Content strategy & agile project management

One of our last courses at the Content Strategy Master programme (FH Joanneum Graz) was about project management. Stefan Pollach shared his project management wisdom with us multiple times during the past two years. It was great to get meaningful nudges and snackable project management lectures along our journey to becoming content strategists.

In the last term, a dedicated course on project management with a very insightful wrap-up and tricks for our master thesis was part of the curriculum. In this blog post, I’d like to reflect on the connections between content strategy and agile project management that I’ve been able to draw during the past two years.

On a side note, I wanted to mention that I’ve actually worked as a project manager in a quite large organization and in a small agency for some time after my previous studies in Information Systems. Therefore, (agile) project management is nothing new to me.

However, I think it’s super interesting to see how you can combine skills and previously acquired experiences to fit together. Project management and content strategy are actually a very good match. Eventually, you can’t take enough project management courses because you’ll always learn something new or at least remember the important things that you’ve lost along the way.

Content strategy is about people (and project management too)

As content strategists you actually spend a lot of time with people and talking to people. Sometimes you will even end up in unpleasant but necessary discussions. To my mind, as a content strategist it is inevitable to “manage” projects is some kind.

Although content-related projects come with a dedicated set of requirements, they actually share a lot with the IT- and digital marketing projects I’ve managed in my past jobs. They are both quite complex and messy. Moreover, it sometimes happens that stakeholders (especially at C-level) don’t recognize the value of such projects (that’s why I think you have to be good in pitching content strategy).

Devil’s triangle in project management

Whether you are going for agile project management or the more traditional “waterfall”-ish way of managing projects, the most basic principle in project management is maybe one of the most powerful. Still, many people fail to think about it. Although it doesn’t matter if you are planning a wedding, a new IT infrastructure or a content strategy project.

We usually work with limited resources is some way. In projects of any kind, we deal with the “devil’s triangle” consisting of:

  • time
  • cost
  • quality

The concept is simple, yet powerful: You choose two sides. The third side is something you can’t influence.

Devil's Triangle
The devil’s triangle in project management. You can choose two sides. (© Dominik Berger)

For example, if we choose to go for a low budget and fast paced version of a website, we will have to cut in quality (which could be features or code quality). Let’s rephrase it like that: If we choose to increase the speed of our project (time), we will have to sacrifice either quality or cost.

An agile approach to content strategy

Basically, “agile” is an umbrella term for a huge set of methods and frameworks based on Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles behind it.

The IPMA (International Project Management Association) states:

Agile Project Management is nothing new, it is a normal part of the evolution in the project management domain. Nowadays the focus is definitely on people and on change.

That’s why I think an agile approach fits content strategy really well. The focus of project management is on people (and change). And ideally, as content strategists we think user-centered (or even environmental-centered). Let’s take one step back and take a look at the Agile Manifesto.

The Agile Manifesto is the origin of agile project management. It was written in early 2001 by 17 people who discussed the future of software development. They shared a frustration about the current state of project management and came up with a paradigm shift:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Although created two decades ago, the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto have been embraced by countless organizations.

However, I’d re-phrase the Agile Manifesto a bit to match content strategy better:

  • People over processes and tools
  • Useful content over comprehensive editorial processes
  • Collaboration over silo-thinking
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Sonja Schwarz, Content Strategy Master alumni, has even developed an agile content marketing model. This model is specifically adapted to the needs of content marketing.

How I apply agile principles on a daily basis

Besides refreshing the agile principles in the project management course, I’ve been using the ability to create and respond to change since many years. In my role as a project manager, I’ve worked according to SCRUM. At my agency, I now work with a “light version” of SCRUM since our team is quite small and we don’t have the capacity for a dedicated SCRUM Master.

Nevertheless, we plan and work in sprints, use Kanban boards to organize work and have regular stand-up meetings. We are also following the agile manifesto to some extent with a focus on a collaborative relatiosship with our clients.

To sum up, agile project management should be part of every content strategist’s toolset. Like my colleague Emanuel Jochum wrote, with SCRUM (and to my mind also with any other agile approach),

It’s easy to introduce a playful but yet effective way to work on projects — from small to large-scale ones.

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