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Making content operations work for you

Making content operations work for you

7 minute read

Making content operations work for you

7 minute read

Making content operations work for you

Adriana Harper

Digital Content Manager at H&R Block Canada

In the ever-evolving age of digital content, the practice of content operations is becoming more and more prevalent. Not to be confused with content strategy; content operations typically defines the tactical processes of content creation, production, and governance.

When you think about all the other operations-type groups that exist in various companies, it makes  perfect sense that content teams are starting to implement a more formal approach to their operating procedures. For example: 

IT Operations: Processes and services administered by an organisation’s information technology department. 

Dev Operations: Aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. 

As you can see, in all the operations definitions above, the core tenets are: 

  • Process 
  • Efficiency 
  • Continuous delivery 
  • High quality

We can borrow from and expand on these definitions to clearly understand what content operations aims to do: 

To provide definition and structure around content processes (people and technology), in order to make sure the work is efficient, and to effectively achieve the overarching content strategy of a team or an organisation. 

Setting up a content operations structure that works for you

No two teams will function in the same way, so it’s safe to assume that no two content operations setups will work identically, either. However, there are a bunch of core questions and decisions that should be common to every content operations setup, to help establish a functional baseline which can then be moulded to suit unique circumstances and needs. 

Allow me to further explain by diving into how content operations works for me and my team of content professionals, all remotely located across Canada. Our group is made up of user-interface writers, technical writers, and translators. We are responsible for the bilingual content in thousands of  pieces of technical documentation, hundreds of screens across multiple software applications, marketing blogs, learning reference guides, and release notes. It’s a lot, and we love every second of it.  

Because of the depth and breadth of content that our team manages, it’s important that we are  efficient and effective in our process, to not only meet our end-users’ needs and expectations, but to make sure that we are actively improving our organisation’s bottom line. To accomplish our goals, we work under a content operations structure.

People 

My management approach is centred around my people, and my content operations structure is no different. Without understanding and engaging my people, I can’t empower them to do the work I need them to do; no amount of technology or process can fix a lack of deep-people-knowledge. I start by asking the following questions:

  • What are my people’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do I have the right people doing the right work?
  • Do they have the guidance they need?
  • What makes them feel most engaged to do their best work?
  • Who is thriving?
  • Who needs additional support? 

Make no mistake; the answer to each of these questions will be different for each person on a team, and acknowledging those differences are key to a successful content operations team.

Authoring tools

Once I know my people, I’m ready to make decisions about the tools they’ll need to succeed.

Our team has clear definitions about which tools are used to author each type of content we’re  responsible for.

The decisions are driven by multiple factors, including:

  • Industry best-practice
  • Ease-of-use (learning curve)
  • Licensing costs (budget)
  • Workflow (who else might need to engage with the content during its lifecycle)
  • Output (online, PDF, accessibility, interactivity, etc.)
  • Re-use (shared with other teams, other tools, other outputs, etc.)

Each tool choice impacts our team’s productivity and efficiency, so having the right tool for each job is key.

Workflows 

Understanding the workflow for each type of content we manage, from inception to publication, drives how we work and who we might need to interact with. It also drives our scheduling process (but more about that a bit later).

For our team, the workflow for each type of content is a bit different. For example:

Marketing content (driven by email requests) 

  1. Review existing content
  2. Research requested changes or additions (e.g. driven by government changes, competitive  review, social climate, analytics results, etc)
  3. Write draft content
  4. Get tax review
  5. Make edits (as required)
  6. Complete translation
  7. Send for publication (on website) to Marketing team 

UI Content (driven by development tickets)

  1. Receive Content ticket for change request
  2. Review spec provided by UX Team
  3. Research requested changes (e.g. driven by government changes or user-testing results)
  4. Engage with Tax Team as subject-matter experts: establish if changes will impact other  applications and open separate Content tickets as required
  5. Write draft content - follow design requirements (length, formatting, etc.)
  6. Get tax review
  7. Make edits (as required)
  8. Complete translation
  9. Update content with final English and French copy
  10. Liaise with UX Team to get updated copy in the final spec
  11. Open HELP project ticket to update HELP content (ticket will be managed in a separate process)
  12. Advise Product Manager that ticket is ready for development
  13. Close Content ticket
  14. Attend desk check with Dev/QA/UX Teams (as required)

As you can see, depending on what type of content we’re working on, our processes, tools, and  workflows change. So it’s important, as a team, to establish our workflows for each content type and  then document those workflows in a central place, so that everyone knows the expected procedure no  matter what type of content request come in.

Schedules and priorities 

Our team builds our schedule based on how much time we need for each type of content, and the priorities around each of the requests. To do that, we:

  1. Allocate an average amount of time to each step in all our workflows, including a buffer (especially for any work that has to happen outside our team; these reviews often take longer than expected).
  2. Determine which due dates are driven by outside forces and cannot be moved (e.g. government certification dates, development release dates, training delivery dates) and which ones have breathing room and can be pushed if higher-priority, unscheduled content requests come up.  

We schedule not only new content projects and existing content changes, but we also plan our content best-practice tasks, including content inventories, analytics reviews, and competitive and industry research (to make sure our outputs are always at the top of our game). 

Once a week, as a team, we check in on all our deadlines, to make sure everyone has the capacity to get their work done. Capacity can change during the week depending on multiple factors, including  unexpected content requests that we weren’t able to include in our original schedule, so that check-in is crucial.  

We also make our schedule visible to other teams and stakeholders that we work with, to help people understand what we have on the go at any given time. This facilitates conversations when there are unscheduled and competing content requests that come in – we can use our calendar and timelines to logically explain why we need certain amounts of time to get our work done.

Governance

Another important element of an efficient content operations team is governance. In my opinion, one  of the only things worse than a lack of content is inaccurate, outdated, or unusable content – and that’s what happens when content isn’t well-governed.

For our team, governance includes basic year-over-year tasks like updating dates, making sure our  content is still relevant in an ever-changing social climate, and retiring outdated or unused content. It also includes the yearly maintenance of our content inventory so we know what we have and where it is, as well as reviewing and acting on our key analytic and user-testing data, to make sure our outputs  are meeting our end-user’s needs. Analytics are also key for proving the value that our content team  provides to our organisation – metrics matter enormously to a corporation’s bottom line.

Putting it all together

So what do you get when you put tools, workflows, scheduling, and governance together? You get a content operations team who is empowered to produce efficient and effective content, in-line with both stakeholder requests and end-user needs.

Remember, it’s ok if the actual content operations setup looks different for each team. What  matters is that your team’s setup leads you down the path to engaged content creators, effective content creation, efficient process, and empowered end-users.

In the ever-evolving age of digital content, the practice of content operations is becoming more and more prevalent. Not to be confused with content strategy; content operations typically defines the tactical processes of content creation, production, and governance.

When you think about all the other operations-type groups that exist in various companies, it makes  perfect sense that content teams are starting to implement a more formal approach to their operating procedures. For example: 

IT Operations: Processes and services administered by an organisation’s information technology department. 

Dev Operations: Aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. 

As you can see, in all the operations definitions above, the core tenets are: 

  • Process 
  • Efficiency 
  • Continuous delivery 
  • High quality

We can borrow from and expand on these definitions to clearly understand what content operations aims to do: 

To provide definition and structure around content processes (people and technology), in order to make sure the work is efficient, and to effectively achieve the overarching content strategy of a team or an organisation. 

Setting up a content operations structure that works for you

No two teams will function in the same way, so it’s safe to assume that no two content operations setups will work identically, either. However, there are a bunch of core questions and decisions that should be common to every content operations setup, to help establish a functional baseline which can then be moulded to suit unique circumstances and needs. 

Allow me to further explain by diving into how content operations works for me and my team of content professionals, all remotely located across Canada. Our group is made up of user-interface writers, technical writers, and translators. We are responsible for the bilingual content in thousands of  pieces of technical documentation, hundreds of screens across multiple software applications, marketing blogs, learning reference guides, and release notes. It’s a lot, and we love every second of it.  

Because of the depth and breadth of content that our team manages, it’s important that we are  efficient and effective in our process, to not only meet our end-users’ needs and expectations, but to make sure that we are actively improving our organisation’s bottom line. To accomplish our goals, we work under a content operations structure.

People 

My management approach is centred around my people, and my content operations structure is no different. Without understanding and engaging my people, I can’t empower them to do the work I need them to do; no amount of technology or process can fix a lack of deep-people-knowledge. I start by asking the following questions:

  • What are my people’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do I have the right people doing the right work?
  • Do they have the guidance they need?
  • What makes them feel most engaged to do their best work?
  • Who is thriving?
  • Who needs additional support? 

Make no mistake; the answer to each of these questions will be different for each person on a team, and acknowledging those differences are key to a successful content operations team.

Authoring tools

Once I know my people, I’m ready to make decisions about the tools they’ll need to succeed.

Our team has clear definitions about which tools are used to author each type of content we’re  responsible for.

The decisions are driven by multiple factors, including:

  • Industry best-practice
  • Ease-of-use (learning curve)
  • Licensing costs (budget)
  • Workflow (who else might need to engage with the content during its lifecycle)
  • Output (online, PDF, accessibility, interactivity, etc.)
  • Re-use (shared with other teams, other tools, other outputs, etc.)

Each tool choice impacts our team’s productivity and efficiency, so having the right tool for each job is key.

Workflows 

Understanding the workflow for each type of content we manage, from inception to publication, drives how we work and who we might need to interact with. It also drives our scheduling process (but more about that a bit later).

For our team, the workflow for each type of content is a bit different. For example:

Marketing content (driven by email requests) 

  1. Review existing content
  2. Research requested changes or additions (e.g. driven by government changes, competitive  review, social climate, analytics results, etc)
  3. Write draft content
  4. Get tax review
  5. Make edits (as required)
  6. Complete translation
  7. Send for publication (on website) to Marketing team 

UI Content (driven by development tickets)

  1. Receive Content ticket for change request
  2. Review spec provided by UX Team
  3. Research requested changes (e.g. driven by government changes or user-testing results)
  4. Engage with Tax Team as subject-matter experts: establish if changes will impact other  applications and open separate Content tickets as required
  5. Write draft content - follow design requirements (length, formatting, etc.)
  6. Get tax review
  7. Make edits (as required)
  8. Complete translation
  9. Update content with final English and French copy
  10. Liaise with UX Team to get updated copy in the final spec
  11. Open HELP project ticket to update HELP content (ticket will be managed in a separate process)
  12. Advise Product Manager that ticket is ready for development
  13. Close Content ticket
  14. Attend desk check with Dev/QA/UX Teams (as required)

As you can see, depending on what type of content we’re working on, our processes, tools, and  workflows change. So it’s important, as a team, to establish our workflows for each content type and  then document those workflows in a central place, so that everyone knows the expected procedure no  matter what type of content request come in.

Schedules and priorities 

Our team builds our schedule based on how much time we need for each type of content, and the priorities around each of the requests. To do that, we:

  1. Allocate an average amount of time to each step in all our workflows, including a buffer (especially for any work that has to happen outside our team; these reviews often take longer than expected).
  2. Determine which due dates are driven by outside forces and cannot be moved (e.g. government certification dates, development release dates, training delivery dates) and which ones have breathing room and can be pushed if higher-priority, unscheduled content requests come up.  

We schedule not only new content projects and existing content changes, but we also plan our content best-practice tasks, including content inventories, analytics reviews, and competitive and industry research (to make sure our outputs are always at the top of our game). 

Once a week, as a team, we check in on all our deadlines, to make sure everyone has the capacity to get their work done. Capacity can change during the week depending on multiple factors, including  unexpected content requests that we weren’t able to include in our original schedule, so that check-in is crucial.  

We also make our schedule visible to other teams and stakeholders that we work with, to help people understand what we have on the go at any given time. This facilitates conversations when there are unscheduled and competing content requests that come in – we can use our calendar and timelines to logically explain why we need certain amounts of time to get our work done.

Governance

Another important element of an efficient content operations team is governance. In my opinion, one  of the only things worse than a lack of content is inaccurate, outdated, or unusable content – and that’s what happens when content isn’t well-governed.

For our team, governance includes basic year-over-year tasks like updating dates, making sure our  content is still relevant in an ever-changing social climate, and retiring outdated or unused content. It also includes the yearly maintenance of our content inventory so we know what we have and where it is, as well as reviewing and acting on our key analytic and user-testing data, to make sure our outputs  are meeting our end-user’s needs. Analytics are also key for proving the value that our content team  provides to our organisation – metrics matter enormously to a corporation’s bottom line.

Putting it all together

So what do you get when you put tools, workflows, scheduling, and governance together? You get a content operations team who is empowered to produce efficient and effective content, in-line with both stakeholder requests and end-user needs.

Remember, it’s ok if the actual content operations setup looks different for each team. What  matters is that your team’s setup leads you down the path to engaged content creators, effective content creation, efficient process, and empowered end-users.

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About the author

Adriana Harper

Adriana Harper is the Digital Content Manager at H&R Block Canada, located in Calgary, Alberta. She and her team empower Canadians to understand and engage with H&R Block’s suite of digital tax products and services, through clearly communicated content in both English and French. Adriana has been involved with content in various forms for over 15 years, including content strategy and design, technical writing, and learning and development.

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