fromAugust 2015

The No-Workflow Workflow

Speed up your workflow, improve your content quality and decrease your headaches



In the 6 years that the Penn State University Libraries has been using its current enterprise Content Management System, the number of author/publishers has grown to over 200, the number of pages has increased from 5,000 to over 10,000 and the number of media files now sits at several thousand. When the libraries made the decision to switch to a Drupal platform, the time was right for a shift: to fewer editors, to a surefire way to keep content fresh, and to a dead simple workflow that won’t get in the way.


The primary goal in redefining the workflow is to avoid content “ROT" (Redundant, Outdated and Trivial) on the site. Hundreds of authors, contributing content with no oversight, has naturally led to a bloated site with lots of unnecessary, duplicate, and obsolete content. We conducted a full content inventory prior to our move to Drupal, and after having analyzed 10,000 pages of content, page by page, we clearly understood the importance of managing and maintaining content control. It is critical that every piece of content on the site has an owner, is easily reusable across the site, meets all copyright guidelines, and is fully accessible to users with any disability or learning difference. Many areas of the site have content that changes regularly; therefore, minor edits to the site need to be taken care of without delay. And, if there’s a problem identified with the site, it needs to be easily reportable and quickly addressed.


So what's the key to making all of this happen? A simple, streamlined workflow that doesn’t get in the way or allow changes to get stuck in limbo. Our new workflow involves a small group of frequent users who are empowered to make regular content additions and changes, and a content board led by a content strategist that will review these changes after-the-fact, in batches.

Sure, Drupal has a slew of options (see, e.g., Workbench, Workflow, and Maestro modules) for managing editorial workflows. And these workflow solutions might work great in other environments - environments that are smaller or environments that are geared for publishing (like a newspaper or web magazine). But for a large (500+ FTE staff) organization with a number of autonomous authors, establishing a traditional publishing workflow could be a serious challenge. The addition of editorial layers is doomed to fail here because changes won’t ever be reviewed quickly enough (or at all), and “draft only” editors will end up with full publishing access, just to keep things moving, defeating the purpose of the workflow entirely. So, while content is incredibly important and must be vetted, having an after-the-fact review by a small and highly trained group of regular editors allows for speedy content updates and less ROT. Once we get in the swing of things, we anticipate that problems discovered during editorial review will become less and less frequent.

PhotoConvincing librarians that our libraries' web content is a valuable library resource and should be curated, reviewed and weeded like any other important library collection, was an easy sell. This understanding and acknowledgement encouraged buy-in from administration, enabling an overhaul of the old author model and workflow and paving the way for acceptance of the proposed editorial review and oversight.



The proposed workflow begins with a small cadre of editors who have permissions to create and change libraries web site content. These editors will be regularly trained in writing for the web, accessibility, and best practices. Each editor will create and edit content for their own department or library and will act as backup for other units when needed. Each node on the site will have a specific single editor listed as owner, and it will be social convention and that after-the-fact review that will keep our editors working within their own realms. Ultimately, anything that belongs to an owner is that owner’s responsibility to keep up-to-date. And while permissions-wise we won’t be adding restrictions, we will be providing editors with a view of the content they own. And finally, most importantly, although web editing and content creation may only be a part of an editor’s day-to-day responsibilities, these duties are written into their job description, recognizing the effort and importance of this valuable work.

Content Board

The content board is made up of a small group of highly-engaged editors who regularly review changes made to the Libraries’ web site. They ensure that content remains valuable and relevant by working closely with editors on all web content, making changes or corrections where necessary. Membership on the board is voluntary, with the exception of the content strategist, a user experience librarian, and an IT representative. An editor on the board cannot review her own content, and a module is under development to aid in the tracking and review of the content changes. The module will supply a simple table (provided by Views) of recently updated content that has not yet undergone review. The table has a “Review” link that will open the node referenced for that row; when the reviewer looks at the node in edit mode, he will see an extra field based on his role as Reviewer that allows him to “mark as reviewed.” When that is saved, the node disappears from the aforementioned View.

Content Strategist

The content strategist heads up the content board and is ultimately responsible for ensuring compelling and sustainable content through the content life cycle. Working with the content board and web site stakeholders, the strategist defines the structures of the libraries’ web site and associated sites within Drupal to meet best practices and ensure clear and concise engagement with and communication to users. The strategist will work with the content board and editors to develop content that reflects the libraries’ goals and user needs – content that is up-to-date, factual, consistent, and accessible to all. The content strategist, along with the content board, will review and edit content for accuracy, grammar, clarity, style and messaging and assist editors in creating attractive and user-friendly web pages.

The content strategist will meet regularly with the cross-departmental stakeholders to report on content strategies, progress and any other issues. Additionally, significant changes, including page creation, changes to the information architecture, or changes in navigation, will be approved or initiated by the content board, content strategist and stakeholders. Content issues will be brought to the attention of the content board and the content strategist for review and resolution.


The quality of the libraries’ web site content is critical to serving our users and connecting them with the resources they need. As is, creating and maintaining this valuable content without getting bogged down by approval paths and confusing permissions. We believe our simple, effective workflow, involving a dedicated group of editors, an engaged content board and content strategist and the understanding of the need for after-the-fact reviews, will allow us to meet our web site goals without getting in the way. Wish us luck!

Image: Pattee-Paterno Library-Tulips_5by Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0