Article: Process & Project Management in Academic Publishing

Gantt chartThe tools of project and process management may look somewhat similar from the outside, but they are used to great effect for different tasks. Project management is excellent for building a product for the first time and identifying the unknowns; in fact, that is what project management does best.  Modern project management was first formally developed when the US Navy undertook to build their first nuclear submarine.  Oh sure, they’d built subs before, but had never tried to stuff a nuclear reactor into one.  The beauty of project management is simply this: the manager reduces the constituent tasks until they are single steps in a multi step project.  In this way, once all the tasks are identified, it’s quite easy to see the tasks and their components that are known science (install the periscope) and those that aren’t (um, build a tiny breeder reactor) (can we make those reactor cooling pumps any quieter?).


Team talking.Process management is used in manufacturing when the production process is fully understood and replicable. The process of getting content published to both paper and digital platform is well known and can easily be quantified / described as a process. The tasks have been identified as have the variables such as quantity, budget and time constraints. While there are elements of academic publishing that are currently innovating (I’m looking at you, digital learning environments), the industry itself is mature and its schedules can be predictable.  Students return to school in the fall, so titles must be ready for delivery well before then. The publisher knows what has to happen by when in order to meet its academic schedules and have titles ready for use by its clients.


Stack of booksContent creation is the more creative element in the process, but in the academic publishing environment, even this has its constraints: topic, time and cost to procure talent to name a few. Once the content has been authored, then comes the process: editing, quality control, design, sales and marketing, printing and deployment, and fulfillment.

Content is king. You may have the shiniest new platform, but how does the content look on it? You may have saved several thousands of dollars on this new edition, but how has the quality suffered with those errors in the online test? Content is really what you’re selling; not books or platforms but what’s in them and on them. It’s the content that matters and every consideration in the publishing process should be guided by this principle. 


Engineer looking forward.So who manages the content process from creation to publication? Are you using a project management office (PMO) to manage this or is it handled by your editorial teams?  A PMO can have the 30,000 ft view of all content in process, manage traffic and try to keep a lid on expenditures but does it have the ability to handle all the disciplines at once, each with their special requirements? Editorial teams know their titles, authors and the idiosyncrasies of their disciplines but don’t have the benefit of the big picture that a PMO has. Perhaps a hybrid solution is in order: the PMO can serve as a clearing house and traffic manager, but budgets, talent recruiting, content quality assurance and control, are handled by the editorial team. After all, the editorial team has a finer grasp of the granularity of the title and the needs of the content.