In episode 92 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Elizabeth Patterson and Alan Pringle share how you get started with a content strategy project and what you can do if you really don’t have a solid grasp on your needs.
“It’s about opening yourself up to getting feedback from someone who’s done this stuff before, and may come up with some solutions that you didn’t necessarily consider in your own thinking.”
Elizabeth Patterson: 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 this episode we’re going to talk about what options you have when you know you need a content strategy but can’t get a handle on your needs.
EP: Hi, I’m Elizabeth Patterson.
Alan Pringle: I’m Alan Pringle.
EP: Today we’re going to discuss how you get started with a content strategy project and what you can do if you really don’t have a solid grasp on your needs. I’ll kind of start things off and just share that when we have introductory meetings with potential clients, there’s often a problem or a pain point that they express to us, but there can be a disconnect between understanding what you need to do and what you want to do in order to fix that. Alan, I want to ask you this question. Why do you think it’s common that we see that disconnect?
AP: To me, it’s very similar to when you go to the doctor, for example. You have got some pain or ache and you can’t quite figure out what’s going on, because guess what? You’re not medically trained so you go to the doctor and he or she looks at you and says, “Based on these symptoms, here are the systems in your body that could be contributing to that problem.” Again, because you don’t have medical training, the doctor may come back with some suggestions that you would have never have thought of, because guess what? You’re not a doctor. That’s kind of how I see it. You have an issue, a pain and ache, and in this case it’s content related, if you’re talking about content strategy projects, and you go to an expert and say, “We’ve got this going on, how can we fix this and make it better?”
EP: And that’s a very good point. I think also there’s a bias there, and it can relate to this doctor analogy too. If you take really good care of your health but you’re having some sort of issue, you might not really think clearly about some other causes and going to the doctor would help you. It’s the same thing with a company. You might be biased because you’re inside that organization and you’re not thinking about it as thoroughly as you should.
AP: Right. That gets into the whole third party thing.
AP: It’s like you go to a friend for advice. If you have got relationship problems or whatever, or you’re buying a house for the first time, what do a lot of people usually do? They go and talk to a friend who’s been through something similar to get their input on it because they’ve been there. Again, it’s about kind of opening yourself up and your mind to getting feedback from someone who’s done this stuff before, and will probably come up with some solutions that you didn’t necessarily consider in your own thinking.
EP: Right. That really pulls us into the next question, which is what you can do. One of the responses to that are to look into doing some sort of discovery project with a third party. Could you speak a little bit to what a discovery project is?
AP: Sure. When clients come to us they usually say, “We know we have this content related problem.” What we do, we say, “Okay, let’s take a look at that.” It becomes part of a bigger engagement essentially, because what we need to do is back up a little bit from that pain point. We need to figure out what the big overall business goals for the company are, and then we can say, “Okay, this pain point is likely happening because it’s not aligning with this particular requirement.” What we want to do is go in there and people usually come to us when something’s wrong or broken, just like you go to the doctor. It’s not usually, “I feel great. I’m going to the doctor.” It doesn’t work like that generally. Something’s wrong. They come to us. What we want to do is take a look at what’s broken, take a look at the big overarching business goals and how that content problem ties into it and what you can do to fix it to better align that content pain point with the business goals of the company and fix that problem.
EP: Right. Discovery projects, when we do discovery projects, there can be differences depending on the type of project that it is. But overall discovery projects are very similar. We’re identifying gaps. We are identifying tool possibilities. We’re putting together a map for solutions for your content project. They all look very similar in that sense.
AP: Right. There’s an overarching kind of theme or goal to these things. I’m glad you mentioned tools because there’s often this temptation when you’ve got some kind of problem, oh, I’m going to get a piece of software that will magically fix that. It doesn’t usually work like that.
AP: That’s why I think having someone come in to kind of evaluate and articulate what the requirements are to help you build that list so you can pick the right tools. There needs to be this conversation. There needs to be a lot of back and forth among different people in your organization, whether they are directly or indirectly affected by content, in the case of a content strategy project, of course.
AP: A lot of what we’re talking about applies to business in general, but of course our focus is more on content, because you want to get the big picture and get those requirements laid out and then find the tools and solutions that fit that thing and make those goals come to life and work. If you don’t do enough discovery and you don’t put a lot of thought process and you just pay attention to marketing, or what you heard another company did, that gets into a dangerous territory where you may not get return on your investment when you buy a tool and it doesn’t turn out as you anticipated.
EP: Absolutely. You’re talking about how important it is to talk to all of these people so that you can pick the right tool. Oftentimes stakeholder interviews are part of a discovery project so that the third party goes in and they talk to the different stakeholders that are going to be affected by that tool, find out what their pain points are, and then that helps to identify a tool that’s going to really solve the problems or fit your solution.
AP: Right. I think it’s also worth pointing out too, on these discovery projects, this is just about looking at tool options and suggesting the possibilities, and then later, what we generally do is have a phase where we configure and implement the tools.
AP: This is also very helpful from a business point of view. If you go into relationship with a consultant or a vendor or whomever, it’s probably good from a business point of view to separate out the discovery part from the configuration implementation part, because what if you get into the discovery part and you discover that you and that consultant are not sinking. It happens sometimes. You can’t quite sync, so that relationship probably shouldn’t continue.
AP: From a strictly business point of view, it’s a good idea to separate the discovery out from the configuration, the implementation. Also, it is very good from a budget point of view, say, “In this fiscal year, we’re going to lay out the discovery work and come up with a roadmap, which is a result of your discovery project.” Then later in the next fiscal year is when we’ll start buying the tools and implementing them, say, over the next two fiscal years or something like that.
EP: Oftentimes that roadmap and the results from your discovery project are what help you, or can help you to get buy-in from upper management to actually get the funding that you need for that tool or the implementation phase.
AP: Well, and really from my point of view, too, that when you mention upper management, they need to be part of the discussions from the get-go. They need to be part of those interviews because they need to articulate what they see as being the requirements are. They also need to hear about what the issues are in the content world. Because they’re the ones, A, like you mentioned, who have the money, and B, they’re the ones that also have the vision of how to reconcile those things. It points to a thorough communication system that you have to set up when you’re doing these interviews. You don’t just pick the people that are immediately affected by content, the creators who reads it, who edits it, who reviews it, how you distribute it. You also need to talk to your executives to find out what they expect from the content and how it aligns with their vision.
AP: You need to talk to your IT people, for example, because they’re controlling likely maybe some web servers that your web content lives on. They may be controlling tools. They’re the ones that do inventory of tools and decide, yeah, we’ve already got a tool that does this. Why are we going to get another one? It’s not a situation where you need to be in a vacuum. A discovery process is talking to people who were directly and indirectly impacted by decisions. And you have to include those people who have the bigger overarching vision, for lack of a better word, for where your company is headed.
EP: Right. We’re talking here about discovery as a way to solve a problem. Are there any other reasons that a company might consider a discovery project?
AP: Well, we tend to be focusing on the negative things and we really have done that in this podcast. Oh, it’s a pain point. It’s the bad things. But you’ve also in this process, have to look at the things that are working and figure out a way to either translate those or move those over into your new process or whatever new systems you’re going to recommend, to be sure those things are handled right. You’ve got to look at the good and the bad, but the bad is what usually brings people to us. But we also have to recognize as consultants and as the people who help run these discovery programs, that you have to also have a really good ear and listen, and find out about the things that people like and that in some way need to be kept as things move forward with improving whatever it is that is indeed broken.
EP: Right. Another reason to consider a discovery project, and this isn’t a problem, but there might be a merger and bringing in a third party to help with that merger and bringing content from two different companies together and making a plan, that can be very helpful because there’s a lot to unpack there.
AP: Right. There’s something to be said, especially for a third party in this case, because you’re going to often have two basically completely duplicative systems that are pretty much doing the same thing around content. From an IT point of view, keeping both is probably not ideal in the long-term, at least usually it’s not. It is not a hard fast rule here.
AP: It’s a good idea to have someone come in and to take a look who has had experiences helping other people with mergers, like you’ve mentioned. Is it likely you’re going to have someone on your staff that has gone through that? If you have, that’s great. Use that resource. But a lot of times you haven’t, and that again points to, let’s talk to a third party who recognizes the issues and the challenges surrounding our merger and content and how they can help us figure out how to integrate things better.
EP: Right. Alan, well, thank you. That was really helpful. Thank you for joining me today.
AP: Sure. Enjoyed it.
EP: With that, I think we’re going to wrap up. Thank you all for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relative links.