Ditch the spreadsheet for content analysis.


Key Points

  • Possible consulting inputs (either inside an organization or externally) include Echo → Summarize → Rate → Reframe
  • In general the highest value analysis is reframing a situation
  • When reframing, you are introducing new concepts and opening up new implementation opportunities
Related resource
Is your digital RFP ready? | Be prepared for your RFP

On my last day of a client visit, two members of another group came in asking if I could come back to work with them on a technical evaluation of their web publishing. Seeing as the two (representing tech and content) could not seem to make eye contact with each other given the tensions over the systems, I said I would only come back if I was also evaluating people processes as well. When I interviewed the teams, I heard a lot about the lack of flexibility and publishing speed. In my final analysis I said that the problem was not flexibility or publishing speed, but that they needed better structures in place for spinning up news hubs for breaking news themes. This was well received by the client although it was not the initially-reported problem. This exact advice was not something I had said to any other clients before or since, but it was an example of reframing the conversation (not flexibility and publishing speed, but templates and processes for new news topics).

Whether as internal teams or external experts, our goal should be to reframe the discussions for higher effectiveness.

Reframing and some alternatives

When we are playing a consultative role (either internally or externally), there are a variety of possible actions we can take, including:

  • Echo. Simply echoing back, for instance echoing back what various teams said in interviews. This is very limited value and something I avoid entirely in my consulting (for one thing, if teams know that what they say will be directly documented, they may not be as transparent or creative). That said, sometimes (rarely) teams do request a detailed accounting.

  • Summarize. Summarizing what you heard. This can be useful, and is, in many ways, the start of reframing (and should be used in a component of reframing, for instance by summarizing along factors/dimensions that were not the way people were directly discussing). For instance, going back to the flexibility example, documenting how many people indicated the lack of flexibility was a problem but also how many people agreed that a new templated approach could work.

  • Rate. Evaluate the current situation against some standard, particular competitors, or perhaps even some approach that has already been suggested internally (in this last case, some clients look at this as "we hire a consultant for someone external to tell us what we already know"). This is sometimes framed as a benchmarking exercise. Many organizations are particularly concerned about how they stack up against competitors.

  • Reframe. Reframe the conversation in a way that optimizes change. In this model, the consultant fully listens to what the client has to say but attempts to transcend the language and focus of the client toward a model that allows reaching an entirely different level digital effectiveness.

What is reframing?

  • You are talking about entirely new concepts
    Examples: site types, engagement funnel, process for news issue
  • You are opening up new implementation approaches
    Example: instead of implementing more flexible options, creating a template
Also: Is your digital RFP ready?

When is reframing important?

Obviously we are not starting out every discussion in our web work with the expectation that we'll be reframing the conversation (we need to be efficient, so sometimes we need to work in a more streamlined, standard manner that requires little communication). Usually we just need to directly act or take an alternative approach like rating or summarizing. That said, even in day-to-day conversations there can be opportunities to reframe. There are times we need to go in with the assumption that reframing may be relevant.

Some obvious cases when we should be particular ready to reframe conversations:

  • Any major redesign. Yes, in general we want to avoid redesigns. But sometimes there are needed, and, when they are, it's a perfect time to reframe (if for now other reason, to push out when the next redesign is required).

  • Any time you hear yourself saying "it's not a technical issue, it's a people issue". Resolving these types of issues are usually really a combination of a technical and people issue, and a perfect time for reframing.

  • Any time you are about to spend a large amount on your website. These are perfect times to make sure you have framed the situation in a way that will give you the most value.

Note that reframing needs to happen early, before you have built in assumptions (also see: the RFP is too late).

Examples of reframing

Some examples of reframing on David Hobbs Consulting projects
Stated Problem Obvious Solution "Foothold" on possible other approach Reframed Solution Concepts Implementation Solutions
Publishing not flexible and fast enough Open up more layout controls to publishers. Virtually all examples given are actually when a new news topic is published, and offerring more page-level controls would actually slow down the process. Need better templates and processes to quickly spin up new news topics. Flexibility → Template Work on templates and processes, and not the page editor.
Need personalization Implement personalization engine Simply don't have the content that various audiences want Focus on developing content that various audiences need Personalization → Content Coverage Identify audiences and develop core content for them
Many documents are locked into PDFs and are written in technical jargon Convert all PDFs to HTML and rewrite for general audience Vast majority of these technical documents are accessed by a very small and specialized group. Don't modify the specialized documents. For most technical types, just write a generic description of the type with links to related, more general information. No PDFs → Brief Descriptions of Technical Documents Write summaries plus architect for different audiences to engage with

What are the risks?

Although there are rewards of reframing the discussion, there are some risks:

  • Reframing isn't for the faint of heart. Although it doesn't always happen, there's a good chance you're going to upset people — potentially a lot of people — when you suggest a new way of thinking.

  • In some ways, the best result can be that the team you are consulting to thinks what you suggested is something they were thinking all along. This can sometimes be a little tough on the ego, but the biggest issue is to ensure that the team actually understands the reframed perspective. Sometimes a checklist of key points can help with this, as can carefully wording the high level summary of the strategy.

  • If you aren't talking to folks at a high enough level, then attempting to reframe can be futile.

  • Depending on what is being reframed, it takes time to execute. But even more important is that the reframed model agreement needs to happen before it is too late to make a difference. This all needs to happen earlier than may be obvious.

  • Reframing is hard. In general, the more experience you have the more likely you are to see the change. For example, in the PDF example above a previous consultancy had suggested making dramatic changes to the PDFs. This can happen when blindly following general concepts (like "avoid PDFs where possible" and "write content so that the general public can understand it").

Need help reframing? Contact David Hobbs Consulting.

Is your digital RFP ready? Be prepared for your RFP