Sometimes, you just can't get there from here. Yesterday we spent the day with a client who wanted to revise a large book that accompanies a very successful educational program. Over the years, the book had been added to, but nothing was ever taken out. As a result, it ballooned to 500 pages of text that actually diluted its effectiveness.

A few weeks ago, we did a content review on the book with customers and prospects to find out how it could be restored to its former glory. The results were pretty clear -- the tome needs serious work.

The client was averse to starting from scratch, so we guided the team through a keep/toss/fix exercise on one chapter. The idea was to identify what was "best-in-class", what was unnecessary and what was worth keeping but required updating/rewriting. We printed out one chapter and asked team members to evaluate it based on a set of criteria we all agreed were important: learner focus, value to learner, importance to course. Through that lens, the team saw the copy with new eyes. It took a while, but at the end of the morning, it was clear to everyone that we simply could not get where the client wanted to go without starting from scratch.

Had the book just been out of date, it would have been possible to replace old data with new. But so much of what was troubling users was "baked in". The voice wasn't strong, the style was too formal, and there were themes that needed to flow through the text that simply didn't. That's too hard to do with a revision, so we decided to start over. Which was what we'd suggested after the content review results came back.

You may be thinking we wasted some time yesterday with a 4-hour team event to prove what we already knew. But I disagree. The stakeholders believed the user feedback, but they weren't sure if starting over was the right path. It took a hands-on evaluation of the text with an eye toward value to the learner for them to grasp how intensive the changes needed to be. By investing time in that process, the entire team saw the need for a total rewrite. That kind of buy-in is critical in a huge process like this one that requires a ton of resources and has a tight deadline. It was a big win!