There are times when a wrench gets thrown into your content marketing machine and you can’t figure out who threw it. Nothing seems different, but suddenly you’re rushing to make deadlines, editors are stressed, and the whole process has become frantic.
It’s time to step back and figure out where the workflow is breaking down.
Instead of the usual laborious process of troubleshooting your entire content management procedure, shake things up by using an easy tool drawn from Agile marketing practices – Work In Progress limits.
WIP limits cap how many projects can be in a particular phase at one time, ensuring a continuous flow through the project life cycle. This agile limit works even if you’re not using Agile methodologies overall so even the most traditional marketing teams can benefit.
Because it’s a somewhat unorthodox approach to content management, it almost certainly will turn up unidentified inefficiencies in your content workflow.
Open the dam
WIP limits prevent too many tasks from accumulating at any stage in the release process (e.g., designing, coding, testing).
Agile marketing doesn’t offer a hard-and-fast rule for a WIP limit, as it can vary drastically for each phase from team to team. The first part of this test will help you determine what your WIP limits should be.
Set up your WIP test
Research → Writing → Review → Editing → Publishing
Of course, “promoting” is the final phase, but it’s ongoing and not something we factor into our WIP limits.
Other potential stages in the content creation process could include:
- Legal review
- C-suite approval
- Graphic creation
Again, there’s not a right or wrong setup. At this point, all we’re concerned with is getting your process down.
Co-located teams may find it most helpful to use an old-fashioned whiteboard for this part because it’s a physical representation of a somewhat intangible process (you also get to play with lots of colorful sticky notes).
For those working with remote colleagues or freelancers, a Trello board can be helpful. This free, intuitive software lets you visualize the same kind of vertical lanes that you would create on the board, with the added joy of dragging each piece of content as it progresses:
Write down all of your content marketing projects so you can group them easily. Use sticky notes for a whiteboard or individual cards on a Trello board.
You can see that we’ve tagged our Trello cards with different colors based on content type. This can help you see not only which part of the process is dragging, but which content types tend to stall at a particular spot.
Once all the content is identified, move each piece of content into its correct lane based on where it is in the content release process.
Monitor the board
It’s tempting to look at your initial board and draw an instant conclusion. This snapshot indeed may help identify your immediate pain point. But to be able to set accurate Work In Progress limits, update your board for at least a week or longer depending on your team’s typical release cycle.
As new content is planned, make a new card or sticky note and put it on the left side of your board. Whenever it graduates from one phase to another, move it to the next lane.
If you’re using the Agile practice of daily stand-up meetings, host them around the board and make sure that everybody is updating the cards or notes as they work on them. If you don’t have a daily meeting, the content manager needs to check the board daily to make sure it’s up to date and note traffic jams.
This example illustrates way too much content stuck in the research phase:
Left unaddressed this kind of traffic jam will lead to a significant publication deficit.
Fix content traffic jams
After you monitor your board for a week or so, you should start to see patterns. Wherever you see bottlenecks, rally the troops.
Agile software teams use the practice of swarming – multiple team members attack a single programming problem as a unit. Content marketers must swarm as well.
Maybe your writing team can churn white papers, blog posts, and Facebook updates at a dizzying rate, but that content sits in the Review lane for days because nobody has time to review it all. Your writers need to convene a peer review meeting to swarm all those pieces of content and get them out of the Review lane.
Or if your graphics department gets slammed with work from other departments, you’ll see pretty quickly that cards are spending a lot of time hanging out in the Needs Art lane. Commit a team member or two to learn graphic tools like Piktochart and Canva so they can create a basic graphic that will allow content to release on schedule. Later, if necessary, the professional graphic artists can replace them with snazzier versions.
If this process tickles your fancy, it’s easy to permanently incorporate this Agile marketing technique into your team’s content management process.
To start, identify what the board looks like when your team feels that the velocity is optimum and when things are feeling sluggish. Your WIP limit for each lane should be somewhere between optimum velocity and unbearable sluggishness.
A careful monitoring effort should give an idea of where your team’s comfort level is for each category, and you can use that to set an initial WIP limit. Be explicit about your WIP limit for each lane, and post it with your board.
Keep in mind that the content moves, so anything that’s on the left side of the board eventually comes to the right. That means even if your team is cool with having 10 pieces in the research phase, it’s possible all that content research will be ready to move to writing around the same time. Whenever a lane approaches its limit, convene the team to swarm the projects that are lagging and restore balance to the board.
In the true spirit of Agile marketing, release, test, and iterate on your own WIP limits. If you monitored during a relatively low-key week, you may end up setting your limits too high, resulting in your team taking on more than it can realistically handle.
Conversely, your first week of tracking may have been unusually challenging, causing you to set your WIP limits well below what the team can manage.
In both cases, don’t be afraid to adjust and try again.
In Agile marketing, as long as you’re always improving, you’re succeeding.
Looking to further improve your content marketing processes and more? Plan to attend Content Marketing World 2015. Register by May 31 to save $500 with early-bird registration. Use CMI100 to save another $100 this month.
Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).