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August 2, 2021

Content strategy success at Crown (podcast)

In episode 100 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Bill Swallow and special guest Jodi Shimp discuss their experience with digital transformation and implementing a new content strategy at Crown Equipment Corporation.

“The initial and earliest win in the project was the go-ahead to even bring on consultants to help us determine what the scope would be and what the true need would be across all the different groups.

– Jodi Shimp

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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 this episode, we’ll talk with Jodi Shimp about her experience with digital transformation and implementing a content strategy at Crown Equipment Corporation.

BS:                   Hi, everyone. I’m Bill Swallow. And today I have a very special guest, Jodi Shimp joining me. Hi, Jodi.

Jodi Shimp:                    Hi, Bill. Hello, Bill. Hi, everyone.

BS:                   Thanks for coming here. So before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JS:                    Yeah. So, like Bill said, I am Jodi Shimp with Crown Equipment Corporation. I have been working with Scriptorium implementing a content strategy in the past, probably about seven years. So we went from a very unstructured content development process, and I started that as a technical writer, and over the past seven or so years, we’ve been working on a big digital transformation of all that content at Crown.

BS:                   And what was your reason for starting that project?

JS:                    For Crown, there were really two major starting points that got our strategy rolling from people, just talking about a need for something different to actually moving things forward. And for the main content teams in marcom and techcomm, it was the fact that we had overlapping product in different regions and overlapping content to support that project in different regions, being supported by two or more different content teams. For executives, the big pain point was the need to better support our globe growth and our burgeoning global market. Their need was to fix translations because at that point we did have a patchwork of translations and content processes, but we just needed to get that overall into something smooth that felt like it was a consistent process as opposed to ad hoc responsiveness.

BS:                   So it was more or less both getting your arms around those source content development problems. And then also being able to get your arms around the translation spend.

JS:                    Right. Thankfully it aligned very much to be two birds with one stone, if you will, because the content creators, the problems that they were seeing in their source content are what was actually causing a lot of the problems in the localization processes and content. So fixing the source was really the key to getting it all right.

BS:                   And I suppose that came with a bunch of wins during the course of the project.

JS:                    It did. So really, the initial win and the earliest win in the project was that initial go-ahead to even bring on consultants to help us determine what the scope would be and what the true need would be across all these different groups. I was told quite a few times that I wouldn’t be able to get financial support for a non-engineering project. And I was fairly new to Crown. In reality, the company really does a great job in investing heavily outside of engineering and design and development and all kinds of other places, but I didn’t know that.

JS:                  I think the key was really listening to the executive pain points and goals, and then determining how the things that the content teams needed to change could be improved to truly align, to support the company objectives and then move everything forward.

JS:                    Another big win for us with the approval to invest in that proposed strategy and actually begin the project. I ended up presenting the vision and objectives to the entire executive suite, including the president, owner and all the VPs. It was another case where probably my determination, when I was told it probably won’t go forward, really came into play. And I think you do need someone who is willing to put themselves out there when there’s some doubt on things, but it was definitely the right thing for the content teams. And it was the right thing for the overall business strategy and objectives at that time.

BS:                   So really bringing it back to what are the core pain points that the company as a whole were seeing rather than focusing on the writers could be more efficient if they did X.

JS:                    Right. Because it really did come down to focus on what was important to executives and the overall business goals. Instead of spending a lot of time discussing all the ways that a content strategy would make things better for content creation teams, I really worked on working with different directors and above to highlight the parts that would further the primary goals of each group and of the overall company. 

BS:                   So with those going on, is there anything you’re particularly proud of with regard to those goals?

JS:                    Yeah. So, really the overall strategy. We proposed a multi-layered digital transformation, and that crossed all kinds of departments and locales. We knew that the project would need to include authoring guidance with terminology and style. We knew that it would require structured authoring, a translation management system, and then a content management system to really get it done and done well. And then even more important than all of those things, we didn’t want to automate bad processes. We knew it wouldn’t be short and quick, and we knew it wouldn’t always be painless.

JS:                    But one of my favorite days in the entire project was pretty early on, after we had gotten support from the executive VPs, there was a meeting with executives from our regional headquarters across the world. And the senior VP of Engineering was talking with other VPs before the meeting started and he began discussing one of the large visuals. And when I say large visuals, I mean, we had a content inventory printed out and that was crazy to see all the different languages and all the different content. It literally covered an entire wall of this giant long room in one of our buildings. And he was discussing that with some of the other VPs in there. And then before you know it, he was passionately presenting what I had shared with him only days before.

JS:                    So that was the point that I was like, not only does he understand the goals of something that’s completely outside of any of his verticals, but he understands how it affects the company as a whole in his vertical specifically. And so once I realized that we had support at that level outside of our own vertical, I knew that we could actually accomplish this. So, that was super exciting.

BS:                   So he was totally bought in at that point.

JS:                    He was, and that was a really important win for the strategy.

BS:                   And it sounds like, before you had a bunch of different groups kind of supporting their own regional needs or their own product line needs. I know from working with you that you had the opportunity actually to create a more central group to support all that. And how did that help things?

JS:                    We did. So after the original strategy was approved, for the first year, there was a lot of solo work that happened, but we were able to show how a team would better support the initiative long-term. As we proved things out and actually implemented pieces of the strategy, at each point, we were able to show where long-term, whether it would be in the governance area or just kind of a systems administration area, content strategists, and then especially on the localization team, where those people could be very effective long-term in managing all of these different things around content strategy.

JS:                    So they turned into full-time positions that turned into its own small little department over time, that’s now running very lean still, but quite effectively. Definitely shown the value.

BS:                   That’s awesome.

BS:                  And I’m sure it really helped with managing all the change and being able to roll out all the training and being able to support all these different teams having that central group.

JS:                    It definitely did. And from a localization standpoint, again, for example, having experts within the company that people know that they can go to, it means that not every group is completely trying to reinvent the wheel every time they want to add something.

BS:                   Can you speak a little bit more about the change management process that you used and were there any really big obstacles that you had to overcome in that regard?

JS:                    Yeah. That was probably-

BS:                   Probably a loaded question.

JS:                    Yeah. And it was probably the most unanticipated thing for myself that I experienced in the project because I’m not adverse to change as an individual. And so I guess I did not understand the depths of the change management requirements that such a big change would cause for people. If I were to go back and do things again, that would probably be the place where I spend more time with the different departments before the project even started to talk about “What does that change mean? What is it going to look like? What is it going to look like when it’s messy because it isn’t always perfect and straightforward? So how are we structured and how are we anticipating the need for adapting the plan as we go or implementing that change?”

JS:                    There was an opportunity for the team to do a lot of empathetic listening, to really determine the pain points that we could solve, that sometimes people didn’t even realize existed, but they also couldn’t always see how the transformation would be needed in the coming years to support the growth that was coming, the digital change that’s coming across the world. So we did a lot of design thinking sessions, a lot of show and tell to get people on board. So once we really focused in, in the beginning, we tried to do everything all at once and we stumbled there. So we really focused in on one area and one group and one thing to get right. Once we got that right and we started being able to show that to the other groups and do more show and tell sessions, then we were able to get other groups more rapidly on board and more willing to deal with the painful pieces.

JS:                    So one of the wins on that though, was really finding the go-to person in each department and find that expert because we found that when we could get the expert’s idea on board and really listen to their thoughts and their concerns and help alleviate those thoughts and concerns and get them really engaged and on board with it, then they could bring the rest of their team on board with them as well. 

BS:                   Excellent. So you mentioned that the change management was a really big obstacle for you. Did you do anything during the project specifically to combat those particular obstacles around change management and what worked well?

JS:                    Yeah, so I mentioned a few minutes ago that of our biggest obstacles was really knowing where to start. Since that first year was such a struggle and I didn’t really have a team and my direction was just do it all, we did try to do it all. And once we got a small team, we were still trying to do it all. But we were able to then really step back one day and take a look and say, we keep trying to do everything and we just keep hitting walls and we keep going in circles, and we get something done and then we feel like we’re redoing it over and over again.

JS:                    With all of that complexity in mind, we really talked about and presented to our director at the time, can we break this up into smaller goals? Because tackling it all at once, we’re getting a lot of resistance, a lot of teams feel like we’re just spinning and wasting time and never get anything done. So what if we take our approach, instead of doing it all, and really focus in, on a certain team and a certain set of processes or content type. And that really seemed to help because people at Crown stay there for a really long time and even their entire careers. And so someone always knows who to call to get something done. It’s really great from a get-it-done perspective and we have a lot of people who are always trying to do the right thing, but answering those questions immediately and doing things immediately, sometimes at the expense of a process, it’s really hard on processes.

JS:                    So while we were configuring our content management system and the workflows that were part of that and everything else, we were sourcing a centralized translation management system. So we were working in two parallel paths, but on small departments and small areas first and getting it right there. And then as we brought in different groups and different content types, we’ve changed how a lot of things are done from a process perspective, who is involved in the content creation, when content creation begins, how versions are controlled and released, and all of those things. We’ve gotten to the point now where content development, terminology development, and things like that are actually a part of our engineering product development processes. And for a manufacturing company, that was a really big deal.

BS:                   It’s a big change.

JS:                    It’s a huge change. And the content management team, we learned so much. Like I said, we all learned a lot and there was evolution in our process too. So we had had very much a waterfall project management plan in the beginning. And now we’re in a quasi-agile approach because some of our software development teams are that. 

BS:                   So you basically started small, focused on very specific things with a tools-last approach, which is phenomenal, being able to do that because a lot of times you choose a tool and you get the blinders on that, come in the box with the tool and never really look at different ways that you could be doing things. But it sounds like also even after you have the workflows and such in place and the tools in place that you still went back and were reworking some of those workflows and how people work together, what the content needs are, how things need to happen. So, that’s phenomenal, being able to put that all together and still have an evolving ecosystem with regard to your content there.

JS:                    I often get asked the question, “Well, Jodi, when are we going to be done?” And at first I kept thinking, oh my goodness, when are we going to be done? That kind of bothered me and pressured me in the beginning. And then I realized that, well, the content will never be finished. We’re always developing new product. We’re always developing new content. There’s always going to be new end points and new delivery methods. So in reality, there never is a done. Especially as digital will continue to change and transform how people interact with the content and interact with our product, there will always be a need for continual development and continual improvement. So switching to that kind of quasi-agile project management, it is going to be that way, I think, for a long time.

JS:                    And it’s important not to get stuck exactly where we are right now, because if we do get stuck, then in another 10 to 15 years, or maybe even half that time at the rate things change, then there’s going to be another group that’s sitting there saying, well, that’s the way they used to do things, but we need to change everything again, to do it forward. And I think this at least goes a long way into future-proofing our content and giving the opportunity for change, having much more knowledge about the content itself and the content being smarter and having all that semantic tagging and everything.

BS:                   So since you’re never done, I assume you have to kind of show some kind of return on investment over time. So what are you measuring to be able to show success?

JS:                    Yeah. So that was one of the things, being a manufacturing company, KPIs are important. And I’m sure they’re important in every industry, but definitely something that was hard to do. And I think that was a real struggle for all the content development teams at one point was to show the value of what they bring to the table because content development is looked at as a cost center in a lot of situations. If you’re producing 1200-page service manuals, because you have to, to support a product, it’s a lot different than selling those. 

JS:                    So it was really important to figure out ways that we could show the value and the return on investment for what we had done. One of the things that we couldn’t put a handle on was exactly how much the entire organization in all the different countries were spending on translations. And that was because some groups did have translation as a line item in their budget, and other groups just bulked that in with other costs in other costs areas. So, that was really hard to tell how much we were spending. We weren’t spending it all with the same vendors. We weren’t spending it all out of the same, like I said, budget lines. And we could kind of have an idea about what we might be spending, but no one really knew the answer to that.

JS:                    Establishing those KPIs to show kind of a baseline of where we were starting and where we were going to, it took a little while, but we were able to do it. So now we’ve published content for much larger audiences up to 37 languages, depending on what the specific content is. And even though our annual translation spend is higher than what it would have been in the beginning, our coverage is much more consistent and less frustrating and it’s much more extensive. So we were able to start showing a translation savings, an annual $1.2 million savings, which exceeds our budget, but compared to off-the-shelf, if we were just going to a translation supplier and handing them a piece of content and getting it back, we do know how many words we’re translating. So we can say, if we were just doing it in the old way, versus with all of these terminology management and translation management and translation memories, now we save about 1.2 million annually on those translations.

BS:                   That’s a lot.

JS:                    It’s a lot. It is a lot. And that was really easy to show an ROI faster. We had said four years is what we thought it would take and we were 18 months. So that was really good. And then now we’ve started developing KPIs on our content reuse, and that’s been something that our content strategy manager has been putting together with our supplier. JS:                    We’re also working right now on a new digital content delivery system that will take full advantage of all the technical content that’s produced every year, which it’s very extensive, but it’ll take full advantage of that and allow us to really publish digitally all that translated content and take advantage of all the work that was done on the backend of content development. And this new system will give us a new way to deliver all of that across the globe.

BS:                   That’s fantastic.

JS:                    It’s really great to hear the executive updates where other teams throughout the company actually talk about how the content management team and those systems are allowing them to achieve the goals what they were trying to deliver.

BS:                   That’s great. I really appreciate you coming on here to kind of tell your story and I’m so glad we were able to get you as a guest here.

JS:                    Thank you.

BS:                   Thank you.

JS:                    Thank you. My pleasure.

BS:                   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.