PROCESS TO THE PEOPLE
How content governance can power content teams
photo: Bob Gruen
photo: New York Times
• Different teams creating the same
• Review and approval cycles taking too
• Content not being repurposed and
• Lack of coordination between
• Inconsistent content
• Outdated, incorrect, off-brand content
• Decision making and accountability
• Roles and responsibilities
• Tools to create and manage content
• Systems to align teams
• Frameworks to ensure business goals are met
• An instruction for a single task
• A collection of procedures that describe the
steps of performing a task, from end to end
–Alec Sharp, Workflow Modelling (2008)
“A process is a collection of interrelated
activities, initiated by a triggering event,
which achieves a specific, discrete result.”
photos: Blaine Kyllo, Wolfmann
photo: Manuela Rosi
photos: Michel Catalisano, Pixabay, Jorge Zapata
photo: Benjamin Ashton
photo: KHJ Studio
PROCESSES NEED TO BE
photos: Øderud, Metalworks Institute, Lindsay Hickman
photo: icons8, Tumi-1893, Moose Photos
photos: PJ Mixer, Raw Pixel, Mahlon Hirsch
photo: Raw Pixel, Daniel Steuri
DEFINING CONTENT PROCESSES
photo: Robert Scoble
photo: Sascha Kohlmann
photo: Ildar Sagdejev
photo: William Johnson
DEFINE CONTENT STRATEGY
Strategize & ideate phase
CREATE EDITORIAL CALENDAR
CREATE CONTENT BRIEF
CREATE CORE CONTENT ITEM
Design & create phase
CREATE TIMELY CONTENT
ITEMDesign & create phase
EVALUATE CONTENT ITEM
MAINTAIN CONTENT ITEM
photo: Raw Pixel
WHY CONTENT PROCESSES?
photos: Raw Pixel, Douglaseru
photos: CSI, Alec Sharp, Joshua Turner
photo: Shane Rounce
photo: Wikimedia Commons
• Why content processes are useful
• How content processes can be created
• Examples of content processes that have
been developed for a variety of sectors
• A common set of content practices that
you can use
DOWNLOAD PROCESS DIAGRAMS
MORE ON CONTENT PROCESSES
• Getting familiar with content processes (CSI)
• Let processes guide you to great content
governance (Gather Content)
Alec Sharp for
more on processes and
how they are used in more
general business contexts
Related articles at ContentStrategyInc.com:
• How to use a RACI chart to define content roles
Content Strategy Inc
@solocorps | @Team_CS_Inc
John Lennon likened his song, “Power to the People,” to another of his songs, “Give Peace a Chance”. Both were written, he said, to be sung by people. It’s why the songs are relatively simple, with plenty of repetition.
Where “Power to the People” differs, though, is that it’s something of a socialist script for activism. Lennon wanted anyone to be able to use it for whatever they were protesting.
I’m no Lennon. My name is Kyllo. And while I can read music, my saxophone playing is kinda like this.
You know what? This is what bad content processes sound like.
But in the same way Lennon created “Power to the People” for the people to use, there’s something that can empower the people on your content teams.
You’re going to leave here today with them.
Because the world of content is full of problems. We’ve done some research to discover the issues faced by content teams like yours.
Raise your hand if any of these apply to you:
Content that takes too long to create
No opportunity to reuse content
The silo effect
Content that seems like it’s come from different companies
Difficulty maintaining content
There is something your content teams can use to deal with those problems. Something that can drive consistency of content and efficiency of practice.
If you want smooth content operations, you need content processes.
Before we get to them, I want to make sure we all have a shared understanding of terms.
Governance refers to how we manage decision making and accountability.
Content governance includes roles and responsibilities, the tools we use to create and manage content (style guides, templates, and the like), the systems in place to align departments and teams, and the frameworks that ensure business goals are at the heart of it all.
Content governance also includes processes. You’ll often find them in content support toolkits. They are an essential driver of consistency and efficiency.
Please don’t confuse procedure with process.
A procedure is an instruction for a single task.
A process is a collection of procedures that describe the steps to perform a task, from end to end. Processes are bigger than you might imagine and they are cross-functional, which means they work across departments and teams and the silos of organizations.
Processes are HOW THE WORK GETS DONE.
Alec Sharp is recognized as one of the experts in process and workflow. This is his definition of a process: “A collection of interrelated activities, initiated by a triggering event, which achieves a specific, discrete result.”
Processes are, essentially, how we get work done, and we’re all using them every day. I have a process for getting kids off to school. And for running a soccer practice. And for cleaning the bathroom.
Here’s another example of a process.
I didn’t play the entire thing, but the song, “All My Loving,” has a clearly defined start and end.
Picture the boys in the studio. John says, “George you come in on three. Paul, give us a bass line in G. Ringo, lots of cymbal.”
Maybe Paul suggests they shift the song to E major, George wants to add a guitar solo, and Ringo thinks there needs to be a little more high hat. Ringo always wants more high hat.
This all works great when there are only four people in the mix. But what if they need to bring in a studio musician? Or, as can be the case with so many bands, they need to replace someone?
Think about the last time you brought on a new employee, or had to transition someone from another department. Without processes in place it can take weeks for them to get up to speed.
What do you do if this is your band? Can you imagine a similar ad-hoc approach to making music when you’ve got 100 people to coordinate?
Conductors are known for being controlling, but even they can’t wrangle an unruly lot like this.
Imagine being the conductor with each of these musicians doing their own thing. “First violin, this is NOT the time for you to have a solo. Trumpet section, stop emptying your spit valves on the heads of the clarinets.”
I saw one video clip of an orchestra where the trombones broke into Darth Vader’s march in the middle of Beethoven’s Fifth.
It would be utter chaos.
Musicians solve the problem of coordinating effort by documenting their process.
Creating content is like making music. There are multiple people all playing important parts, but if they aren’t working together, this is what you get.
There are some beautiful notes being played there. Full and rich sound. But it’s kinda all over the place.
Just like an orchestra, your content teams benefit from having processes documented and diagrammed.
How many of you are using content processes now?
If processes are how we get work done, and you are creating and managing content, then you MUST be using content processes already.
They have probably evolved over time. They may be organic, and fluid.
They probably haven’t been documented.
And when you’re working with small teams in a smaller organization, this approach can work. But it doesn’t scale.
You saw the hands raised earlier when I asked about the problems you are having with content.
Undocumented processes won’t help you deal with duplicate content resulting from different departments who share a topic, or the inconsistent content that can result from distributed authoring environments where one group is using MLA, another is using AP, and yet another has adopted Microsoft style.
If you’ve got many systems, numerous platforms, and several channels, those undocumented processes aren’t much help.
Power comes from content processes that are DEFINED, DOCUMENTED, and CROSS-FUNCTIONAL. That’s what you need.
Earlier I mentioned that a process is a series of steps that describe how something happens, from end-to-end.
They are initiated by a triggering event, there are a series of sequential steps and decision points, and there is is an outcome.
There can be multiple triggers for one process. The Rolling Stones play a scheduled concert. A band makes plans to head into the studio to record new music. A pianist in a pub gets another request to play Billy Joel’s Piano Man.
In your world, a trigger could be an email from a vice president who has a “great idea”. Or you stumble onto a web page that was last reviewed in 2004 that promotes a product was discontinued in 2005. Perhaps a colleague happens to pass by your desk, and when they see you remember an urgent request they forgot to mention in that meeting last week.
Your triggers could just as easily be an editorial calendar that’s been approved during a bimonthly meeting of cross-functional managers. Or in a daily stand up, your content team discusses how to deal with a regulatory change that’s resulted from a new government. Maybe the product team shares their release plan for the next quarter.
Sometimes you don’t have control over what initiates the process, which makes the process itself even more vital.
There are often multiple outcomes of a content process, and they are specific to stakeholders. Outcomes from a process to create content can include the content itself, a report to subject matter experts, and a notification to the director of content.
The content lifecycle is a good way for you to differentiate between different processes. For each phase of the lifecycle there is a distinct process.
Strategize & ideate: Coming up with an understanding of what content is required to drive business goals over a period of time. Also includes defining audiences and success measures, and resulting in a prioritized roadmap of content opportunities.
Plan: Determining the content requirements in terms of format, channels, specific success metrics, resourcing, timelines, and roles and responsibilities. Content items are reprioritized and the content roadmap adjusted as needed.
Design & create: Creating the content based on the plan. Includes rounds of revision and approvals as necessary.
Publish & distribute: Making the final content available to the intended audiences through the appropriate channels.
Evaluate & maintain: Assessing content and content practices against defined success measures to determine effectiveness. Ensuring content remains relevant, accurate, and up-to-date by revising, archiving, or deleting content as needed.
The best way to discover what processes are being used by your teams is to get people in a room with – you guessed it – some stickies. Take each phase of the lifecycle and just work through the various steps that people take to get that content work done.
You need to include all teams who have a role in that content. Lines of business. Marketing. Communications. UX. Product. IT.
And make sure the people sitting around the table aren’t managers, but are people actually doing the work. Managers often have an idea of how the work gets done that bears little resemblance to reality. In one workshop we had a manager of a department participating. During the early conversation, this person took the liberty of explaining exactly how things worked. When they were done, there was a moment of silence, and one of the content people said, “That’s not how we do it.”
And when you bring people together, group them cross-functionally. We learn a lot just hearing how people in other departments get things done. There may be a good reason that the content team in Texas takes an extra week or two to get content into final form, because they translate everything into Spanish. Maybe the policy team needs to get legal reviews.
I’ll share some examples of processes that our clients designed. Consider the PLAN phase of the content lifecycle. This is where we determine the content requirements in terms of format, channels, specific success metrics, resourcing, timelines, and roles and responsibilities. It’s lining up everything that’s needed to actually create the content you need.
With one financial organization we worked with there was a cross-functional content team that included former journalists who started the excellent habit of having story meetings every day.
They realized that not all content they were creating needed the same pre-production effort. There was no point in taking the time to write a content brief for an article that could be written in 30 minutes.
Here’s the overview. Don’t strain your eyes to see this; I’m going to zoom in on this.
In this daily story meeting, they needed a decision point as they were reviewing the different content ideas.
They only gather requirements when the content need is big enough to warrant that effort. Otherwise, they skip right to the end of the process.
After gathering requirements and considering the scope of the request, the content brief can be completed, then reviewed.
For simple content, and content briefs that have been approved, they are resourced and assigned in Workfront, a project management system.
For those briefs that are not approved, the person or team who submitted the brief is given feedback so they know why, and what their next steps can be.
This financial company was preparing to implement a new content management system, and their content planning was triggered by a migration audit.
A migration requires that you think about what to do with the content that already exists – keep, keep and revise, throw away – but your migration should also be identifying what's NOT already in existence.
This process was designed to plan for both of those things
A review of the audit and comparing that against the new audience needs analysis yields a list of content that does not yet exist.
That new content needs some requirements assigned against it, and success measures need to be defined for all content moving into the new CMS.
A migration plan is one outcome.
A content gap report is another outcome. This is effectively a list of the net-new content that has to be created for the new system.
A municipality we worked with was having difficulty managing all the different content requests that were coming in from the various departments.
Building and construction wanted more content on zoning and inspections.
The parks department needed to distribute information on upcoming sports and recreation programs.
Citizens wanted to know when their garbage and recycling was being collected and how to get a dog license.
Prevent duplicated content: everybody wanted content about TREES
This process was designed to help them handle multiple requests with limited resources.
First comes a review of the ideas submitted by the various departments.
The list of ideas is then scoped and considered against the resources available
A decision is made whether to approve the request from the line of business
For those content requests that are approved, work is then done to gather requirements and get it ready for assignment.
An additional step is required here to prioritize the things that have been added to the “to-do” list, so next week’s swimming lesson update gets done first, while next month’s lunch and learn for builders happens later
There are three possible outcomes from this process:
The content ideas that are being moved into creation get distributed in the form of content briefs
If the idea can’t happen, because of limited resources or the idea just doesn’t meet the needs of audiences, the department is notified that their request is denied
If limited resources mean an idea can’t happen now, the idea could be rescheduled for a later date; or perhaps a department needs to better make their case that a content needs should be met
Here are a few processes to guide the design and creation of content that we developed for clients.
This association was keen to start user testing some new content ideas to make sure they would track well with priority audiences before going to the effort to create final versions of that content.
They added a decision point that triggered a sub-process when testing was going to occur.
Meet the needs of audiences
Test and validate content ideas before investing too much
If there is to be no user testing of the content, it’s created in a final form, passed through a quality assurance phase, and a maintenance schedule established. Then it’s published and distributed.
This financial organization wanted to better coordinate effort between departmental silos. One way they did this was by engaging with subject matter experts from those departments early on to ensure content meets business needs.
So that was called out explicitly in the process.
And some content became the source for social media content, so the process was designed so that once content was in draft form, that would become the trigger for a different process related to the creation of social media content.
After which, the content would be finalized and published.
This financial company operated in multiple languages. But they had a problem because they were spending too much time and money on translation. It turns out that they were translating content before it was in a final form. So every time the draft content changed, they had to redo the translation.
So the process explicitly calls for the draft content item to be approved BEFORE it goes to translation.
After which it would be finalized and published. This process ensured there was interdepartmental coordination as well as an optimization of operations.
When creating marketing campaigns, this media company had a couple of different triggers, including content plans and editorial calendars.
And because some content is created by vendors, there is a separate process required for that particular context.
After which the process is, by now, familiar.
Every one of those processes is different when you delve into the specific context of an organization. And you can get very granular.
But I want you to notice something about the examples I just showed you.
Here are the process diagrams for the Plan phase.
Do you see it?
First is a trigger, then a review, some kind of assessment, requirements are gathered, priorities are set.
And these are from the design and create phase. Do you see it here?
Create a draft, review the content, create a final version that undergoes a final eyeball and is published, distributed.
At a high level, they are all the same.
In what we commonly refer to as the first phase of the content lifecycle, the objective is to come up with an understanding of what content is required to drive business goals over a period of time. This includes defining audiences and success measures.
The corresponding process is “define content strategy” and it begins with a notice that a cross-functional meeting is going to occur. The outcomes include a prioritized roadmap of content opportunities as well as the minutes of the meeting, which can then be distributed more widely so there’s transparency on the decision making.
The Plan phase can be a bit different depending on your context, but it usually results in an editorial calendar…
… or a creative brief.
The objective with these processes is to make sure you’re coming out with everything needed by the content creators including requirements, source materials, subject matter experts to consult, and priority.
If you’re creating content regularly, the editorial calendar is more useful, but if your content tends to be project, product, or campaign-based, a content brief may be best.
The design and create phase tends to be the easiest to generate because it’s what so many of us have experience doing. Again, these best practice processes are high level. You’re going to want to go deeper into some of these steps so they are more relevant to your context. How many reviews do you need, for example?
The difference between creating a core content item, often referred to as “evergreen”, is that this content gets published …
… while the outcome for timely content is the distribution of that content.
Notice that these include steps where a final QA occurs – in my book publishing world this was copyediting. And you can proactively drive your content maintenance plan by including a step in the creation of content when that maintenance schedule is set.
Evaluating content is essential.
Our best practice process includes a couple of decision points. If content has met the goals set for it, you can simply reset your evaluation schedule.
If the content has not succeeded, you can revise the content, or in the case of timely content that is no longer relevant, you simply report out.
And, finally, the process associated with the maintain phase of the lifecycle is a big decision tree that helps you determine what to do with content, and has five different outcomes.
The first decision asks whether the content is still relevant. If it’s a web page promoting an event that happened last month, it may not be relevant. If it’s not relevant, you then ask whether you need to retain that content. If you do, put it in an archive. If you don’t, get rid of it.
I know that digital content has little weight, but it has SOME weight. And if you keep storing it, you’ll eventually bump up against your system’s limitations.
If the content continues to be relevant, then ask whether it needs to be revised. If not, then reset your maintenance schedule. If it does require revision, though, the next decision point determines the impact of the change required.
If the change needed is minor — like modifying a date — simply make the edits.
If the revision required is more substantive, you issue a change request.
You can use these best practice processes now. But you’ll get maximum value out of them by taking them back to your teams and using them as a starting point to create unique, customized processes that are relevant to your organization. Use them as a tool for discussion and ideation.
The same workshop format used to discover processes can be used to create processes that are new and improved. Gather people from all different departments who play a role in content. Mix them up and give them these best practices, and have them apply their experience.
I’ve already mentioned that processes are important to content governance and operations. They help your teams create content that is consistent, and they help your teams be more efficient in how they do the work of content. More specifically, content processes…
onboard new staff
align the effort of distributed teams
engage and empower stakeholders without giving up your control
Content processes can also be combined with RACIs. RACI stands for “responsible,” “accountable,” “consulted,” and “informed.” RACI diagrams are an excellent way of setting out specific roles and responsibilities. You begin by listing tasks along one axis and roles along another, and plotting out who does what. It’s a lovely way of discovering when there are too many conductors on the podium, for example. One organization we worked with was transitioning to digital, and when they built their first RACI they realized they had four people doing the same job. That used to make sense, because each of those people had responsibility for a particular magazine. But in a digital environment, those tasks could be collapsed for efficiency.
When you combine processes with RACIs you get detailed swim lane diagrams. These can be used to ensure that everyone involved with content knows what they do and when. And they can also be used to diagnose inefficiencies.
One organization was trying to get a handle on why content was taking months to create. It turns out that when things were being reviewed by senior leaders, they were being handed from a content creator to a project manager, to another person who handled inter-team communications, to an assistant, to a VP, back to an assistant, to another assistant, to a new VP. You get the idea. The process seemed very simple: executive review. But when the swim lane was created they were able to see how many days were being lost to content sitting in the mailroom or someone’s Inbox waiting to be forwarded along.
Content processes also make it easy for other content people to step in and be instantly useful and productive. It means that instead of them having to figure out what the process is, they can just get to work doing their own thing. Because content processes do not restrict or limit creativity. Far from it. They actually empower content people.
That’s how this …
… created by these blokes …
… can become this.
When you were invited to join me here today, I promised four things.
I promised you that you’d learn why content processes are useful. You now know how content processes can be used to align teams and break down silos, how they can help you be more efficient with the content you create and how you can ensure that content is more consistent. You’ve learned that content processes can enhance onboarding and deal with interdepartmental squabbling.
I promised you I’d show you how to discover and design content processes. You do that by gathering representatives from different departments and teams who play a role in content, and have them walk through the steps they take to create and manage content, using the lifecycle as a framework.
You’ve seen some processes that were designed to work in media, government, and finance.
In a few minutes you’re going to get a URL where you can download the best practice processes.
These processes will power you and your content teams.
You’ve seen some processes that were designed to work in media, government, and finance.
In a few minutes you’re going to get a URL where you can download the best practice processes.
These processes will power you and your content teams.
With processes in place, you can have everybody working together to make beautiful content, despite any constraints.
Here’s a link where you can download the best practice process diagrams I just showed you. Grab them, use them.
You can read more about content processes at the CSI blog and in an article I wrote for Gather Content.
For more on workflow and process, check out Alec’s book.
And visit our website at contentstrategyinc.com for more articles on content strategy, content governance, and content operations.