Eyes on the future: preparing for content process transformation

Posted by Andrew Lomas on Jul 10, 2018 10:55:00 AM
Andrew Lomas

Take control of your content and ready your organisation for process transformation. Learn how to identify root causes, capture and rank opportunities and present a compelling case for change to the business.

Whether you think you need to make minor adjustments to your workflow, or rebuild things from the ground up, content process transformation can be a daunting prospect.

It’s not even the change itself that’s the most intimidating. Change for change's sake can be a business-killer, so trying to get people to accept the need for it in the first place can be a challenge. And it ought to be.

But don’t let that put you off. If you’re certain that you need to transform your content process to meet business demands then you just have to build a convincing and authoritative case.

Fail to do that and you'll be drowned out by a chorus of This Is How We’ve Always Done Things.

So… where to begin? How about right here, with these five simple steps:

  1. It’s all about the planning.
  2. Map the workflows.
  3. Identify and rank opportunities.
  4. Share widely, get feedback.
  5. Talk to people who have been there before.

We’d recommend doing some reading up on the Lean Six Sigma methodology of process improvement. The DMAIC improvement cycle framework – define, measure, analyse, improve and control – really underpins everything we do.

1. It’s all about the planning

There’s an oft-quoted statistic, popularised by McKinsey & Co, about change projects: 70% of them fail. Even if you don't believe that number (a 20-second Google search produces plenty of discussion on the matter) you’ll know from experience that few change projects ever really nail it.

And why is that? There are reams of research on the topic, but the most common finding could be summarised like this: you have to know what you want to do before you start doing it.

Shocking, right?

In this excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, N. Anand and Jean-Louis Barsoux describe the problem like this: “Because flawed implementation is most often blamed for … failures, organizations have focused on improving execution. But poor execution is only part of the problem.

“Before worrying about how to change, executive teams need to figure out what to change – in particular, what to change first.”

From our experience, content technology projects should consist of at least 60% planning. In other words, if a minimum of 60% of your time and cost is not invested in thinking about, discussing, validating, testing and scheduling the “doing”, you’ve failed before you’ve begun.

“Before worrying about how to change, executive teams need to figure out what to change – in particular, what to change first”

The thing with content, regardless of whether it’s a product in itself or a marketing output, is that it passes through so many departments during its lifecycle: sales, operations, marketing, finance – you name it. That makes planning especially crucial for content process transformation projects. 

And yes, saying that planning ought to comprise 60% of your total effort is not, per se, a “step”. You’ve got us there. But it’s worth calling out such a critical underlying principle.

2. Create a simple process map

A process map shows in diagrammatic form how a business does what it does: the steps involved, who is responsible at each stage, and where the internal (other departments) and external (suppliers, clients) connections are.

As part of this exploratory phase we’d recommend keeping the map simple and focused on the areas in which you believe the opportunities lie. More detailed maps should be produced once the project has been greenlit.

Here’s a small section of a very basic process map:

Process Flow_Blog_Start your content process transformation today

We’ve sourced this from the Content Marketing Institute from a post titled “Is Time Really the Problem? Break the Bottlenecks in Content Production”. The CMI is an excellent resource; we highly recommend subscribing to their email updates, even if you’re not a marketer.


In this example, a company is having difficulty posting enough quality content on its blog. A simple analysis of the workflow shows that because of the complexities of the approvals process (a pretty common scenario in most inefficient content workflows) only one post is approved per week. Unclogging that bottleneck will almost certainly increase the content volume.

A good content process map, compiled with input from all relevant “doers”, will help you:

  1. Understand how your content process actually works.
  2. Confirm what you suspect.
  3. Disprove erroneous assumptions.
  4. Identify new opportunities for improvement.
  5. Communicate your vision to others.

Lucidchart has a good online tool for creating process maps and it also has a handy how-to.

3. Identify and rank opportunities based on benefit

There are many ways to assess the benefits a project will bring to a business. Typically, you’ll only get your hands on funding if you can prove that the project will deliver a net financial benefit, but you’re not going cap-in-hand to the CFO just yet so let’s just keep things simple for now.

We recommend a simple table with the following columns:

  1. opportunity;
  2. brief description of opportunity;
  3. estimated change impact (high, medium, low);
  4. estimated benefit (high, medium, low); and
  5. cost of doing nothing.

Below is an edited benefits table used by one of our clients that we think you’ll find useful:

Opportunity Brief description Estimated change impact Estimated benefit Cost of doing nothing
Reduce review and approval iterations Process map shows multiple review and editing steps at the latter stages of the content production cycle. Opportunity is to reduce these iterations to reduce wastage and increase speed to market. High High Ongoing cost of additional effort; increased risk of errors due to rushed decision-making
Automate image prepress Current image prepress is done manually by a junior designer. Estimated effort of 0.5 FTE. What automation options are available? Medium High Ongoing cost of 0.5 FTE. Opportunity cost TBD.
Streamline multi-channel content publishing Process map shows content is pushed to different channels (web, social, app) manually via "copy-paste". Inconsistencies between channels often emerge if content is subsequently edited. Poor quality control, high risk of errors. Medium Medium Ongoing cost of additional effort; risk of errors and poor quality control; not future-proofed

A benefits analysis like the above helps you:

  1. Consider carefully what you think you know about your content process. If you’re having trouble estimating benefit, you may need to rethink your assumptions.
  2. Prioritise your work and identify low-hanging fruit. Businesses love low-impact/high-reward initiatives, and quick wins might gain you leverage for action on the harder stuff.
  3. Convince others. It can provide powerful evidence of the need for change.

Just a word of warning: you may be tempted at this stage to start offering solutions.

Don't.

It’s critical that your attention remains on understanding precisely the nature of the problem first.

4. Share widely, get feedback

Are you familiar with the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant? The gist of it is this: a group of blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. Each of them touches a part of the animal and reports back.

The man who touches the trunk describes the elephant as a giant snake. The one who touches the tusk says the elephant is actually hard and sharp like a large spear. The man who touches the hide says… Well, you get the picture.

The point is that without all available information, vastly different perspectives on the same thing are guaranteed.

So, before you run off and start fixing things in your department, share your thoughts with all relevant people inside – and outside – the organisation. This is not just the direct participants in the content process, but also suppliers to and consumers of your product.

Without all available information, vastly different perspectives on the same thing are guaranteed

This may include, for example, important external contributors (content-creators, developers), product owners, data analysts, sales, finance – even trusted clients. In other words: anyone involved in the creation, distribution, analysis and approval of content.

This will achieve a few things:

  1. It will help validate your findings. If you’re right about everything, great. If not, even better.
  2. It may uncover additional or related problems and opportunities. You never know what might unravel when you start pulling at the threads
  3. It will help avoid unintended consequences. Worse than failing to fix your own problem, is creating a bigger problem for someone else.
  4. You may win allies. The more people you get onside, the greater the momentum for change.
  5. It may encourage other departments to assess their own processes. Nothing motivates like a bit of healthy rivalry…
  6. You may unearth hidden gems. You might find some creative thinkers elsewhere in the business keen to contribute. Sometimes, the best help can come from the most unlikely places.

5. Talk to people who have been there before

One thing we have heard from many clients over the years is how “special” or “unique” their problems are.

They’re usually not. And yours won’t be either.

We’re not saying that your problems aren’t complicated, or that your organisation’s quirks and oddities don’t present specific challenges. But we are saying that there is nothing new in the world of content process transformation.

No matter how intractable or irreconcilable your situation seems, someone else has been there before. And that means you’re not on your own. Here are some suggestions about how and where to find people who have been there, done that:

  1. Talk to your organisation's "old hands". Even if they’re not content technology experts they might have experience in process improvement or change projects. 
  2. Connect with professional organisations and go to conferences. Reach out to organisations like the Australian Marketing Institute and Australian Publishers Association, and get along to events and share your woes over light beer and mystery fried food.
  3. Mine your LinkedIn groups. Search through existing conversations or start your own. It’s often amazing just how much people are willing to share.
  4. Extract knowledge from third-party specialists. Wring as much as you can out of consultancies while they try to sell you their services. Creative Folks has even produced a free checklist which expands on some of the points raised in this blog.

Conclusion

Transforming your content process may end up being simple – a tweak here, an extra resource there – or it might require a fundamental reshaping of your department. Either way, you can’t possibly make the right call without doing your homework.

The good news is that getting the ball rolling is relatively simple: map your content process; document and estimate the value of the opportunities; share your ideas and listen to feedback; and seek knowledge from other sources.

Not only will this provide you with a rich understanding of how your content production really works and how it can be improved, but you will have assembled a case for change.

And then, you’re on your way.

For more on Content Technology - Arm in arm: turn content process stakeholders into believers

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Read More about our Complete guide to running a Content Technology and process transformation project.

Topics: project planning, content process transformation, process mapping

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