Content Creation & Bias

Recognizing Our Own Cognitive Biases as Content Creators

Note: In this post I mention the phenomenon of “fake news”. Please note that this is to give contextual reference to ideas in this post, and I apologize beforehand to those of you who feel as thoroughly sick of the phrase “fake news” as I do.

Fig. 1: Bias <noun> prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair

As a community, whether we wanted to our not, we were recently brought face to face with news about ourselves we didn’t want to hear (and may still deny). We are inherently biased in our viewpoints and opinions.

For some people this is not a shocker. For most of us, the fake news phenomenon that hit rock bottom with the recent presidential election was a wake-up call whether we wanted it or not. It was a moment to look in our social media mirror and see writing on that mirror that pointed out the flaws in our reflection. (So very meta!)

Self reflection: several mirrors

I use this metaphor to say that the content we chose to consume, on whatever internet channel we frequented, was implicitly biased to match our own viewpoints, and we were forced to recognize this. (Which totally sucked. #amiright?)

We are biased in the content we consume. How biased are we in the content we create?

As we are so biased in the content we consume, how biased then are we in the content we create? And how do we combat that bias or at least become aware of it in our work?

Assumptions We Make Personally

I have always been aware of the concept of bias. Growing up in a household governed by strong and divergent views of our reality, this was readily apparent to me, and as a fairly judgmental teenager it was easy for me to see the biases of the authors I read, the teachers I listened to, and the views of the people around me.*

This led me to a deep skepticism of journalism. Not journalism in and of itself, which is incredibly detail oriented and well meaning, but of the belief that true journalism is unbiased and objective. This struck me as ludicrous. Anything a human individual writes is biased; therefore, anything we write as content creators will reflect our own personal biases, whether intentional or not.

Entering the world of content creation, I assumed that others had this same viewpoint. It was no challenge for me then to become a content creator for a brand/company/institution, since I assumed that my readers would be as educated as I was and be able to discern somewhat the biases inherent in the content I wrote.

The recent, unfortunate, phenomenon summed up by the phrase “fake news” reminded me that many, many people do not have the education or privileges of my own background, and that prodded me to be more aware of my own biases. Imagine how fascinated I was then to discover that there are different multiple defined types of bias, called more specifically cognitive biases.^

Cognitive Bias: The Types of Bias & How They Work

Fig 2: Cognitive bias: deviation from rational judgement

There are, apparently, over 200 varieties of cognitive bias! Can you believe that? Here are three prevalent types of cognitive bias:

  1. Optimism bias: A bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism).**
  2. Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias).
  3. Normalcy bias: A bias that causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned (or normality bias).

Our Biases as Content Creators

In the ‘verse of content, those three biases might be defined something like this:

  1. Optimism bias: Creating content, any content, will surely be good because content marketing is a cure all (and my client wants it), or maybe, we have a content strategy and while it might not be documented or well defined, it’s probably effective.
  2. Confirmation bias: The content we are creating is valuable to my company, brand, industry, or subject matter experts; therefore, it will be valuable to my audience. The way we approach our content from a company viewpoint is the same way our audience approaches it.
  3. Normalcy bias: The type of content I am creating has proven valuable in the past, therefore producing more content structured in the same way will continue to achieve the desired results.

Content biases can range from our beliefs about how our content strategy is working (optimism bias) to the format in which we structure our content (normalcy bias).

I looked at some of my own work through the lenses of these biases, and here are some things I discovered.

Optimism Bias

In our organization, we produce, on average, 65 pieces of content per month. This includes the following:

  • Evergreen webpages
  • Press releases
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts (which become webpages when transcripts are posted)
  • Article/feature style pieces
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Print pieces

I have been more studiously auditing our organization’s web content assets (4K+ specific to content marketing and roughly 30K+ to evergreen web pages). At a certain point, you have to ask yourself if this is sustainable. While we work to abide by best practices, I sometimes wonder how effectively we are abiding by those practices and what assumptions we are making about the success of our various content formats.

We also have multiple content creators spread across multiple teams. The standards they employ and consider normal and not always what I think of first as normal! My content is always biased towards either tracing the efficacy of content towards ROI, meaning I write and maintain a lot of content targeted to potential patients or students.

The best practices that work for the content I create do not apply to content created by other teams. My sphere of normalcy is not the same others’. This is a bias that I try to be aware of when I’m working with other content creators. But boy is it hard!!

The best practices I apply to the type of content I create don’t necessarily apply to content created by others. While we start with standard practices, we don’t necessarily end up there.

As Robert Rose recently said in a webinar I watched (through the Content Marketing Institute), while we start with standard practices, we don’t necessarily end up there. And what’s normal for us may not work for all of our stakeholders. It’s a good thing to remember.

Confirmation Bias

A good example of confirmation bias in my work is a written piece we created for our joint replacement services. Our ortho services identified this specialty as a priority, so we determined to write something targeted to potential patients to help them decide if it was the right time to get a joint replacement.

We initially assumed that patients would approach this job, of finding information about a hip or knee replacement, in the same way that our specialists (and we!) think of it as: “When to Get a Joint Replacement”.  (Can you already see the problem here?)

Fully expecting the piece to have a good traffic footprint, we pulled data for the page after six months. We were shocked to discover that it was performing abysmally! A little keyword research analysis later, and it was clear why that was happening.

People looking for information about hip and knee replacement don’t think of it as joint replacement. We separated the content out into two different pieces: “When to Get a Hip Replacement” and “When to Get A Knee Replacement”. Traffic improved 450 percent comparatively—I kid you not.

Just because we are used to regarding a content topic from a certain viewpoint—involving jargon or with an industry-focused approach—doesn’t mean our users do. A lesson we technically are intensely familiar with, and yet we still create, on occasion, a piece that is biased towards our industry and not our user.

This was a good reminder to focus time and effort around identifying not just what may help our potential audience but also to explore their approach to it and not our own.

Normalcy Bias

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about the symptoms of heart disease called “When to See a Cardiologist”. It was structured as a listicle, as that was (and still remains I believe?) a popular format to consume content.

Within a few months it became the most visited page within this subsite and even translated to clicks on the associated call to action “Schedule an Appointment.” This was undoubtedly a success, and one that we use frequently as an example for our clients of what specifically targeted content can do for our audience.

Imagine my surprise then to discover a few months ago that traffic to this piece had dropped by 25 percent! Not gonna’ lie—I experienced some panic. My team and I started to look into when and how this had occurred. We couldn’t necessarily pinpoint the exact cause, but did connect a few dots.

With the introduction of the Google answer box, which wasn’t necessarily that recent, this piece of content showed in search results in a different format to users. While best practice dictates that the heights of achievement are unlocked when your content shows in an answer box, the way our piece showed now could be considered detrimental to us, if our success measure was solely to drive traffic to our website.

Fig. 3: Google query search return from 2018 showing the content piece in an answer box with almost the entire list in an abbreviated format. Since the list is the main structure for the piece, a viewer might wonder if there is any truly pertinent information left on the page to justify a click.

I don’t know about you, but looking at that result (Fig. 3) as a user, I’m suddenly much more confident in making a decision about whether this content will help me find what I want to know. It’s also easy to assume that the 10-item list may not be detailed enough information for me.

In the future, I will be doing more research on whether a list format is the approach I want to take when creating a content piece of this type.

Content Bias in the Process of Content Creation

I hope my examples of content matching the specific cognitive biases of optimism, confirmation, and normalcy have given you some ideas of your own regarding bias. While the fake news travesty continues to make my own biased viewpoints resonate in frustration, I am making an effort to think about issues from other points of view. It sure ain’t easy!

Also, I plan on exploring more information regarding the types of cognitive bias. Understanding the biases of our audiences obviously is essential for us as content creators. It’s also important that we separate the inherent biases of our organizational need vs. our user need. I really can’t emphasize that enough. While we may think we are aware of that bias—believe me—we aren’t completely aware.

What biases can you find in your industry and more specifically your company? How do you approach them when you create content? It’s a question we are all going to have to be more honest about on reflection if we want to be successful in connecting with not just our users, but ourselves as well.

*Naturally, as a judgmental teenager and later college student, I was less aware of my own personal biases.

^While watching some continuing education videos for my project management professional certification, I listened to a fantastic presentation by Mario Alt titled “The Mission Critical Project Manager” that discussed cognitive bias.

**Wikipedia

Content & The Editorial Workroom: How to Begin Tracking Your Content

No Content Strategy? Try These 3 Things to Start Moving in the Right Direction.

Raise your hand if you have no content strategy.

Raise your hand if you have a partial content strategy (in the clouds around your head, somewhere…).

Raise your hand if you are a genius. All of your hands should now be in the air, ‘cause you can point your organization in the right direction towards a content strategy by starting with these small steps (and always claim to be a genius—humble brag my people).

Recently at work, in tandem with multiple fortuitous circumstances, I was able to assist in setting up some editorial management for content. It’s just a start, mind you, and rather opposite of the “ideal” methodology (business goals –> content strategy –> editorial calendar –> content creation and maintenance, #amIright?). But if you, like us, need to work with priorities that change on the fly, demanding clients no matter the validity of their requests, and a multitude of contributing teams, you might try some of these first steps we have taken.

1. Compile Task/Work Lists

Ideally every piece of content would roll up to a top-level strategy. But sometimes it’s necessary just to gain that measurement of the current state. This can be difficult, however, without a spreadsheet or task management system of some kind. In our office over the last two years, we have slowly consolidated into one main project management system, Asana.

Everyone enters their projects differently and even uses different tracking methods (my team uses complexity scores; another team relies more on time logs; yet other teams rely on output). The one thing we all do, however, is enter our content-to-be-done into Asana as tasks. Knowing that the majority of our teams enter the majority of their content as tasks into the system (or spreadsheets, which can be imported into Asana), I thought I’d take a stab at organizing it all into an editorial calendar.

List of content assets in Asana
Fig 1: All the content assets/tasks in Asana

In Asana, this meant setting up a project and literally just tagging each content task as part of the project (1 hour – that’s all it took).

Calendar view in Asana
Fig 1.5: Calendar view of content assets/tasks

You Don’t Have a Project Management System (& Heads Will Roll Before You Get One)

You don’t need a project management system to make a list, however. The good, old-fashioned spreadsheet will do just as well. It’s true that you probably can’t rely on all your content creators entering things into a spreadsheet, and that might not change, but change for good sometimes rests on the shoulders of you—the superhero in plainclothes.

Spreadsheet version of editorial calendar
Fig 2: Y’all are best pals with the spreadsheet, cheap, easy, but hopefully not that easy…

Writing things down holds people (yourself included) accountable. It’s something to measure. Lists are the best friend of measurement and tracking; they are data points in and of themselves. They are also the easiest place to start.

Generally, people just need a rallying point. It’s not that they don’t want glory, lauds, and honor, it’s just that they don’t know how to go about it. All it takes is that one person starting the process.

2. Assign Categories—Thereby Setting Up an Easy, Quantifiable Way to Show the Output You Are Creating

One thing I would add to your soon-to-be-editorial calendar is categories (tags/columns—whatever). Why? These categories will help you see what track your content is on. Who’s your audience? What type of content is being created? Categories will section your content and add that special razzle dazzle to a spreadsheet or list.

On our editorial calendar (notice it’s not a list anymore—IT’S A CALENDAR), we use these categories:

  • Audience
  • Content Type
  • Marketing Priority (if aligns with specific)
  • Service/Topic

This gives you an immediate view of what’s been done and where the majority of your time and budget commitment is going. While it doesn’t equate with the complexity of creation or the time spent on it, this data is still an easy, quantifiable way to show the output you are creating.

Fig 3: Content created for University of Utah Health during August, 2018, sorted by audience; I wish the color palette was different, but I tried to limit myself to something others would find professional.

Once again, organizing by category will tell you if what you are creating is directed at the audience you are trying to reach. You are using your list as data points, in this case to tell a story about your current state.

For example, in Figure 3 you can see we are creating content for all the inhabitants of Noah’s Ark a lot of people. While the content is pretty evenly divided along what the organization prioritizes, this graph brings up interesting questions. Should we be spending so much of our creative power on content for patients? What are we asking those patients to do when they come to our content? (More embarrassingly, do we have calls to action on our content for that particular audience?)

For some people, understanding what’s happening right now helps them to focus on where they need to go. Plus, people really like graphs and charts. Trust me on that one.

Graphs and charts from content report
Fig 4: Charts and graphs created in Excel showing the content lists sorted by different categories; 15 content pieces aligned with clinical marketing priorities and 14 with academic. Btw, 91 total assets was like a freaking miracle for us at U of U Health. I think we broke the bank on that one.

3. Communicate the Work That’s Been Done

Once you have compiled your list of what content has been published in the past week, month, quarter, I recommend posting it somewhere. You could:

  • post the list on an internal intranet/blog.
  • email the list to your department at large.
  • email the list to your boss.
  • email the list to other important stakeholders.

Anywhere you can communicate the work that’s been done is good. People want to be recognized and included, particularly if upstairs is impressed by your organizational and list-gathering capabilities. You might even get people to commit to—wait for it—deadlines…

Action, Information, Reaction: Feedback Loops Can Lead to Change!

What you have just done in compiling this list and emailing it out is create a feedback loop. You have taken what everyone mostly already knows and just made it available real-time. While some would write this off as so easy – then why haven’t they done it yet?* Research has shown that feedback loops help us change:

“Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction.” —Thomas Goetz, Wired Magazine

By compiling this list, you are helping people see some organization in their work. You are showing people what was accomplished in a certain period of time and how that could possibly influence the future. You are helping people engage in—eek!—thinking about cause and effect, value, return on investment.

Those Fragile Toes We Stepped On—Change Is Hard

As change does, this will step on some toes. Even if you try to communicate when, where, why, and how what you are doing is a force for good, someone out there will claim that they never knew about it and why didn’t you tell them?^

This work-culture attitude, that change is hard, takes work. However, few things are more motivating in favor of change than these things:

  • Inclusion
  • Competition
  • Appearance
  • Demonstration of advantages

When faced with someone who hates what I’ve done, the only thing I can say is this: Sorry to tread on your toes. Please give me your feedback. I would love to involve you as your work is an important part of our content initiative.

Is it Flattery or Genuine Appreciation?

Occasionally I mention to people that I treat all my clients like they are unique and special. This includes co-workers, collaborators, and upper management. Some would call that cynical and manipulative. The difference is that I actually (99.99% of the time) mean it!

There is something to appreciate in everyone. If you can find it, you will succeed. That doesn’t mean sidestepping accountability, but appreciating what your co-workers accomplish.

Benefits of Measuring Your Current State –> The Editorial Calendar

Some may say that if you don’t have a strategy, why bother with an editorial calendar? It’s true that an editorial calendar does not replace a content strategy; however, sometimes it’s enough to start with what you have and make incremental changes in the direction you would like to go. Even little changes can lead to great waves.**

The benefits of gathering this information and putting it in one place are these:

  • Help instill a feeling of unity between content creators (technically, you are working towards the same goal).
  • Foster collaboration.
  • Gain a true appreciation of just how much work others are doing.
  • Communicate that you care about the content being produced.
  • Nudge content creators towards thinking in terms of audience-based content.

This is a simple (but often boundary pushing^^) step in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a gargantuan effort, particularly if you are working with people who don’t play well together, but often the initial act of compilation can push your team/s towards seeing the current state of things. On the path to Valhalla, we heroes must create the path. After all, nobody starts out a hero. It’s the journey that truly defines you. (See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, Bloomsbury Publishing.)

P.S. You also don’t have to tell them that next up, you are going to start examining vanity metrics more closely for patterns and that you are going to point out holes in your current content assets and maybe challenges in the creation process. World domination takes time my friends.

*This is a defining concept of modern art. Just think—we could all be smearing ketchup on weird glass blocks and have a show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But we didn’t. So we can’t.
^Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Stress at work can lead to hair trigger tempers when it comes to change. Not that I have ever gotten upset like that…
**Sometimes only clichés can accurately capture your truth. Is that lazy writing though? A question for another day.
^^Hello paradox, my old friend. Why is it so hard sometimes to take one step forward?

Setting Up Your Employee to Succeed: An Astonishing Idea

I literally never heard or read of this concept until this last year, 2018. I’m not kidding! Who knew that not only was there a philosophy and school of thought RE management, but that some organizations literally structure a plan for their employees to succeed!

I am still dumbfounded by this concept in the context of a goal that leadership or management would strive to achieve. And I think it’s just that the idea is so new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had great bosses (at least one) that gave me what I needed to succeed, but I also recognize that not every boss will intuitively understand every employee enough to do this. Each employee is unique; therefore, their way to success will be different as well.

Expectations

In the past my experiences as an employee have always been focused around figuring out what the boss likes and trying (or not) to please them. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Never, in my life, did it occur to me that a boss could give me parameters around which I could build my own success OR that they might allow me the freedom to define my own success.

My personal cultural background operates around a concept called servant leadership.* Namely, the leader is there to make sure the employees get what they need rather than making themselves an all-knowing figurehead who directs from on high. But there is (and I have yet to meet a leader who truly practices this) an element of pride in this concept: that I, as the nominated leader, somehow know better than the team what each team member needs and will elevate them through my own personal wisdom.

This bullsh&$ is actually kind of the opposite of truly helping your employees succeed. Setting yourself up as all-knowing intermediary is a flawed approach because none of us are all-wise, and all of us are generally affected by having power over others.^

In my first management position (by title), I had 10 dressers (assistants to actors with costume changes). One day one of the young dressers asked me a question and I absolutely beamed. She had figured out that my definition of success was not that the dresser was busy every minute, but that they were available and made sure all work that needed to be completed was done.

And that was the very question she asked me: Was anything else that needed to be done? Suddenly, she gained mega points in my mental tally, simply by figuring out what my expectations were.

I realized as I thought about this later, that one aspect of helping your employees to succeed is making known your expectations. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind.

In fact I did my employees a disservice by not communicating these expectations. Whether or not they cared about “succeeding” (via my definition) in this position, I certainly didn’t help them out.

But, are our personal expectations of our employees (and ourselves) truly the measure of success? Success certainly becomes far more tangible if it is tied to an overarching goal or objective.

Tangible Goals & Strategic Objectives

How many of you know what your institution, department, and/or team goals are? Our department worked very hard to define goals and outcomes in the last couple years, but a recent leadership departure has scattered those foci out in the proverbial wind. Granted, the industry (if you can call it that) of the academic medical center certainly doesn’t help anyone out since it’s so immensely divided in strategic objectives it’s nigh impossible to meet all the expectations.**

But, defining goals and/or objectives at any level (and writing them down) will help everyone succeed. Suddenly, you have something that can be defined and measured. You can break down these end games into an achievable journey. And not only is your end game achievable, but you with your employees can customize the way you achieve these goals.

I once thought that there was only one way to do things. That is absolute rubbish. There are not only multiple ways to do things, but there are pros and cons to all of them.

There is a difference, however, between skills and methodology. Skills are like facts, the building blocks of specialty, craft, or trade.

When you sew a seam in a costume, there are techniques to achieve quality. Once you have learned the basic techniques and skills of your specialty area, then you can explore methodologies. Another example: There are different methodologies of project management; however, they are all based around certain skills:

  • Time management
  • Resource management
  • People management

The way you approach those can define your success.

True employee success comes however, I believe, when your employee feels empowered to take their individual skill set and map out a way to achieve the overall goal themselves.

Simple Steps to Prime Your Employees to Succeed

As Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Your employees should be skilled people in their specialties. You, as their manager, may have some of these skills, but you will be most successful yourself if your skill set is in good management. (But more about that some other time.)

Here are some simple steps to prime your employees to succeed:

  • Know and communicate the endgame
  • Tie in team and employee goals to the endgame
  • Clearly communicate your expectations
  • Allow your employee the freedom to work as suits them best
  • Hold your employee accountable; review and check in as needed

Of course, now that I write that, I realize none of those steps are really simple. Each one involves skill sets that are difficult to master in and off themselves—communication; candid conversations about difficult topics; a modicum of self-mastery so that you don’t project your own emotions on your employees; the ability to accept failures and move on; and, perhaps most important, the ability to listen.

And celebrate your successes!

If you are constantly focusing on where you need to go without appreciating the work that’s been done, how will your employees ever feel successful?

So, it turns out that while I could teach skill sets and I have some good management skills, there is still much to learn. And I can help my employees to succeed if only by acknowledging their expertise and specialty level and not assuming my methodologies are the only way. I can also help them to define (alongside myself) a set of clear achievable goals towards our endgame.^^

And I’m wicked good at throwing celebrations…

 

*Very Christian actually
^And if you think you don’t favor a particular employee, you’re lying. Every manager has a favorite or one they listen to more than others.
**Patient care, research, and education. Those are three wildly difficult areas to define success measures for, so in an institution that has them all squished together—welcome the woes of too many masters.
^^It’s true that the institutional endgame might not be defined or be somewhat nebulous, but you work with what you have…

Website Redesign

Audit, Rework, Edit, Do ALL THE THINGS

Get Ready image courtesy of “How to Win in Pacman” https://www.wikihow.com/Win-in-Pac-Man

There’s nothing that makes the web team tetchier than when a client says: “We need a complete website redesign.” Want to know why? It’s ‘cause there are so many possible meanings rolled up into that phrase. We need a few more specifics.

Are you talking about actual design—colors, fonts, images? Or do you mean you want to rework content? Are you concerned about navigation? Is there a feature you think everyone would use that doesn’t currently exist?

I often find that people have a hard time identifying what’s not working; they just have an idea about how it’s “supposed” to work and they want it “fixed” yesterday.

To help you all with that, we’ve come up with an outline of our ideal website audit and rework process, because it involves multiple things. While you can break some of these down into smaller projects themselves, if you don’t keep the first step in mind, you are losing the trees for the weeds.

STEP 1: DISCOVER/DEFINE

Pac Man and a few fellows: ghosts, food, surely some accessories will come along as well…

The discovery process helps us define what we want to accomplish as well as who our users are and what they need. Most major flaws in website design and structure occur because this first initial step is skipped. You also need to focus on your largest audience.

  1. What is the purpose of the site, desired outcomes, or success measures?
  2. Who are our audiences? Who is our largest audience?
  3. What are our audiences’ top tasks? When they visit the site, what are the most important things they are hoping to do?
  4. What is the overall timeline?

Once again, it’s easy to become overly focused on tactics—replacing images, adding content, moving widgets—as opposed to actually defining what the measure of success is for your website.

STEP 2: RESEARCH

All the Pac Man characters you may encounter in the game; image courtesy of common domain; find original on http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Ghosts_(Pac-Man)

Now you figure out how people are interacting with your current site, more specific behaviors your users have, and maybe some dirt on your competitors. Some of these steps can be streamlined however. Use your time judiciously!

  1. Do some user/UX testing to see how your current site is performing. This can help you identify problem areas.
  2. Review existing analytics to see what users are doing on your site and what pages they consider most important.
  3. Review existing web content, including a content audit. We are happy to assist with this.
  4. Create some user stories/jobs-to-be-done. Think through what a user needs to accomplish when they come to your website. Try to pick a few different users/tasks to represent your audience/s.
  5. OPTIONAL: Review your biggest competitors.*
  6. OPTIONAL: Review what sets you apart from your competitors.*

Keep this other thing in mind as well: Just because someone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s working for their users.

People often want what they like and have to have what they think is best. That’s nice and all, but this site isn’t about us; it’s about our users. (I know—it’s depressing. It’s like film actors and screenwriters, whose favorite scenes end up on the cutting room floor, or writers, whose best bits get edited out of the action.)

STEP 3: OUTLINE

Multiple different versions or levels of the Pac Man game; image courtesy of common domain masonicGITpacman game https://github.com/masonicGIT/pacman

This step complements the research you have previously done and helps you create a true map of user flows, content hierarchy, and priorities.

  1. Do some card sorting or tree testing or other types of testing to explore terminology, labeling, and the best navigation structure. It doesn’t have to be really fancy actually, you can do some on-the-fly testing with friends and neighbors that will tell you a lot, just by watching them complete some tasks.
  2. Define goals for each website page type (examples include education, about, news, and the like).
  3. Determine what content needs to be pruned out and archived.
  4. Determine what additional content is needed. Once again, USE CAUTION. It’s best to get a product out quickly even if it’s minimal and then add onto it.
  5. Build a sitemap with appropriate content hierarchies. This sounds difficult, but it’s about prioritizing what content is the most important for your users and featuring it up front or highest up in folder structure.

Priorities are SO WICKED IMPORTANT. If your site is perfect when you publish it, it’s too late. Everyone else will either have moved on or that thing you spent hours and hours perfecting will be out of date by the time you publish.

STEP 4: IMPLEMENT

Pacman and ghosts cross-stitched
Cross stitched by yours truly. I may have to make some more…

The pitfalls in this step mainly involve coddling the perfectionists. You will be most successful if you emphasize the need to produce a minimum viable product or, in other words, get the simplest version out there right away and add to it (iterate). This way you won’t be held up by others’ caveats.

  1. Assign writers to write/rewrite/edit content.
  2. Rework page structures. (Carefully! There are some pitfalls to this, especially when working on a timed roll-out plan with a live site.)
  3. Get sign-offs from stakeholders on changes/website pages in the test environment. (If you have a test environment open only to certain users. If not, no sweat!)
  4. Schedule redirects from pages to be archived to newly structured folders/pages. Using redirects tells Google where you have moved content on your site relevant to your users. It helps you retain link equity that previous content has earned (SEO optimization tool).
  5. Publish live!! And throw a party!
  6. Run spell checks and broken link checks.

CONGRATS!!! But—it doesn’t actually end here. Just FYI. There’s maintenance, content guidelines and editorial processes to determine (governance), workflows to figure out, and so much more. It gets out of hand so quickly! Like a child with a set of permanent markers or a cat who finds where you hid the treat bag…

Here’s wishing you the best of luck!

 

*This process can be very time consuming and can take precedence over everything else. Do NOT let it overwhelm what you need to accomplish.

**Extra byline for Mike Rockwood here who threw his hands up and said “I’ll outline it for you!” at least, metaphorically.

^Initially published on University of Utah Health’s intranet Pulse

5 Agile Practices I Learned From the Theatre

Many posit that Agile was born at Snowbird 20 or so years ago, but Agile project management processes have existed in one form or another for a long, long time, nor is there one right way of implementing Agile. From the accounts I have read and people I have talked to, many use the aspects of Agile that work for them rather than applying it in its most distilled form.

This, IMO, is the most effective use of Agile. If you can’t customize a work process, how is your work prioritizing people over processes or results over documentation (supposedly the heart of Agile)?

In my past life, I worked as a costumer, among other theatrical positions. Since that time, theatrical management processes have pervaded my intuitive management philosphies. Come to discover, many of these are Agile processes. So, here are five Agile management processes I learned from the theatre.

1. User Centered Approach: Audience First

“Can you see it from the middle of the house?” is a question as inimical to theater as the phrase, “break a leg.” The house would be the theater, and the middle would be where the majority of the audience resides. So seeing things from the middle of the house refers to the practice of making sure the product is usable (in this case visible) by the greatest concentration of users.

“Seeing things from the middle of the house” refers to the practice of making sure the product is usable by the greatest concentration of users.

This user-centered approach is something that many other arts don’t practice nor is it always common practice among producers of products or services. Can you imagine an abstract artist wondering, as he circles his ginormous canvas dripping paint from a palette knife,* if the majority of canvas viewers will be able to see how even the drip patterns are from the vantage point of five feet in front of a museum wall?

I may also may have heard of the experience of a public relations rep who, having organized a press conference to showcase a new hospital, watched alongside the press with disbelief as hospital staff moved a patient bed into an elevator only to find that the elevators were not big enough to hold the hospital beds…

2. Frequent Iterations

The theatre has build, development, and testing process just like any other product or service. These iterations are seen in so many places throughout the theatre industry it’s almost dizzying.

Before a script is even licensed for a company to perform, it has already gone through multiple iterations and readings in front of audiences to hone its effect.

Every theatrical season offers more than one play with a run of generally a few weeks to a couple months, the response to which will then provide the producers with feedback in multiple areas:

  • Audience response to a production topic/style
  • Employee satisfaction with various designers, managers, and actors
  • Audience engagement with particular actors
  • Audience experience with the theatrical space or production studio

Every production is a chance for the producers to gain feedback and adjust their product to better achieve desired outcomes, whether that’s profit margin or refinement of production techniques.

3. Working with a Product Owner

The ultimate product owner can really be found in the theatrical (or film) producer. Their drive to see the product not just survive but thrive is no different than the passion and understanding a product owner usually exhibits in representing the intended audience or desired outcomes of their product to the production team.

A producer can have multiple productions going on at once or one main labor of love at any time. The producer works with directors, costume and technical managers, and designers, all of who are essentially extensions of the product owner, rather like the technical, functional, and business analysts on occasion used by an Agile product owner.

4. The Postmortem (aka Retrospective)

Retrospective or postmortem? I really like the term postmortem, but maybe it’s just ‘cause we use it in the theater? A well-conducted post-mortem (OR that most Agile of postmortems, the retrospective) is more than just a dissection of the production process and end product, it’s an evaluation of decisions and practices that worked well.

I did wonder why theatre has a post-mortem and everything else has a retrospective (or that most pedantic of phrases a “lessons-learned” evaluation). My theory is that it has something to do with the fact that medical autopsies and operations were once conducted in a space called an operating theater.

Due to the novelty of autopsies/operating procedures (and dare I say the drama?) and the interest they generated, early operations were often conducted in a gallery-style area constructed like a theater for public viewing and instruction. Technically, gallery style seating or theatrical seating was the original classroom/learning structure.^

Via this association, it’s clear why theatre has a postmortem rather than a retrospective.

5. Scalability

When you initially study or implement Agile practices, it’s difficult to think about it in use on a larger scale but having worked in the theatre with multiple productions in process at any one time involving multiple teams, processes using Agile are very, very scalable. It’s a bit like observing our solar system in action. You may think things will collide, but everything generally runs quite well or is altered (based on frequent feedback iterations and postmortems) to fit the needs for which it is being used.

While any aficionado of the theater can tell you there is generally a lot of drama no matter what the product, it’s also amazing that theatre has survived not only this long, but with a very intact and well-founded management structure.

Considering how many iterations have been conducted in the theatre just for the past 50 years, I’d say the industry has impressively honed management practices.

So if you ever want to spend some time truly working in an energetic, fast-paced, cutting edge industry, try the theatre. You might be surprised what you learn.

*A process used, in fact, by the artist Jackson Pollack https://www.sfmoma.org/jackson-pollocks-drip-painting-process/

^Follow that thought train a little further: What does that make theatre in its original form?