Content workflow demonstration.

Improve Your Content Workflow: Ask These Questions

I define workflow as the intersection of process (how things get done), technology (not just systems, but any tools used to create, manage and disseminate content) and organization (structure; the roles people play).

In revising content workflows, changing things in one area (installing a new CMS, for example) almost always affects the other two components. Sometimes the impact is small; other times it takes a big change in an organization or process to take full advantage of a new tool.

I present these relationships as a set of three gears. The relative size of each of the gears varies somewhat, but there is an interdependence that must be addressed during any workflow revision.

To understand if your content workflow is working for you, start by asking questions to better understand both existing workflows and opportunities to improve them. This set of questions not an exhaustive list, but it represents a good start.

Process (How Things Get Done)

  • How is content typically created?
  • What is the cycle time for creating basic content (weeks, days, hours)?
  • How well does the current process work? This is a chance to look for frequent errors, rework, the ability to meet schedules and the ability to meet current requirements.
  • What changes in expectations do you anticipate in the next couple of years?

Technology (The Tools Used To Create, Manage and Distribute Content)

  • What tools are used to create, manage and disseminate content (InDesign, Quark, Word, etc.)?
  • Do you have a content management system (CMS) in place?
  • If you do have a CMS, how long has it been part of your workflow?
  • Has the CMS met your expectations?
  • Do you have other systems in place? Digital asset management and web content management systems are typical.
  • If you do have other systems, how are they linked to the CMS?
  • How has your technology set-up changed in the last few years?
  • How do you think your technology needs to evolve?

Organization or Structure (The Roles People Play)

  • How are the people doing content-related work organized?
  • Have the roles changed at all recently?
  • Is any work outsourced?
  • How do you interact with any outsourced suppliers? An example could be content conversion performed in India vs. someone co-located in a publishing operation.
  • What organizations are able to do work you would like to emulate?

In answering these and other, related questions, look out a few years. Workflow solutions are amortized over a longer period of time. Don’t limit yourself to solving the problems you have today. You want to implement solutions that make sense over time.

That said, you should also be willing to iterate. Try something new in one function or department, refine it as needed and roll it out when doing so makes sense. Having a plan for testing and implementing can help here, as can direction from consultants (like Magellan) that have done this kind of work in the past.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

2 thoughts on “Improve Your Content Workflow: Ask These Questions

  1. I think another section is Audience or Results. In particular tracking what content has resonated with readers, and then using that information to identify content to move into the editorial calendar. At least identifying how you’ll determine whether the time spent is worth it. Part of publishing is the dissemination of information so is it getting beyond your own site, is it being shared? Good list.

    1. That’s an important point. There’s another post in the workflow series that talks about designing workflows with readers in mind, but this post could have alluded to that one, as well. Whenever I work with publishers who are looking to revamp how the create, manage and disseminate content, I ask, “For what (current and future) purposes?” The ultimate targets guide what else is worth doing.

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