The Content Corner: Feeding the Beast with Agile Content Development

Mar 14, 2016

I feel as though I have ignored the beast in the room lately, and since I began my tenure on The Content Corner introducing that concept, I felt I needed to wrestle with it one last time before I depart.

Previously, I discussed the concept of pair writing. Today I want to investigate how another software development concept can be leveraged to improve the quality and quantity of the content we create: Agile content development.

The word “Agile” in metallic gold letters on wood planks.

Flexible Structure

The exact structure that your organization chooses can vary and should be chosen based on the nature of your work environment (such as location of team members, which I discuss a little more later) and your existing content production processes. As you can imagine, the more abrupt the change, the more difficulty your team will have adapting to it. Regardless of what you choose, remember that structure is critical. Structure can separate Agile from agile, and without it, a disorganized, reactive-only content creation process is a common side effect. That is not Agile.

This Agile structure goes beyond your content strategy. Content strategy should always be the foundation, but Agile will serve as the framework above your foundation that guides the content creation process. Content strategy ensures that everyone is clear on what content they need to create and the reason why. What is the value to the user? Agile then provides guidance to each team member along the content assembly line so their roles are very clear as to how they help get the content from inception to publishing.

The silhouette of a flexible woman does a back bend on a beach during a sunrise.

How flexible is your content strategy? Just as with any project planning, we always need to fit in room for the unexpected. Managing risk within a content strategy is probably pretty uncommon, but we do need to allow for unanticipated content needs. An inflexible content strategy within an Agile framework negates the benefits Agile provides. You have to be able to monitor and adapt quickly, leveraging analytics and, when applicable, feedback at the end of a content creation sprint.

Quality and Quantity

User stories, a key concept of Agile Programming requirements gathering, are also very applicable to an Agile content creation strategy. It requires a faster and clearer presentation of the user’s needs and helps create a laser focus on a single piece of content and then gets it to the user as quickly as possible.

It is also critical to realize that Agile relies heavily on teamwork and having the right people working together at the right time. For example, a subject matter expert (SME) may need to work closely with a content producer or editor to reduce the time needed to produce, edit, and finalize content.

As with pair writing, the content editor or producer can help guide the SME in real-time in order to eliminate time-consuming errors and speed up the content publishing process. Integrating the various parts of your content creation process is key to successfully converting to Agile. It also highlights the importance of face-to-face conversation in creating an efficient content production environment. If you are working in a telework-heavy (or completely remote) content production environment, you may need to work a little harder to ensure these benefits occur, but they can certainly be done with video chat and teleconference tools that are so prevalent today.

Stress Patience and Ownership

It may take some transition time to adjust to daily standup meetings, the close collaboration, and a distraction-free commitment to one piece of content at a time. For those unfamiliar with Agile methodologies, there will definitely be some confusion and hesitance just as is common with all new concepts and ideas. Strive for as simple an Agile framework as possible and ensure that each person has clarity on their role and responsibility.

Flow Chart Diagram Concept

Allow for continuous improvement to the team’s processes that is led by the team members themselves. Foster ownership and responsibility among your Agile content creation team and always be open to any suggestions they may have. I always strive to trust the people on my team to know what works best for them as opposed to me handing down a solution. This ownership will strengthen the entire team and lead to greater efficiency in your content creation process and more creative solutions to issues as they arise.

The most important way to work through any initial stumbles or resistance is communication. Be sure to let your team know that stumbles are common and most groups need time to adjust to the new process. Some report immediate positive results such as more comfort with deadlines and more confidence in the content they are creating. Encourage your team that the initial struggles should give way to greater benefits in a very short time.

Anyone successfully using an Agile content creation framework? Anyone thinking of taking the plunge? My team is so small that we are more small “a” agile anyway, but Agile is sweeping a variety of project management and even public affairs functions in my organization. I’m looking forward to following up on their experiences once they have a decent number of sprints under their belt.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.