November 12, 2014 Last Updated 1:36 pm

Wednesday column: How to prepare for a new digital publishing workflow

Adjusting your workflow around new cloud-publishing software can be a bit intimidating. Despite all of the positive aftereffects, such as increased efficiency and collaboration, it can be hard to know where to start. What’s more, you have exciting new features and product opportunities to consider, and it can be challenging to see how those features will map to your production processes and into a new digital publishing workflow.

The first thing to keep in mind is that, in order to create new content products with new tools, your workflow should change. But that change doesn’t have to be scary–it can happen in manageable steps and it can be flexible to your team’s needs. With the right software partner, you won’t have to bite off more than you can chew. Remember, however, that the more tightly you hold onto existing workflow specifics, the less value you’re likely to see from new digital production tools.

workflow_webinar(To learn more about implementing a new workflow, watch the webinar, Build Dynamic Workflows for Dynamic Teams)

For those making the change (or thinking that it might soon be time) from a desktop-based, print-centric workflow to cloud publishing, we’ve compiled a few best practices to consider.

1. ESTABLISH A BASELINE
When creating a new workflow, it’s important to know what you’re up against. Understanding your current processes and timelines can help you identify your strengths and room for improvement. What are the stages of your existing workflow? Which steps require the most time? Where does the current process break down?

In addition to gathering quantitative data on your existing turnaround times, interview your project teams to gather qualitative information on their experiences. What do they like about their current workflow? What drives them crazy? In order to inspire widespread adoption, a new workflow should offer opportunities for increased efficiency and project collaborator satisfaction.

By surveying employees about what was broken with current workflows, Kaplan was able to adopt an agile development workflow and improve employee satisfaction by more than 200%.

Learn more about how Kaplan did this in the webinar, People, Process, and Software, a discussion between Kaplan’s President and Publisher Maureen McMahon and Inkling’s Founder and CEO Matt MacInnis.

2. IF IT AIN’T BROKE…
Adapting your workflow doesn’t mean everything needs to change. One of the most critical components of workflow development involves identifying your current strengths and playing to them. Does your author love writing first drafts in Word? Great. Recognizing that there are certain collaborators who enjoy their existing routines and don’t take well to new technology can be a critical component of realistic workflow definition.

Rather than forcing all project members to abruptly adapt to something new, give them an approachable path towards contributing to digital content creation. For example, designing a workflow that includes an optional first step to ingest content from Word may be a good way to bring new authors into the fold of digital production. New users will take to new tools much more quickly if given the freedom to come to their own conclusions about the benefits of doing so.

3. FIGHT THE URGE TO GO HYBRID
New users often have the urge to adopt hybrid workflows to ease their way into digital production. Rather than fully relying on new digital production tools, a new project team may feel more comfortable running a new digital process in tandem with their existing print workflow.

This is an option, but hybrid workflows can be tough! I recommend finding a project with which you can run a clean, clear digital-first workflow as early as possible. This will give you the opportunity to accurately assess all of the potential efficiency gains and content opportunities available to you in digital-first production. It will also help you distinguish your digital workflow from the complex coordination necessary to envelope it into your existing print process.

4. ACCEPT IMPERFECTION
Try as we might, workflows are never perfect. When you’re coordinating the efforts of a diverse, dispersed team of collaborators, you may occasionally see a need for process steps that feel clunky. When designing a new workflow, it is important to accept new potential pain points for the sake of larger gains.

I’ve seen numerous workflow development sessions come to a screeching halt when someone identifies a less-than-perfect step in the process. During these moments, I encourage teams to reflect on their existing workflows to consider the imperfection they’ve been living with for years. We can grow so accustomed to a process that we lose our ability to identify why steps are necessary and how strange our existing routines really are. While new digital production tools may not automatically result in pristine workflows, they can offer tremendous opportunities for creating higher-quality content more efficiently if we’re willing to give them a chance.

5. RUN A PILOT
Once you’ve drafted a new workflow, test it with a pilot project and team. Pilot projects are a great way to try a new tool and define your processes before sharing them more broadly. While running your pilot, you will inevitably run into roadblocks and gather information that helps you tweak your workflow. By testing with a small team, you’ll ensure you stay nimble and can adapt to new information before building widespread habits around a new process.

Successful pilots are also a great way to win over your more skeptical team members. Many folks will be quick to tell you 100 reasons why a new tool or process won’t work, and you can greatly soothe their anxiety by providing them with an example of a pilot that did. Pilots can thus act as powerful sources of immediate feedback and confidence boosters to arm you for a broader rollout.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
With all of this talk about workflows, it’s important to remember what really matters: your team. Above all, your workflow processes should service your team and what they do best, which is producing beautiful, innovative content products. With cloud publishing, your team can collaborative more effectively and efficiently, even if getting to that point requires a few challenges and adjustments along the way. It’s important to stay focused and keep moving forward, and your team will thank you for it later.

Dana Lindsay has managed the Enablement Team at Inkling since 2011. Currently, her team onboards new clients to Inkling technologies to help them build and distribute content autonomously.

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