This will be a short detour back in time. Back to a keynote address that I gave at Lavacon 2014 in ever-enjoyable Portland Oregon. That talk then leapt further back in time with case studies drawn from across a 20 year period (25 years if we are being honest with ourselves). The purpose for this retrospective was to unearth the secrets to success in content initiatives and in particular the secrets to successes that have stood the test of time.
Below is a recording of my full presentation, with both slides and arm-waving, so what I will do here is summarize the key points from the seven (7) architectural secrets to success (aligned with the lessons of lean manufacturing) and the three (3) managerial secrets to success. This makes for a nice even ten (10) secrets to success with your content (management / modernization) initiatives.
The Seven (7) Architectural Secrets to Success
- Get Together. Enable collaboration across business and disciplinary silos by applying concurrent engineering tactics. A high-quality outcome depends, almost entirely, on engaging and integrating all of the stakeholder perspectives that apply to any given undertaking.
- Try Before You Buy. Genuinely try out the technologies that you are considering as candidates. This is fundamentally different than "watching demos and attending user conferences". How you acquire the content technologies that you will deploy is in fact more important than what you acquire. In large part this is because technologies are not neutral (they are never neutral) and each technology will impact how you do your business. It is folly, demonstrated daily within organizational Information Technology (IT) shops, to try to "nail down the business requirements" and then shoe-horn them into a technology. IT shops may be addicted to this form of error (as it does guarantee life-long employment), but content professionals need to do better.
- There's an App for That. Leverage automation aggressively and systematically. Most organizations under-utilize what content technologies already exist. This means that they are generally working much harder than they need to. This also means that they are not delivering as much value as they could be. There are decades of experience rolled into the content technologies that are available today. You don't need to re-live these past experiences or to attempt to re-invent what has already been developed.
- Throw Yourself into the Numbers. Engage in measurement with the specific purpose of improving how well you are performing and how well your content is performing. The content business has historically under-utilized measurement and this is a shortcoming we need to fix.
- Think Small. Break content and systems into their smallest viable units. Use these to build up higher-level constructs which will then be far more efficient to manage and far more scalable than the older monolithic approaches. Once content has been modularized it becomes possible to reorganize that content in different ways than have been done in the past. It is remarkable what comes to light when we do this. Going further, this strategy can be used to redress the universal tendency towards barnaclization. Smaller pieces engender content structures and systems that are intrinsically more maintainable - simply because you can get in there and fix them.
- Walk the Talk. Following the line of thinking from Think Small, we look to build our systems and practices using articulated processes. This is fundamental to what distinguishes lean manufacturing from other models and illustrative of how content technologies can be leveraged to improve how ever enterprise does what it does. It is essential for any effective and sustainable complex system that it be open to inquiry and intervention. This means that stakeholders can interrogate the inner workings of the system, understand it, and modify or fix it as necessary. This applies generally to technology management but also quite specifically to content management systems (which are intrinsically complex).
- Build to Last. Systems developed using the above principles will stand the test of time and will deliver continually accruing benefits. Many (most) systems do not achieve this desirable state and instead become sinkholes into which funds and energy are sucked. It should be clear which of these two possibilities we should be working towards.
The Three (3) Managerial Secrets to Success
- Speak Management. Managers of communications groups or content management projects rarely seem to have much prior management experience - or experience talking the lingo of management (including numbers and money). We need to change our ways so as to engage executive stakeholders on their turf and in their terms.
- Lead the Way. Introducing new tools and processes means introducing change - and change is always hard. This is where leadership is called for. Real leadership. And real leadership means taking full responsibility for the outcomes so that your team has the space in which to take risks and the time it needs to make the necessary changes.
- Follow the Content. Follow the content back to all of its sources and forward to all of its uses. This means applying the effort to really understand your content assets and to ensure that all of your processes and technologies respect that content for what it is and what value it really delivers.
The video of this keynote runs for almost an hour but it covers an awful lot of material. So I do recommend it. Looking back at it after a couple of further years of work on my thinking, I am gratified to see that I would not revise anything in these ten steps.
You can also just flip through the slides, sans storytelling & arm-waving: Ten Secrets to Content Initiative Success (Lavacon 2014 PDF)