Comms managers, when did you last measure how all those bits of communication get produced—and not just how they get distributed and received?
Let me guess: never.
Well, as I suggested, you’re missing a trick, because understanding your team’s writing process could save you time, money, and a lot of hassle.
At Doris and Bertie, we believe in lean writing—achieving more with less. That means fewer stages in the writing process.
“Lean” working processes were developed in Japanese manufacturing firms in the 1940s, and we think the concept applies to writing at large organizations. An early step in becoming a leaner organization is to measure how the work gets done.
So, next time you do a comms audit, here are six aspects of writing to measure. Spend a month recording these data, and you’ll get a better idea of where the logjams lie.
1. Talk to your team.
Get a sense of how things look by asking your team what they think about the writing process.
Do they feel valued? Are consultants respected, or do they feel like Mac monkeys dependent on approval from people who aren’t as smart as they are?
Do they feel competent and powerful, or exhausted at the thought of getting their stuff out the door?
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2. Compare each document before and after.
For every piece of work you produce (intranet article, video script, whatever) record the number of versions it takes to go from first draft to publication.
Go back and compare CSR_announcement_v1.doc with CSR_announcement_v19.doc.
Then ask yourself this question: Is v19 really 18 times better than v1?
3. Know who’s signing off, and why.
For each piece of work, record the name of every “stakeholder” / internal client / whatever you call them whose sign-off is required.
Look at the names with a critical eye. Do they have anything of value to contribute, or do their changes cause mass eye-rolling among your team?
Are those all signatures really necessary, or are you running stuff by people just to keep them in the loop/make them feel warm and fuzzy/prove how busy you are?
4. Record the kinds of changes people are making.
As professional communicators, your team members know what resonates with your readers. They’re also the people best placed to nail the right tone for your organization.
If a stakeholder / client / whatever changes their a draft, it should be for a better reason than “aligning and leveraging our synergies sounds more corporate than working together.”
The only good reason for a non-professional writer to edit a professional writer’s work is to change something that would embarrass the organization. Embarrassing things include stuff that’s:
Liable to get the organization sued
For every document you produce, record each change under one of the above headings. For anything that doesn’t come under one of the above, include the following heading:
Pointless, idiotic style changes
Note, too, who requested each change.
Record this data for a short while, and you’ll soon get a sense of why it takes you 19 versions to get that CSR announcement out the door.
I’m betting it’s not because your incompetent communicators are hell bent on sending out stuff that embarrasses the organization.
Nope, it’s because your businesspeople think they know best. They don’t.
5. Always ask: “What happens if we don’t publish?”
Get your team to note the answer to this question every time they press send. Review all the reasons after a month. How often does the answer “nothing” come up?
Let me guess. It’s whenever they’ve sent out yet another pointless “strategic update” from an exec who believes in “managing upward.” (That’s MBA-speak for jumping up and down, saying “look at me, boss, look at me!”)
6. Know when you’re bringing people into the process.
Yes, you want to be inclusive and make everyone feel they have a say in the stuff you produce (particularly if you’re in internal comms), but the most efficient time to “engage” is during the brief stage, not at sign-off. The more people you ask for “feedback” on a piece of work, the longer and more arduous the process.
I recently worked on a job where my writing was “workshopped” by employees at various stages. On one occasion there were 45 people in the room. All amateur writers. All having a say on my words.
Needless to say, the job took four times as long as it should have-and ended up a more expensive, less powerful version of its original self.
Do you regularly have more people signing off than you brought into the original brief? What do you mean, you don’t know? Get measuring.
A version of this article first appeared on Good Copy, Bad Copy.