Content Strategy Tools: Workflow for Adaptation

Content strategy tools include some weird notions of tools. Workflow is one of them. It’s not just a documentation tool, it is an active tool that helps your company adapt.

In this post we talked about why it’s important to document your workflow. It was a rather in-​depth type of article. It focused on knowing your process, and finding a way through the protocol for the purposes of having your systems known, documented, and available.

There’s possibly a bigger and better reason to analyse your workflow: Adaptation.

Content strategy tools need to include workflow. This is an image of tools adapted to a chocolate version. It's by Janne M on Flickr.
Make tools that are going to work for you.

Why does my company need to consider adaptation?

The idea of creating and driving innovation is a big one. There is also a prevalent misunderstanding: That established business needs to innovate (i.e. create something new). Well, adaptation is the driver of innovation. So, business doesn’t have to create new things, it needs to adapt to its environment.

You can call it future-​proofing, innovation, or adaptation, or anything you like. The fact is, you need to adapt to survive. It’s as true in business as it is in nature.

There are, similarly, scales of innovation. You can think on a huge scale, or you can adapt everything that you do. When you work on a micro scale you are really building a culture of innovation from within. Realistically, that is the only level of adaptation that is long-​term.

Adapting at a process level has the side-​benefit of helping you understand your business. Until you know that process, and keep measuring that process, you can’t consider better ways of working, newer ways of thinking, or finding new tools or new markets.

Workflow is where adaptation begins

When is the last time you assessed your workflow? Your team is a hive of activity, but do you know what goes on and why it’s done that way? Most often, companies assess workflow when they are trying to understand what their knowledge workers actually do (productivity outcomes); or when they are moving to some new systems. They don’t embrace workflow assessment as a navigational tool.

In very plain terms, you can’t adapt if you have no idea what it is you are adapting. And if you don’t gain visibility over your landscape, you can’t work out where the best path might lie.

Map your workflow, then build on it

Once you’ve got your processes worked out, go a step further. Sure, mapping is one thing but maps tend to sit in a file and never get looked at. Instead, build on your tool as soon as you have that map in your hand.

Quiz and analyse your workflow map to determine whether it actually is functional. You might use questions like:

  • Does it need to happen that way?
  • Can it be done in any other way.
  • Is there any risk inherent in the plan? And if so, what’s a good way to prevent it, mitigate it, or get around it?
  • How long does each part of it take? And why?

Never forget that your assumptions have to be tested in real-​time.

Run your plan against the actual process and make sure you have it right. For the elements that are painful, what can you do to solve that pain either right now, or very soon? And which of the pains is inevitable?

It’s a lot of work. It’s why building on workflows doesn’t happen. You won’t know where to start, what to do, or why you’re doing it. It’s just more work, right?

Well, no it isn’t.

Turn your workflow into a functional tool

Once the basics are done, create a template, or a spreadsheet, or something that you can use to assess whether that flow, complete with its changes, works and is effective. Define your goals and then determine a measure. In some cases, that measure will be time. In others, it will be efficiency, or speed of output, or greater engagement, or something that is specific to you and your business.

Then, in three months’ time, take your template or spreadsheet and audit the process.

Auditing workflows gives you real data

You need real data on which to base your business decisions. If you don’t do that, you are acting on assumptions and gut feel. Rarely is a solid business decision made on gut instinct. So, audit the flow, assess the workflow based on your measurements. Ask the hard questions, unearth more pain points, and find better ways of doing things

Ask your team.

  • What would they do differently?
  • What is it about this process that is fabulous?
  • What is it that sucks?
  • And is it even needed?

If you get doubters, reiterate the scenario of your long-​term vision. Then ask:

  • Does this process contribute?
  • Should it be changed?
  • Should it be removed?

Your workflow ought to be a functional, dynamic tool that helps you to ask questions about your company’s efficiencies. It needs to help you change course, adapt to new ways of working, new technologies, and remain light on its feet. It’s a method of keeping you in that mode of critical assessment.

Content strategists should never workflow and leave

If you have a strategist working with you, or on your team, don’t let them just bail when the contract is up. Make them part of your long-​term vision by having them help you to hit audit points and targets.

Leverage their knowledge about content relationships and audience advocacy, and use it to help you. At the very least, it will enable you to gain and retain a level of visibility that you will otherwise miss.

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