As marketers, we all know that web content in its myriad forms is one of the most valuable conversion tools we have. The problem is that creating content takes a long time and a lot of effort -- especially if you’re trying to manage all the moving parts of a content-creation team.
When you need to keep track of the individual cogs and wheels of a large content machine, a visual management system called Kanban is an excellent organization method.
What Is Kanban?
Kanban, a Japanese word for “signboard,” is a method initially developed in the 1950s by an industrial engineer for Toyota. In a nutshell, it’s a technique for visual-project management. So far, Kanban has mostly seen use in industries like software development and manufacturing, but it’s beginning to make a major splash in other industries, too.
How Does Kanban Work?
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review discussed the usefulness of visual content management, using this example of a corkboard with movable tags.
This particular board belongs to a San Francisco firm specializing in software and medical patents. The colored boxes delineate different components of the management system. Each tag in the yellow box belongs to one of the firm’s six attorneys. Those staffers serve as headers for the “swim lanes” on the rest of the board. Above these tags is the blue box, which contains tags for the most urgent tasks.
The red box contains tags representing each attorney’s client work for a given two-week period. To break it down even further, the orange circles on each tag make note of the estimated time frame for each task. Finally, the green box contains tasks that need to be completed some time beyond the current two-week time frame. As the deadline nears, these tags will be moved into the red box.
Why Is Kanban useful to content marketers?
Visual project management has a proven track record as an effective planning and communication tool. Once you have a sense of how it works, you'll see how easy it is to apply Kanban to the content marketing industry.
Bringing Kanban to the digital world streamlines the visual management process even further, which allows content engineers to scale up their marketing services regardless of the size or location of their team members.
'Can’t I just use a calendar?'
While a simple calendar or spreadsheet is a reasonable place to start, it’s not particularly scalable and doesn’t go beyond the most basic collaboration features. If you’re managing a large team or a lot of projects, a calendar will quickly become overloaded with tasks and information, making it all but impossible to follow.
On the other hand, a Kanban board, with its flexibility and easy-to-follow layout, makes information flow more quickly. Inputting information into your Kanban system keeps tasks from falling to the bottom of your inbox and thus eliminates the risk that they’ll be forgotten. By creating a visual of the workflow process, you'll also find it easier to assess problem areas.
Using Kanban for project management has three distinct advantages: It keeps each person from being overloaded with work, which lowers stress and boosts productivity. It provides a clear layout of deadlines. And it shows how well each person handles his or her workload, which helps HR keep tabs on workers who are excelling versus those falling behind.
The process: breaking down Kanban for content marketing
I use Kanban to manage content creation for over 150 monthly client assignments. Here’s a sample board where I use Kanbanize, a digital Kanban software, to lay out projects:
The above is just an example of the type of channels and swim lanes we created to get a piece of content from topic discovery to promotion. While this example is formatted for an agency, a similar process may be used for in-house content creation. Let’s break it down into a step-by-step process:
- The manager creates a Kanban card, which is kept either in Backlog until the right month or immediately placed into the Request column. In Requests, the project manager inputs the information for the content project using a template, including items like client specs, publishing site and the assignment deadline. In this phase we also brainstorm in the comments section of the card the content strategy, graphics and any other information that will be key in creating a successful piece.
- The manager moves the card to the In Progress column and assigns the card to the appropriate content writer. In Kanbanize, whoever gets assigned to the card receives an automatic email.
- The content writer completes the project within the allotted time period and then moves the card to the Copy Approval column. The writer then assigns the card back to the project manager, attaching the copy to the card.
- The manager reviews the assignment and, if necessary, requests edits or sends to the client for approval.
- The manager moves the card to the Design column and assigns it to the web designer.
- The designer completes the project within the allotted time period, attaches the zip file and assigns the completed card back to the manager.
- After it's reviewed and edited, the card is moved to the Implementation column. Either the manager or a specified assignee implements and optimizes the content on the site.
- The card is moved to the Promotion column. The manager or a different team member who handles content promotion takes over. Once the promotion is completed, the project is placed in the Archive section.
What’s particularly useful about this system is that each card has its own comment section. During each step of the process, a project manager, content writer, designer or other team member can ask clarifying questions or provide more information.
A good Kanban system will also make mapping the flow a cinch, which eliminates any unnecessary steps or interactions. For example, if a post doesn't need to have copy approval, a manager can cut out that part of the process. Regardless, each member will receive an email when it’s his or her turn to take over the project.
After completion, the project -- including all comments -- will be archived, freeing up space on the Kanban board for the next task.
Optimize your results.
When implementing a Kanban system, make sure everyone is clear on how the project flow works. It can help to link to a document that details a written, step-by-step process for everyone to refer to.
If they’ve never used a system like this before, it may take some time for your staff members to acclimate. It can help to start with a less prescriptive content management system and gradually work in the necessary specificity.
Kanbanize also has a useful template system for quick card creation. By pulling up the template, you can quickly enter all the necessary information to jump-start the assignment and carry it through to completion.
Swim lanes can be organized based on categories like account manager, client or content type. If your firm creates videos, infographics and sales copy, you can use those criteria to set up your headers and swim lanes. On the other hand, if your content firm needs to distinguish between client and in-house content, that’s another way to set up your system. In the above screenshot, I organized cards according to client.
Final thoughts: Take advantage of the ability to customize.
One of the best things about using Kanban in content marketing is that it’s a highly customizable system. The more you experiment, the more you’ll learn about the best way to streamline your content creation process.