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Go Agile: Adapt 12 Principles to Content Marketing

rubik-cubeLet’s start with some introductions. Content Marketing, meet Software Development, whose job is to continually deliver high-quality, functional software. And Software Development, meet Content Marketing, whose job is to continually deliver high-quality content that has an impact. You have some big things in common.

One of the most helpful shared topics is how to run “The Factory.” For content marketers, it’s the Content Factory, and for developers, it is the Product Factory.

Incredible time has been devoted to increasing the throughput and quality of content or software development. The number of new tools, new processes, new practices, new paradigms, and new philosophies is increasing rapidly. However, one revolution in software development stands out, above all else, over the last 20 years: the rise of Agile software development.

Agile is rooted in a set of core principles, which were first codified in 2001. The principles have been adopted in several software development practices with names like Scrum, Lean and Feature-driven Development. One of my greatest professional joys has been leveraging the core Agile principles and methodologies both in software development and, more broadly, in other business functions.

It all started when I was the CTO of a growth-stage software company and implemented Agile Scrum to increase our product development efficiency and effectiveness. I witnessed how changing to this model not only increased our pace of delivering new features, but also improved the quality of the final product. I was thrilled to see the team transform into a cohesive group of committed, empowered, dynamic teammates who reveled in their delivery of product. Based on this success, I took Agile practices to the company’s professional services team, and even to the executive team, as a way of accelerating business velocity.

Now is the time to shine the Agile spotlight on content marketing. We’ll start with the 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto, slightly reworded, from the original Agile manifesto. (All words changed to adapt for the content marketing audience are italicized.):

1) Our highest priority is to impact the audience through timely and continuous delivery of valuable content.

It all starts with the audience, the buyers, and the consumers, and delivering valuable content to them where and when it will have impact. This is the mission of content marketing and takes its worthy spot as the first principle.

2) Welcome changing requirements, even late in content creation. Agile processes harness change for competitive advantage.

It is never too late to halt or change the creation of a piece of content. It will happen – a customer case study will be compromised by an account management issue, a competitor will beat you to the punch on a thought-leadership topic, or the market context will shift and make your white paper outdated. It is far better to shift gears even at the last minute than to deliver something misaligned or irrelevant. Welcome the opportunity to get it right rather than be frustrated over the causes of change.

3) Deliver content frequently, from a couple of minutes to a couple of months.

Each channel or media format has its own nuances and time cycles for creation and consumption. From spontaneous social posts to long-form white papers, be clear and realistic about delivery-time cycles and expectations.

4) Business people and content creators must work together daily throughout the project.

Continuous dialogue around prioritization, progress, roadblocks, and needs with an informed and empowered delegate from outside the content team is essential to keeping the factory running at full steam. In software development, this role is filled by the product manager. In content marketing, this role is typically filled by the managing editor.

5) Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Software developers and writers share many traits. They need to blend creativity with science. They need to collaborate, yet go heads-down with focus on their individual tasks. And they don’t like people looking over their shoulders and micromanaging them. Figure out what your content marketing team members need to be successful, provide it, and trust their commitment and motivation to get the job done.

6) The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation.

Ever notice how an internal email about a content asset can have 10 times as many words as the content asset itself? This is all too common and inefficient. Conversations – not more emails – will cure this inefficiency and remove ambiguity and misunderstanding among content creators and their subject-matter experts, product managers, etc.

7) Impactful content is the primary measure of progress.

Impact will be measured in different ways for different teams. But progress should be measured in metrics that drive the business and revenue, such as leads, conversion, sales, up-sells, and cross-sells, etc.

8) Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, content marketers, and audience should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

A well-tuned factory can produce at a predictable, sustainable, and high-throughput capacity. Sustainability prevents burnout on the team and loss of quality at deadline crunch time. It is also important to think about sustainability of the audience. Why generate more content than the audience can actually consume?

9) Continuous attention to writing excellence and good production practices enhances agility.

High standards for writing lead to lower editing costs, better reusability, and an overall faster completion time. Likewise, rigor on asset production makes repurposing, rebranding, and content updates much more efficient. Can you repackage all your collateral with one update to a template? If not, there is a lack of efficiency to be fixed.

10) Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.

Keep things simple, avoid unneeded cycles, and create straightforward processes. For example, do not have content creators putting pen to paper without full clarity on what they are creating – the difference between a writer having full persona profiles or not can be a factor of two in terms of time and cost to generate a piece of content.

11) The best ideas, content creation, and production emerge from self-organizing teams.

You will get greater results by giving 10 tasks to an empowered five-person team than by assigning two tasks to each of the five people. Self-organization leads to a culture of ownership and accountability, and is more adaptable and resilient.

12) At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Continuous improvement is a hallmark of all Agile practices. Honest reflection and evaluation lead to improvements. Don’t be afraid to experiment, try new things, or stop doing things that aren’t working. What’s imperative is to instill team ownership of the Content Factory – everyone on the team needs to be part of the process evolution, not just following orders from above.

These Agile principles are just the start to understanding how an Agile methodology can be applied to your content marketing efforts. There are incremental gains from simply adopting one or more of these principles into your content marketing operations. Maybe one of these 12 items even solves a huge frustration point within your team or organization. However, the real magic of Agile happens when you practice it fully as your operational model.

Want more insight on how to manage today’s biggest content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image by Peter Griffin,, via