The Business of Learning - learning ecosystems

Even in a world of wikis and blogs, most of the content that we write for a wide business audience requires some form of review. Stakeholders, partners, and associates usually want a say in what is published. So the question is, How do you manage your reviews effectively so that you have the quickest time to publication?

Imagine that you are publishing and deploying your new content tomorrow. Today, the Vice President of Marketing sends you a list of changes that you asked for over a week ago. Two hours later, you get an email from the brand manager, announcing changes to the way your company refers to the products described in your content. To complicate matters, you find several contradictions — not only between what the VP and the brand manager say, but also between this new feedback and the feedback you received from a previous review. The result is that, with only one day left on your schedule, content that you thought was approved needs to change, and you need to sort out and resolve some conflicting last-minute feedback.

I’ve been in these shoes before. Through experience, I’ve discovered how to avoid situations like this. It comes down to three magic words:

  • People
  • Process
  • Communication

Mastering the tips in this article will help you obtain valuable feedback from reviewers while sticking to your schedule and maintaining your team’s sanity.

People

When you start a project, get answers to these questions:

  • Who needs to be involved and when?
  • What is this person’s role as a reviewer? For example, is he responsible for the technical accuracy of a specific topic? Is she responsible for ensuring adherence to brand standards?
  • Who has the final say?

Be sure to ask these questions not only for the members on the team, but for all interested parties. This helps prevent the emergence of last-minute, surprise reviewers.

Process

Equally important as the people involved is the process you follow. If you don’t have a process, now is the time to define one. Take these steps to establish your process:

  • Define the number of and objectives for each review cycle.
  • Determine who needs to contribute feedback in each cycle.
  • Designate one person to be the review coordinator — the person who coordinates and compiles all feedback.
  • Specify the type of feedback you want from the reviewers.
  • Provide a way for people to communicate their comments and feedback easily.
  • Keep a history of comments and changes to aid in resolving issues.

The success of this process depends on two key elements. The first is the role of the review coordinator. When assigning the review coordinator role, look for someone with strong organizational strengths who knows how to get people’s attention and facilitate agreement. The review coordinator’s responsibilities include:

  • Compiling all comments.
  • Settling differences and/or gaining agreement on what not to incorporate.
  • Securing sign-off.

Once you designate the role, make sure the team understands that this one person has authority for coordinating all review cycles and all feedback within the review cycle.

The second key is to make it as easy as possible for the team to review the content and make comments. Some content development tools have built-in review features — such as the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word or the online collaboration capabilities of Google Docsä. But for some other formats of publication, especially for the web, reviewing electronically is not as easy, and keeping a history of the changes and corrections can be impossible to manage.

Communication

Finally, as with any aspect of a project, communication among team members and with your project stakeholders is a key responsibility and integral to managing the review process effectively. Keep the following list of tips in mind as you enter the review phase of your project:

  • Send a review cover sheet with your materials that describes the “rules of the review.”
  • Set expectations for how to give feedback.
  • Develop techniques for working with reviewers.
  • Keep stakeholders informed of reviewer’s feedback. Most importantly, communicate how the reviewer’s feedback may have changed the important messages that the stakeholders want covered in the content.

At the beginning of your project, communicate the following about the review process:

  • The cost of reviews — Remind everyone that time is money and point out the consequences of waiting to provide feedback until you are near the end of development. When feedback comes in late in the process, it can increase both your time to delivery and the overall project cost.
  • The schedule and objectives of each review cycle — If this is a first review, you may ask reviewers to confirm that you covered the content adequately and that nothing is missing. In subsequent reviews, you may only be asking reviewers to confirm that you made the requested changes.

In addition to these up-front communications, use the following guidelines for framing your communications in each review cycle:

What to communicate How to do it
The reviewer’s role
  • State what feedback the reviewer is responsible for. For example, do you want them to verify the accuracy of the content or to provide input on the content?
  • Indicate what not to review for. For example, “Final edits will be made after all comments are supplied. Don’t spend your time with spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.”
The deadline for review
  • Give reviewers enough time, but not too much time, to provide feedback. You may want to include a weekend in the review period since reviewers often take this type of work home.
  • Follow up with those who don’t respond, but be clear that you have to move forward.
The objective of the review
  • Explain the differences between changes and corrections, and let people know when they should make corrections only.
  • Be specific about the feedback you need, if appropriate. For example, “Please look at section 5 to confirm that all steps of the process are included.”
The format of comments, feedback, and corrections
  • Explain how to provide feedback — can people send you handwritten changes, or should they send material electronically only?
  • Provide examples of comments that are specific and that result in no doubt about what change or correction is needed.
  • If you are providing a tool to track comments, changes, and decisions, explain how to use it.

By following these guidelines, you should find that getting your content to publication not only becomes easier but results in less confusion and more agreement on what is published.

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