34 minutes | Jul 20th 2020

The true cost of quick fixes (podcast, part 2)

In episode 79 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Gretyl Kinsey and Bill Swallow continue their discussion and talk about solutions to quick fixes. “A big part of your content strategy should be how requests come in, how the timelines are built, and what you’re responding to and how you’re responding to them in the first place.” —Bill Swallow Related links:  The true cost of quick fixes (podcast, part 1) Twitter handles: @gretylkinsey @billswallow Transcript: Gretyl Kinsey:     Welcome to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we’ll be continuing our discussion on quick fixes, this time focusing on solutions. How can you undo quick fixes or better yet avoid them in the first place? This is part two of a two-part podcast. Hello and welcome everyone. I’m Gretyl Kinsey. Bill Swallow:     Hi, and I’m Bill Swallow. GK:     And today we’re going to be revisiting our previous discussion on quick fixes, but this time with a bit more of a positive spin. Just to recap a little bit from last time, what we mean when we talk about quick fixes are when you take a one off or bandaid approach to your content strategy, you do some sort of a work around to get content out the door, usually on a tight deadline or under a constrained budget, and then that later can cascade into lots of problems down the road if you have done a quick fix instead of planning and doing things the right way. And where I want to start things off today, talking about how you can undo or avoid quick fixes, if your company decided to use a quick fix in the past, what are some reasons that you might need to change that now? BS:     Well, I think one of the first things that you should be looking at is the amount of time your team is spending on overall tasks and to see exactly how much time is being spent fighting with, or otherwise futsing with their content development tools. Are they going in and constantly having to reformat things? Are they constantly having to retag things? Are they fighting with the tool to get it to work the way they need it to? And looking at these types of things to figure out, do I have a problem with quick fixes? Did we implement things correctly? Are we using the tool the way we should be using the tool, and is the tool right in the first place? GK:     Yeah, absolutely. And I think this kind of touches on the flip side of the scenario that we talked about in the previous episode, where we mentioned things like template abuse and tag abuse, and people going outside those parameters that you have defined in your structure or in your template and doing these one off quick fixes for formatting. So if you realize that you’re spending a whole lot of time on those kinds of things, then suddenly that’s not really a quick fix. That’s a very time consuming fix when you put all of those little individual quick fixes together. So if you realize that you’ve got a lot of writers doing that, then that can lead to something like a limitation down the road. If you realize, for example, “Hey, we really need to streamline templates that we have, or we need to introduce a new template or a new publishing output that is a lot more sleek and efficient than what we’ve already got,” and you’ve got writers all over the place breaking the existing templates, then suddenly they’re imposing a limitation unnecessarily on the tools that you have. BS:     Yep. And we’ve been hearing a lot over the past several years about companies going through digital transformations and being able to essentially modernize their entire content set. And I want to say just putting it online because that’s not what digital transformation is all about. Yes, it’s a component. But one of the things that a lot of these companies are struggling with is that they’re looking to move to a more digital foothold on their content and where they need their content to go. And they’re taking a look at their entire legacy content set, and they’re finding out that they have millions of different Word files that are all using different formatting, different templates, if they’re using templates at all, several different content tools in play. They might have Word. They might have FrameMaker. They might have InDesign for some more higher designed outputs that they were producing. BS:     They might have both RoboHelp and Flare in the mix because there were two different divisions of the company at the time and each one decided on their own tools to use, and they have different styles and templates and even different approaches to how they develop the content in the first place. So you start seeing all of these things where you have all of these different documents using a wide variety of conventions, and suddenly you need to be able to standardize this stuff so that you can start doing more intelligent things with your content and it makes it incredibly difficult to take that leap if everything’s a mess at the starting gate. GK:     Yeah, of course. Absolutely. And that is a massive problem I think that I’ve seen in probably the majority of the projects I’ve worked on here at Scriptorium that… Especially when it’s factors outside of maybe the company’s overall control, if there has been something like a merger in the past, and you’ve had lots of disparate teams that suddenly are working together and they’ve all had their processes, then suddenly any of those teams who have employed a quick fix solution, that’s going to be multiplied when you’ve got all these different teams and all of their past histories of quick fixes working together. That’s when it becomes really important to look at what all these different teams are doing and streamline their processes and come up with a content strategy that brings everything together as it should be. GK:     And I think that gets into the issue, not only of streamlining, but of scalability as well, if you need to scale your processes to a larger target audience, a larger market, or as you mentioned earlier, Bill, if you need to undergo a digital transformation and you need to deliver more intelligent content, content that is not only available online, but that is interactive or that’s personalized, then if you are hindered by all of these one off quick fixes that people have taken, it can be almost impossible to scale. And that’s when you’re looking at maybe a complete content overhaul at that point. BS:     Yeah, and I do remember one client a while ago who decided that after looking at all the numbers and taking into account all the different documents they had in play, they needed to go ahead and rebrand, they renamed their company and had new logo, new look, new feel to all their content. They did a lot of upfront analysis and came to the conclusion that it would be a lot easier to just fix it all, to basically press the pause button, fix it all, move it to… In this case, they moved to DITA, but move it to a single content format and then apply all of their branding changes using automated formatting. It was a lot cheaper and a lot less time to do that than it would have been to go into every single document and update it by hand. And that speaks volumes. GK:      And I’ve seen a few clients take a similar, but maybe not quite as quick approach where if they couldn’t press the pause button on everything, they at least did that one department at a time. So start in one place with DITA and then pull the next department in when they were ready and then so on and so forth. So kind of depending on the size of your company, your budget, your deadlines for different products and different content that comes from different departments, then that approach in phases or with a small starting point that expands outward might be a good idea to make it manageable as well. But it really all depends on how interconnected things are when you start, how interconnected they need to be by the end, and how that all interacts with your product release schedule. BS:     And another consideration there is also if you happen to be merging teams or bringing on new teams, or if your team is growing, you’re bringing on new hires, it is very difficult for someone to figure out not only a new job or a new role, but also to figure out how to produce things when everything is formatted differently, when everything uses a different convention, when you have to know all these little details about how a particular deliverable comes together, because nothing is consistent in everything is done ad hoc. It becomes very difficult to get new people up and running in that environment. GK:     Yeah. And that gets into some of the things we talked about on the previous episode with training and how I think that one of the things that we talked about is that a lack of training or a lack of documented knowledge can lead to this problem of these one off quick fixes just growing and growing. And then that perpetuates itself into this problem that any time a new hire comes on, it is very difficult to keep them trained if it was a lack of training that led to people making these mistakes before. So that’s where it becomes really imperative when you bring on new teams, whether it’s from a merger or whether it’s just expanding and hiring that you get all of your content systems streamlined and aligned across the organization and provide adequate training and ongoing training to prevent those ad hoc solutions that people were using before. BS:     That’s great, and brings up another question here, which is types of approa
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