Are You (and Your Organization) Ready for Content Management
Successful Content Management Requires Level 3 Process Maturity
Publications managers struggle to identify the changes that are needed in their organizations if they are going to be successful in implementing a content-management solution. Some begin by hoping that they can incorporate content management without making significant changes in the roles and responsibilities of staff members. Consequently, most of these managers decide to pursue a rudimentary level of single sourcing. For example, staff members may add conditional text to Adobe FrameMaker book sections to accommodate differences in software or hardware product versions or other similarly well-structured variables. Or they may reuse information by copying and pasting content from one source to another. Finally, they reuse the information by delivering much the same content in multiple media, for example, print, PDF, and HTML.
Other managers recognize that they need a more sophisticated form of content management to achieve their goals for reusing content and meeting a wider range of customer requirements. They encourage staff members to investigate methods that often require a complete restructuring of existing information, the use of content-management tools to help track and assemble content, and links to Web content-management systems that enable dynamic output and customer personalization. These organization leaders want to make more significant changes to their way of operating.
What enables one organization to take a more sophisticated approach to the design and development of its information and another to be satisfied with a simple repurposing strategy? In part, the answer is size and funding. Larger organizations are more likely to have management support to fund the acquisition and implementation of content-management systems. But size is not, in my observation, the defining factor. The more fully developed an organization is in process maturity, the more likely that it will be able to pursue successful development of a content-management solution that eventually enables dynamic publishing of custom and personalized content.
In observing the progress of single-source initiatives and attempts to move into content management, I find that organizations are unlikely to be successful in implementing full-scale content management without first achieving at least a Level 3 in process maturity.
Level 3: Organized and Repeatable
Level 3 process maturity is called Organized and Repeatable. A Level 3 organization has made progress in implementing a number of key practices, the first of which is organizational structure. In addition to the critical ingredient of organizational structure, a Level 3 publications organization must have in place sound practices in at least three other key practice areas: information planning, customer orientation, and information design.
A Level 3 organization is generally centrally managed-the writers and other team
members report to a professional information-development manager or managers, although they may also be matrixed to other organization areas, typically product development teams. In large organizations, more than one management structure may exist, but for the most part, team members report to professional managers who understand the information-development process.
Without a central organizational structure, individual writers working alone or in very small groups are unlikely to have the ability to garner the institutional support required to pursue a content-management solution. They are more likely able to use existing tools in a limited way, individually or in small teams, to avoid duplication of effort and enable them to publish content in multiple output media. They are most likely to engage individually in stage 1 or 2 reuse on an ad-hoc basis.
Centrally managed teams have people who provide the leadership and support to develop business cases, communicate the needs to senior management, and get the funding required to move into more sophisticated, and costly, solutions. They also have a structure that can enforce standards and successfully introduce a more collaborative working model among all team members.
When we look at Level 3 organizations in terms of their information planning, we find that they have processes that require a planning phase for all projects, no matter how brief. For example, a publications organization at Level 3 develops Information Plans for each new project, outlining the business goals of the project, the audiences being addressed, the extent to which new content must be developed and existing content updated, and the time needed to complete the project with the assigned staff. Typically, a Level 3 organization assigns a publications project lead who is responsible for developing the Information Plan for the project, estimating staff and schedule, and ensuring that sufficient resources are available to complete the project by the deadlines.
Such experience with project management and a standard development process is a critical ingredient for the success of a content-management strategy. A content-management implementation is a complex project. It requires strong leadership, sound planning, estimating, milestone tracking, and adequate staffing. To be successful, a content-management project needs someone who understands what must be done and knows how to monitor progress, assess risks, and bring the project to a successful conclusion. However, such a leader will not exist or will be frustratingly unsuccessful without a strong management supporting the level of effort.
A Level 3 organization typically will have developed at least a rudimentary process for pursuing Quality Management, one of the most difficult of the eight key practices in the IPMM. Quality Management describes a customer-centric approach to information development rather than a system- or an author-centric approach. With a Level 4 process maturity, even more time and resources become available to partner with customers. As a result, information design becomes simpler and better structured, a key ingredient of a successful content-management implementation.
A customer orientation requires customer contact in a variety of ways, including site visits, focus groups, attendance at training sessions, and coordination with customer support. Only in a Level 3 organization is there enough time to pursue these contacts, to gather the insights into customer use of information that is critical to the success of a reuse program.
In achieving Level 3, an organization must have standardized its information design, in part because Level 3 organizations have processes sufficiently well developed to leave time for customer studies. Publications teams that engage in serious customer studies almost always develop information types that support users rather than indulging in individualistic design approaches. The results of customer studies generally lead to streamlining content and focusing on a smaller number of consistent information types. For example, a design team I advised at a large, multinational company arrived at an elegant design of five simple information types to handle a diverse subject matter. This simplification ensured that they would be ready for content management and successful in their pursuit of the cost savings promised by reuse, once the technology became available.
In short, Level 3 organizations have their standard processes and designs in place. Writers follow the standards, and editors provide quality assurance and help maintain a consistent approach.
- A corporate-wide approach to document design is accepted by all groups, whether they report to a central organization or not.
- Process standards are followed by all team members.
- Team members are beginning to estimate projects and track time.
- Metrics are being developed to measure effectiveness.
Some role specialization is taking place, typically by a production team and a localization manager.
Readiness for Content Management
With a sound organizational structure, design standards, and a deepening understanding of customer requirements, a Level 3 organization is ready to implement a more sophisticated approach to content management. In addition, they are likely to have sufficient metrics in place to argue the costs of inconsistency and the operational penalties caused by the absence of a reuse strategy. They have learned enough about their customers to know when information can be effectively repurposed by placing it in new user contexts that better meet customer needs.
The greatest impediment to developing a content-management strategy, especially one that involves modular content development, will be the satisfaction team members have in their current practices. Skilled team members usually enjoy having complete responsibility for their own work. They are just beginning to trust the work of their own specialists. They question the possibility of sharing work among team members without causing problems for users.
A Planned Approach
Once an organization is at Level 3, the staff and managers still have considerable work to do in preparation for content management. We recommend the following approach as a starting point:
- Set up a team of interested individuals to pursue learning about information reuse and content management.
- Use metrics to investigate and develop a business case for a content-management solution.
- Begin to investigate a modular approach to information development.
- Develop standard document types (installation, configuration, operation, maintenance, and so on) and standard content elements within the document types if such a structure is not already in place.
- Create immediate opportunities for rudimentary reuse of modules among multiple deliverables, especially “boilerplate.”
- Develop sound methods for labeling and storing files so that the team is ready to support a database architecture.
- Pursue minimalism to reduce writing and translation costs and produce better information for customers.
Level 3 organizations still face a deficit of information about customers. If information is to be created modularly and delivered dynamically, it first needs to fit customer profiles and needs. For example, do customers want to select only those modules that are immediately applicable to the problem at hand? Do they want to add their own information to standard information sets coming from the developers? Do they want to integrate information more closely into their own training programs and local policies and procedures?
Process maturity does not guarantee success in content management, but it does indicate the presence of a necessary set of attributes-organizational structure, information planning, customer understanding, and information design. A Level 3 organization must have a clear-cut business case that emphasizes both cost efficiencies and quality improvements. The managers of the organization must be able to communicate a new vision to those senior managers who hold the purse strings. And staff members must be prepared to change from a comfortable way of producing information to something new, different, and challenging.
Despite the challenges, the benefits of moving to content management are clear. Modular content can be reused in multiple contexts, increasing the opportunities for information to be customized to meet the customers’ needs. Modular content can be repurposed for use in other organizations, including marketing, training, and customer support. Modules produced by these organizations can be reused in publishing contexts. The cost savings and efficiency gains will, in fact, enable a Level 3 organization to move more quickly to the organizational stability of Level 4: Managed and Sustainable, a clear product of success.