Rolling haystack on summer fieldI was sitting at Adobe Day at Lavacon today, listening to a talk by Joe Gollner called, “The Changing Role of the Technical Communicator within the Integrated Product Lifecycle.” Joe did his usual excellent job of presenting relevant information in a clear and concise way.

One of the points that Joe discussed was not making your Agile process t0o rigid. I believe he said, “Don’t be rigidly Agile.”  This is a brilliant quote and it really got me thinking.

Last week, I was speaking with a customer about their content creation process in their Agile environment. What my customer basically said was, “We have a writer paired with an engineer. They sit down together and write the docs. Right there. There is no time to look anything up.”

Mashing together Joe’s talk and my customer’s woes, I got to thinking about how to use structured content in an Agile environment. It seems to me that if content is going to be created “on the fly” and changed “on the fly,” then well-structured, semantically-rich content is an imperative.

If time is short and the writer doesn’t have any, then he or she cannot waste any time searching for content reuse opportunities. Having a well-structured taxonomy is the only way that the writer stands a chance of finding content for reuse.

Think about it. You’re sitting side-by-side with a (rather impatient) engineer. It is very difficult to say, “Well, now hold on. I have to first search the database to see if there is any existing content that we can reuse.”

Let’s just say that you can stop the process to search for existing content. If you cannot locate that content within 30-60 seconds, you and your engineer are going to give up. Once you give up, you will start writing content that may already exist, but you couldn’t find it. Do this enough times, and your CMS will be littered with almost-but-not-quite-identical topics. Trying to locate the “correct” topic to reuse within the sea of similar topics next time becomes completely impossible.

The best solution to this problem is to define your strategy, structure, models and taxonomy well in advance of having to create the content. If the structure and taxonomy are well-thought out, and the content is semantically-rich, searching for content to reuse should be much easier than finding a needle in a haystack.

For an interesting discussion of structured content, taxonomy, and Agile, take a look at this presentation from Design for Context. It is called, “Enhancement Ecosystems: Enriching Structured Content with User Tagging and Annotation.” You can find it here.

Val Swisher
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