Annual Meeting Reports

Managing Change in the Production Workflow

Postacceptance workflow continues to evolve, with increasing emphasis on speed, cost reduction, the online environment, and the introduction of new technology. During this session, the speakers presented the issues and challenges driving their decisions to move to new tracking systems, an alternative online publication model, or an alternative platform. In some cases, they changed vendors to serve their authors, editors, and readers better.

Angela Cochran noted that there are times when a publisher wants to initiate change in an organization, and there are other times when change is needed because of factors outside the publisher’s control. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was faced with several simultaneous changes: a move from one compositor to two (the size of the journal program required two vendors), a change to a new online platform provider, and the need to hire internal production editors. Critical and major changes needed to occur simultaneously without bringing the whole publication process to a halt.

ASCE made internal changes to reduce publication-processing time, increase staff knowledge, and push quality concerns back to vendors. After 2 years of staff re-education and forced workflow changes, ASCE has reduced its backlog and works with more knowledge, functionality, and collaboration, not only with its vendors but with its staff. ASCE is now starting new initiatives.

Some of the lessons that Cochran indicated having learned are

  • Training new vendors is difficult.
  • Moving to a new platform requires more maintenance by publisher staff; lots of “stuff” can break when you change platforms.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • Be prepared for anything—consolidation in the vendor marketplace may leave you scrambling.

Brian Selzer spoke about the American Public Health Association (APHA) goal of reducing time from acceptance to publication from over 1 year to 3 months. He presented the challenges that APHA faced with papers: many had to be entirely rewritten, there were multiple stages of correction, and lots of queries were encountered—all contributing to a long publication timeline. He described his approach to the needed changes as “taking the bull by the horns” with such desired targets as shorter proof turnaround times, faster proof generation, shorter turnaround times for copyediting and proofreading, and a reduced manuscript backlog.

Selzer stated the following as lessons that he learned during APHA’s changes:

  • Be open to process evaluations and change (having always done it this way is not a reason to maintain the current processes).
  • Don’t make a change when one isn’t needed.
  • Listen for common themes in author complaints.
  • New processes and technologies can have a high upfront cost but may save money in the long run.
  • Production is ever changing; it only appears static, so be ready to find new processes.

Jon Munn discussed changing production workflow to publish research in real time and some of the challenges that the American Society of Plant Biologists faced, including poor compliance by authors in adhering to journal style and the poor quality of figures.

Some of the questions that Munn suggested considering when making a workflow change were

  • How will readers and authors respond to the change?
  • Is the value of faster publication of research content greater than the value of the aesthetic quality of the journal articles?
  • Is your staff prepared to handle the extra work that comes with making a major change in the production workflow?

Overall, the session provided helpful information for those who may be faced with similar workflow changes in their organizations.