Last month, I hosted a Vyond webinar on Agile Development for Content Creators. Over the course of an hour, we took a cursory look at the agile movement that arose from software development. We also began to explore in practical terms how content creators of any discipline could apply those principles to their creative process.
An hour is hardly enough time to cover such a broad, diverse, and deep subject as the agile mindset, so—in the spirit of agility—I let the audience decide which topics we would explore in more detail. That’s right: even our webinar was agile!
I borrowed from an agile facilitation technique for agenda-free meetings to ask attendees what content they care about. (It turns out that, sometimes, building the right content really is as simple as asking people what they want.)
Today, I thought I’d recap some of the concepts we covered and link out to a few resources and bonus materials. Read on for a quick introduction to agile for content creators, and watch the full webinar recording on-demand here.
An Introduction to the Agile Mindset
Agile is a journey of continuous learning, and I was lucky enough to start mine at ICAgile: a prominent accreditation and certification body for agile training. I got to work on their marketing team for three and a half years prior to joining Vyond, and during that time, I got a really great foundation in the agile mindset.
The term “agile mindset” was coined by ICAgile co-founder Ahmed Sidky, who built upon Dr. Carol Dweck’s work to show how continuous learning is at the heart of business agility. This is an important distinction from popular discourse on Agile. It isn’t a way of doing things, it’s a way of being, grounded in a willingness to discover, change, experiment, and fail.
In preparation for our webinar, I hopped on the phone with Ahmed himself to talk about this idea. Our call was so great, we hopped into Vyond Studio to create an animated explainer video with kinetic type and imagery:
How to Create Content in an Agile Way
During our webinar, I employed a Lean Coffee approach to decide which topics were most valuable. I gave six pitches to the audience of topics we could explore further:
After a quick poll, we settled on three of those topics to discuss in the webinar: Agile Workflows, Agile Project Management, and Continuously Improving Your Content. Read on to review some of the concepts we covered!
Transforming the way we create content sounds great and all, but how do we even begin with the daily onslaught of new work coming at us?
Content creation is really difficult to manage in a way that is similar to software development. We creators often suffer from “death by a million cuts,” constantly cranking out tiny tasks like correcting typos, drafting emails, and designing single-use graphics. We’re expected to simultaneously tackle larger projects with whatever advance notice we’re afforded, be it creating a short film, developing an employee training program, or implementing a rebrand.
Overburdening yourself with too much work in progress results in decreased focus, decreased productivity, and decreased follow-through. It also often means that your most valuable content never gets produced, all while simple low-value content gets cranked out.
To avoid that, agilists instead adopt a “pull” system of work. Aside from getting your work out more quickly, a pull system enables you to get out the *right* work more quickly. This all starts in the backlog.
The backlog is a space to collect new tasks and actively prioritize them according to their value (to the business, and to your audience). Even if your backlog is too long to ever empty out, the important thing is you know what’s most valuable. You then pull those most valuable tasks or content into progress, consciously reducing the amount of work you have in progress at any given time.
It’s important to visualize this pull system of work to develop a shared understanding across your team of what’s most important. It allows collaborators to help get your top priorities done, and collectively avoid too much work in progress (or WIP). Here’s a GIF I made in Vyond showing an example of how to visualize flow-based work with a Kanban-style task board:
The authors of the Agile Manifesto built upon the four values of an agile mindset with twelve principles. A few of those principles have great insights for any content creator embarking on a larger project:
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.
When you write a campaign brief or describe what you need from your contributors, how fixed are those requirements?
If you’re in the business of writing requirements for content that others will help create, it is in your best interest to write requirements that are focused on outcomes, open to creative interpretation, and flexible enough to adapt to new information. If you’re a writer or designer in the business of fulfilling such requirements, it’s in your best interest to be patient and open to change.
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
If you work on a team that produces content, keep an eye out for ideas that bring a sparkle to your teammate’s eyes. By being open to divergent ideas and even weird experiments with your content, you welcome the opportunity to discover a truly special way to reach your audiences.
Conversely, second-guess any projects nobody seems motivated to finish. Some important work is, of course, groan-worthy. But, if none of your creators find the content compelling enough to get excited about making it, it’s worth asking just how valuable that content will be to your audience.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
When you’re kicking off a content project, don’t dole out assignments and requirements right off the bat. Instead, consider working with contributors to identify and organize the tasks that need to be performed. If you’re managing the project, you can instantly make it more agile by focusing your efforts on coordinating, and not defining, the work.
Start by giving contributors a prompt, and leave some room for contributors to create their own to-do lists and deadlines. They’ll be motivated and invested in the project, and your content will be stronger for it.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior.
How many of us content creators are guilty of finishing a project and then never talking about it again?
It’s (too) easy to move on from a major effort and to immediately shift focus to the next big project on the horizon. When you do that, though, you miss out on learnings that are essential to create your best content.
In the agile world, these meetings (or “ceremonies”) are called retrospectives. There are tons of great templates and resources out there for facilitating powerful retrospectives. No matter how you do it, though, the thing is to build the muscle to reflect on your work as a trusting, collaborative team. Ideally, your content team can have regular retrospectives (say, monthly). In the very least, you should schedule a debrief session after any major undertaking.
Agile content creation is predicated on a fundamental shift in our mindset. We’re moving on from printshop-era approaches where we perfect and push “finalized” content. Rather than forcing one-way conversations onto our audiences, we can learn from—and even engage—them in the creative process.
To take on this mindset shift, you need to establish a culture where failure is learning, experimentation is welcome, and feedback is a gift. Beyond building a learning culture, you’ll need to rethink how you organize your work to ensure it can be continuously optimized.
Instead of publishing a whole series or campaign at once, try releasing content incrementally. By releasing small bits of content gradually over time, you have a chance to learn what works (and what doesn’t). That learning can then be directly applied to subsequent pieces.
Instead of fanatically following “best practices” in SEO or other formulaic disciplines, emphasize the opportunity to experiment with your work. If your team can’t decide how something should be done, start small with your wildest idea. You’ll inevitably learn what works best, and also open yourself up to new possibilities.
Instead of constantly focusing on the next deadline, take time to look at what you’ve already created. Recycle (and upcycle) content frequently, and don’t be shy about revamping old content. Acknowledge the natural learning that comes with the passage of time, and invest in proactive learning with retrospectives.
Instead of letting the highest paid person in the room dictate what you create, build a creative team rooted in openness, creativity, empowerment, and listening. Your best ideas will come from the people with the dirtiest hands, and your best content will be produced by motivated contributors.
And, finally, instead of being protective with your work, open yourself up to early feedback and contributions from unexpected sources. Look for authoring tools like Vyond that allow edit access and permission controls so that you can share drafts of your content early in the creative process.
Make videos in an agile way.
Break away from the pain of traditional video production and start making videos in an agile way. With collaboration tools like Vyond Studio, you’re able to restore collaboration and experimentation in the creative process while still unleashing the power of rich media. Vyond is designed to empower team members so that they can share information with engaging content. Get familiar with Vyond Studio’s teamwork features and try Vyond free for 14 days.