Four Key Things to Look for in a Content Development Partner
When you are looking for the right content development partner, it is important to find a firm with the ability to align their methods and processes to your business goals and operational needs. Some firms may try to impress you with slick designs, sophisticated formats, or a Fortune 500 client list; but the key elements to watch for are more subtle and elusive.
Working through the following list of questions will help you focus on uncovering the essential elements of a good working relationship rather than being lulled into a bad match by dazzling first impressions.
1. Transparency: Does the development partner manage projects in a way that provides a clear window into their work?
There may be instances when you just want the final deliverable to land on your desk on a specified date with no questions asked. Most projects, however, require some level of monitoring and feedback along the way in order to ensure that what you want is precisely what you get at the end of it all.
Transparency will give you the opportunity to watch the project make its way through editorial or production processes and will establish incremental milestones at which you can review and guide the work in progress. The status of your project should be visible to you at all times, and you should expect to see frequent and predetermined deliverables.
Some firms might provide transparency through project management software or online tools to which you are given access. Other firms might provide this transparency through close and frequent contact with a project manager or via weekly status meetings and conference calls with key team members.
There is more to transparency than schedule status, however. Honesty is essential for strong relationships, and it is particularly important when handling the unexpected. If your partner encounters problems with the chosen technology, the malleability of content, or with subject matter experts, will they discuss them with you openly? Or will they pretend that all is well until there are major and obvious delays? It is important that your partner be able to meet your expectations regarding your awareness of the work overall as well as of problems as they surface.
2. Methodology: Does the potential partner have an understandable process that they apply to their work?
Your potential partner should be able to articulate a clear and cogent project management process that embodies their values and priorities. The team structure, planning, managing, tracking, and quality assurance process must be clearly defined. A mature and professional approach to content development must include a proven process for ensuring quality, accuracy, and timely delivery.
The partner should be able to explain the management approach they will use for each phase of your project, as well as the tools they will use to support it. In addition, the process should show evidence of corrections made over time and wisdom gained from past experience.
The process as presented will also give you clear indicators into how the vendor thinks and what they value. Is their process rigid and hierarchical with dependence on one key individual? Does the project team have a structure that instills mutual accountability or is responsibility scattered and diffused? How many layers of content review and interface testing are built into the testing? What are the lines of communication from the partner to the key stakeholders on your team?
The process used by the partner is at the heart of who they are and what they have learned along the way. If their initial presentation glides over one cursory flow chart relating to project management, it’s time to wonder if their process is alive and well-integrated into what they do or if it was lifted from a textbook for the purposes of the dog-and-pony show.
3. Flexibility: Does the potential partner show you how they accommodate flexibility in their process?
A good partner will easily adapt to the needs of your business and to changing circumstances. They will make it their primary goal to understand how you work, how your business is organized, and what challenges you face as they scope out your project. They will then design their process around your requirements and will bob and weave with you in response to changes that arise.
Dramatic and frequent change is not unusual in today’s business climate. Your project may pertain to a tool, application, or process that continues to evolve while you attempt to pin it down for training purposes. A partner that employs flexible and Agile development practices will put your needs at the center. They will also be able to churn out rapid iterations for your feedback and gracefully re-align their resources behind changing objectives, content, or priorities.
Be sure to ask your potential partner how they will adapt (within project scope) to your needs and how easily they can re-orient their compass when your priorities have shifted.
4. Accountability: How is the partner showing you that they are accountable and will deliver on their promises?
You won’t know if the partner can deliver on all that they promise until they actually do so, but you will have clear evidence from your first communications with them as to their reliability. Their dialog with you should show follow-through, attention to detail, and a willingness to acknowledge when they are wrong. In addition, their management practices should show clear lines of task and project ownership.
Do not forget to ask for samples of previous projects and for permission to contact references. Taking the time to review previous work and talk with references could provide valuable information about your potential partner. If a vendor cannot deliver answers, information, documents, or samples in a timely, open, and responsive way during the evaluation process, heed the warning signs, and continue your search elsewhere.
As you assess content development vendors, it’s important to scratch below the surface and ferret out some of the more subtle aspects of your potential working relationship. If you secure satisfactory answers to the questions above, you will be well on your way to finding a vendor who can participate in a rewarding and lasting partnership.
Whether you need content development advice or a team of content experts to make your next project a success, contact Elizabeth St. Germain—nSight's Vice President of Publishing and Editorial Services—at 781-273-6331 or email@example.com.