CMS Transformations with Gold Medal TeamsSchemes
CMS technology can transform organizations. Imagine for a minute that such transformations can win Olympic gold. How would your organization train for the intense competition? What model in team sports would you follow? Would some organizational components be more important than others? How would you evaluate your team’s readiness? In what key areas would you award gold, silver, or bronze medals?
Reaching for gold is not so far-fetched since we implement CMS technology to save money. The paradigm of Olympic competition is also useful because CMS success depends on highly integrated publication teams (see Best Practices, “CMS Solutions: Knowing the Right Stuff,” August 2005). Accordingly, we must have an effective methodology for measuring team performance in key areas. Transforming the way your organization produces publications-from an unstructured, manual process to a structured, automated one-requires excellence in five overlapping areas:
- strong foundation
- content assessment
- structured writing
- project implementation
What does it mean to have a strong foundation? And why is it so important? If a foundation is the basis on which a structure is grounded, a strong foundation will withstand disruptive forces. In an automated environment, a strong foundation entails a clear purpose, objectives, plan of action, and processes. Although managers are essential for establishing a team’s foundation, they are not the only ones responsible for its strength. Lead positions on teams, such as the managing editor and technology leads, are also important stabilizers needed to ensure the team remains flexible amid organizational upheavals.
For example, as content is migrated into a CMS, a smoother transition is more likely if the system administrator has established a succinct migration strategy for the team to follow-one that meets the overarching team objectives. Then, when inevitable setbacks occur, the administrator can guide team members through the complications and provide proactive direction for others to follow. A strong foundation enables an organization to undergo significant change without compromising the integrity of the overall structure.
Much of the preparation required to make your CMS fully functional involves a thorough assessment of your content-understanding it on many levels. The content assessment process is iterative and consists of overlapping stages, enabling implementation of an automated authoring environment that maximizes reusable information. While time-consuming and tedious, the process of assessing content is easier when the effort is divided into categories, such as content analysis and mapping. Then the tasks can be assigned in stages and distributed to various team members who not only have a good understanding of product details but also of the big picture.
Content assessment involves the evaluation of content at the macro and micro levels, as summarized in Table 1. The term “content delineation” refers to investigations that standardize the types of documents used and the information they contain. The term “content mapping” refers to analyses that catalog shared information, which can be categorized and then described as metadata-data about data-to facilitate reuse. Note, however, that experts may label, define, and arrange these tasks differently. For a complete discussion of content management concepts, see JoAnn Hackos’s Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery.
Table 1. Content Assessment of Components
Generally, the amount of time required to conduct content assessments is proportional to the amount of content owned by your organization. For most organizations, the process will alternate between top-down and bottom-up analysis activities among team members working part time on assessment tasks. Larger organizations may also require one or two team members working full time for six months to a year.
The foundation for single sourcing efficiency, structured writing guidelines specify how information types should be constructed and what they should contain. Writing that is structured consists of small, stand-alone pieces of information-chunks-that can be reused and adapted across product lines, for different audiences and in multiple media, such as printed copy, online help, and HTML. As described in Ann Rockley’s Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, five key principles of structured writing help teams adapt to writing chunks of interchangeable content rather than sequential, linear text.
- Labeling: Use clear, substantive headings (labels) to identify the chunks of information, enabling readers to scan and quickly locate the information they need.
- Chunking: Group information into small, manageable units.
- Apply the 5-to-9 principle, which suggests that readers can hold five to nine chunks of information in short-term memory.
- Assign rules to each chunk that dictate the type of information it can contain, as well as the style.
- Reuse: Ensure that information can be reused in similar information products. When you update a chunk in the CMS, that information is updated automatically wherever it appears, which ensures consistency and continuity.
- Relevance: Ensure that each chunk includes relevant information only. Present supplemental information in an appropriately labeled chunk.
- Consistency: Use consistent wording, headings, formats, organization, and sequences. Like relevance, this is essential for reuse and usability.
Having identified the information types commonly used in your documents (see “Content Assessment”), team members can begin defining the structure and substance of each type. A structured writing lead and committee comprised of editors and writers (for large organizations) should determine the required and optional components. Table 2 provides a sample information type.
Table 2. Sample Information Type for a Process
As described in Kurt Ament’s Single Sourcing: Building Modular Documentation, a primary information type conveys essential content; a secondary information type conveys supplemental content. Processes, procedures, and concepts are generally primary types, whereas examples, tables, and figures, which extend ideas, are secondary types. Guidelines should be tested for usability, and the results should be used to create numerous examples (before and after text) that writers can model. The process of restructuring information helps with content mapping, and, conversely, content mapping tasks help to restructure information. Because the approach may be new to some writers, consider conducting structured writing training or workshops (see “Training”).
For teams to be successful, they need clear guidelines (see “Strong Foundation”) and enough time to implement changes gradually. Over time, ongoing change will trigger transformation from a manual to an automated authoring environment. Team members will gain confidence and experience relatively quick wins as they conduct single sourcing pilots with carefully selected projects. In the early stages, the project may involve restructuring certain information. As momentum picks up, the project may include not only restructuring activities, but also XML conversion, applying a DTD and style sheets, and loading source material into a CMS. The sample pilot project checklist shown in Table 3 outlines many of the items that constitute automated authoring.
Table 3. Project Checklist
One of the best ways to engage a team of winners is through ongoing training. Although automated publishing does not demand expertise in programming, it does require familiarity with terminology, tools, processes, and some coding language. In other words, the more tools-savvy your team members are, the easier the transition will be for them. If team members are more comfortable with the new technology, the prospect of change will seem more manageable.
Because training with a limited context or direct application is harder to integrate, consider training opportunities that make use of your organization’s material if possible. Develop training curricula that build on previous sessions and incorporate a variety of forums for learning, such as self-paced presentations and exercises, workshops, FAQs, instruction sheets, troubleshooting sessions, all-hands meetings, virtual training, and “brown bag” gatherings.
Engaging teams fully is essential for success, especially in the following areas: (1) strong foundation, (2) content assessment, (3) structured writing, (4) project implementation, and (5) training. The effort requires a flexible, high-performance team that can transform a manual process into a finely tuned, automated system. Team members must function both as individual contributors and as a synchronized ensemble, an approach that requires practice, communication, and enthusiasm. A gold medal performance is an outcome that every team can aspire to, given the proper methodology, preparation, and inspiration.