For several years, I taught a Junior Achievement course for a fifth grade class. That program has changed, but when I was teaching it, one of the exercises during that course demonstrated the difference between Unit Production and Mass Production. The project involved the famous JA Pen. I would disassemble 30 pens and the students would build them individually and then in an assembly line process. They would then analyze their productivity rates and discuss how they felt about the two methods. One result that always surfaced was that in the mass production process, they felt more like a team than in the unit production process. As I think about that experience and the process of Content Management, I think they only felt like a team because they were in physical contact.
In our experiment, the first child would put the spring on the ink cartridge and then hand to the next person. That person put the ink assembly in the barrel. The next person installed the decorative ring, the next installed the top. The final person tested the pen. Throughout the process, the production team was handing pen parts to the next person in line.
Our current ECM project involves engineering inspection reports. An engineer plans an inspection, conducts the inspection and writes the report. An administrative assistant makes sure the report is correctly formatted, enters various document properties and returns the report to the engineer. After a final review, the engineer releases the report and the administrative assistant distributes the report to the plant, and puts a copy in our file and in the customer’s file. Because this process is done via email attachments and shared file folders, with some engineers working in different parts of the country, nobody feels like this is a collaborative process. The absence of person to person transactions reduces this process to a series of discrete steps that are often viewed as being independent. The fractured nature of this process makes it harder to design and implement an automated ECM solution, because the addition of work is often not seen in the context of its benefit. For example, if I have to set metadata when I write a report, I have more work to do. The fact that the metadata is used to automate the distribution process is not yet apparent, and that isn’t even my job!
The key to succeeding with a project like this is communication; people have to be made to understand the whole process, their various roles in the process and how the automated process will change those roles. Once they see that there is a net gain in the process, they begin to see the value of their new role. When I realize that if I set the metadata fields correctly, the administrative assistant doesn’t have to create or file the PDF copies of my document, I feel like I am collaborating; my work directly helps another person. It is also important to point out the soft benefits, like the fact that we can now instantly tell how many reports were completed this month, this quarter, this year or since any date in the past.
The challenges of building this type of process goes beyond putting the players in a room and explaining how the process works. We have to analyze the process from every vantage point and add as much benefit (hard and soft) as possible. For example, as these documents move from stage to stage, workflows create tasks for the next person. At each stage, we made the workflow clear the previous tasks so the people have one less thing to do. We are using Document Sets in this project and we carefully reviewed each metadata element to determine which ones belonged in the Set. Having the metadata in the set makes it available in all documents without having to enter it more than once. We also realized that by adding a few more elements of metadata to this library, we can eliminate a related library entirely. The workflows also update a series of date fields so this process can be tracked and analyzed in greater detail than before. This last step adds value to the manager of this process without adding any work to anyone involved.
Adding benefit, squeezing value out of every step and helping people realize the broader scope of the process they are involved in, are all part of the content management process.