If at First You Don't Succeed: Using Agile to Relaunch XML at Cengage Learning

Greg Shepherd (Cengage Learning)
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In 2005, Cengage Learning launched an ambitious plan to develop and implement XML-based publishing workflows. In any industry, developing new workflows would be a major challenge and implementing them would be an even bigger one. But in publishing, with its years of tradition, this was a huge task.

Yet, despite the availability of numerous resources, the new workflows were developed in a vacuum with little or no reference to traditional processes and the people who had created and perfected them over time. On the technical side, the result was a suite of rigid tools unsuited to an environment demanding continuous change. On the human side, the tools were overly complex and mismatched to the skills of the people who would use them. The net effect was alienation and, in many cases, resistance to new ideas, new ways of working, and innovation in general.

In the Spring of 2007, responding to feedback from the user community, executive leadership took the bold move of relaunching XML at Cengage Learning. Borrowing principles from the Agile software development methodology, a new XML program was launched. Its goal was simple: empower end-users to develop solutions that meet their needs and speed the adoption of XML-based workflows.

Emphasizing the importance of customer collaboration, individuals and interactions and working products to the program’s success, new cross-functional teams were established that brought together technology and publishing roles to collaborate on new products (e.g., workflows and tools). Users were treated as customers and encouraged to contribute ideas and offer constructive criticism. Developers were moved closer to their customers and impromptu face-to-face meetings and iteration demos were held regularly. Rather than the giant “rollouts” of the past, the new process itself has been delivered iteratively as features become available.

Apart from the obvious benefits of a more efficient and streamlined workflow, the program has had less tangible results as well. Change is now less likely to be viewed as an obstacle that needs to be resisted but as a natural part of an evolving business environment. In short, the team members are happier and much more adaptable than they were when change was being driven from the top.

Greg Shepherd

Cengage Learning

Greg Shepherd, the Senior Manager of Content Architecture and Tools with the Strategic Content Initiatives group at Cengage Learning in Belmont, California, is currently involved in transforming Cengage Learning’s traditional print publishing business into a multi-channel, XML-based publishing business. He is also the program manager of an enterprise-wide effort to relaunch Cengage Learning’s XML strategy. Prior to joining Cengage Learning, Greg was an analyst with LexisNexis where he supported the transition from an SGML to XML workflow. Greg holds a BA from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

  • Impelsys Inc.
  • Ingram Industries
  • oXygen XML Editor
  • Adobe Systems, Inc.
  • codeMantra
  • Connotate
  • DPCI
  • Innodata Isogen, Inc.
  • LibreDigital
  • Lulu
  • Malloy
  • Mark Logic
  • Media Services Group
  • Quark, Inc.
  • ReadHowYouWant
  • RSuite
  • Safari Books Online
  • Smashwords, Inc.
  • Sterling Commerce
  • Verso Digital

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