Sign-off is like road works

This post is part of the Content Is The Web risk management series.

I’ve already written about how sign-off processes make it hard to collaborate properly. Now we turn to another reason sign-off sucks: It’s slow and frustrating, like roadworks.

You might typically have 3-6 people sitting between your work and publication. They’re called things like ‘legal’ and ‘marketing’, but they’re better depicted like this:

Stop/go signs

For everyone with a “sign-off”, you might as well give them a “stop/go” sign. Each of them can hold you up however they like, and you’re not going anywhere until every single one of them says you can.

The trade off, reputedly, is that whatever you end up publishing will be totally on brand, carry no legal risks, and tick a bunch of other boxes. But these boxes only matter internally: A lot of the contortions that we put content through to get it through sign-off end up making things harder for our users. A little more legal-speak here, a bit more pimping of a related product here…it’s easy to do, especially when you just. want. to. get. this. thing. live.

It can be frustrating for the sign-holders, too, who don’t necessarily know each other or what it will take for the others will flip their signs around and send more traffic through.

So how can we speed things up without compromising safety? By getting rid of sign-off as a process and shifting to risk management instead.

Risk management: Gather the right information, make the right decision

I’ll go into the details in another post, but here’s in a nutshell:

Rather than finding everyone with an opinion that matters and equipping them with a stop/go sign, involve them before you start writing and keep talking with them throughout the content creation process.

There are only ever three questions you’ll need to ask:

  1. What could possibly go wrong if we published this content?
  2. In each case, what’s the likelihood of that problem happening?
  3. And if it did happen, how bad would the consequence be?

That’s it. Three questions. And this system works. I picked it up when I was working for the New Zealand Defence Force. This system worked in our office, and it worked for units deployed in Afghanistan. If a risk management system is good enough for people who get shot at for a living, it’s good enough for your website.