A maturity model for content design
Lately, I’ve been pondering a lot about maturity maps. About what they are and how to use them, as well as their benefits and flaws. I wondered whether they are helpful for content design practice. Or maybe you can even use them in a more personal way?
So first, what are maturity models?
The premise of maturity models is that you can sort of identify various levels of maturity or capability. Here’s a rudimentary example based on the capability maturity model.
everything is very chaotic, stuff is done ad hoc
There’s a website. There’s some content.
there is some basic process documentation
Editorial guidelines, rules about publication and content management.
there’s a defined process or standard business process
Dedicated website editors, centralised web and content management
content is quantitatively managed, there are some agreed-upon metrics
Content rules are informed by analytics and research outcome.
there’s deliberate process optimisation and improvement
Dedicated content designers, embedded in the organisation. Content is continuously managed.
Oftentimes, a client will find themselves between phases, or even spanning more than 2 phases. That’s fine. The maturity model is merely a handy tool to gauge the capabilities of a client or department you are going to work with, so to understand what they need and how to approach them. You will approach a client who is mostly in phase 1 very differently than one that is mostly in phase 5.
I looked at some of the existing content maturity models. There are actually quite a few, each with their own specific accents.
Here’s one by Content Strategy Inc. It’s not entirely different from my example but way more detailed. Also, note they use different names for the stages. This, of course, is fine.
No formal content operations, only ad hoc approaches.
Trying content operations in certain areas, such as for a blog.
Expanding formal content operations across business functions.
Solidifying and optimising content operations across business functions.
Sustaining while also innovating and seeing return on investment.
Content science created this one about content operations maturity. They also did a survey among more than 100 content professionals. As it turns out, 46% of organisations those professionals are working at, are at level 1 and 2. Take the assessment and read their report here.
Pickle Jar have a whole different approach: they moved away from pillars and created this spider web chart. Which is also an interesting way of looking at it, because it takes into account that growth is not the same linear process for every organisation. Really cool idea.
Also, note they call it a framework, rather than a model.
Now, let’s talk about the bad for a bit. As any map or model, maturity models are far from perfect. They lack context. Not all organisations are the same. Factors such as size, sector, location play a huge role. Worst part is that there is this sense of value that they communicate, that an org is immature, while they might be very mature in their sector, location, etc.
Maturity maps date back to the early 80’s and were widely adopted in ICT circles. Nowadays, when you talk about them with agile folks, they might not be so keen on them BThey were basically used to shame orgs or divisions. And certification. Which is why agile folks are pretty dismissive about them, in that regard, rightly so.
So here are a few things to take into account when you are going to work with maturity models:
- Never use them to shame or belittle organisations, divisions or persons
- Don’t communicate them with others, only with those whom it is about
- Use them with an open mind. Growth is usually not a linear process.
I studied existing models and tried to identify the stages for content design. This is what I came up with:
- No defined content processes
- Content creation and management per internal request
- No evaluation, maintenance or
governance of content
- No way of saying ‘no’ to stakeholders
- Inventory of content
- Stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) identified
- Basic user research, knowing who the target audience is
- Analytics taken into account
- Better user research:
- Top task research, surveys, tree testing
- User centric business needs defined
- Job stories
- User journey map
- Information architecture and content structure created / improved based on research
- Content patterns defined
- Guidelines for content
- Process for content creation and management defined
- Content reworked
- New content created
- Existing content managed
- – based on definitions and guidelines
- Dedicated content designers embedded in org
I’m thinking about also doing a survey to gauge where most organisations are at. But before that I would love to hear your feedback on this. What do you think? What would you change?