How to project manage a content-first website launch

How to project manage a content-first website launch

3 minute read

How to project manage a content-first website launch

3 minute read

How to project manage a content-first website launch

Becky Taylor

Product Marketing Manager, GatherContent
When you’re managing a content-first website design project, it’s likely to be the first content-first website project for some of the people involved. If you're the project manager, it’s your job to get everybody on board with the process and keep the project on track.

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This can be a tough job, but the rules I learned as a digital project manager helped our team launch websites with content that drove measurable results. We hope they can help you, too.

What does the website project management process look like?

Before we dive into what a content-first website project plan looks like, let’s consider the standard website project management process. This process offers a roadmap any website development team can use for new projects.

Here’s an example of what a typical project management process looks like:

1. Collect information about the project

To get started, you’ll need to collect some basic information about the project from the client. Interview the client to understand:

  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Target Audience
  • Requirements
  • Deliverables

2. Designate a project manager

If you don’t have a dedicated project manager on your team, designate someone to take this role. The project manager—if not you—should be someone who is good at communication, time management, and keeping people on track.

3. Host a kickoff meeting

Once you have the basic details of the project and have designated a project manager, hold a kickoff meeting with the client. This is the time to dive deeper into the project goals and requirements.

Have someone take notes during the meeting or record it on file to review later. At the end of the meeting, let the client know what the next steps are and what they can expect moving forward regarding communication and delivery.

4. Establish a timeline with milestones

Now, it’s time to establish a timeline for the project. You can base this timeline off of similar projects you’ve done in the past or just estimate how long each part of the process will take your team.

You’ll also want to identify project milestones. Milestones are the events or actions that signal you’ve reached a significant part of the project. For instance, one milestone might be when the website wireframe is complete or when the design is built out.

5. Assign tasks with due dates

Identify what tasks need to be completed for each stage of the project. Assign these tasks to the team member who is best suited to complete them. To keep things organized, use this Roles and Responsibilities Chart.

Then, assign due dates to each of the tasks according to the milestones you set earlier. Enter these due dates into your project management software to make sure everyone knows when things are due.

Roles and Responsibilities Chart
You can use this Roles and Responsibilities Chart to get started assigning deliverables.

6. Check in with your team and reassess the timeline as needed

How often you check in with your team will depend on how your team works. Daily sprints may be the norm if you’re an agile organization. However, some teams may just check in once a week.

Establish how often and when your team check-ins will be so that everyone is on the same page. If you run into any delays or blockers, address them as they come up and reasses the timeline and due dates as needed.

How does a content-first website project plan change that?

Liam King says it best in Content Strategy: A project guide:

“If websites are primarily a vehicle for content delivery, why do so many web projects still disproportionately focus on visual design and functionality, at the expense of the content?”

Treating content as an afterthought limits the ability to make informed (and good) design decisions. Going 'content-first' doesn't mean waiting until you have all final content from your team or client before you do anything else.

Rather, it involves considering and thinking about content at each stage of a project in order to steer us to appropriate design decisions, which delivers better websites.

How to talk content-first from day one

Going ‘content-first’ isn’t a new approach but when you use this as the reason why working with you will lead to stronger results for your client, that’s what can draw them in.

Gone are the days of pitching creative ideas before you’ve been signed up to a project. (Note: If this still happening for you and you want out, learn how to say no to spec work at NO!Spec.)

Your client may know they need a new website, but as an agency or creative freelancer, you cannot know what that website needs to do, say or how it should look without understanding details about the business, its objectives, its customers, and the marketplace.

To get all these answers you really need a full discovery phase and to work content-first. Going content-first allows you to:

  • Deliver a website with substance and style. Rather than plugging content to fit a design, content should lead design. When this happens, the website won’t just look attractive but will have the substance to engage visitors and guide them in their user journey.
  • Design for user needs. Make your web designers' dreams come true when they can say goodbye to Lorem Ipsum and instead have real content to design with.
  • Develop based on facts. You can keep your web development team happy too when they know how much and what format the website content will be in, reducing assumptions and ambiguity.
  • Save time and money. When your designers and developers have content upfront, this answers questions they'd otherwise need to make educated guesses for. This lessens the amount of work they need to change when content arrives—saving time and money. Win, win.
  • Deliver stronger results. When content is up first on the agenda it forces you to think about what you really need to say on a website to serve your user needs and elicit the actions you want to support your business goals.
Good to Know: Need more convincing? Read Liam King’s article on Designing Content-First for a Better UX to help get content onto the agenda as early as possible and get stakeholders on board.

Communicate what your content-first process will look like

When it comes to effectively communicating what your content-first project process will involve, the earlier you can do this, the better. Include a top-level summary at proposal stage to help set expectations and keep your project on track.

‍Decide and communicate:

1. What “content-first” means for your project

At what stage will content production begin? Will you be producing proto-content? Is there existing content to work with? What is your brief for the content? Will design dictate content at all?

2. Who is responsible for what

When content is not delivered because one party thought the other was producing it, assumptions are often made that cause significant issues down the line.

In order to budget and plan accurately, you need to know which team members are responsible for planning, producing, reviewing, and approving content. This is likely to involve a variety of stakeholders.

Take some time to assign tasks and due dates in your PM tool before the development project starts. That way, everyone knows ahead of time what they are responsible for and when it’s due. Ongoing task management will help your team mitigate late deliverables.

content status
With GatherContent, you can assign different stages of the content development process to different team members.

3. What the schedule looks like

When you know what your content-first process will look like and who is responsible for each element, it’s time to develop and get agreement to your project plan.

Make dependencies clear so that if X isn’t delivered by X date, all parties know that the remaining schedule needs to be adjusted. In an agency/client relationship, there can be pressure to stick to your launch date—no matter what. But if you get everyone to sign off on your project schedule and responsibilities in the beginning, you’re far more likely to get what you need on time without having to burn the midnight oil.

You’ll want to choose a project management tool that works for your project team. Tools like Trello, Asana, Wrike, Basecamp, and TeamGantt are really good for a visual breakdown of task lists.

content types
GatherContent offers different templates for different types of content projects, each with its own set of task list items.

You can plan out your work schedule and highlight responsibility and dependencies. If your team is follows the agile methodology, you’ll want to find a project management system with Kanban or Gantt charts to support successful project sprints.

4. What content tools you will use

Even the smallest of sites will involve some level of collaboration regarding content. So, decide what content project management tools will be best for your team to plan, produce and review content in. Provide training if need be!

GatherContent is built for this exact use case. With GatherContent, you can create content templates, write content, supply assets with familiar authoring functionality, and layer a custom workflow to communicate if your content is in draft mode, ready for review, or approved.

Once you try it, you'll never want to run another web project without it!

content project management
GatherContent was made for content-first web development projects! We make it easy to organize the entire process and keep things collaborative.

5. How progress will be reported

If you are using GatherContent then your project dashboard will show you at a snapshot what stage each of your content is in. Any project manager worth their salt will disseminate this information in regular and relevant website progress reports to the team, making sure everybody knows where the project is at and who needs to do what. Crack that whip!

This probably sounds like your project will be front-loaded with work, but the payoff is worth it because by setting expectations from the beginning of your project, it will run smoother as a result.

Energy levels are highest at the beginning of a project. Work this to your advantage and get everybody on board with your process from the get-go. Believe me, it’s much harder to persuade somebody that quality content is critical when a deadline is looming.

Project Status
It’s easy to change the status of a project in GatherContent. Once you change the status, it will notify everyone tagged on that project.

Accept that some work will need to be redone

One of the major attractions of a content-first approach for agencies or freelancers is that less work (be it the design or development) needs to be redone. Without a content-first approach, content typically arrives in a different size/format than expected, meaning the design or development need to be adjusted.

In my experience, it’s not realistic to believe that any project can truly receive all final content up-front. For instance, let’s say you plan to provide a thorough content brief alongside wireframes to help guide your client in providing content. When the client starts writing the content, they may well find that the user needs are different and then the wireframes will need to be reworked.

That’s OK! The best laid plans are really just that - plans. Don’t feel too disappointed or that you’re breaking the content-first “rules” if content arrives and you need to rework any stage of your project.

You can be sure that by bringing content forward in the project you’re significantly reducing the margin for error by basing your design and development decisions on real content.

And if you ever need to feel better, just remember the pain of projects that weren’t content-first with Lorem Ipsum plastered all over your beautiful website!

We hope these simple rules help you deliver successful content-first website projects.

Good to Know: Ready to see how GatherContent can change the way you look at website project management? Start your free trial today!

This can be a tough job, but the rules I learned as a digital project manager helped our team launch websites with content that drove measurable results. We hope they can help you, too.

What does the website project management process look like?

Before we dive into what a content-first website project plan looks like, let’s consider the standard website project management process. This process offers a roadmap any website development team can use for new projects.

Here’s an example of what a typical project management process looks like:

1. Collect information about the project

To get started, you’ll need to collect some basic information about the project from the client. Interview the client to understand:

  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Target Audience
  • Requirements
  • Deliverables

2. Designate a project manager

If you don’t have a dedicated project manager on your team, designate someone to take this role. The project manager—if not you—should be someone who is good at communication, time management, and keeping people on track.

3. Host a kickoff meeting

Once you have the basic details of the project and have designated a project manager, hold a kickoff meeting with the client. This is the time to dive deeper into the project goals and requirements.

Have someone take notes during the meeting or record it on file to review later. At the end of the meeting, let the client know what the next steps are and what they can expect moving forward regarding communication and delivery.

4. Establish a timeline with milestones

Now, it’s time to establish a timeline for the project. You can base this timeline off of similar projects you’ve done in the past or just estimate how long each part of the process will take your team.

You’ll also want to identify project milestones. Milestones are the events or actions that signal you’ve reached a significant part of the project. For instance, one milestone might be when the website wireframe is complete or when the design is built out.

5. Assign tasks with due dates

Identify what tasks need to be completed for each stage of the project. Assign these tasks to the team member who is best suited to complete them. To keep things organized, use this Roles and Responsibilities Chart.

Then, assign due dates to each of the tasks according to the milestones you set earlier. Enter these due dates into your project management software to make sure everyone knows when things are due.

Roles and Responsibilities Chart
You can use this Roles and Responsibilities Chart to get started assigning deliverables.

6. Check in with your team and reassess the timeline as needed

How often you check in with your team will depend on how your team works. Daily sprints may be the norm if you’re an agile organization. However, some teams may just check in once a week.

Establish how often and when your team check-ins will be so that everyone is on the same page. If you run into any delays or blockers, address them as they come up and reasses the timeline and due dates as needed.

How does a content-first website project plan change that?

Liam King says it best in Content Strategy: A project guide:

“If websites are primarily a vehicle for content delivery, why do so many web projects still disproportionately focus on visual design and functionality, at the expense of the content?”

Treating content as an afterthought limits the ability to make informed (and good) design decisions. Going 'content-first' doesn't mean waiting until you have all final content from your team or client before you do anything else.

Rather, it involves considering and thinking about content at each stage of a project in order to steer us to appropriate design decisions, which delivers better websites.

How to talk content-first from day one

Going ‘content-first’ isn’t a new approach but when you use this as the reason why working with you will lead to stronger results for your client, that’s what can draw them in.

Gone are the days of pitching creative ideas before you’ve been signed up to a project. (Note: If this still happening for you and you want out, learn how to say no to spec work at NO!Spec.)

Your client may know they need a new website, but as an agency or creative freelancer, you cannot know what that website needs to do, say or how it should look without understanding details about the business, its objectives, its customers, and the marketplace.

To get all these answers you really need a full discovery phase and to work content-first. Going content-first allows you to:

  • Deliver a website with substance and style. Rather than plugging content to fit a design, content should lead design. When this happens, the website won’t just look attractive but will have the substance to engage visitors and guide them in their user journey.
  • Design for user needs. Make your web designers' dreams come true when they can say goodbye to Lorem Ipsum and instead have real content to design with.
  • Develop based on facts. You can keep your web development team happy too when they know how much and what format the website content will be in, reducing assumptions and ambiguity.
  • Save time and money. When your designers and developers have content upfront, this answers questions they'd otherwise need to make educated guesses for. This lessens the amount of work they need to change when content arrives—saving time and money. Win, win.
  • Deliver stronger results. When content is up first on the agenda it forces you to think about what you really need to say on a website to serve your user needs and elicit the actions you want to support your business goals.
Good to Know: Need more convincing? Read Liam King’s article on Designing Content-First for a Better UX to help get content onto the agenda as early as possible and get stakeholders on board.

Communicate what your content-first process will look like

When it comes to effectively communicating what your content-first project process will involve, the earlier you can do this, the better. Include a top-level summary at proposal stage to help set expectations and keep your project on track.

‍Decide and communicate:

1. What “content-first” means for your project

At what stage will content production begin? Will you be producing proto-content? Is there existing content to work with? What is your brief for the content? Will design dictate content at all?

2. Who is responsible for what

When content is not delivered because one party thought the other was producing it, assumptions are often made that cause significant issues down the line.

In order to budget and plan accurately, you need to know which team members are responsible for planning, producing, reviewing, and approving content. This is likely to involve a variety of stakeholders.

Take some time to assign tasks and due dates in your PM tool before the development project starts. That way, everyone knows ahead of time what they are responsible for and when it’s due. Ongoing task management will help your team mitigate late deliverables.

content status
With GatherContent, you can assign different stages of the content development process to different team members.

3. What the schedule looks like

When you know what your content-first process will look like and who is responsible for each element, it’s time to develop and get agreement to your project plan.

Make dependencies clear so that if X isn’t delivered by X date, all parties know that the remaining schedule needs to be adjusted. In an agency/client relationship, there can be pressure to stick to your launch date—no matter what. But if you get everyone to sign off on your project schedule and responsibilities in the beginning, you’re far more likely to get what you need on time without having to burn the midnight oil.

You’ll want to choose a project management tool that works for your project team. Tools like Trello, Asana, Wrike, Basecamp, and TeamGantt are really good for a visual breakdown of task lists.

content types
GatherContent offers different templates for different types of content projects, each with its own set of task list items.

You can plan out your work schedule and highlight responsibility and dependencies. If your team is follows the agile methodology, you’ll want to find a project management system with Kanban or Gantt charts to support successful project sprints.

4. What content tools you will use

Even the smallest of sites will involve some level of collaboration regarding content. So, decide what content project management tools will be best for your team to plan, produce and review content in. Provide training if need be!

GatherContent is built for this exact use case. With GatherContent, you can create content templates, write content, supply assets with familiar authoring functionality, and layer a custom workflow to communicate if your content is in draft mode, ready for review, or approved.

Once you try it, you'll never want to run another web project without it!

content project management
GatherContent was made for content-first web development projects! We make it easy to organize the entire process and keep things collaborative.

5. How progress will be reported

If you are using GatherContent then your project dashboard will show you at a snapshot what stage each of your content is in. Any project manager worth their salt will disseminate this information in regular and relevant website progress reports to the team, making sure everybody knows where the project is at and who needs to do what. Crack that whip!

This probably sounds like your project will be front-loaded with work, but the payoff is worth it because by setting expectations from the beginning of your project, it will run smoother as a result.

Energy levels are highest at the beginning of a project. Work this to your advantage and get everybody on board with your process from the get-go. Believe me, it’s much harder to persuade somebody that quality content is critical when a deadline is looming.

Project Status
It’s easy to change the status of a project in GatherContent. Once you change the status, it will notify everyone tagged on that project.

Accept that some work will need to be redone

One of the major attractions of a content-first approach for agencies or freelancers is that less work (be it the design or development) needs to be redone. Without a content-first approach, content typically arrives in a different size/format than expected, meaning the design or development need to be adjusted.

In my experience, it’s not realistic to believe that any project can truly receive all final content up-front. For instance, let’s say you plan to provide a thorough content brief alongside wireframes to help guide your client in providing content. When the client starts writing the content, they may well find that the user needs are different and then the wireframes will need to be reworked.

That’s OK! The best laid plans are really just that - plans. Don’t feel too disappointed or that you’re breaking the content-first “rules” if content arrives and you need to rework any stage of your project.

You can be sure that by bringing content forward in the project you’re significantly reducing the margin for error by basing your design and development decisions on real content.

And if you ever need to feel better, just remember the pain of projects that weren’t content-first with Lorem Ipsum plastered all over your beautiful website!

We hope these simple rules help you deliver successful content-first website projects.

Good to Know: Ready to see how GatherContent can change the way you look at website project management? Start your free trial today!

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becky

About the author

Becky Taylor

Becky is a Product Marketing Manager at GatherContent. She has 10+ years working in marketing executing affiliate, content, display, mobile, search and social campaigns for high profile clients across various sectors including Travel, Entertainment and Oil & Energy.

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