Workflow That Flows

Christine Benson

How many great ideas never get implemented or maintained because nobody ever bothered to figure out who would do the work? Or work was assigned to someone, but no one ever looked at the tasks that person was already doing?

Out of the four components of content strategy, substance and structure seem to grab the majority of the conversation. Known as the “content” components, they define what kinds of content are needed and how to prioritize and organize them.

But if content is a business asset, then workflow is what brings that asset to market. Imagine launching a new product without considering the cost of production, manufacturing resources, quality control, distribution, etc. Unfortunately, many organizations design websites and communication plans without considering the resources necessary to support them.

Now, I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams. I’m all for vision and aspirations. But you need to create a real plan for how you’re going to get there. Here are a couple of places to start.

There’s more work than you think

A friend of mine used to say, “Everyone’s the star of their own movie.” I have witnessed this to be true 95% of the time for anyone dedicated to a project. Since it’s their main focus, it’s hard to remember that it may not be everyone else’s.

It’s easy to underestimate how many other things people have to do, and the toll that takes on getting things done. Here’s a simple tool for getting to the bottom of how someone’s time is actually being spent.

Write down EVERYTHING you’re responsible for getting done in an average week. Assign percentages to those tasks. You only get 100%.

Once you have those percentages, map them to hours. As a default, use 40 hours.

TasksPercentage

HoursCreating/editing content55%22Project meetings10%8Submitting requests5%2Reviewing content8%3+Communication plans2%<1Reviewing requests5%2Random requests5%2Personal development5%2Non-content organizational needs5%2

This chart shows how much time a person actually has. It facilitates conversations about what tasks might need to shift or go away to get something done. Sure, a request for a single page may not take that long. But it’s essential to understand how that request fits into the overall process and flow of tasks for all the people involved.

Take writing, for example

Often, time estimated for writers is relative to the time given to the designers. Here’s the problem with that: designers create templates, writers create individual, specific pages. Certainly, it can take longer to get the visual design done and approved than it can to create a page of content. But one template might account for 300 pages. Make sure you’ve got an accurate page count before you fully commit to a schedule.

Next, you need to create an accurate, time-per-page estimate. Is the source content identified? Does the writer need to edit existing content or write from scratch? How familiar is she with the subject matter? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to creating an accurate time-per-page estimate.

Once you’ve got a page count and determined the time needed to create a page, the estimating is easy:

Number of pages x Time to create a page = Total estimate

For example, let’s say 300 pages x 30 min. average per page = 150 hours. That’s almost a month of a single writer working full time, with no interruptions. That might work if your writer is a freelancer. But if they’re on staff, they probably have a few other things to take care of. Which leads me to my next point …

Of course, there’s more than writing

Oh, by the way, content isn’t done once it’s written. There are reviews. And revisions. And then more reviews. Reviews always take longer than people think. Determine who needs to look at the content—however many people that may be. Find out if one group needs to review and revise before it goes to another level, to avoid conflicting feedback (seriously, this happens ALL THE TIME).

After that, there’s publishing, QA, etc. I’m sure you get the point. Basically, it’s more math and accounting for ALL the steps. But don’t skip it. If you do, your schedule will quickly get off track.

Effective workflow = power to the people

Let’s face it. Estimating all of these tasks isn’t just about getting work done. There’s lots of work getting done every day without it. The goal of workflow is to get work done efficiently. (Read: get rid of “fire-drill” mode.) When one group skips planning, everyone else has to drop what they were doing to quickly complete the request.

By all means, there are circumstances important enough to the business that require everyone to drop what they’re doing and switch gears. But using this as the daily mode of operation makes people feel unappreciated and overworked. It also takes away the ability to efficiently balance the variety of tasks someone has to get done in a day.

It can all be avoided with a little planning up front. Take the time to communicate your needs and expectations. Your content will thank you for it.