Full transcript of Potluck strategy podcast

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Sarah O’Keefe: 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.

Sarah O’Keefe: Hi, everyone. I’m Sarah O’Keefe. For episode 40, we’re thinking about food. Although, I should clarify that we think about food a lot here at Scriptorium. It’s an important part of our daily life and our holiday potluck is an opportunity to show off our culinary skills in cooking and, I think, most especially eating. So it occurred to me that a great potluck has a lot in common with content strategy, and in this episode, we’re going to talk about our favorite topic, food, and how we can apply a potluck planning, which is hard to say, to content strategy.

Sarah O’Keefe: I’m joined here after our annual potluck by two not very hungry people, Bill Swallow.

Bill Swallow:      Hello.

Sarah O’Keefe: And Gretyl Kinsey.

Gretyl Kinsey:   Hi.

S. O’Keefe:          We are going to try not to have a food coma and talk about potlucks and strategy and how those tie together. So I guess the first thing is when you have a potluck, you can make some decisions about buy versus build. And so, Bill, what does that look like? What are some of the decisions that point you towards a buy decision in a potluck or a content?

B. Swallow:         Well, in my situation, since I’m visiting down here in the North Carolina office, I do not have a house here, I do not have a kitchen here. I actually do have a refrigerator in my room though. But I had to choose the option to buy because I simply could not really assemble anything realistically. I couldn’t keep enough cold, keep enough ready, and certainly couldn’t use an oven or anything like that without barging into someone’s house, which …

S. O’Keefe:          Would be okay.

B. Swallow:         It would be okay. But no one was available …

S. O’Keefe:          And there’s really very little worse than cooking in someone else’s kitchen.

B. Swallow:         But yeah, from a buy perspective, you may not have the time or the resources or really the facility to produce something, in which case then you’re looking for something quick and easy, off the shelf, that you can kind of merge into something greater like everyone else’s homemade desserts and sides, which were fantastic.

S. O’Keefe:          There were a lot of homemade desserts and sides.

G. Kinsey:             There were. I was actually responsible for a couple of those. So I took the opposite approach from Bill. I took the build approach because I do live here. I have a kitchen. I enjoy baking. I like to make chocolates. So I did that, and I made that decision because I like to go kind of a more specialized route. I like to experiment with desserts, and if you are going to apply this to sort of a strategy point of view for content, it’s the same sort of thing. If you like something that is more specialized and tailored to you, then going a build route, a custom route, might be much more effective in getting you to your goals.

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. So buy might be faster. It might also be more expensive or it might be more expensive cash-wise, but build might be more expensive time wise. In fact, I’m sure. I’m positive.

G. Kinsey:             Yes.

B. Swallow:         I bought barbecue.

S. O’Keefe:          And it was delicious.

B. Swallow:         We had some fantastic barbecue turkey and pork with … I won’t say what the sides were because they were … Sinfully delicious, let’s put it that way. But it was very easy. I went online, I chose what I wanted, I entered a credit card, and I even had a coworker pick it up for me! So it was a very easy solution for me.

G. Kinsey:             My solution was a little bit more complicated. I got home really late last night from a really delicious dinner because we do talk about food and eat all the time here. So that’s par for the course.

B. Swallow:         We do work, too.

G. Kinsey:             Sometimes. So I got home late, and then had to bake because that was what I had promised I would do. At that point, I had realized that after my last round of baking, all of my dishes were still sitting in the sink waiting to be washed. So I had to wait about two hours for my dishwasher to finish running before I could bake everything. So that’s a kind of a thing to think about when you go the build route is unexpected factors that can crop up when you think you have a strategy in place and you think you know how it’s going to go. You always got to account for what happens when some little roadblock pops up and you have to navigate it.

B. Swallow:         IT was still busy wrapping up an existing project.

G. Kinsey:             Exactly.

S. O’Keefe:          Well, this is almost as bad as what I did, which was I got home kind of late, and just kind of plopped myself and the coach and was brain dead. At about 10:30 last night realized, “Oh, right. I was supposed to build something. I was supposed to bake for the potluck.” There was a lot of baking.

G. Kinsey:             There was.

S. O’Keefe:          And then I looked at the clock, and then I kind of cried, and then I thought about it some more, and then I realized that I could actually get away with making the thing first thing in the morning and bring it in. At which point, that meant it was still going to be warm for the potluck at noon. So therefore, I turned just-in-time-delivery-due-to-planning-failure into some sort of advantageous, “Hey, look at what I did! Fresh from the oven.”

G. Kinsey:             Yeah, and I think that’s important when you run into those unexpected issues in a strategy to figure out how you can turn them around to an advantage and not let them just be a complete failure and let them throw you off course.

S. O’Keefe:          Well, it’s a good thing I wasn’t make pie because I did not have time to make pie crust at that point.

B. Swallow:         But you could’ve outsourced that particular one to Pillsbury.

S. O’Keefe:          Oh, no. No, no, no. That’s no.

G. Kinsey:             That’s true. There can always be a combination of buy and build, and you can make that work to your advantage too if that’s going to be the best solution for you.

S. O’Keefe:          And you can find balance. Now I will say that a certain un-named coworker of ours actually showed up with homemade butter.

B. Swallow:         Yes.

G. Kinsey:             Yes.

S. O’Keefe:          Which was spectacular. But I think the rest of us actually drew the line at home churning our own butter for our homemade bread.

B. Swallow:         Although to this one particular person’s credit …

S. O’Keefe:          Oh, it was delicious.

B. Swallow:         Oh yeah. It was delicious and they said all they had to do was put a bunch of heavy cream and spices into a jar and shake it for about an hour. I was like, “Oh, is that all?”

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah, and homemade bread, which I don’t know, does he have a wheat field out back?

G. Kinsey:             Maybe?

S. O’Keefe:          It seems likely. So anyway, we had a ridiculous amount of food, and I think we’re all kind of still on a sugar high even though it’s been four or five … Well, we might have gone back for more later.

S. O’Keefe:          Okay. So a combination of buy and build is going to make a good content strategy/potluck. What are some of the things that lead to bad potluck/content strategy?

B. Swallow:         One thing would be too much sugar. I don’t quite … I kind of disagree with that a little bit. But yeah, I mean, if you end up having too much of anything, I think, in a particular recipe, whether it’s bought or made, you’re going to have issues. Or you might have that one ingredient that might have a little bit too much of something that somebody isn’t really supposed to have, in which case then you have some big problems.

G. Kinsey:             Right. If you focus too heavily in one area rather than on your strategy as a whole, then you can get really caught up in something and have your entire project get behind, get really delayed, and kind of caught up in the details of something that’s maybe not really that important to the overall picture.

S. O’Keefe:          So are you saying that the fact that we ran out of counter space and had to put some of our desserts on top of the printer was an indicator?

B. Swallow:         That was the best use of the printer in a while.

G. Kinsey:             I think that might be an indication of too much attention to one thing, which is sugar. But I won’t necessarily that the results were bad because I love sugar.

B. Swallow:         Yeah, and there’s failure to meet your deadlines, whether it’s purchased or not.

S. O’Keefe:          Because you forgot to?

B. Swallow:         Because someone decided to take a nap and then realize at 10:30 that they haven’t round the cook for baking a blueberry cobbler.

S. O’Keefe:          Oh, no. I was wide awake. I just forgot. That was the worst part.

B. Swallow:         Was trying to give you an out.

S. O’Keefe:          No. It was terrible. So deadlines. Okay. So are you more likely to meet your deadline if you buy or build?

B. Swallow:         It’s really 50/50. I mean, it could go either way because although it was easier for me to order my food online and put my credit card in and send it off, and I even get a receipt for it, there’s still no guarantee that the place actually received the order or that somebody decided to put the order together and left it there.

S. O’Keefe:          So you were relying on the vendor to deliver.

B. Swallow:         To basically deliver on the promise of my purchase.

G. Kinsey:             Right. When you build, you may have a little bit more time involved because it’s your internal resources dedicated to that build. But at the same time, that gives you a level of control that can, in some ways, make it easier to meet your deadlines if you’re building and you’re not relying on an external vendor’s schedule to fit your own.

B. Swallow:         True.

S. O’Keefe:          As long as your builders aren’t distracted.

B. Swallow:         Yeah. But then again, you’re still caught up in other demands, other infrastructure needs. So what if there’s like a family emergency, you’re not able to make your recipe or your power goes out and you can’t use your oven?

G. Kinsey:             Very true. When you take the build approach, it’s really important to think about back up plans, emergency contingency plans for anything unexpected that pops up.

B. Swallow:         Yes, we do have emergency and contingency plans for making our food.

G. Kinsey:             We do.

S. O’Keefe:          Potluck emergencies.

B. Swallow:         We take food very seriously here at Scriptorium.

G. Kinsey:             Yeah. With the desserts, if something goes wrong, you can just go to Rise and get some donuts and they’re delicious. But it is really important to think about if you’re going to build something yourself, then what are you going to do if something goes wrong and then it’s on you to make sure it still gets done.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. So either you’re relying on your team, I mean yourself, your team, and your people to be reliable, or you’re relying on a vendor to be reliable.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

S. O’Keefe:          So I guess that boils down to choose your vendors carefully.

B. Swallow:         But, I mean, even then, I mean, you can choose your vendors perfectly fine, and what happens if what your using …

S. O’Keefe:          Their power goes out.

B. Swallow:         Well, what happens if there’s poor hygiene involved?

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. Are we talking about food or content?

B. Swallow:         We could be talking about both. I mean, with food, the vendor could do everything right and then we could grab a serving spoon that we thought was clean …

S. O’Keefe:          Let’s talk about content.

B. Swallow:         So yeah, but, I mean, even on the content side, I mean, your vendor could do everything right to set the system up and if your content is kind of all over the place and isn’t well structured, isn’t well tagged, hasn’t been migrated or you’re planning on just shoehorning it in and seeing what happens, anything could happen. Same thing with making stuff at home too. You run into the same issues.

S. O’Keefe:          If you don’t have the right infrastructure. I mean, we talked about an oven, but you’re trying to make pie and you don’t have a pie pan. I don’t know, you’ve run out of butter. But if you think about, content hygiene is the sort of like, “Do you have minimum, viable content? Do you have the basics that you need to achieve the thing you’re trying to do?” And if you’re trying to do really interesting, flexible, adaptable, filterable, searchable, this and that, and somebody hands you a couple of gigabytes of 800 page PDFs, you’re not going to get very far with that unless you do a lot of deconstruction work, which I’m not sure, I think we now lost our food metaphor. But there’s certain building blocks or starting points that you need to achieve what you’re trying to do, and if you don’t have those building blocks, it’s not going to work.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

S. O’Keefe:          So what about constraints, potluck and/or content strategy constraints?

G. Kinsey:             Well, big one for content strategy, and I suppose for a potluck as well, would be budget and also the size of your stomach, I suppose, for the potlucks. But budget is something that really, especially when you are making that buy versus build decision can be the make or break factor because I’ve seen cases where a company might have the resources financially to build something. They can’t afford to buy something more expensive, but then there’s that cost of time if they’re building something, and that’s where you have to really take a hard look at your budget in terms of the numbers but also the sort of invisible budget that is your long term, cost savings over time, and use that to kind of help you make that buy versus build decision. Or maybe space it out where you start by building a kind of home grown pilot project first. See if that works for you, then prove that you can make it work, and then convince the higher ups that you can afford to buy a system that works better and that can take you further.

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. I mean, it’s going to be expensive no matter how you cut it.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative). Whether it’s resources or cash.

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. I mean, the weird thing is you think of internal … A lot of times we think of internal resources as being free, right? Or our clients do: “Well, I have people and I can make them do that.” But that’s not always the case. I mean, we have had cases where the time and effort required of the in-house staff is very highly valued. In fact, more so than external staff. In other words, they’re perfectly happy to pay us to do something to avoid having to do it in-house with their very expensive, highly trained and uniquely skilled people. So it’s not that it’s right or wrong. It’s just a question of what your prioritizing. If you buy heavy cream and churn it by hand, you’re going to get some really, really amazing butter.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

S. O’Keefe:          On the other hand, it’s going to take a long time and the stuff you get at the store is not terrible. So I’m still on the homemade butter. It was very impressive.

S. O’Keefe:          What about decision making? What does that look like?

G. Kinsey:             Well, for a potluck, it looks like trying to balance out what kinds of foods you’re going to have so that you don’t end up with all dessert, for example.

S. O’Keefe:          I don’t see a problem.

G. Kinsey:             So that involves a planning stage where, in our case, we had a Google Doc where everyone said, “Here’s what I’m going to bring,” so that we could all kind of make sure that we had a reasonably balanced meal. Not necessarily a healthy meal, but a balanced meal where you’ve got …

B. Swallow:         My plate didn’t tip over.

G. Kinsey:             … main course, side dishes, desserts. You’ve got some savory, some sweet.

S. O’Keefe:          We had vegetables.

G. Kinsey:             We did.

S. O’Keefe:          We did.

B. Swallow:         Some of it was drowning in bacon, but that’s another story.

G. Kinsey:             But that up front planning and strategizing is really, really important for the decision making process, and that also is where you can kind of get look at what parts of your solution that you might build versus buy.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative). Being unable to make a decision also kind of affects both sides. If you are dead set in a certain direction picking a certain tool and running with it or building something to spec and having something in the output and then decide 50 percent of the way through that you want to change the requirements, that’s a problem regardless of whether you’re building it yourself or you’re buying it. Either your vendor’s going to say, “We can’t do that,” or they’re going to otherwise get very mad at you for suddenly changing direction.

S. O’Keefe:          Or they’ll just charge you more.

B. Swallow:         Or they’ll just charge you more and then they’ll get upset when you start …

S. O’Keefe:          Then you’ll get upset.

B. Swallow:         Yeah, you’ll both be upset at that point. Or you have a team that’s going ahead and building something and then all of a sudden the requirements change, they’re going to get upset.

S. O’Keefe:          Yeah. Or I signed up and said, “Oh, I’ll make a green vegetable,” and then everybody else signs up for dessert. Then it’s like, “I don’t really want to make a green vegetable. I think I’ll make chocolate. Oh, wait. Somebody else signed up for that. Well, you know what, I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway.” I mean, a big part of potluck is not bunny stomping on other people’s stuff so that you don’t have the same thing kind of duplicated. We, by the way, had like five different desserts, none of which were in any way duplicative.

B. Swallow:         No. But there were two chocolate items.

G. Kinsey:             There were.

S. O’Keefe:          Well, that’s about right.

B. Swallow:         Yeah. But they were very different.

S. O’Keefe:          Two out of five is …

B. Swallow:         And one actually had fruit in it.

S. O’Keefe:          And we had a very healthy spinach salad.

B. Swallow:         We did.

S. O’Keefe:          Yes, we did.

B. Swallow:         Not a romaine salad.

S. O’Keefe:          No, not romaine.

S. O’Keefe:          So, okay. So basically I think we’re slightly obsessed with food at the moment. Oh, and I did want to touch on one last thing, which is that, and you mentioned this, we had a stupid amount of food, and you can’t eat like that every day. But we only … And everybody took time to put something together and do stuff. We only do these potlucks once or twice a year. So it’s okay because it’s that one time we’re going to make an effort and everybody’s going to get together and hang out and eat a lot. But if this were a daily occurrence, and this sounds kind of nuts, but if we had a daily thing of somebody’s responsible for bringing in lunch every day for the rest of the group, then it wouldn’t look anything like this.

B. Swallow:         No.

G. Kinsey:             No.

S. O’Keefe:          It wouldn’t be 18 different dishes, half made up of butter, that took days to compose and put together and all the rest of it. If our velocity was higher, it would look very, very different, and so applying that to content, if you’re producing huge volumes of content repeatedly or rapidly, that needs to look very different than we’re going to do this once.

B. Swallow:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

G. Kinsey:             Right.

S. O’Keefe:          Or once a year or we have a big deliverable every so often.

B. Swallow:         Right.

S. O’Keefe:          So something to look at there.

S. O’Keefe:          I hope you enjoyed hearing about our potluck. I think I’ll wrap it up with that. If you’re extra curious, you can check out Scriptorium’s Twitter account round about November 29th, 2018 for pictures of all the food. And with that, thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, please 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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