The most well-known content management books, reports, and organizations describe various numbers of stages, or phases, of the content management process and lifecycle. While the experts differ somewhat on specifics, aspects of these stages are universal and those seeking to make a CM investment best be prepared.

Bob Boiko’s Content Management Bible and Gerry McGovern’s Content Critical see three stages. JoAnn Hackos’ Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery argues for four. Ann Rockley’s Enterprise Content Management suggests five, as does the popular poster from AIIM (The Enterprise Content Management Association). Surprisingly, my fellow EContent magazine contributing editor Tony Byrne identifies only two in his CMS Report.

All agree on the first stage, though they refer to it by different names like Authoring, Capture, Collection, Creation, or Production. They all describe the last as either Delivery or Publishing.

Where they disagree is on what comes between these two. In fact, with considerable shortsightedness, they all miss one stage that precedes of all the above and is perhaps more important than any they do include. They all know it’s needed, of course, they just don’t recognize it as a distinct stage of the process and lifecycle of managing your content.

So keeping in mind the great psychologist George A. Miller’s famed magical number “seven plus or minus two” limit on human information processing, I would like to suggest seven stages or phases of the CM lifecycle for your consideration, and will let you add or subtract a couple of your own favorites.

Organization/Information Architecture/User Centered Design
The missing stage in all the major sources is the organization of information, structuring it where possible, for example using XML or RDF, which allows arbitrary metadata to be added to all information elements. This is the secret that the knowledge managers describe as turning mere data or information into knowledge. It allows information to be retrieved in a number of ways and reused or repurposed in many more.

This is where categories are created, vocabularies are controlled, taxonomic hierarchies are designed, and faceted classification schemes are developed. Without careful structuring, information will be collected haphazardly and put in the wrong places, perhaps never to be found by workers who may need to recreate it at great expense. Importantly, this is the stage where your content strategy is matched to your business strategy by designing it with your users in mind, to insure that they can and will actually use it.

Creation/Capture/Acquisition /Aggregation
Whether your information is typed into your system by technical writers or ingested by special programs that reach out via Web service connectors to aggregate vast reams of data, this is the stage that classifies everything into the architectural categories designed in stage one.

Will your content reside entirely in relational database structures, in file system objects, or a hybrid of both? Will it be stored as unstructured text and binary graphic images, or as XML elements tagged with the metadata from stage one? Will the system manage documents and records in their original physical form?

Workflow/Roles/Editors/Casual Contributors
Many hands and eyes may work on your content, some highly skilled editors and graphic artists, others will be subject matter experts or those with tacit knowledge you captured to inform your business processes. For this to succeed, you must have carefully designed but flexible rules that keep the content moving, consistent with your business requirements and rules, your policies and procedures.

Versioning/Version Control/Templates
Content changes and presentation changes. Not everyone can make a change on the same document at the same time. You must work around conflicts and be ready to rollback critical content when inevitable errors creep in. 

Publishing/Delivery/Multi-Channel/User Testing/User Experience
Your finished content will be delivered to users in many ways. Some you will push on a schedule, other information will be pulled by users as needed. Some will be traditional print, most via the Web or email, some over mobile devices like PDAs and cellphones. All of these delivery methods must be tested to insure the quality of user experience that stage one was preparing you for. 

Although publishing is probably your major objective, not all your content is ephemeral. Some must be protected to comply with internal or external requirements, some eliminated for similar reasons. Some may be so valuable you must make it part of your “institutional memory.” It captures the business knowledge of your organization, allowing it to be shared with ever-changing generations of workers. It becomes your permanent knowledge base.

So when you begin to confront what, in the information age may be your most important product: content, plan the creation of your knowledge base with the seven (plus or minus two) stages in mind.