Reading Kristina Halvorsen on my new Kindle Fire this morning, I came to the realization that I'd recently been shirking my strategic responsibilities as publisher of online content. I've recently become team lead on an online outbound content program for a client's technical audience. My official title when I first came on the team over two years ago was "content strategist." I managed curation and aggregation of the inbound content resources when evaluating products. To the extent of my job scope, I absolutely fell into a content strategy role.
As my experience and responsibilities expanded into more of a marketing communications role on the team, my oversight into content strategy was compressed into larger responsibilities around outbound marketing strategies for the experience. The organization shifted, and thusly, content strategy was folded into everyone's ownership.
Now the lead on our team, my interest in content strategy is rekindled and three-fold:
The result here is that I'm spending the next twenty business days proving the practice of what I preach - blogging on these four topics to create a forcing function for my yearly goals. I'd love your feedback and helpful encouragement.
Business Consulting | Client Relationship Management | Marketing | Project Management
At Exsilio Solutions, we use the Agile project management methodology for software and solution development projects. Where the traditional Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) waterfall approach requires extensive design and documentation before a single line of code is written, we find our clients are better served by the Agile approach, which allows for shorter iterations, and changing requirements as development progresses (within reason!). Particularly for our tech clients, business changes fast, and we offer exceptional value responding to those changes with them. In fact, it’s consistently positive feedback we receive from our customers.
But you can only make changes so much, and it does have to be managed to keep from being randomized, as well as knowing when you’re done with a deliverable. Additionally, tweaks to scope usually happen in phone conversations, and sometimes in deep e-mail threads, which are both hard to trace when development is done.
Realizing we need to bridge the gap between being as Agile as possible, and risk having no documentation, we believe strongly in the use of one-pagers. What’s a one-pager? First off, it’s never just one page. But when a new feature set is outlined verbally, or extended from the brief form in the contract, this document is where we expand and detail exactly how the feature will work. Usually they start as a few pages, a narrative into the user behavior when it’s done. We include early mockups, and are careful to call out not only what the feature will do, but also what it will not do. Using the Review features of Word, we can easily collaborate with the client to refine or adjust the one-pager to meet their expectations up front, iterate with it as the project unfolds, and document in one place when those changes took place, and what they were.
By the end of a project, the one-pager typically evolves into a multipage document, more resembling a functional specification, but not quite as detailed as a technical specification.
There are many ways to create these; we find good one-pagers contain the following:
We hope you find them as useful as we do, let us know if you have any examples to share.
Tags: one-pagers, documentation, sdlc, agile, scrum
Cloud-based offerings in the small-medium business space are finally changing from concepts to real product you can use today. Microsoft launched their Office 365 online suite a few weeks ago to much fanfare, and early indications are a solid competitor in the SMB and even consumer spaces. Even for a first gen product, Office 365 components have surprising compatibility with extending Microsoft desktop applications seamlessly, just like before with more costly in-house hosted solutions.
Sure enough, Project 2010 is in the club, easily integrating with SharePoint Online from the Office 365 suite. One key feature of Project 2010 is the ability to manage tasks on SharePoint team sites, bypassing simple functions done with Project Server in the past, and more importantly showing side-by-side with existing team sites using cleaver templates. If your company is trying to implement team sites and collaboration using Office 365's lower barrier-to-entry hosted model, and you also want to include a project management layer, Project 2010 working seamlessly is helpful for a team with only limited bandwidth and training resources. Also, if you have a team in the field, this makes project plans accessible and interactive from anywhere.
Basecamp has long been an online project and task management offering, but I think this combination of desktop clients, team sites, and task and project management is unique in the computing space, and worth a look alongside Microsoft's Office 365 offering, which requires little to no IT help.
Tags: Office 365, SharePoint, Microsoft Project, Project Management
Exsilio Homepage | Project Management
Search has dominated content discovery and research for the last 10 years. However, the advertising and traffic dominance leveraged by Google’s search algorithm excellence has slowly been subsumed in the last 5 years by Facebook and a rise in social signals to drive traffic around the web. In 2009, Google reacted to this trend with a “personalization campaign,” a shotgun approach to algorithmically providing Search Engine Results Page (SERP) relevance by 57 signals around the user’s identity, rather than simply semantic language queries. There is no “standard Google” any more. Eli Pariser’s recent work indicts this trend, and suggests problems with information retrieval in an algorithmically-personalized filter bubble. There are implications for search engines, for users, and for brands; but I want to focus on the implications for anyone who creates and curates content for online distribution. Journalists, editors, and content strategists.
For those of us that create and curate content, search is something we recognize as a foundational commodity. Our job is generally cultivating a long-term relationship with the customers/audiences, punctuated by elements of transactional marketing. The process as I’ve generally participated in it involves SEO as an integral part of the planning process, but deprioritized in favor of clickstream and referral data as the pages mature. This is an “exploratory search” perspective, so it’s helpful to provide some historical context before talking about the impact of some of the recent social shifts in search results.
There are a couple of different ways to talk about search as it’s evolved over the years. These are really organized by task and query depth. The task is really “what do you want to know?” In the early days of the web, the type of answer you wanted determined not just the type of query but also the engine. “Exploratory search” really answers the “what do you want to know” question with “I don’t know – just give me everything on this topic.” This is generally unstructured data (lists of results organized only by relevance) in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Faceted search, is a more recent entry into the online search space. Rather than offering the black box experience of a Google or Bing front page, users can filter and pivot the query, personalizing the relevance. A good example is Yelp, which focuses its search results around user-queried local business. There are filters for business types, rating, neighborhood-specific proximity. Parallel to this rise is the growth of folksonomies, do-it-yourself classification strategies that are multi-topical and not necessarily hierarchical. Witness the power of Delicious – a social bookmarking site – that allows you to discover other user’s relevant bookmarks through culturally common “tags.” Click on one of those tags in my tag cloud, and then look at the tags in the right nav that are related to that tag. This can be a method for both filtering and discovery of new topics around a given concept.
In the examples of faceted search above there’s a heavy leveraging of social media, which is mostly unstructured data. But faceted search can also be a wizard-oriented approach to structured data. The rise of mobile and its virtualized search box without regard for the computer desk has resulted in narrowly focused task- and location-based faceted querying. Queries are action-oriented and one answer in scope. An example is “Seattle Weather.” You don’t need 15 pages of results, simply 1 page of authoritative sites with accurate forecasts. Bing’s marketing campaign for the last year or so has attempted to differentiate its results offering as a “Decision Engine.” Another example is CNet’s Cell Phone Finder.
What’s the important editorial takeaway for this differentiation? Search intention is different than it was 5 years ago, and information architects need to bear in mind the importance and implications of search as a foundational commodity. We once only wanted to discover. Now we also want to accomplish. What intention does your content surface? Is your content transactional and static? If so, traffic will be from well-defined sources (company home page, exploratory search, etc.), and keyword strategy becomes key. For content that’s technically deep, relying on multiple pivots to slice and dice particular topics, faceted searches become a lot more important to discovery, and social media along with strategic linking strategies will prove more impactful to customers. In the next part of this series, I’ll focus a little more on influentials and curation as a new signal for search engines (and enterprise search) to incorporate.
Business Consulting | Exsilio Homepage | Marketing | Project Management | Search | Social Media
I have always had a challenge staying focused on one thing at a time. I was tested and diagnosed with ADD when I was 12, long before it became the norm that it is today.
While my ADD is still a daily challenge, I've worked hard to create ways for myself to be successful and avoid the issues that come with my ADD (mainly high anxiety and trouble remembering small items):
These five items have really helped me to keep everything I do on the right track, and keep me from being overwhelmed and stressed.
Tags: Organization, project management, work item management
Project Management | Randomness
Whenever I need to add or edit items in Team Foundation Server, doing so in TFS itself can be a pain, especially if there are multiple items that need to be updated. After working with TFS for a while, I’ve found a way to streamline my work by using the Excel feature.
For me, I find it’s super helpful to see all items in an organized list and being able to edit fields on the fly in one spreadsheet makes working with TFS so much easier.
I have created a quick guide that goes through creating and editing TFS items in Excel:
Create New Items in Bulk
1. Ensure you have Work Item Tracking selected in your toolbar by right-clicking in the toolbar and selecting Work Item Tracking.
2. In the toolbar, click the New Work Item dropdown and select New Work Items with Microsoft Excel.
3. A new Excel workbook will open with a standard blank table for you to enter field values.
4. From here, every row is an item and you may add in as many as you’d like.
Note: You can select any variation of work item types (User Story, Task, Bug, etc.) in the Excel. Even if a work item you selected isn’t associated to a field column, that column will not be editable for that specific row.
Add Field Columns – If you want to add more fields, you may do so by adding more columns
5. Select the Team tab at the top so open the Ream ribbon.
6. In the Work Items section, select Choose Columns.
7. From here, you may select the desired fields you would like to display in the columns by moving the fields from the Available columns to the Selected columns.
8. Click OK to add the columns.
Publish Work Items – Here is where you will be saving your updates and complete create your work items in TFS
9. In the Team ribbon, under Work Items, select Publish.
10. All updates will be made and you will see the IDs are instantly created.
Edit Items in Bulk
11. In your TFS query, select multiple items that you would like to make updates to.
12. Right-click in the list and select Open Selection in Microsoft Excel.
13. Just like going to create new items, this will take you directly into an Excel workbook where you can make updates to the work items you selected.
Tags: TFS, Tips, Excel
Do you find yourself flipping through the pages searching for that one detail you wrote down on the back of a page or ever misplaced your notebook for a period of time? Try using Microsoft OneNote. Once I converted, I realized how nice it is to have one place to gather, organize and share all of my work and personal information. The application is very easy to use as it works just like a notebook would or even having a file cabinet full of notebooks, only it's lighter weight. 6 Reasons OneNote outsmarts your spiral notebook: • OneNote provides one single place to collect all your ideas, information, photos, videos, screen clips and web links. You never run out of blank pages or have to carry multiple notebooks.• The search functionality makes finding a specific idea or action item quick and easy. • OneNote integrates with other Office 2010 applications such as Outlook and PowerPoint. I particularly like being able to flag an item in my notes as a Task and having it appear in my Outlook Tasks. Or opening a meeting invite on my calendar and clicking the OneNote icon to begin a new page for meeting notes that is pre-populated with the meeting details such as meeting subject, date and attendees. • Share information easily through email. After a meeting, click the E-mail page button under the Share tab and distribute your meeting notes without having to retype or cut & paste. • Record audio (if your laptop has a built in microphone) than search through the audio files later, especially useful for meetings and capturing items you may have missed (this is the one feature I use the most).• Access your information from anywhere through a Windows-based Smartphone or web browser. This really comes in handy if your job requires you to be on the move all the time. Check it out for yourself; there are lots of resources to get you started. Here are a few good ones I found: “A quick introduction to OneNote", Meet OneNote"
Tags: OneNote, Office, Tips
At Exsilio Solutions we use Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server (TFS) 2010 for collaborative development and source control. TFS 2010 also has tools for work item management, offering nice templates for User Stories, Tasks, Bugs, and Test Cases – all elements of the Scrum project methodology we have adopted. Queries on the Team Explorer allow you to view groups of these items easily.
However, one aspect of TFS 2010 needs improvement – Team Queries. The out-of-the-box queries are good for individual developers, but not helpful for the team and project managers. Let’s take a look.
My Bugs, My Tasks, and My Test Cases are good for an individual developer or tester who has items assigned to them, but there’s not a great way to get visibility into all work items at once. That’s because the standard queries have the Assigned To = @Me value.
Also, these queries do not show any closed items. It’s a chore to see what was recently completed by the team, or report on features or bug fixes for past releases.
Product Backlog and Product Planning only deal with the User Stories, the high level containers for Tasks, Bugs, and Test Cases. Unfortunately, these queries only display the User Stories, which require clicking into the individual item, then browsing the links to see related child items. Not very efficient.
In review, the pain points:
To address these issues, we have created a standard query set we’re using in the Team Queries across a growing number of projects. All of these remove the @Me statement to see across multiple resources, and also target the specific states available for each work item type.
We have four queries, three reflecting each individual state for bugs (Active, Resolved, Closed), as well as a query that shows all states together (essentially, All Bugs).
This is exceptionally helpful when preparing status reports, looking through open bugs to confirm they are still open, resolved bugs to see if they have been tested and deployed yet in a build, and closed bugs when the resolution is in a production build.
All Bugs – Active
Change “State=” to Active, Resolved, or Closed to make each query, and Save As… to make your queries for each. Note, if you’re saving to the Team Queries, you’ll need some sort of Admin permissions to write queries there for your team.
For this query, you can simply set these clauses:
Alternatively, you can put each state individually, but you will have to use the OR command on the second and third states, and group the query. This is unnecessary for All Bugs, but in case you need to group two of the three states together, this is how it would look:
Same principles apply for Tasks and User Stories, just different queries. Change work item type, and cycle through the states.
• All User Stories – Active
• All User Stories – Active and Closed
(I do not use All User Stories – Closed here – we found it had little value. Optional for your needs)
You can also create similar queries for Test Cases. We’ll create these when we migrate our Test Cases to TFS over the next couple months.
Copying Queries Between Projects
Once you have queries set up in one project, copying them is simple. Since all the queries use @Project, they will automatically change references to the project you copied them in. It’s very simple: copy, paste and use, with no additional changes required.
1) Click the first query, then hold Shift and click the last query to select the range.
2) Right click > Copy
3) Right click “Team Queries” in a different project, then Paste.
Simple! You can repeat this every time you set up a new project for standard operation between teams that use different projects. This should streamline expectations for developers, and help with status reporting for project managers.
Tags: tfs, queries, project management, work item management, tasks, bugs, user stories, test cases
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