What publishers can learn from product development
Publishers of magazines and other periodicals have seen their business models change from a sequential workflow with strong editorial and quality assurance checks to a real-time, multichannel madhouse with online editions being updated daily, print editions referencing the online edition and last-minute changes dominating the publishing process.
In this world, magazines and periodicals are more like product development than book publishing or the magazine publishing of old, and publishers are slowly adapting.
Publishing is following some of the same evolutionary shifts that product development experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Formalize and automate the change management workflows.
- Formalize and automate the data management of documents central to collaboration.
- Analyze the entire process lifecycle and create different change and data management processes for each unique stage.
- Attempt to implement concurrent design processes to shorten time-to-market and lower costs through parallel execution of previously sequential processes.
- Solve the concurrent design challenge with configuration management techniques that implement change management against an accurate, comprehensive single source of the truth for the design data.
The evolution of product development processes
The shift in product development was driven by the competitive necessities of time-to-market and quality. Companies often had a change process that took two weeks to make a single change and it was estimated that designers spent 30 to 40 percent of their time looking for information.
Workflow and change management projects were the first attempt to solve this problem – and they largely failed. Companies ended up with six or seven extremely expensive systems that barely functioned.
Next came data management, independent of the change management process. With the advent of electronic design tools, the work itself could be vaulted and more easily found.
While this resulted in some cost savings, it didn’t provide improvement in time-to-market, which frustrated users. This led to the next big revolution: stage-gate process models, which allowed companies to devote specific own workflow and data management techniques to different phases of product development. Companies finally succeeded in deploying new systems with happy users and significant benefits.
Unfortunately, time-to-market improved very little, if at all. This led the industry to take steps to reengineer development processes to run in parallel rather than sequentially, which led to the final evolutionary step: configuration management.
Borrowed from aerospace and simplified for regular products, this concept insisted that all workflows run against a complete, up-to-date, single source of the truth. No longer would change processes run independently of design data. The idea was that this method could handle far greater amounts of business complexity and companies would finally be able to achieve their concurrent engineering vision.
The similarities between publishing and product development
So how does this history lesson apply to publishing? There are four key parallels. First, there are thousands of pieces being assembled into the final edition of a newspaper or magazine; images, layout, copy and advertisements. It’s difficult to track all these pieces in an ad-hoc manner, yet master lists of assets must be managed.
Second, last-minute changes have to be managed carefully. Any mistake is either very embarrassing or very expensive if it makes it to print. Change management has become a critical business process.
Third, variations of the published content across print, web, mobile, social media and other channels requires reuse of content and subsequent change management of content across many interrelated products.
Finally, production and delivery of all these pieces is done across an ecosystem of partners, making periodical production a supply chain management challenge.
Where is publishing now and what’s next?
Most readers who have been in publishing any length of time will recognize portions of their own journey above. Many publishers are in the data management stage, some are in the workflow stage, and some are looking at their entire lifecycle. A small minority are looking at concurrent publishing processes.
Unfortunately, modern multichannel and partner-centric publishing models are too complex for a data management-only process. Independent workflow solutions are not the solution either, for the reasons described above. Instead, publishers need to move to a lifecycle-based solution where workflows are always running against a complete, up-to-date, single source of the design truth. This approach will provide lifecycle-friendly configuration management that enables successful concurrent publishing and radical improvements in time-to-market across all channels.
Nick Van Weerdenburg is Senior Product Marketing Manager at North Plains Systems.