a laptop on a table

One of the best vacuum cleaners I ever owned was a Dyson. It had “patented Cyclonic™ technology” and all that, but that’s not why I loved it.

What I loved is that I could take apart the entire vacuum tunnel, from start to finish. If something ever got stuck, or it just stopped picking stuff up for whatever reason, I could take pieces off it and trace the path of air from the inlet behind the brush all the way to where it dumped into the canister. Nothing was hidden from me.

The vacuum I have now is not as great. It lost suction power the other day. I couldn’t figure out where the blockage was. I was fumbling around with the portable handle part, jamming a broom handle down there, trying to figure out if there was something in it.

I miss my Dyson.

Lots of business processes are like this. We’re not sucking dust and debris through a tube, but we are moving some information through a series of stages.

“A series of stages” is such an innocuous phrase, but it can get complicated. You don’t realize this until you list or diagram it all out.

For example, the business process to get content from “idea to published artifact” might look like this:

  1. Someone gets an idea for content. This idea is captured in some system.
  2. Multiple people review the idea and provide feedback.
  3. Someone is tasked with either canceling or moving the idea ahead in the process.
  4. Someone produces content from the idea – writes the words, records the raw video, collects the statistics, etc.
  5. A group reviews the raw content and provides feedback, corrections and edits.
  6. The content creator evaluates the edits and applies them or otherwise responds to the feedback. (You might go around in circles for a while here – feedback, edit, feedback, edit, etc.)
  7. The content is “cleared” for production.
  8. Someone creates an artifact from the content – a web page, a finished video, an infographic, etc.
  9. This artifact is reviewed by a selection of people from all the prior stages for fidelity to the original content, applicability to the business goal, etc.
  10. Changes are made. (Run around in circles for a while here, too.)
  11. The artifact is “cleared” for publication.
  12. The artifact is reviewed by stakeholders external to the process – the CEO, legal, compliance, support, etc.
  13. Changes are made. (More circling here…)
  14. Content publication is scheduled.
  15. Content is published.

That’s…a lot. You might think I’m exaggerating to make a point, but if you really examine content as it floats through your organization, you’ll quite likely find something similar. The names of the players might change, but everything is there in some form or another. You just don’t think it is because you’ve never sat down and mapped it all out.

It would be great if we could compact this process a bit, but that’s often not possible.

Here’s the next best thing: transparency.

If there’s anything worse than a long, convoluted process, it’s one that’s opaque. If you can’t see into the process, it’s so much worse.

Let’s say your manager wants an update. She wants to know where everything is in the process. She wants to know that your report is going to hit LinkedIn before she must deliver a keynote next Thursday. She wants to know that the press release with bad news is going to be published ahead of the earnings call. She wants to know that you’ve published four blog posts about your new technology so you can help analysts arrive at the evaluation position you’re looking for.

When things get stuck, you need to be able to take that vacuum apart and figure out where the hold-up is.

Transparency. Predictability. Plannability.

You get these from a platform that allows you to:

  • Assign tasks for completion
  • Schedule content in a shared calendar
  • Manage approvals and workflows
  • Collect feedback on ideas
  • Centralize team discussion and collaboration

We make such a system: Welcome Software. This is a marketing orchestration platform that provides all the features to increase the transparency of your content pipeline.

Years ago, I was an engineer who did quite a bit of data processing. Data would go into one end of a computing process, get sliced, diced and combined, then get sent to another system, collected, reported, etc. – there were lots of bytes moving around through different locations and systems.

I was working on such a project and the data was getting “stuck” somewhere. I didn’t know where, but what was coming out didn’t correlate to what was going in. I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out where in my Magic Data Machine the bytes were running off the rails.

Sensing my frustration, someone asked me how it was going.

I exhaled and answered honestly, “I’m at the point where I go back and retrofit a bunch of logging so I can see inside this stupid thing…”

Since then, I’ve called this the “Black Box Threshold.” There is always a point where you have to “open the black box” to see what’s happening. You’ll either plan for that at the beginning, or you’ll go back and try to add it after you have your first problem.

Bytes through a computer. Dust through a vacuum. Content through a process.

You need transparency and accountability. When the system breaks down and people want answers, your ability to provide them is directly proportionate to how well you can see inside the process.