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Content Operations

Elements of ContentOps: Workflow and clearly defined roles

Robert Mills • 3 minutes

When it comes to content, there are no silver bullets.

A content style guide by itself won’t remove all the challenges a content team faces. An carefully assembled team of content folk won’t be able to avoid all delays and push-back. A clearly defined workflow is no guarantee that John in legal will review your content on time.

But introducing them to processes and tools can help you move towards reducing friction, increasing efficiency and being able to do more, with less. Elements of content operations are even more powerful when combined. Content types and templates plus a content style guide is a level-up from investing in just one of those elements. A workflow plus clearly defined roles is likely to yield more efficiency than they would in isolation.

How many people does your content pass through?

Last month I gave a talk at HighEdWeb about connecting silos in your institution for efficient ContentOps and effective content.

I focused on the aforementioned elements of ContentOps (though not an exhaustive list by any means) – clearly defined roles, workflow, content types and templates, and content style guides. I stated that having clearly defined roles and responsibilities across your content delivery team or through your ContentOps, was important because:

  • Clarity in roles is vital when those involves are spread far and wide
  • Clear roles are important when content may not be someone’s actual job
  • Clear roles make it easier for people to do what they (and you) need

From defining your roles and providing clarity around the responsibilities and tasks those fulfilling the roles are responsible for, benefits can include:

  • Fewer revisions and faster approval of content
  • Less back and forth and wasted time
  • No confusion (or less!) over who needs to do what
  • A structured team with a clear and agreed focus

I listed a few reasons why workflows are important:

There are many benefits that a clearly defined workflow can offer organisations and the three I shared with attendees to my talk were:

  • Keep content production on track
  • Facilitates effective collaboration
  • Provide an agreed narrative for producing and delivering content

I also shared some data from a survey that we asked our customers in higher education. The relevant question here was:

What is the average number of people a piece of content passes through before it is published?

The average was 4. I had no expectation as to what the response here would be, and it’s difficult to say if 4 is a lot or not many at all as it is different for every organisation, and often different across various teams and projects within the same organisation.

A survey result for the number of people content passes through. Average is 4

The extremes of the answers given were 2 and 10. Content only including two people from draft to published. That seems efficient and frictionless to me, though the survey didn’t allow us to dig any deeper. 10 people on the other hand seems like it opens up that organisation to more delays, compromises, bottlenecks and chances of content causing issues. That’s a little presumptuous I admit, but in my experience more people means more politics, shifting goalposts and conflicting priorities. People, eh!

The magic number is…

Following the talk I was asked a very valid question:

What is the ideal number of people a piece of content should pass through?

The very typical content strategist answer here is, it depends. And really, it does. Because as I mentioned, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to content. The survey results showed us that too.

So rather than how many people, the focus should be on which people.

Clearly defined roles

This is where roles are vital. If there are six people involved in content but three of those are tasked with ‘approval’, that’s a problem. Who of the three has the final say? Is approval even needed if content is checked and reviewed as part of a workflow with the relevant experts at each stage? Once the final review is done, the content by default is approved? That said, ‘approval’ is often a final stage of a workflow that organisation’s strive for but at the risk of ending up in approval limbo.

Every person involved in the workflow has to serve a purpose. It’s inefficient to include people because they asked, or because they’ve always been involved. If someone is allocated a role in the workflow it is because they are the right person to complete a specific task allocated to that role.

If you only have one of the two, you’ll find yourself with:

  • A workflow without clear roles at each stage, or
  • An assembled team with defined roles and responsibilities but no workflow to guide them

One is better than nothing, but the real power comes when both these elements are present.

Review, refine, remove

Review your workflow and the people involved and ask what their role is. Can roles be combined, is there a crucial role missing that is delaying content progressing? Is there a bottleneck because there is overlap or a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities?

Remove anyone from the workflow that doesn’t have a clear role and is assigned a task that contributes to the progression of content being delivered. By doing so, it doesn’t matter whether there are 2, 4 or 8 people that content passes through because they all have a purpose both individually and collectively as a content delivery team. There is no misunderstanding as to who needs to do what, no unnecessary links in the chain that will derail things, and no competing egos to approve, sign-off and have the final say.

Efficient ContentOps for effective content

Defining your workflow and the roles and tasks needed at each stage will take strides towards making your content operations more efficient. Whilst there are other elements to ContentOps, workflow is a good place to start to try and make changes quickly to see improvements sooner rather than later.

Elements of ContentOps: Workflow and clearly defined roles, by @RobertMills #ContentOps

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About the Author

Robert Mills

Content Strategist, GatherContent

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