The importance of content collection in the project cycle

Avatar of Dave Harrison by Dave Harrison

Posted in ,

Feb 23 2009

I just can’t emphasize enough how important this is. I have tried to lay it out from the perspective of all the parties involved to show how it relates to their specific requirements.

From the client’s perspective

Content collection is a thankless task usually bestowed on someone who already has a job to do and who has very little incentive to go the extra mile for you. They neither get paid any more nor is there any extra time in the day for them to collect the content for you and still carry out their daily duties within the organisation or business. This is especially the case when the decision maker does not have a good handle on the nature of the project and the heavy workload involved in putting together the quality, spell-checked, proof-read and while organised content needed to make the project a success.

It is vital that the client and all parties involved really understand the importance of this content for the success of the web project. Make life easy for them, provide them with a clear and detailed explanation of the content you will require for the project along with a staggered time-line that ensures that all the critical content gets to those who need it early on in the process and the less critical stuff like news stories, FAQs etc are left till later.

From management’s perspective

As with most aspects of the process they will usually be in the dark about this, and will just expect everything to be dealt with in a professional manner so that they can continue to nurture their wonderful relationships with their clients. Oblivious to the reasons behind their PMs’, designers’ and developers’ frustrations they can often insist that projects continue even though the foundation is not in place. Unfortunately, while it may keep clients happy in the short term it has devastating consequences for the quality of the web project and ultimately its success. As the developer/designer or PM it is up to you to communicate this to your manager or sale executive, ensuring they understand fully the importance of getting the content and its role in the overall project.

From the project manager’s perspective

Most project managers (PM) when asked will tell you that their single biggest headache is in the acquiring of content. In my experience I have even known them to offer to generate/create the content out of shear frustration! A good PM will take it upon themselves organise and filter all incoming content, so as to remove this headache for the designers/developers. Of course PM are not often equipped to deal with content from the perspective of the designer or developer but in this case just simple organisation into folders, consistent and meaningful naming conventions and versioning are always a great help. Pm’s will also be responsible for contracting out any copywriting or photography that is needed and should ensure they have factored in extra time in the content collection process to allow for dealing with third parties.

From the designer’s perspective

Good design is all about communication and not decoration. In order to provide the client with the best possible website the user centric designer will usually insist that they need the content before they can come up with the fancy comp/visuals to show the client. After all, how can they design the layout of a page without knowing exactly what has to go on that page. There will always be some flexibility and if the Information Architect has done a good job it may be possible for the designer to do their job knowing the nature of likely content, just so long as this information is detailed and not vague. Regardless there is no substitute for having the content up front.

From the developer’s perspective

Like the designer there is just no substitute for having the content upfront. Few things are more frustration than figuring out a process or solution based on a provisional content, only to realise when the real content arrives that the solution or process is no longer optimal. Most developers take great pleasure in providing excellent solutions and exceeding clients expectations with that extra piece of functionality or even the very straightforward and simplistic but effective process. It is extremely demoralising to have to start over because the content you thought you were getting doesn’t materialise or is different in its make-up. To a certain extent agile development cycles, iterative programming and continuous review can in this day and age help to alleviate the frustrations somewhat. But for most small web projects, there is no substitute for just having the content up front.

So how do we get content up-front

I wish I had the answer. I think there are few approaches that may work.

Educate the client : If they truely understand the importantce of the content perhaps they will themselves take a more pro active approch rather than just delegating the role to someone else. Also if they are aware of the workload involved they may be prepared to free up some time for their content providers rather than expecting them to fit it into their already busy schedule

Motivate the client : Financially, provide them with a two-tier pricing matrix . One price with say a 10% discount, if content is provided by a certain date, and is of suitable quality. The second price kicks in if the content is not forthcoming. If you use this approach it is important to point out to the client that it is in their best interests to provide you with the content for the sake of getting the best quality solution and in so doing they get an added caveat of a discount.

Help the client: Provide them with all the tools they need to make the process easy. Content collection documents, check-lists, time-lines . Recommendations for copywriters or photographers. Even examples of the format of the content you need to make their web project work best for them. If you leave them alone thy will quickly loose focus and become demotivated. Keep in contact, dedicate a few hours a week to sit with them and talk them through what you need.