Defining processes and procedures to support content operations

Processes and procedures spell out how content teams should do content-related activities, which enables enterprises to coordinate their content operations effectively.

Michael Andrews

Published on Mar 22, 2021

Enterprises must be able to translate their content governance goals into practice. Their policies outline what needs to happen. Their processes and procedures specify how their work should be done.

A process helps an organization standardize how they perform an activity. It delineates the intended flow of activities and how these activities change the content. It indicates what happens, by whom, where, and when. Processes will indicate decision points and different pathways. Because these pathways can diverge depending on circumstances, processes are good for showing the inter-relationship between activities. 

Procedures articulate in more detail how a process is done. They stipulate the steps to take. Each step can provide instructions that show the correct way to complete specific tasks. 

Successful governance depends on having consistent content operations. If different teams and individuals perform their work idiosyncratically, their results will vary, which can produce commercial, reputational, or legal risks to the enterprise.

Processes and procedures not only reduce risks but also support efficiency. Employees don’t want to figure out how to do things each time they need doing. But unless an established procedure is in place, they’ll be inclined to copy examples they see, whether or not these examples are done well.

While processes and procedures should reflect policies and guidelines, they don’t need to be limited to them. Process standards can cover aspects of content operations that do not have formal policy standards. For creative and design activities, in particular, it can be more important how the work is done rather than what the final output looks like. By specifying the important tasks and who needs to be involved with them, process standards ensure consistency in the quality of outcomes. 

By documenting processes and procedures, enterprises can:

  • Provide all team members and stakeholders with a better view of what needs to happen and how they fit in.
  • Support the onboarding of employees and contractors who are either new or have been assigned temporarily to support a project.

Processes and procedures support quality by documenting common approaches that are embraced by all involved with content operations. Common approaches will yield consistency.

Like any form of content, procedures need to be tailored to the audience using them. 

Less expert users, especially those whose primary responsibilities don’t relate to content, may not need to consult detailed procedures, which might cover many tasks they won’t ever be involved with. Instead, they will benefit from having instructions that guide how to do specific tasks.

Staff with more expertise will likely be involved with coordinating several interrelated tasks. They will want documented processes to help them understand the relationships and procedures to manage the details

Scope and details

Processes, procedures, and instructions vary in the scope and details they address. 

Processes can specify:

  • What team or group is the owner of the activity?
  • What role is responsible for doing the activity?
  • What systems are used (work templates, tools, IT systems)?
  • What are typical entry points for starting an activity?
  • What are the major steps associated with the activity?
  • What is the expected order of these steps?
  • What are key decision points that affect the flow of tasks?
  • What alternative flows might there be?
  • What are the different end states of a process?
  • How is the activity connected to other processes?
Screenshot of Australian Government digital guide web page showing steps for removing content
Example of procedures for removing content (source: Australian Government digital guide)

Procedures can articulate:

  • Purpose of the procedure
  • Expected frequency of the activity
  • How a procedure relates to other procedures
  • What resources are needed to do the procedure (tools, assets, data, approvals)?
  • How activities must be done
  • What shouldn’t be done
  • Criteria determining when the activity is completed
  • What happens if the procedure can’t be completed as intended?
  • Examples, if helpful
Screenshot of part of web page from W3C presenting a decision tree for alt text
Example of part of a decision tree relating to adding alt text (source: W3C)

Instructions can indicate:

  • Dos and don’ts: tips to avoid mistakes
  • Recommended most-efficient order
  • What to track when doing the activity, such as dates, metrics, comments, or contributions from colleagues
  • Quickstart templates
  • Decision trees/tables to aid choices
  • Checklists to track tasks and completeness of work
  • Other resources to read for help

How to develop processes, procedures, and instructions

Your documentation should include both broad and specific activities. If your team follows an agile approach, you can identify your content-related activities, user tasks, and user stories to discover those activities that would benefit from having formal processes, procedures, and instructions.

Map the big picture of the current state of your content activities that need to be managed. Various teams may be following different processes. Decide where you want to change or harmonize the differences in how your process happens. Identify processes where quality and efficiency are issues. Look at examples from other organizations to find inspiration and to borrow effective practices. 

Your process standards should be tailored to the unique needs of your organization. Encourage employees to share how they do activities so others can learn from them and add their ideas. In large organizations, teams can compare procedures and map their similarities and differences to develop a common approach. 

Processes and standards are for everyone, including those who oversee them. When creating content procedures, establish a process to manage them. Don’t just prepare documentation and expect it will stay relevant. Set expectations for how frequently these will be reviewed. Provide channels where people can ask for clarifications, or request additions, exceptions, or changes.

Targets of opportunity

Procedures and processes demonstrate value when they capture the collective expertise across the enterprise. They have the greatest impact when they relate to complex functional areas, require specialized knowledge, or involve the coordination of multiple roles.

Start by looking at high-frequency activities with noticeable quality problems or that seem to take too long. By having documented procedures, many of the issues will improve.

Some common processes and procedures that are complex, involving several decisions or multiple team roles, include:

  • Accessibility markup procedures
  • Channel coordination procedures: cross-channel planning, distribution, and analysis
  • Competitive benchmarking process: deciding direct and indirect competitors to audit, assessing customer channel and experience expectations, rating strengths and weaknesses, determining gaps
  • Content design process: coordination between customer research, writers, visual design, and front-end development
  • Content maintenance procedures: when content is reviewed to check its relevance and whether it’s up to date, when to remove content, when to archive it
  • Content planning process: capturing requirements and rationale for new content, prioritization, assignment of related tasks, and scheduling
  • Customer feedback process: primary and secondary research, content testing, surveys, search logs, customer comments, and requests
  • Localization procedures
  • Measurement and analytics process: identifying indicators, setting up parameters, measuring performance, reporting trends, developing insights
  • Optimization process: how to tweak published content so that it performs better
  • Process for conducting content inventories and content audits
  • Process for discovering audience needs: audience questions, terminology, attitudes, knowledge, differences
  • Quality assurance processes: prepublication checks and post-publication monitoring and remediation
  • SEO procedures: search query research, markup, and testing to support content headlines, descriptions, metadata, links
  • Taxonomy process and procedures: applying taxonomy terms, requesting additions or deletions

What process standards are right for your organization will depend on your business priorities and operational maturity. Your goal should be to make sure that the processes and procedures you adopt are followed consistently. If teams aren’t ready to do that yet, consider creating other kinds of documentation that will be helpful but not obligatory. As these resources get used and mature, they may eventually become the basis for more formal procedures. 

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