At Content Connections, our annual virtual user conference last November, Dr. Andrew Bredenkamp led a great panel discussion about agile content development. On the panel were three professionals, all of whom are leading agile content development initiatives at some pretty impressive brands. Among them were Susie Dickson, content strategist at Facebook, Laurel Counts, director of technical communications at Moody’s Analytics, and Jim Turcotte, SVP of engineering services at CA.
In this post, we’ve tried to capture the great discussion that Andrew had with these folks about being agile and why velocity is so important when you’re creating content at scale. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, you can also access the full panel discussion here.
Andrew: So let’s start at the beginning. What does agile actually mean for each of your businesses?
Susie: It’s just how we do things at Facebook because we believe there’s really no other way to do product development successfully. The company’s mantra has long been “move fast and break things” and we’ve built our culture around that since day one. What it comes down to is that as a company we take an engineering-driven approach. That means that anyone who’s working on our products, needs to be aligned with that mentality so that they’re able to work quickly and iterate.
Laurel: At Moody’s Analytics, we see agile as a way to gain an advantage over our competitors by beating them to market with new products. Unlike at Facebook, though, where it sounds like it has been part of the company’s DNA since day one, we’ve only been focused on agile for the past five years. And, it’s really only in the last couple of years that agile has made its way downstream to our technical communications team.
Jim: From our perspective at CA, being agile is all about speed. We live in an application economy where software is literally changing business models overnight. If your company can’t keep up with that kind of velocity, you’re going to be dead in the water.
Andrew: Jim, you mentioned velocity, which is what being agile ultimately enables. Why do you think velocity is so important in the first place?
Jim: I think velocity is the key to meeting customer demands. But for that to work, a company needs to be agile enterprise-wide, not just in specific pockets like product development. After all, what good is having a super fast development team if it then takes months to get the content to support it before you can go to market?
Andrew: Ok, and what have you found to be the keys to making agile work?
Susie: For us there have been a few things. First and foremost, you’ve got to have good communication between the different teams and divisions in your organization. But even that alone isn’t enough. You’ve also got to figure out how you can get yourselves embedded into your product team so that you become a part of their process. That way content becomes a natural part of the discussion rather than an afterthought.
Jim: I’d say it’s about three things: the good internal collaboration that Susie just touched on, having a strong customer feedback loop so that you’re constantly learning and evolving, and finally having some level of automation that lets you offload the non-value add work from the process.
Laurel: I agree. Getting our get writers into the process has been really important as has been adopting the right tools. Without technology, the kind of automation that Jim was talking about just wouldn’t be possible.
Andrew: And has being agile changed the dynamics within your organization?
Jim: Absolutely. We’re much more collaborative now as a result. Rather than just assign one of my tech writers to create some documentation around a new feature or function, for example, we’ve now got a collaborative process in place. That process effectively allows us to crowdsource content from the relevant parties in our support, services, product management, and development teams. As a result, our writers are actually becoming content curators.
Susie: We’ve had a similar experience. Our engineering, research, and content teams were previously all in different silos, but now we’ve come together as one product team. I think that’s a reflection of how we’re maturing as a company and it has certainly allowed us to be a lot more nimble and to try new things that we previously couldn’t have.
Andrew: And have your customers noticed any changes as a result of your being agile?
Laurel: We haven’t fully rolled out agile documentation at Moody’s yet, but we’re getting there. So although our customers haven’t noticed any changes in our technical communication yet, I would say that they have noticed lots of improvements from a product development perspective.
Jim: Our customers definitely are noticing and we see that in a couple of ways. For example, they’re leaving positive comments and giving us higher net promoter scores. Plus, we’re also seeing a decrease in issue volume as our customers are using the content we create to satisfy their needs through self-service.
Susie: While it’s hard to tie anything back to agile directly, I think our ability to keep up with customer demands globally is probably the biggest testament to what agile has made possible for us.
Agile is a great approach to almost any complex business process. To find out more about how Facebook, Moody’s Analytics, and CA are using agile as part of their content development, check out the full discussion here.