Tracking CMS Progress: A Basic Survival Skill
Gaining management approval to purchase a content management system (CMS) is no small feat—not on the scale of a trek in the Himalayas but perhaps one in the Rockies. In most organizations, countless conversations with managers about single sourcing and content management strategies lead to numerous assignments—further research, interviews, improvement plan investigations, proof of concept tasks, cost-benefit analyses, vendor demonstrations, and repeat presentations to decision-makers. When the purchase orders are signed and tools are on the way—at last—an ensuing sense of relief gives you the impression that the biggest hurdle has passed.
Soon after, however, relief is overtaken by uneasiness as you contemplate the inevitable irony that the projected savings—which made the CMS idea viable in the first place—will now become the expectation against which you will be measured. Decision-makers will look for a return on their CMS investment as soon as the system is up and running. The best way to address the “what-about-the-CMS-cost-savings” expectation is through a consistent tracking methodology. Indeed, strategic tracking is critical to your organization’s success. Three concepts can guide you in tracking—planning, administering, and publicizing your effort.
When planning a tracking methodology, focus on measurement criteria. Given prior efforts to prepare a business case for purchasing a CMS—including projected savings based on pilot projects—planning your strategy should not be too onerous. In addition, the process outlined in Best Practices, “Finding the Grail: A Three-Part Process to CMS Cost-Benefits,” describes how initial return on investment (ROI) calculations can help you anticipate savings in target areas over a given period of time.
Fundamental to effective tracking is the process of establishing average costs for a project’s content development before CMS implementation. Because projects vary in size, it can be useful to categorize project development information in a matrix as shown in Table 1.
|Milestones||Mini: 1-2 weeks plus translation||Small: 14-18 weeks plus translation||Medium: 18-26 weeks plus translation||Large: 24-38 weeks plus translation|
|Project Requirements||<Deliverable number, scope>||<Deliverable number, scope>||<Deliverable number, scope>||<Deliverable number, scope>|
|Program Request||<Number of days>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Approval, Staff Assigned||<Number of days>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Plan and Schedule||NA||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Development Review, Editing||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Production, Manufacturing||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Translation/Localization||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
|Approval, Distribution||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>||<Number of weeks>|
Table 1. Project Classification Matrix
Capturing cost-per-project information strategically can help you understand the various costs—those related to deliverables, skills (project lead, writing, editing, graphics), and task durations. As a result, you can pinpoint important trends related to the project scope, revision history, and development cycle.
With a clearer view of average project costs prior to CMS implementation, you can make more informed decisions about what projects to track and what improvement areas to target through single sourcing. It is important to choose single-sourced projects carefully, such as new projects or those early enough in the lifecycle to demonstrate before and after data. Target areas should be those you identified in the initial ROI, including baseline versus implementation calculations. Although targeted improvement areas can vary depending on your organization, the calculations are straightforward as shown in Table 2.
|Baseline Calcuations||Implementation Calculations||Savings|
|Documentation set without text reduction||(hours x labor)||Text-reducted documentation set||(hours x labor)||(baseline – implementation)|
|Content development time||(hours x labor)||Shortened development cycle||(hours x labor)||(baseline – implementation)|
|Target Areas||Content development time||(hours x labor in each department)||Shortened content across departments||(hours x labor in each department)||(baseline – implementation)|
|Content inherited from/given to other departments||(hours x labor)||Shared content across departments||(hours x labor)||(baseline – implementation)|
|Consistent, accurate content (manual)||(hours x labor)||Consistent, accurate content (manual)||(hours x labor)||(baseline – implementation)|
Table 2. Tracking Target Improvement Areas
Other improvement areas to consider tracking include
- Number of full-time equivalent content creators
- Number of pages maintained per content creator
- Total number of content pages the organization maintains
- Annual number of new content pages
- Cost to create a new content page
- Cost of converting a content page between formats
- Annual proportion of content pages that change (such as 30 percent)
- Number of languages requiring translation
- Language translation cost per content page
- Reuse rate by deliverable type (such as installation guides or release notes)
- Savings from reuse instead of re-creating
- Reduced language translation costs due to reuse
- Savings from automatic publishing to numerous formats (such as print, HTML, and online help)
Of the three concepts—planning, administering, and publicizing—the administering component is indeed the least glamorous and most labor intensive. Nevertheless, it is extremely important because a tracking strategy is moot without an effective process for administering it. To achieve tracking success, consider an uncomplicated process for collecting and managing financial data. Jane Frazier’s Swimlane Process Mapping workbook provides practical ways to develop and streamline business processes. A basic way to track baseline costs for project deliverables is through multi-tabbed spreadsheets that can be stored in a centralized location (such as a secure shared drive). Use the spreadsheet to track amounts associated with purchase orders, invoices, and labor costs.
Insofar as a timekeeping practice is necessary to gather labor costs on permanent and outsourced staff (if applicable), your whole team must be disciplined about tracking time. They should also observe if and how single-sourcing efficiencies are improving time to market and making it possible to take on additional work. In addition to documenting the time spent working on various projects, staff members also need to generate timecard forecasts and to become fluent in explaining project variances, date slips, and scope changes. If vendor partners contribute to your team’s content development, they are also central to your tracking strategy and must provide data according to your strategy and specifications.
Project leads, as content owners, are the key players who can assess opportunities to share content so that reuse can be implemented and tracked. Single-sourcing pilots can help staff begin the process of tracking content reuse, text reduction, and modularization potential to ensure cost decreases. Set up tracking so that staff can account for ramp-up time, as well as restructuring and conversion efforts.
If administering involves tedium, the third concept to guide your tracking strategy, publicizing, has the most potential to create enthusiasm. In the right context and when publicized effectively to influence team behavior, tracking-related information can be motivating. However, you need to set expectations to harness this kind of energy, so that stakeholders interpret the published results correctly. Shape expectations at different levels of your organization—decision-maker, team, and vendor—based on the target improvement areas identified in the planning phase.
Managing decision-maker expectations
A dialog with managers about their expectations of the CMS once it’s up and running is a useful way to begin the process of synchronizing views about what is possible and when. Use feedback from decision-makers to publish a list of goals for meeting targets, which you can review with them regularly to minimize the clamor for instant results. Also consider
- Implementing the review of monthly dashboard rollups that chart project status over the course of each quarter, providing data proactively to management
- Introducing points of comparison regarding progress rates of other groups in your organization, in comparable business, and across the industry (CIDM, Society for Technical Communication, vendor partners, etc.)
- Providing information about the percentage of projects that will be managed in the CMS and by when, identifying exception projects that do not qualify, such as those related to end-of-life products
- Comparing CMS progress data to overall business needs
Managing team expectations
Just as a dialog with decision-makers can begin synchronizing expectations, so too can a conversation with your team. Listen to the very real apprehensions that come up, and articulate your commitment to helping the team succeed. The implementation of a tracking process is intended to promote success, allowing all players to understand the importance of their input, the targets for improvement, and their role in making a contribution. Other opportunities for publicizing results include
- Discussing at team meetings the status of CMS progress based on tracking efforts
- Promoting a group reward program to achieve goals at varying stages of progress
- Soliciting feedback in reference to the modification of targets, measures, and technology as needed
- Revising and republishing targets based on feedback (PDSA-cycle approach: Plan, Do, Study, Act)
- Announcing progress outside your immediate organization
- Recognizing outstanding achievements regularly and in public settings
Managing vendor expectations
Your organization’s outsourcing strategy will determine the level of involvement required to establish vendor expectations. In the case of moderate to extensive outsourcing, consider
- Rating vendors on cost savings over time, on their ability to overcome single-sourcing obstacles, and on their ability to quantify their own single-sourcing progress
- Integrating expectations and tracking requirements into proposals and statements of work
- Meeting regularly with vendors to track their progress and provide guidance
Without access to the data that can quantify your content-development efficiencies, the possibility of demonstrating CMS savings is remote. Although the concept of tracking lacks the overall excitement generated by other phases of CMS implementation, its importance is on par with corporate survival—your own and your organization’s ability to generate cost-effective, high-quality content.
About the Authors
Learning Products Manager
Charlotte Robidoux is a manager of learning products at Hewlett-Packard Company in Marlboro, MA, with 15 years of experience in technical communication. She oversees the production of end-user storage documentation for projects based in New England and at other HP locations in North America. After earning a BA in English from Holy Cross and MA in writing from Georgetown University, she began her career in technical communications as a consultant for Washington, DC, firms holding contracts with the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, and others. In 2000, she accepted a position at Compaq in the StorageWorks Division, which extended to her current role at HP. Charlotte is pursuing her doctorate in rhetoric and technical communication, writing her dissertation on the role of communication in genetics research.
Learning Products Manager
Patrick Waychoff is a business planning manager at Hewlett-Packard Company in Colorado Springs, CO, currently leading the single sourcing vision and strategy for the StorageWorks Division Learning Products group. Prior to HP, he spent 12 years working in the aerospace/defense industry as a writer, technical trainer, project lead, and manager supporting satellite systems. At HP (formerly Digital and Compaq), he has served primarily as the information architect, developing the storage product documentation single-sourcing strategy. Patrick holds a BA in Science with a technical writing option from Penn State University, and is completing his MA in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix.