6 Keys to Killer Content Project Collaboration

September 12th, 2017

6 Keys to Killer Content Project Collaboration

Collaboration is critical to the success of any content creation project.

If this idea is new to you, then this might be your first content marketing blog post. We all know that collaboration is key to generating quality content. And we do a great job of collaborating early in the work lifecycle, getting everyone’s ideas and input on the table through brainstorming sessions, for instance. Unfortunately, too often, that’s where the collaboration ends—at the brainstorming phase. As we enter the fog of execution, collaboration can get messy, or fall apart completely.

This has a lot to do with our short-sighted view of project collaboration. We all agree that collaboration is awesome for idea generation. We acknowledge that it is necessary for greasing the project skids and keeping folks in the loop. What we often miss completely is that collaboration plays a huge role in our ability to preserve ideas and constantly improve our work processes.

Why does this happen, when there is clearly no shortage of collaboration tools available these days?

When it comes down to it, most content managers approach their work like a creative, instead of like a project manager. We become so focused on message, tone, audience perception, and maintaining brand voice that we often overlook things like efficiency, productivity, and continuous improvement. (If these words feel icky to you, don’t worry. You’re probably not the only content marketer with an aversion to words that feel like they were uttered in the engineering meeting down the hall.)

Fellow content marketers, it’s hard truth time: We live in the age of doing more with less—and doing it better than ever before. To pull that off, we will be required to summon our inner project managers—or perish. This means that the way we collaborate throughout our projects has to support not only ideation, but also our ability to track, analyze, and improve how we produce content.

What exactly does that mean? Here are six best practices for killer content project collaboration that can start improving the order and speed with which you execute your content projects.

Too many content managers approach their work like a creative, instead of like a project manager. Click To Tweet

1. Go Digital

Timur Aydin, corporate content and media manager at Jabil, a global electronics manufacturing company, says there’s no substitute for communicating and collaborating face-to-face with colleagues. “You can do things over email, over the phone, on IM, or digitally, but in my opinion, nothing beats in-person collaboration. There is something about the working relationship that’s built in-person.”

Surely, face-to-face collaboration brings with it synergy, energy, and speed that other formats can’t match. Unfortunately, the resulting handwritten notes, whiteboards, and tear-off easel pads lack the share-ability, search-ability, and preservation your team needs.

Paper gets lost, it takes time to duplicate and distribute, and even photos snapped of whiteboards or sticky notes still must be transcribed into text to be useful. Too often, the ideas generated and decisions made during verbal conversations are unrecorded and forgotten, making it impossible to refer back and see what really happened and why.

To solve that problem, even in-person proponent Aydin recognizes the need for digitization: “Depending on the project, you need some place to document everything about the project that may be needed for one purpose or another. You can keep it all organized and coherent by creating workflows.”

For accurate and effective collaboration, digital text is the way to go, enabling teams to accurately preserve ideas, thoughts, and decisions so they can be reviewed, searched, and shared.

2. Preserve Timeline

It’s tempting to think the result is all that matters—that the “sausage-making” process has no need for preservation. But chronology matters. The order in which thoughts and comments are shared can be critical when it comes to documenting the evolution of a project.

We’ve probably all been there. Multiple reviewers make changes to different versions of content pieces, leaving editors flip-flopping back and forth over the same phrase or word choice because edits are not chronological.

How many times have you asked yourself, “Didn’t I already make that edit? Or did someone change it back again?” Stop the timeline confusion by manually recording the date and time of every piece of communication on a project. Ideally, your work collaboration tools will timestamp the latest information to provide some trace-ability when it comes to ensuring final content projects reflect the input and approval of everyone on the team.

Of course, the negative effects of this phenomenon extend beyond the review and approval phase. When it comes time for a project post-mortem and deciding what can be improved about the process the next time around, analyzing project conversations out of sequence can confuse, frustrate, and taint your efforts.

3. Make It Fast

Communication delays can be almost as confusing and frustrating as no communication at all. Who has time to wait days for input, feedback, approval, or status updates? If it takes your team three days to gather status updates from everyone, it’s a safe bet that by the time the reports are compiled for distribution, most of it is outdated and useless.

“We’ve seen this problem of collaboration infringing on productivity, when I’ve had to spend so much time documenting and tracking what I’m doing that I have less time to do the actual work,” said Deborah Strickland, senior digital marketing strategist at Juniper Networks. “Even with tools like Trello, I can add a card that states the task, but the actual work is 15 steps, which I’m not going to track.”

The result? Despite her time and effort in reporting, no one would really know where she is with a project.

The rule of thumb on timeliness is this: The closer you can get to real-time, the more relevant, reliable, and actionable your communications will be. If you can get your hands on one, a digital work management solution can enable and automate the requesting, compiling, and distributing of status updates in real time. Armed with up-to-the-second project updates, team members can act and pivot instantly and with certainty, giving back precious days and weeks to your projects.

4. Consolidate or Integrate

As a content marketer, you likely take notes during meetings, either electronically or on paper. But what happens when it’s time to share that information? Does it have to be re-typed into an email, a shared spreadsheet, or some other project management tool?

This is par for the course for many of us. So what’s so bad about it? Constant data re-entry actually harms your projects in two ways: It wastes precious time, and it increases the risk of data corruption—at each re-entry, important information could be entered incorrectly or omitted.

This problem exists any time you have to move information from one tool to another (for example, from a spreadsheet to an email or from a whiteboard to a project management tool), and it is compounded the more tools you use. Consider that 42 percent of marketers use six to 10 programs to manage their work at any given time—and nearly one in five use far more—and this risk becomes very real.

If the root cause is ferrying data amongst the tools in your unwieldy work management stack, then one obvious solution is to consolidate your tools. Seek out a work management tool that can house most, if not all, of the work management features you need in one tool. For those features that don’t fit this solution, find opportunities to integrate outlying tools with your central work management solution.

The more you consolidate, or at least integrate your work management tools, the less risk there will be of data corruption, the more automated the flow of information will be, and the more reliable your data will be when it comes time to refine and improve your processes and report results to management.

5. Communicate in Context

How often do you receive a project update via email and immediately ask yourself, “Wait, what project are we talking about again?” You might scroll down, down, down through the email thread trying to connect the dots and still end up with an incomplete view of the situation—exactly how does this new information jive with that other stuff you talked about in a recent meeting? This wastes time, limits your ability to respond immediately and decisively to emails, and contributes substantially to the overflowing inboxes from which many of us suffer.

One way to start improving immediately is to implement a subject line protocol for emails that requires team members to “slug” each email with the project name first, and then an appropriate subject. This helps everyone stay better organized and up to date with the projects they care most about.

But a better way to get full context around project collaboration is to have collaboration take place in the same space where all of your other project information is kept. Most often, this will be in a work management solution that allows you to communicate, comment, and share input and ideas right alongside relevant documents and drafts.

6. Permanence Drives Progress

If your record of communication and collaboration disappears—or gets buried under the emails and documents of incoming projects—at the end of every project, you might find yourself repeating the same mistakes or missing the same opportunities. As long as it’s hidden away, all that data can’t help you.

Instead, store and organize communication and collaboration threads in a permanent, central, searchable location where they can’t be easily lost or deleted. This will enable your entire team to leverage the new knowledge gained with each project to improve the next one, building consistency and improving performance with each new project.

Collaborating For Continuous Improvement

Having just taken a sip from the project management fire hose, you’re probably starting to catch the vision of how organizing and enabling collaboration more deliberately, with an eye toward long-term visibility and learning, can transform the quality of your content production processes. It can make them faster, leaner, and more agile than those of your competitors. This continuous improvement is how great content teams become outstanding.

Any content team can spew out massive amounts of content as they stumble along from one project to another. But only those that can capture and harness their collaboration for constant learning and improvement will be unstoppable.

This post is part of a paid sponsorship between Workfront and Convince & Convert.

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