Publishers have been developing new products—particularly new media products—at a furious pace, while trying to control or cut costs through increased efficiency. Often, they view the relationship as an interdependent one. Technology enables them to do more with less and the ability to create and deliver new media products is primarily about getting the technology right. Right?
If an in-house composition group was consistently missing deadlines, would the software be blamed? Would it even think to solve the problem by evaluating new tools? Probably not. Instead, such questions would be asked, like: Are the manuscripts being received on time? Does the staff filled with trained people? What methods are used to track work? Software might be a factor in lateness, but it is unlikely to be the root cause. How people are organized, and the work they do are areas where improvements can be made.
The same lesson holds true for new media product development. Yes, understanding the technology itself is enormously important. But even implementing technology is really more about process and people than about the technology itself. Successful publishers are extremely disciplined about the processes used to define and develop "traditional" print products. They need to apply the same discipline to new media product development and to the software development projects.
The discipline of project management—and more specifically, software project management—has been around for years, but its adoption by publishers has been slow. There are a few good reasons for this, not the least of which is that it's just plain difficult. It is also quite different from editorial and production processes. For example, if composition schedules are running behind, adding more people typically speeds things up. On a software project, adding people, especially at the last minute, can often slow things down and result in much lower quality. Another example is that printed books must be perfect when they go to press. There will be no other opportunity to correct them. Electronic content products and software (including Web sites) can be improved endlessly. In fact, it is often wiser to keep things simple at first and add content and functionality over time in response to feedback, but this is often a difficult lesson learned by many otherwise savvy developmental and managing editors.