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18 Mar 2018

NBlog March 18 - building a sausage machine

We've been engaged to write a series of awareness materials on a variety of information security topics - a specific type of awareness product that we haven't produced before. So the initial part of the assignment is to clarify what the client wants, come up with and talk through our options, and draft the first one. 

That's my weekend spoken for!

Once the first one is discussed, revised and agreed, stage two will be to refine the production process so future products will be easier and quicker to generate, better for the client and better for us.

Like sausages. We're building a sausage machine. We'll plug in a topic, turn the handle and extrude a perfectly-formed sausage every time.

Sounds fine in theory but on past experience that's not quite how it will work out, for two key reasons:
  1. Since the topics vary, the content of the awareness product will vary, naturally ... but so too may the structure and perhaps the writing style. Awareness content on, say, viruses or passwords is conceptually and practically a bit different to that on, say, privacy or cybersecurity. The breadth and depth of cover affects how we write, so the machine needs some 'give'. It can't be too rigid.
  2. As the string of sausages gets ever longer, we will continually refine the machine and think up new wrinkles ... which may even mean going back and reforming some of the early products. It's possible an entirely new approach may emerge as we progress, but more likely it will evolve and mature gradually. What starts out producing a string of plain beef sausages may end up churning out Moroccan lamb and mint - still definitely sausages but different flavours. 
Knowing that, now, the sausage machine has to be capable of being modified to some extent in the future, within certain constraints since the customer expects a reasonably consistent product. Some features being designed into the process today will remain in a month or three, while others will evaporate to be replaced by others and we're cool with that. Hopefully the client will be too!

In more practical terms, the sausage machine itself consists of a document template with defined styles in MS Word. The template and styles can be tweaked as we go along. While the production process is presently undocumented, it is sufficiently close to our normal everyday activities that there's really no need to formalise it: we are well practiced at this stuff, running on auto. It helps that the template and styles are self-evident.

If you are 'doing' awareness with a planned series of awareness items or activities, I'd encourage you to adopt a similar, structured and planned sausage-machine approach, investing some effort up front into designing the production machinery and process. It's an obvious way to gain consistency and take advantage of continuous improvement. Once the production line is running sweetly, it lets you focus on the meat of the topic - the creative content - rather than on the production process. While it may need care and maintenance from time to time, the mechanistic process makes it easier to keep on going.

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