Advocating for “quality” content serves our unmet needs, not user needs

When we advocate for “quality content”, we’re expressing our unmet needs by making a judgment. That doesn’t serve user needs.

During my talk at Confab Barcelona—”Use agile methods to work together on content” (slides below)—I suggested that in order to benefit from agile methods, we choose to “serve user need over content quality”:

Although most people in the room seemed to follow, a few objected: someone stated that user needs and quality are the same thing. Later a friend observed that my statement was provocative. I realised that I’m not interested in provoking people and I didn’t actually explain what I meant. I’ll do that here instead. 

“All moralistic judgments, whether positive or negative, are tragic expressions of unmet needs.”—Marshall Rosenberg

I hear people using judgmental language to describe digital work all the time. (I’m sure you could find several examples in a few seconds of browsing this blog’s archives). Quality (or poor) content, good (or bad) user experience, doing it properly (or wrong.) Although we might intend that these judgments relate to an artefact—like a paragraph of copy or the layout of a page—we’re actually commenting on the wrongness or rightness of the people who made them. Whether positive or negative, concerning other people or ourselves, these judgments express our unmet needs.

Maybe we’d like to be understood or to see more respect and appreciation for our contribution. Maybe we’d like more autonomy in our work or harmony in our team. Or maybe we’re looking for acceptance.

Fast-forward to a meeting of our cross-disciplinary agile team:

We say: “Quality content is essential for good user experience.”
Our colleagues hear: “Me Me Me Me. And you’re doing it wrong!”

Agile methods show us that we can’t tell whether a product meets user needs until we get it in front of actual users. The same holds for content. We don’t learn by insisting that content meets our own test of “quality”, but by validating our assumptions through testing.

Instead of defining ourselves as experts who are right—“I’m a good writer and my copy is perfect!”—we could switch to a facilitator identity. Instead of making judgments about quality, we’d learn from our colleagues and in turn act as a coach for them. Although it’ll be uncomfortable, we’ll see more connection with our colleagues and more meaning in our work.

(Want more? Come to agile content conf in January.)