean cheaper, especially when you’re talking about things like conversion and if you were moving to a new way of creating content that requires the use of new tools, new standards, new whatever… Possibly the worst way you can introduce content creators to the new way of doing things is to have them doing the manual gross labor of converting that old stuff to the new system. That does not make for happy campers, and it’s certainly something to think about when you’re working on these kinds of the implementations.

17:42 BS: That’s true. As it all comes down though, exactly which direction you decide to go in when you start implementing, it really depends on your situation at hand. It depends on the budget, the personnel, what business goals are in place that you need to be mindful of when you’re implementing. Unfortunately, we can’t just say, “here is the tried and true way of implementing any content strategy,” because it’s most definitely going to be custom for pretty much everybody.

18:12 AP: Well, if your strategy is custom and not one size fits all, why would the implementation be?

18:17 BS: Exactly.

18:17 AP: That’s how I look at it.

18:20 BS: And I really think that pretty much wraps it up. Alan, thank you.

18:24 AP: Thank you, Bill.

18:26 BS: And thank you all for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

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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.

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