Part 1, Context: Content strategy and your ISO 9001 system

In this article, you will learn how the context of the organisation in ISO 9001:2015 maps to your content strategy framework. The context of the organisation is new to ISO 9001. Yet it is something that content strategists have been working with since Day 1.

Welcome to our Content Strategy and Your ISO 9001 System series

This article is the first in a longer series of articles on exactly this topic. The articles reference the latest ISO 9001 standard (9001:2015), which was released in September 2015.

You might be wondering how we are able to do this. You may not realise it, but we are auditors qualified by LRQA.

Many businesses are certified to (or are seeking certification to) ISO 9001:2015. And, in my opinion as an auditor qualified to this standard, many more should seek certification. In an age where the customer experience is central, picking up a framework that gives the experience a measurable shape is something we all should strive for. That is what ISO 9001 gives you: It’s a measurable framework for consistently improving the quality of the customer experience.

Where ISO 9001 used to be an onerous, boring process that required you to do a whole lot of out-​of-​reach things (like even employ new people!) to pass the audits, 9001:2015 is flexible, lean and fast. You can apply this standard even if you are a fast-​growing startup, with no money. Truly. Times have changed!

Why Brutal Pixie is mapping ISO 9001:2015 to Content Strategy

As a content strategy company, Brutal Pixie builds business systems and frameworks. We have our hands dirty in risk, governance, workflow and business process. Many other people do, too. But we could ask, do they create them with international standards certifications in mind? No. At least, it’s doubtful and few people are writing on the subject. And yet, you can’t create new systems in a certified organisation unless you know how your work impacts on their certification.

Similarly, if you are creating systems in organisations that might want to achieve certification to an international standard some day, then you simply can’t do it without reference to the right tools. It becomes a hindrance, not a help.

It’s relatively simple stuff, but this kind of thinking is often missed.

Why this series is important for you

This series of articles will effectively map content strategy to your ISO 9001:2015 system. If you have a system certified to an earlier standard, you will find it invaluable for thinking about the gap analysis you should have done ASAP (contact us, we can help you) so you know what to change before your next third party audit.

For those of you who are content strategists (or in a similar field) it will give you a feel for the standard, and the things of which you need to be aware.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Part 1: Context of the organisation

The standard ISO 9001:2015 has a new section, titled Context of the organisation. For those of you who are standards nerds and would like a reference, it is properly in Clause 4 of that standard.

The context of the organisation, as mentioned earlier, is new to ISO 9001:2015. But don’t let the fact of its ‘new-​ness’ deceive you: It influences a significant number of other clauses in the standard, and it can trip you up if you aren’t clear about its influence.

The context of the organisation asks us to think about relevance

The context of the organisation asks you to determine both internal and external issues that are relevant to its purpose, and its strategic direction. Those issues affect its ability to achieve the organisation’s quality system’s intended results.

When you think about the context of the organisation, you are thinking about:
▪ the market
▪ the structure
▪ all interested parties (not just stakeholders; customers can also be an interested party)
▪ the requirements of your interested parties
▪ your products and services
▪ the processes you need to deliver on your products and services, and meet requirements of all the interested parties
▪ how you capture and share this information.

Phew! It’s a small clause but you can see that it is actually gigantic in its application. For the content strategists among you, you might find it easier to consider that the context of the organisation is really driving relevance.

Content strategists like me bang on about relevance constantly. This (above) is why. Properly considered, the context of the organisation is everything that bears on your organisation’s function, standing, position, branding, customer relations, supplier relations… and so on.

The ISO 9001:2015 standard includes consideration of all of the following types of issues:
▪ legal issues
▪ technological issues
▪ competitive issues
▪ market issues
▪ cultural issues
▪ social issues
▪ economic environments
▪ international, national, regional or local variations
▪ … among others.

Relevance asks us to know some deep things about your organisation

To properly consider the issues at stake, you must know the values, culture, captured knowledge, and current performance of an organisation. (Or, the current performance of its content strategy system.)

Content strategists always work in this fuzzy grey area of context. A good content strategist will help you understand what your goals and aims are, help to unearth the existing knowledge levels and performance of your organisation’s information. He or she will need to have an understanding of all of the interested parties (creators, approvers, consumers, maintainers, funders, buyers, users, etc), of all of your products and services, how you deliver consistent quality on those, how they relate to your content and information, the pathways that are needed. And in order to do this, there may be any number of issues from the list above (or even some that aren’t included) to consider, for each of these things.

The big issue about interested parties starts with simple questions

The issue of interested parties is bigger than it seems. In the standard, subclass 4.2 Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties is only seven lines long. And yet, getting to this understanding? It’s a much bigger piece of work, and it asks you to do your homework.

The interested parties are those who are relevant (in this standard) to the management system. In a content strategy framework, it is those who are relevant to that framework.

Content strategists seem to spend a bunch of time battling ‘users’ versus ‘consumers’, ‘audience’, ‘readers’, etc. But this standard captures all of them! More to the point, it asks us to consider some simple questions:

  • what are the needs of these people?
  • what are the expectations of these people?
  • how do we monitor their needs and expectations?
  • how, and when, do we review their needs and expectations?
  • how, knowing the above, do we consistently deliver things that meet their needs and expectations?

These are not idle questions. They are the meat and potatoes of any content work, and are behind all kinds of thinking, from use cases to audience personas. The reason it’s so significant at a business system level is because if you get this stuff wrong, your business can fail.

Interested parties, technology, and changing business

We are living in a time in which technology and business appears to be in a continual state of flux. It’s not: The tools are, sure. The technology supporting business (and its tools) might be, true. But business itself hasn’t changed. The needs and expectations of our interested parties has.

To use a worn-​out example, Über and AirBnB have taken advantage of changing expectations, and delivered something that meets both those expectations and a pre-​existing need. Technology enabled it to happen in a new way, but that’s just a tool to meet those requirements.

Anyone who believes that technology is at the front of this equation is doing algebra incorrectly. Even Jim Collins said that, when he talked about great companies using technology as an accelerator, not a foundation. You’ll note that he talks about relevance a lot, too.

The good-​to-​great companies never began their transitions with pioneering technology, for the simple reason that you cannot make use of technology until you know which technologies are relevant. - Good to Great, by Jim Collins

In terms of content strategy, we find that the tools for delivery change fairly consistently. We work to deliver content by screen size rather than device, and the smart cats will be working out how to deliver it in virtual, augmented or mixed reality settings. But again, it’s just the tools of delivery. It’s not going to change the thinking, the framework, or the business that it’s helping to drive.

In this way, we can use a framework like ISO 9001:2015 to bring some sense back to the table. And when we look at the context of the organisation, especially from a content strategy perspective, what we see are requirements for establishing a system.

The context of the organisation establishes a system

It is in the context of the organisation where the quality management system and its processes need to be considered. What is the scope of the system? What are its processes? What are its criteria, methods, resources, governance, risks, opportunities, changes (etc)?

The context of the organisation asks us to consider systems establishment. How is the system going to be established, measured, maintained, notified, and others informed? How can you make sure that the system is operating effectively, and properly controlled?

You could argue (and I’m going to) that creating any system requires this thinking. You simply can’t expect, for example, to have a content strategy framework in place that does not include criteria, methodology, resourcing, and governance.

Or rather, you can put a framework in place, but it won’t work, it won’t be controlled, and it won’t be effective. In fact, it is much more likely to fall off as soon as your consultant is gone. People will defer to bad habits, unless and until the habit is superseded by a requirement to do things in a particular way.

From ISO 9001 to content strategy: Achieve confidence in your system

One of the great benefits to building a content strategy framework along the lines of ISO 9001:2015 is that the standard requires you to keep such information as required to:
a) support the operation of the system
b) demonstrate with evidence that the processes are being carried out the way they should be.

This is something that the ISO 9001 framework adds to content strategy, that I’ve yet to see. Evidence.

There are a lot of people building corporate business systems, and we spend less time than we ought to in thinking about demonstrating that the process (a) is in place, and (b) is working the way it should be. If you don’t have this kind of information (of whatever kind that is, not necessarily something you had to sit down and spend time writing), how do you have any confidence that the system is doing what it should do?

We can’t expect our clients to rely on testimonials as proof that what we do works. We also need something independent from us that says, look — this is a proven framework. Proven by thousands internationally. For the independent content strategist, this gives you a huge amount of confidence in your own work. You don’t need to spend time creating frameworks when a proven one already exists. We need to stop recreating wheels, and learn to stand on the shoulders of others.

As a side note, the step down the road that an ISO 9001 framework gives us is the ability to audit it. You can’t audit something when there’s nothing to audit against. That’s the pointy part. You can create a content strategy system all you like, and you can take inventories of content. But unless you have a defined framework against which to audit that material, the assessment is at risk of becoming opinion. And in my experience, businesses simply don’t have the frameworks internally that allow them to audit their content. Unless organisations are sizeable, they need our help to create good systems that later on allow for audit and improvement.

What’s next?

In the next article, we will look at Leadership, which is clause 5 of ISO 9001:2015, and something that is always a problem for content strategists, who struggle to get ‘executive buy-​in’.

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