A project is only as good as its management. Oftentimes, content strategists have to deal with different stakeholders in their everyday work life, as they are generalists who can build bridges between users, developers and business people.
Thus, content strategists will often find themselves to be managing digital projects, may it be in software development, content marketing or other related fields. Here’s the basics of project management and what every content strategist should know about agile methods.
What to consider when planning a project
When planning a project of any kind, content strategists should first consider what we want to achieve with it and why. The goal and the defined value of the project outcome will define the major milestones of how to reach said results. Those milestones can then be broken down into smaller tasks that guide us through the project. Milestones and also tasks should be assigned a time frame with sufficient buffer time in between.
Once we have decided on the outcome and how we want to achieve it, it is important to consider the stakeholders of the project. Who are the parties that are somewhat interested in the project? This can be people either directly or indirectly influenced by the potential outcome – or who could highly influence the project themselves. When planning a project, we are to try and anticipate the doubts and insecurities the stakeholders might have concerning what we’re planning on doing.
Not only our stakeholders’ interests may contain risks with regard to our project goal – it’s important to consider all potential sources of risk and evaluate how likely they are to happen and how to possibly cope with them. In relation to this, we should also be checking for dependencies within our project. These might occur between people’s tasks or also time-wise. So we try to plan ahead who does what in which time frame before another task can be done.
To summarize, what has to be considered in project planning is the project result and value, milestones and tasks, as well as the assigned time frame and dependencies, stakeholders, risks and resources.
Agile Project Management: Basics of Scrum
What is Scrum?
As an agile project management framework, Scrum provides a structure for teams to solve complex problems. Most often, the Scrum framework is applied in agile software development and defines accountabilities, events and artifacts.
In terms of accountabilities, the Scrum team consists of a Scrum master (who facilitates the Scrum process), a product owner (who tries to keep all stakeholder interests in mind in creating the most valuable product possible) and developers (who actually create the digital product).
The events in Scrum aim at minimizing the amount of (unproductive) meetings and maximizing output. Sprints, dailies and retrospectives make up the most important events. Scrum artifacts consist of product and sprint backlogs (evolving lists of tasks to improve the product), as well as increments (which are small deliverables for tasks on the way towards the product goal).
Close-up on sprints and backlogs
Sprint: Sprints are short working cycles of fixed length. During this cycle of usually a month (or less), all the work to achieve the sprint objective is done. As soon as one sprint is over, the next one starts. One sprint encompasses all other Scrum events, so a sprint starts with its planning meeting to define the goal and work to be accomplished within this sprint. Once this has been defined, the team holds daily meetings to talk about their progress and challenges. Towards the end of such a working cycle, sprint reviews and retrospectives take place, before the new sprint starts.
Backlog: A backlog is a list of defined tasks to be accomplished before the digital product or a new version of it is launched. The product owner, who has an overview of the product, builds that list based on user stories and thus required features. The product backlog consists of the entire but evolving list of tasks to build up the product, whereas the sprint backlog consists of set tasks to be accomplished within the sprint.
What content strategists can learn from the Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto consists of 12 principles for software development. They all evolve around delivering great software within a world of constant change and how teams work best together for the best results.
Generally put, the principles of the Agile Manifesto focus on these key messages (quoting Wikipedia here):
- Collaboration with the customer beats contract negotiation
- Responding to change is more important than following the original plan
- Individuals and interactions are always more important than processes and tools
- When in doubt, have your software work always beats comprehensive documentation of it.
For content strategists, I feel like the most relevant principle of the Manifesto is the very first one: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”. No matter what kind of digital product we’re dealing with, our job is always to focus on our users’ needs. The customer may not always be the end user (if we’re talking software agencies), but should still be of highest priority, as they (hopefully) know their users best.
Also, this principle talks about creating a trust-worthy and mutually appreciative relationship to our customers, when we try and be well-collaborative with them.
“Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project” is another very important principle of the Agile Manifesto to content strategists. As content strategists, we’re more often than not in a position to be the link between “the tech people” and “the business people”, as we try to understand a bit of both worlds. Thus, it may be part of our job to make sure, those two parties can and do work together well on a daily basis – even though we might need to interpret between both worlds.
“Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done – is essential”. I believe that this is also essential for content strategists: Developers are usually experts in their fields. It may be part of our role as generalists to break down complex things into understandable smaller pieces, eventually to get the right things done.
Good project management is crucial for content strategists, as we thrive in roles where we can build bridges. If you don’t know much about it yet, this article gave you some very first insights into what to consider when planning a project and some basic knowledge about agile project management. I’d suggest a further read on e.g. Scrum on this site or on the Agile Manifesto here. Enjoy your future projects!