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Make No Small Plans

Managing hundreds of sites? Start with a plan

Chicago skyline view from above

For over 25 years, Palantir has led digital transformation projects for hundreds of small and large organizations. The primary difference between these two client sets is one of scale: large organizations simply have more content, more stakeholders, and a larger audience.

As a result, they frequently have exponentially more technology deployed to meet those needs. That leads to complexity, which drives up costs and can make proper governance challenging, if not impossible.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased demand for high-level strategy around content management. That’s partly because tools for content management have matured rapidly, which makes it easier to spin up new sites.

But, easier to create doesn’t mean easier to maintain. The more complex your digital ecosystem becomes, the more critical strategic planning and investment becomes.

When we work with clients, we often focus our initial conversations on two primary areas:

Audience Needs

  • What specific benefits are defined audience segments going to realize if they use the site?

Editorial Workflow and Capacity

  • How will site content (including images and multimedia) be created, reviewed, and managed?
  • What internal capacity and resources does the organization have to maintain content on the site?

The answers to these questions show where the most work needs to be done.

If an organization hasn’t considered audience benefits, their core publishing and digital strategy needs to be defined. If they haven’t considered the capacity of their editorial team(s), their understanding of how to leverage a content management system needs definition and training. If they haven’t done a frank assessment of their internal capacity, the risk of committing to the wrong solution is high.

When working on projects at scale, the best outcomes are driven by a clarity of purpose and of capacity. Working through these fundamental areas helps organizations recognize their goals and constraints, and assists them in making plans accordingly.     

"Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency." 

- Daniel Burnham, Architect and Urban Planner    

Audiences Set Guidelines

Many organizations find themselves in a support and maintenance nightmare because of custom features that may see little use by key audience segments.

Having a purpose-driven and audience-centered approach to digital publishing allows organizations to maximize their editorial and technical capacity. That’s because a focus on the audience needs lets you streamline your products.

Every page exists to accomplish a specific goal, and that goal needs to be tied directly to a positive benefit for a specific audience (or audiences in some cases). Once the audience(s) and purpose of each page are defined, we have a better understanding of how each element of the design will improve the overall user experience. It provides us with the knowledge needed so that the entire team can make informed decisions about the level of effort to produce and maintain each content element.

Assessing Editorial Capacity

Our client wanted to create custom landing pages to promote each of their new publications. Our team sketched a basic wireframe and discussed the media assets - images, video, perhaps audio - that would need to be created for each page.

Combined with the editorial copy and review, we worked together to estimate page creation time at 8-10 hours per page. (This number is not particularly high, given the graphics and editorial content needed for each page.)

Before we started to design the page, we walked through these numbers with the editorial team. “Oh,” the lead editor said, “we don’t have time to produce those without adding more staff.”

Imagine that conversation repeated, with variance in details and outcomes, dozens of times across a large organization that has each division manage its own content, and you can begin to see the scale of the challenge.

One solution to this problem is to centralize editorial production, generally within the marketing and communications team. That may work well for some organizations, yet for larger and more ambitious projects, it can create production bottlenecks. Centralized content creation may not be ideal when dealing with topics that require subject matter expertise.

Instead, many organizations opt for a distributed content creation strategy bolstered by a centralized editorial review strategy. Fortunately, there are mature tools for working in such a fashion, which allows for both flexibility and consistency.

It’s critical to make an honest assessment of your editorial needs and capacity early in the project. Ideally, this step should occur before development work begins, since editorial workflow needs are a critical foundation of the project.

Managing for the Long-term

Designing your digital presence is a huge undertaking, and it’s easy to get caught up looking at the immediate work to be done. However, it’s vital to keep in mind that large-scale digital transformation projects are not just designed to meet the needs of the here and now; they need to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of your organization.   

A truly ambitious plan may never be fully implemented as originally envisioned, but it can provide a vision and north star for your organization to follow. As Daniel Burnham’s quote speaks to above, the ambitious urban plan for Chicago was never fully implemented, but many of its principles, such as reclaiming lakefront property for use by the public, continue to be followed over a century later.

Photo by Marco Verch from Flickr

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