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November 18, 2019

Small scope content strategies (podcast)

In episode 64 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Gretyl Kinsey and Alan Pringle talk about content strategies that have a limited or smaller scope.

“When you are limited it may slow you down, but at least you’re moving forward. It’s baby steps. It’s increments. It’s important to realize, yes it’s limiting, but you can take that and make it an advantage.”

—Alan Pringle

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Gretyl Kinsey:     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 64 we talk about content strategies with limited scope. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I am Gretyl Kinsey.

Alan Pringle:     And I am Alan Pringle.

GK:     And today we’re going to be talking about content strategies that have a limited or smaller scope. So what we mean by this is a content strategy that sort of addresses just one piece of the overall content puzzle. It may look something like working around an established tool chain or tool set or set of processes and just making improvements in one specific area instead of addressing the entire process. It may also look like doing a smaller scale project such as a pilot or proof of concept. So Alan, do you have anything to add to that or maybe some examples?

AP:     A lot of times you already may have a tool in place, for example, and that tool has been licensed and purchased and there is no getting around it, so you have to figure out how to optimize use for that tool and then work the rest of the strategy around that tool. That’s one case I can think of immediately.

GK:     Yes, and I also want to talk a little bit about how this is different from sort of what Scriptorium I think more typically does, which is an end-to-end content strategy.

AP:     Right. It is more limited in scope as you’ve already mentioned, and you’re talking about many more moving pieces and parts when you’re doing end-to-end. In this case, you may be focusing on one type of content, one tool and it’s basic ecosystem for lack of a better word. Or there is one particular problem that you need to solve and look at and you’ve already mentioned a pilot project. A lot of times you need to prove … Listen, this particular process, tool chain, whatever could work, but we really need to kind of get some support for it by showing that it actually can work in one instance or for one particular department. So that’s one way to do it. Basically it’s a way to build consensus and to get more people to buy into your content strategy.

GK:     Absolutely. And oftentimes we see that as kind of the first step to an end-to-end content strategy, especially in that case where you’re doing a pilot or proof of concept. So you’ll start small and then kind of keeping those other requirements for a larger scale content strategy in mind, you do the smaller piece first, get that approval and that buy in and then kind of expand outward from there.

AP:     Yeah, and one thing about doing the smaller, there’s fewer people generally involved, it can be a slightly, I hate to say easier, because implementing any content strategy is not that simple, but you do have fewer people to deal with and in some cases that can be a pretty big asset to get one little thing done basically.

GK:     Yes. One other big difference that I want to kind of emphasize between a sort of small scale or limited scope content strategy versus an end-to-end content strategy is the idea of looking at the big picture and looking at future goals. That’s something that you see a lot more with an end-to-end content strategy, because you’re not just addressing sort of one problem. You’re looking at the entire content life cycle and saying how do we improve this not only in the short term but in the long term. And so it encompasses really looking at the big picture, looking at all of the different departments, the different types of content, the different tools and processes that can affect that strategy.

GK:     But when you are doing this kind of more limited scope type of strategy, you’re more likely to just focus on one sort of more immediate or short term goal. I think it’s important to still keep the big picture in mind so that you don’t lock yourself in, but there’s kind of … That’s kind of one of the big differences in scope or in scale between those two types of strategies.

AP:     I do think with a bigger strategy, you’re often looking at future proofing. You are trying to come up with a system that will not lock you out of future requirements. That is always an important goal whenever you’re changing anything, and that’s not just content strategy. Anything in a company, you do need to be thinking long term. On the flip side of that though, as you just mentioned, with the smaller, more limited scope type of content strategy issues, that may not be at the foremost of your mind or your requirements while you work on it.

GK:     Absolutely, and I think that brings us into talking about some examples of these types of engagements. So one is one that you already mentioned, Alan, I want to expand on that a little, and that’s one where there’s already one tool or one piece of a tool chain in place that’s locked down for whatever reason. It may be just due to licensing, it may be due to the fact that it works well, but other pieces of the tool chain don’t. So I think when you are in a situation like that and you’re kind of working around an established tool instead of kind of having free reign to do whatever you want, one thing that can help us looking at why that tool was chosen, does it truly work? Does it really serve the business goals that were kind of evaluated before it was put in place? And just keeping that tool non-negotiable. And if the answers to all of those questions are yes and you are kind of locked-in to working around that tool, what kinds of things would you recommend to make sure that things kind of go as well as they can or as smoothly as they can with content strategy?

AP:     Well first, take a look and see if you’re using that tool in the optimal way. It can be very hard, especially if it’s a tool that you’ve worked with for a very long time, to take a step back and look at it very objectively and say, yes, we are using this tool correctly. We are using all of the things that make it more efficient. Often in the case of content creation, you’re talking about using templates, you’re talking about using macros or other kinds of things that speed up repetitive tasks. Take a look at those kinds of angles. And take … Kind of put on your consultant glasses if you will, your consultant hat, take a look and say, “Are we really using this the best that it can be used?” And I wouldn’t be surprised that there are some cases where you realize you were not using that tool to its full potential.

GK:     Absolutely. I think we’ve seen that plenty of times, where a company buys a tool, maybe they were motivated by that tool seller’s marketing and they kind of didn’t really evaluate carefully all the things the tool could do for them, and we’ve come in and said, “The tool offers all of these features, why are you not using them?” So that can kind of be a good starting point for that sort of a more limited scope strategy is to look at what you’ve already got, use it more effectively and then from there kind of look outward and say, everything else that connects to that tool or that kind of interacts with that tool, what kinds of improvements can be made there as well.

AP:     Right, because if you were not using that particular tool well on its own, there’s a good chance when you try to connect it to something else, it’s not going to be any better. Maybe even worse.

GK:     Absolutely. So another example of a limited scope or limited scale content strategy is one where you’re working with a small or limited selection of content. And this kind of gets into what we mentioned earlier about using a pilot project. So, some examples of that might be if you just have one department that has content that you want to start with, maybe just one type of content. So maybe you just do data sheets first and then eventually you move on to user manuals and training guides …

AP:     Training or whatever. Exactly.

GK:     Maybe marketing materials. Maybe if you are focusing on localization strategy, you start with one language or kind of one group of languages. So that … Those are some sort of examples of sort of that limited scope with a small subset of your content instead of addressing all of it at once.

AP:     And I still see that kind of as a litmus test. Basically, is this really going to work in the real world? And while you may want to jump in completely all the way into the pool, you may not be able to simply because budgets may be constraining you. This may be a big part of the reason why you have a limited scope. Or there may be some management organizational issues where there is only one group that is really willing and able to get into that right now. And you have to make the best of what you’ve got basically, and if that means constraining it down to the different things that you just talked about, so be it. But the good thing about succeeding in one of these smaller projects is that it provides you with a real proof of concept. Look, this worked for this group. Let’s figure out ways to adapt it for these other groups. And then as you do that, that’s when you really start talking about the reuse and sharing across the enterprise.

GK:     Yeah, absolutely. And I think I’ve seen this in quite a few projects where they’ve started very small, with maybe one collection of documents and proved that creating those documents in a different way or delivering them, publishing in a different way can really help improve their overall time for creating content, can improve efficiency, can improve the content quality. And then they show that to other groups and other departments and they say, “Oh we should be doing this too. We should be connected to what you’re doing.” So it really is a good way to kind of get started with a content strategy that can later sort of expand outward and become one of those more full scale end-to-end ones.

AP:     Absolutely, and a big part of this, and we’ve already touched on this, is culture. It’s not always a financial issue. There may be one group that is impossibly more open to change, so you need to take advantage of that. Now, this smaller type scale, it cuts both ways. It’s really important to think, as you’ve already mentioned, at an enterprise, across the organization level. The future proofing. Years down the road, what are things going to be? Those are all really important things and you’ve got to keep them in mind. The flip side of that is that these smaller things are much more doable. They’re much more realistic and you can pick the group that’s willing to jump in and do that and to prove that it can be done. So when you are limited, yes, it may slow you down from doing the cross organization enterprise thing, but at least you’re moving forward.

AP:     It’s baby steps. It’s increments. So I think that’s important to realize, yes it’s limiting, but you can take that and make it an advantage actually.

GK:     Yes, and I think having a starting point is really important, because if you try to go too big at the beginning and you try to maybe start at the enterprise level without doing this kind of proof of concept first, a lot of times it may not even get off the ground because of these things that you mentioned. Change management is a huge issue that we see and kind of risk management as well. I know that risk tends to be a big factor in a lot of organizations not wanting to start and take that first step, but if you can even get buy-in from one small part of the organization, one department or even one writer or two, or one manager within the organization that says this is a good idea, let’s pursue it, then I think taking that first step is really the most important thing to get the ball rolling.

AP:     Yeah, and you mentioned risk management and that is a really big part of any kind of work in content strategy, or any kind of corporate change. On the risk management side though I would say as a thing you want to pick for your small scale pilot, whatever you want to call it, you don’t want to make it so easy that it shows no impact, but you also don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.

GK:     Yes.

AP:     So there is this balancing act that you have to think about and that kind of ties in what we’ve talked about, the culture, the finances, the politics, all of those things should come into play when you’re picking this thing that you want to do, but you don’t want to make it so easy that it doesn’t really show any result, but you also don’t want to pick something that’s so big and so expansive that it’s risky.

GK:     Yeah. In that case, it’s really not a pilot anymore. It’s kind of getting into the realm of a larger scale engagement and so it’s very much a fine line as far as choosing what subset of content that you want to work with or maybe what department and making sure that it’s manageable and that it’s kind of the the right type of content as well to show that it’s going to be the strategy you need.

AP:     There’s also the issue when you start working in these bigger engagements that people get what’s called analysis paralysis.

GK:     Yes.

AP:     They get so hung up by all the things that have to be done, all the choices that have to be made, they basically freeze in place and nothing gets done.

GK:     Yeah. And I think that the more risks that’s involved, the more that could happen. If there is a very major change that’s involved in the strategy, then that’s something that really happens very easily. Another type of limited scope engagement I want to touch on is the idea of developing or sort of refining one piece of a larger content strategy. And so for us at Scriptorium, that’s looked like things such as maybe a company bringing us in just to build a content model or bringing us in to work on a training plan. Develop a localization strategy. So just sort of one piece of the larger puzzle instead of doing the entire thing. So I wanted to talk about how you work around that and maybe there are some cases where there are different people working on an end-to-end strategy together, but each person is doing a different part of it. How do you make something like that work?

AP:     You talk to each other.

GK:     Yes.

AP:     It’s that simple. You have to. It is very tempting when you’re doing these smaller scale things to just go head down and not talk beyond the group. You’ve got to strike … Again, that balancing act. You still have to talk to people outside to see about the potential connections, overlaps and you also do not want to repeat work people have already done and you do not want to stomp on any accomplishments they already have. You need to pay attention and kind of put out feelers to figure out what’s going on around you and how what you’re doing can flow into and out of that.

GK:     Yeah. And I think having that communication be as open as possible is good, because if you don’t talk to each other, then what can happen is that the overall strategy can kind of get locked down in a way where … So for example, if one group is brought in to develop, let’s say a training plan and they’re putting together any materials that are needed for that, but then they look at some other piece of the strategy and they say, “Hold on. Maybe this could be done in a better way before it’s too late.” If you don’t have that sort of open channel of communication, then that means that that area where an improvement could have happened, nobody brings it up and it doesn’t happen and then all of the other groups that are affected by that decision are sort of locked into it. So I think that keeping the channels of communication open and also everyone kind of keeping an open mind if somebody sees or points out a problem that you don’t immediately just kind of take offense to it and put up a wall when somebody brings up, “Hey, maybe you could improve this piece over here.” I think it’s really important to think of the overall strategy as a moving entity and to keep an open mind and open communication around how to improve it.

AP:     You cannot use this idea of doing a pilot or smaller scale thing as an excuse to lock reality out.

GK:     Yes.

AP:     It’s very tempting to go heads down and ignore everything going around you. And there is something to be said for that in some cases, but when you were going to treat this as a piece of a larger enterprise strategy, you really cannot do that. Yes, you have to focus and get that work done, but you still have to realize that there are tentacles that connect everything. So don’t preclude those possibilities when you’re coming up with your strategies. And don’t have every little department doing their own thing and then try to just throw everything together and assume it’s going to work, because I guarantee you it will not.

GK:     Absolutely. And this is where I think having some kind of a plan for governance in place is important. Even if you’ve got different people or different groups working on different parts of a strategy based on their expertise, which I think is very smart, it’s still good to have some kind of a plan for how you’re going to manage each of those pieces working together and sort of your overall governance of the strategy to make sure that nothing gets stuck. We’ve seen plenty of cases where the more groups or people that have to work together, the easier it can be for things to stall out or for arguments to pop up, and if there’s not a plan in place for how to solve some of those issues or how to work through them, then it just kind of delays the strategy even more.

AP:     Yeah. Once again, communication, and it sounds so tired and such … A chestnut, but it’s true. You have to talk amongst yourselves.

GK:     Yeah. It sounds like a basic common sense thing, but you would be surprised how often that doesn’t happen and how difficult it is to make sure it happens. So if it …

AP:     Oh, I can vouch for the fact, it often does not happen.

GK:     Yeah. So if you think about that from the get go and you really prioritize that communication, I think that’s a really good way to make sure that these types of strategies, where you’ve got different pieces happening with different groups actually succeed.

AP:     I agree.

GK:     I want to kind of close out by talking about some advantages and disadvantages of taking this limited scope approach. So, and we’ve already touched on these but I think it’s a good way to kind of just wrap everything up.

AP:     Wrap it up.

GK:     So the advantages we’ve talked about, it may reduce your risk, especially if that limited scope is something like a small scale or pilot project that can be used to prove success in one area. And in that same vein, it reduces, maybe the budget at first and shows if you’ve got budgetary constraints start small. And another advantage that’s kind of interesting is that if you are limited by maybe a tool lock-in type of thing, it can also make it sort of easier to rule out tools and processes that connect to it. If you are being brought in and let’s say you’ve got your publishing end of things already figured out, but you need new authoring tools. If you already have one piece of the puzzle in place, then it kind of helps you rule out things that are not going to work with that piece when you’re looking at new options for authoring tools. As opposed to, if someone comes in and says redo the entire thing, then you have a lot more kinds of options to look at and in some ways that can be overwhelming.

AP:      And sometimes the reality can be very difficult when you are locked in. You just have to make it work. And once again, it goes back to what we talked about at the front of this, be sure that you’re using those tools as effectively as you can be.

GK:     Yeah. That one kind of cuts both into the advantages and the disadvantages because if you are kind of working in that limited scope, then you might not be able to suggest an improvement to a tool that’s kind of locked down or an alternative. So those kinds of things are really important to keep in mind. That does go back to what we’ve said about making sure that what you do have, you’re using it as efficiently and effectively as possible. And one other kind of disadvantage is that if you are working in a limited scope and you don’t keep in mind the big picture or the future requirements and you don’t keep communication open, then it can lead to sort of more lock-in down the road or to a strategy getting in places maybe not the best. So that again goes back to our advice about make sure you keep all of that in mind. Make sure that you talk to each other and that you future proof your strategy no matter how small that it starts.

AP:     Yeah, resist the temptation to put on blinders to focus just on the small part you’re working on. That’s a dangerous thing to do.

GK:     Yes, even if you are only doing something with one piece of content or you’re only doing one part of the strategy, don’t forget all of the other pieces and make sure that what you’re doing is not going to have to be redone somewhere down the road. That is going to really overall help the strategy that you’ve got in place.

AP:     Yeah. It needs to be adaptable. It needs to be extensible.

GK:     So do you have any other final words of advice?

AP:     It cuts both ways. It can be to your advantage to start smaller, but as we have already said, don’t let it constrain you in a way where you’re going to make things difficult for yourselves a few years down the road.

GK:     Absolutely. So we’re going to go ahead and wrap things up here. Thank you so much Alan, for being on the podcast with me.

AP:     Thank you.

GK:     And thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit or check the show notes for relevant links.