How content management shaped project management at Pearson


At Pearson, an educational publishing company specializing in curriculum materials, multimedia learning tools and testing programs, content re-use and re-purposing is imperative. Over the past few years the company has worked to make content more agile, neutralized and separated from the layout of its various products.

But as Zoe Fleer, director of product management at Pearson, told an audience at MarkLogic World in Washington, D.C. May 2, this strategy means it's even more important to "listen to what your data is telling you."

Pearson organizes much of its publishing content using an XML schema on a MarkLogic Server. The use of a schema provides a standard way to associate XML nodes with data and its attributes. Pearson can create XML schema definitions in the schema database, which the broader content database references.   

Analyzing a product's schema can help define a product strategy, said Fleer.

Last year, Fleer began working on a product that needed to use content from multiple sources in multiple file types, such as PDFs, DocBook XML and HTML. Her team dumped that information into MarkLogic, normalized it using their application schema and pushed it out to the application. The application schema was a streamlined version of a lot of the incoming XML they already had.

"As a development team we believe that schema complexity is proportional to your development costs, and your risks and your time to market," said Fleer.

As the product moved through development it was evident that not all elements of the schema would be used in this product. For example, the product had 308 elements in the DocBook schema and they were only using 201. Perhaps more dramatically, out of 13,000 parent-child relationships the product was only using about 1,100.

In the end, Pearson decided to keep the broader schema, as it could be useful for future products, but to primarily use the application schema for this specific business purpose. Schema analysis allowed Fleer's team to look at what tags were needed and what tags were missing.

"Your schema is not your content, but it is a really effective representation of your content," said Fleer.

"As the digital marketplace is continuously shifting and continuously evolving, it's important to go back and analyze your schema and make sure your schema really is meeting your business objectives, and your content goals and your functionality goals, because those are probably changing," she added.

Fleer was able to introduce a content model change management plan to add tags that would be beneficial to the application and remove tags with little to no value. This caused her to shift workflow resources around functionality and content tagging, but resulted in a better final product, she said.

Still, Fleer cautions against getting too sucked in to the schema analysis phase of a project, "because after all we have products to deliver and might never accomplish anything," she said.

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