The first edition of the Australian Government style manual was published in 1966 and included a forward by Prime Minister Harold Holt. It was and is used in academia, general editing, and commercial contexts becoming the de-facto Australian style manual.
Meaghan Newson described how it languished for 20 years while the digital revolution happened around it – the Internet, Digital Personal Assistants, YouTube, Kindle, Android, iPad, had all come into existence. In response Susan Beard worked to establish and fund the project to digitise and update the Australia Government Style Manual.
- Transitioning the style manual from a book to a website.
- Getting non-content individuals excited about content.
- Starting with a limited team during the beta phase.
Six Things Learned in the Process:
- Finding the key elements of collaboration and alchemy for success.
- The importance of having a great team and working hard.
- Making decisions based on how things should be, not how they have always been done.
- Recognising the relativity of time and the need to adapt to changing contexts.
- Staying committed to the course despite detractors.
- Understanding that changes require a critical mass of people who care.
The Importance of Research and User Insights:
- Initial research played a crucial role in shaping the style manual.
- Ongoing research provided major insights and improvements.
- Research was prioritised but had to be balanced with pragmatism.
A Focus on Accessibility and Readability:
- Leadership emphasised the importance of accessibility and guidance on meeting WCAG standards was embedded in the page rather than somewhere separate (which drew protests from some hesitant that this become part of their job, and concerned of approval processes)
- Content aimed to meet the needs of diverse users and be readable at an Australian Year 7 level.
- The shift toward a more inclusive and diverse approach encountered resistance from some stakeholders.
Community Engagement and Adoption:
- Building a wide community of beta users helped galvanise support.
- Communication efforts and regular project updates were appreciated.
- Over 100,000 unique users accessed and loved the style manual.
- Acknowledging the contributions of others and not taking progress for granted.
Meaghan Newson’s Leadership Reflections:
Newson was the style manual Product Owner. While this was a content project none of the titles had linguist or editor in the role. Her job was to protect the team, create the rules for great work, and focus on what was being created and delivered.
She reflected on leadership as being about enabling brilliant people to shine, being across the detail – without micromanaging, and finding smart people with hidden depths, who will challenge you, debate with you, and keep you accountable for product leadership and backlog prioritisation. She also described her persistence, and transforming detractors comments into motivation for success.
And on that note I reflected that Newson’s talk was as much about what good leadership looks like than the remarkable product she delivered.