12 January 2017

The cost of chaos: How to build a content creation factory

Today, manufacturers are as responsible for their company’s product information as they are for the physical product. But, as many know, the manufacturing of physical goods is often more efficient and lean than the production of the accompanying product information. The creation of product information is mostly a chaotic and inefficient process, with enormous potential for improvement. This inefficiency in the product information management process is equally valid for managing data and digital assets, creating bundles and kits, and merchandising, publishing and syndication. The cost of the content creation chaos is enormous, and it is time to do something about it.

The lean way out of chaos
Chaotic and unstructured ways of working can cause waste in all sorts of production processes. This waste can increase production cost, cause a loss in sales, and be detrimental to the quality of the end-product. Lean production is a tool used by businesses to streamline manufacturing and production processes. Lean Six Sigma defines waste as any step or action in a process that is not required to complete it successfully; these steps are called “Non-Value-Adding.”
When all waste is removed, only the steps that are necessary to deliver a satisfactory product or service to the customer remain in the process; these steps are called “Value-Adding.” Removing actions that do not add value is, of course, common sense. Lean Six Sigma just provides some useful methods to do it in a structured way and to help refine the processes over time.

TIMWOODS for product information creation
Lean Six Sigma defines eight (7+1) primary types of waste in a process, and there is an acronym—“TIM WOODS”—to help us remember them. Nevertheless, the way that the types of waste are defined in Lean Six Sigma are not entirely applicable to the creation of product information, so we need to redefine the types of waste, so they better fit the creation of product information, rather than the production of physical products or services.
Let's look at TIM WOODS with our PIM glasses on:
  • Transportation – Sending information that is not required to perform the process from one user or role to another. An example can be sending a spreadsheet with all SKUs and all attributes to everyone instead of a selection of the SKUs and attributes to the people that need it with the information they need to perform their task.
  • Inventory – Information that is sitting idle and not being processed or used. An example can be files that do not get updated or used because they are stored on a network drive somewhere that makes them very hard to find.
  • Motion – Information that is sent around the organization unnecessarily due to the lack of a proper workflow and process support systems. Motion can easily be illustrated as users copying and pasting information into documents and siloed systems.
  • Waiting – Waiting for the previous step in a sequential process to complete, because of the lack of a parallel process. An example can be users waiting for a spreadsheet with item data from another group so that they may tag images correctly.
  • Overproduction – Producing more content than a given product needs to be effectively marketed and sold. An example is adding more images or attributes to a product without knowing if it increases the conversion rate or lowers product returns. 
  • Over-processing – Performing any activity that is not necessary to produce a compelling and complete product story. A good example is when information quality control is so rigid and inefficient that is hampering the process and adds more time to market than it adds value to the customer.
  • Defects – Product information that is out of specification that requires resources to correct it or creates customer confusion because of inaccuracies. An example is data that is missing or out-of-date because of unclear ownership or content forking/duplication due to siloed systems.
  • Skills – People or roles that are not effectively engaged in the content creation process. This can be exemplified within a compartmentalized organization where the marketing department creates all product content without support from the product team that possesses most of the product knowledge.

The content creation factory
To make product content creation and distribution as efficient as all other production and logistics processes requires that we start looking at product content creation in the same way that we do with all other production. We need to build an efficient content creation factory combined with stellar information logistics. Looking at Lean Six Sigma can be one of many starting points to build an efficient content creation factory.

It is unwise to leap a chasm in two bounds; starting small is always advisable. However, every company that wants to win the battle of the customer must start now. Start with the people in the organization, define an efficient process, and procure the right tools. Lean Six Sigma aims to make the work simple enough to understand, execute, and manage. Having simplicity as a top priority will help you design a reliable, predictable, and repeatable process. Good luck in your endeavors to build your product content factory!

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

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