Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna

S5E6 Using Collaborative Techniques for Prioritizing Content with Robert Mills

June 11, 2024 Zohra Mutabanna Season 5 Episode 6
S5E6 Using Collaborative Techniques for Prioritizing Content with Robert Mills
Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna
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Inside Tech Comm with Zohra Mutabanna
S5E6 Using Collaborative Techniques for Prioritizing Content with Robert Mills
Jun 11, 2024 Season 5 Episode 6
Zohra Mutabanna

As content creators, we are constantly at the edge of our seats as we try to juggle multiple content deliverables. How do we strategize and manage stakeholder expectations?

Robert Mills, the founder of Fourth Wall Content, joins me with techniques and insights into collaborative content prioritization.  With a journalism and content operations background, Robert shares the power of clear communication and methods you can employ to ensure your workflows and content efforts are efficient and effective.

Discover four decision-making techniques: dot voting, the MoSCoW method, the RICE method, and the five whys. Robert and I dissect each technique, revealing how they can be leveraged for in-person and remote collaboration. Whether you're managing a major website overhaul or juggling a slew of content requests, these methods offer a structured approach to prioritization that can be adapted to any team or project context.

Effective content strategy goes beyond mere tools—it's about managing inventories, creating seamless user journeys, and engaging stakeholders with empathy and data-driven decisions. Robert’s practical advice on starting with simple tools like spreadsheets will resonate with anyone looking to streamline their processes without breaking the bank. Tune in to uncover how to balance collaboration with quick decision-making, build trust within your team, and drive your current initiatives.

Guest Bio

Robert Mills is the founder of Fourth Wall Content, working with clients on content strategy, content design and content operations. He has recently worked with Marie Curie, the RAF, Natural Resources Wales, Social Care Wales and NHS England.

Rob is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Head of Content for a Saas company, Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency, and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. 

He’s an experienced copywriter and editor, a published author, and speaks about content strategy at leading industry events or on podcasts.

Show Credits

  • Intro and outro music - Az
  • Audio engineer - RJ Basilio
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

As content creators, we are constantly at the edge of our seats as we try to juggle multiple content deliverables. How do we strategize and manage stakeholder expectations?

Robert Mills, the founder of Fourth Wall Content, joins me with techniques and insights into collaborative content prioritization.  With a journalism and content operations background, Robert shares the power of clear communication and methods you can employ to ensure your workflows and content efforts are efficient and effective.

Discover four decision-making techniques: dot voting, the MoSCoW method, the RICE method, and the five whys. Robert and I dissect each technique, revealing how they can be leveraged for in-person and remote collaboration. Whether you're managing a major website overhaul or juggling a slew of content requests, these methods offer a structured approach to prioritization that can be adapted to any team or project context.

Effective content strategy goes beyond mere tools—it's about managing inventories, creating seamless user journeys, and engaging stakeholders with empathy and data-driven decisions. Robert’s practical advice on starting with simple tools like spreadsheets will resonate with anyone looking to streamline their processes without breaking the bank. Tune in to uncover how to balance collaboration with quick decision-making, build trust within your team, and drive your current initiatives.

Guest Bio

Robert Mills is the founder of Fourth Wall Content, working with clients on content strategy, content design and content operations. He has recently worked with Marie Curie, the RAF, Natural Resources Wales, Social Care Wales and NHS England.

Rob is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Head of Content for a Saas company, Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency, and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. 

He’s an experienced copywriter and editor, a published author, and speaks about content strategy at leading industry events or on podcasts.

Show Credits

  • Intro and outro music - Az
  • Audio engineer - RJ Basilio
Zohra:

Hello folks, welcome to Season 5 of Inside Techcom with Zahra Mudabana. This season we are focusing on tools, tips and strategies to elevate your craft. Let's dive right in. Hello listeners, welcome to another episode of Inside Techcom with Zohra Mutabana. Today I have with me Robert Mills. Robert is the founder of Fourth Wall Content. He works with clients on content strategy, content design and content operations. He has recently worked with Marie Curie, the RAF, natural Resources Wales, social Care Wales and NHS England. He's a journalism graduate and we're going to dive deep into his background. He's going to talk a little bit about himself and he's an experienced copywriter and editor, a published author, and speaks about content strategy. With that, robert, welcome to my show.

Robert:

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Zohra:

Well, it's great to have you here, Robert. In your own words, please introduce yourself to us.

Robert:

I mean you did a great job there. I think, like many content people, my background is journalism and my sort of day-to-day work is very varied, but the kind of common or the golden thread through all my work is clear language, clear communication and, you know, trying to bring storytelling into some of my work as well, and the other thread really is collaboration. So that's why I enjoy what I do. I get to work with lots of different people, lots of different roles and doing lots of different things, from kind of more the strategic side to the sort of implementation and tactical side. It's very varied. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to digging into some of those areas in a bit more detail in our conversation today.

Zohra:

Yes, and I think those are the soft skills that we need to talk about, and content strategy requires collaboration and working with people, so we are going to dive into that. I want to mention to my audience how I came across, robert. I think there was a post on LinkedIn. I wish I could remember who had posted that article and I read about. I read that article and it talked about content prioritization and there were four methods that were mentioned in this article and listeners. I will be referencing this link in my show notes. But that really captivated me because, as technical writers, when you're trying to manage a busy calendar and conflicting projects, how do you prioritize? Reading this article by robert, it was a great piece. I've never read something like that before, where you could prioritize content using those four methods, and we are going to dive into those methods. I want you to talk about that, robert, but thank you to whoever posted that on linkedin.

Robert:

I wish I could remember your name, but thanks to you, I have robert on my show today yeah, that was uh, that came from a conference talk I gave and it was uh, it was utterly content. So there were 90 minute learning blocks, so the first 30 minutes is presentation. The next 30 minutes was talk through a two-law method linked to what you've just talked about, and then the third and final 30 minutes was a discussion with attendees. So it was very much the presentation component of that was overloaded content. Teams teams who have a lot of um requests coming from all around the organization that they're expected to do as business as usual work, even though they also have other sort of project work going on. And then there's four methods which you mentioned there, which we're going to talk about in a little while. Yeah, there are ways that you can try and bring some calm and order to the chaos.

Zohra:

Yeah, and I think I mentioned technical writers, but I think at this point I'm going to say this is for any content creator these four approaches, frameworks, whatever Robert is going to reference them, as I think are very handy and, as I create content outside of my work, applying those methods could really be very beneficial. With that, robert, why don't we talk about it? Because I'm really curious how do I apply that, how do I use those techniques? How did you learn about them?

Robert:

It's just been through a variety of different roles and jobs. So some techniques I learned from other people. They'd been doing them for a while and I was part of sort of workshops and sessions that they were leading, so I got to learn them through being a participant and attendees, so learning that way. I used to work in audience research in the BBC, so we're just privy there to lots of different research methods and ways to collaborate and prioritize and things like that. So they've just been sort of learned through different work experiences.

Robert:

And then I've applied them to as I've kind of moved through through my career. I've taken them with me and I've applied them and I've been able to refine them based on the different scenarios and circumstances and they're you know, they're in many respects they're well known methods, and that's not to say if you don't know them, you know you should, but you know they're not things I've created, they're things that have already existed based on, you know, other people's kind of experience and so on. So, um, yeah, so I've just learned them along the way and I think the key thing is to use them and then adapt them to the different. That's good. Not every team is the same. Not every request is the same, you know not.

Zohra:

Every organization is the same, and so you really have to adapt them to the different contexts well, very true, and I think, as I was trying to recall what I read in that article, the five whys is something that I've commonly used. Yes, it's the other four that you talk about that were new to me. So I think we were going to talk about collaborative content prioritization. Can you introduce to us the concept of collaborative prioritization and its significance in content strategy before we dive into the specifics of how to do it?

Robert:

Yeah, absolutely. I think content is collaborative by definition. It would be rare if it was just somebody by themselves thinking of an idea, writing it, you know, publishing it, measuring it, governing that content. Certainly, for the sort of work that I do at Fourth Wall Content, there's lots of people involved and that can be from the ideation phase to the creation, to the kind of review, the approval, the publishing again, the maintenance. So there's lots of stages to a workflow or content lifecycle. With those stages come lots of different people and those people have different skills and priorities and abilities and interests and things like that. So content is collaborative and I think, even if the team is small you know, more often than not there's at least two people involved. But content is also political and cultural, the organization's culture and the politics within. That is a big player when it comes to content being collaborative and what gets done and what doesn't get done.

Robert:

People tend to care a lot about their content and so they think that theirs, therefore, is the most important. And it may well be that it is the most important, but there are actually lots of factors involved in deciding what the priority should be, which should be considered above personal opinion. Of course people are entitled to their opinion and to care about what they need and what they want, but there are often other factors at play, such as legislation, policy compliance. Is the content gonna break the law if it's not a certain way? For example, there may be fixed dates or deadlines, like events happening that you know, that will kind of dictate that something's a higher priority. If something's got a mistake within it, obviously that becomes a priority to try and get that fixed, and so on.

Robert:

So for all those kind of external or influencing factors and content and all those different people involved, I think the ability to prioritize content requests and needs collaboratively is really important, because then you start to bring those people together who may not actually get to come together in any other part of their their working day.

Robert:

You know they're working in different teams and silos and you know in this day and age they're more likely to not even be in the same physical space as well, which is an important consideration. So I think prioritizing collaborative allows teams to focus on to understand and then focus on what matters to understand and focus on what is needed to achieve the goals of the business and the organization, but also what is needed to achieve the goals of the business and the organization, but also what's needed to achieve meeting the needs of the users and the audience as well, and to understand that that really means focusing on delivering your content strategy and so prioritizing collaboratively. In my experience it's not without friction, but it's certainly with lots of benefits too, because people begin to understand okay, I'm here in my room making requests, but actually there's lots of other people making requests and I can see how, for the people receiving those requests, there's a lot of information to take on board and a lot of different sort of scenarios to assess in order to decide what to move forward with.

Zohra:

So, since we've talked about how you know, definitely if you are in the driver's seat and you have to decide what content to prioritize and with everything that you've said, it could be a tough spot to be in. So it looks like you've developed strategies to prioritize and that hopefully can be apolitical. But let's dive into what those methods are that you apply.

Robert:

Yeah, absolutely. And just to your point there, it is a tight spot to be in because you know people are getting requests for new content, to update existing content, to translate content, to archive content, although that's more of the rare request.

Zohra:

Right right.

Robert:

A lot of different, a lot of different questions. So it has an impact on the individuals, it has an impact on the team, on the content itself, on the users, and so that's where anything that you can do to try and bring structure to that process is worth trying and is time well spent. So the four ways that we've alluded to so far in the conversation, stop voting. The Moscow method, the Rice method and the five whys which you mentioned so I can can show, just talk through one by one and kind of give a summary and some yes, yeah yeah, I think that would be great, so that our listeners can have an idea of what methods we are talking about.

Zohra:

And then, of course, we will be I will be referencing your article so that they can glean more from there okay, great, thank you.

Robert:

So the first one is dot voting, and all of these methods can be done in the same room, you know know, in the same physical space, but they can certainly all be done remotely as well. You just need to sort, adapt your approach to them. So dot voting is a decision making technique which is used to prioritize ideas or options within a group, and it's helpful in collaborative sessions where multiple ideas need to be evaluated and then selected. And again, I'm going to share the way that I do it and the way that I've done it. But there are other ways of doing these methods. So if you're listening and you think, oh, I've done it differently, then it doesn't mean that you've done it wrong and doesn't mean that I've done it wrong. You know they should absolutely be adapted to the circumstances. But from my personal experience with dot voting, every participant is given, like a number of sticky dots or you could use markers and things a way of making a mark and making a selection and a choice, and then the participants in the session will review the list of ideas. It could be a list of options, it could be a list of proposals, whatever the requests are that you need to sort of to work through, and then you would place your dot on the one that you consider to be the most valuable, the most important or something that's deserving of further consideration or discussion, and then, once all those dots are placed as a group, then you can examine the distribution of those and identify the most popular or the highly ranked ideas and then the ones that do have the most kind of votes or dots against them. They're prioritized to either be sort of implemented or actioned or prioritised for further discussion.

Robert:

And with all sort of processes there's challenges. So it could be that the voting is biased, because if one of your ideas is an option, you could go to that because it's your idea, you know. So it's really important to lay out that, with all the methods I'm going to share, it's really important to have a shared understanding of the sort of criteria that you're voting against and to try as best as you can to leave your personal bias and preference at the door and really consider again the business goals and the user needs and so on. And also, you know, there's things like the bandwagon effect. If you see somebody, a few people have voted for something you might think, oh, that must be important, so I better vote, you know, for that one one.

Robert:

So all of these methods take skill facilitation and that takes practice, which is why it's worth just trying and learning as you kind of go, I'd say, with a dot vote. And one of the biggest challenges to keep in mind is that process can lack context and reasoning, because if you've just got a list of items without understanding why that's being requested and who it's for and the impact it can have and how it would get done, it can be hard to have all the information you need. But I think with these methods that we're sharing, it's often the best method is a combination of the method you actually read my mind.

Robert:

I was about to ask you that yeah, yeah, so you know it might be. You start with dot voting and once you've got the smaller list you might go to another method and that's how you can work through it. So that's another thing to keep in mind. Yeah, you know you need the context as much as possible and I can just be sort of briefing people before the session and sending information beforehand so they can come prepared. But I think the benefits of dot voting is that you know it's democratic, it's inclusive because everybody can take part. It does streamline the discussions, you know it connects silos really as to all the methods, because you're bringing those people together into the same space, whether digital or otherwise. And actually dot voting reveals patterns of agreement but also patterns of divergence. I suppose the trouble would be if the votes were spread so evenly across all the options. You may not get a sort of a front runner, but then you could bring in another process. So that's not voting.

Zohra:

In a nutshell, so let's talk about the next method.

Robert:

Yeah, next method is the Moscow method. We must, we should, we could and we won't. So, yeah, we'll talk through each of those in reason. What I like about these processes is that they can be quite quick. Dare I say, to just do it Like the Moscow Method could just be a well-facilitated conversation, or it could be more of a practical exercise in a workshop setting and if you've got a content inventory, for example, you could assign must, should, could and won, you know, in a content inventory.

Robert:

So it doesn't have to be a big let's block out a day, let's try, and you know we've got to find space in everyone's calendars and diaries. They can be methods that you can sort of adapt to be able to do in a bit more of a quick, kind of agile way, I suppose. And then to give an example of what those four criteria would be so for, like a must, and this is in relation to content, of course, we must include this content in phase one due to legal requirements. Whatever your personal opinion is, it has to be included, must be included. We should have bespoke images and not stock photography on all articles. Yes, you should, but not above having content that's compliant and legal, we could create a social media campaign for a new product feature. You could also launch that feature without the social media campaign using other methods and things you know. So, yes, you could. And really we're talking about essentials and desirables and nice to have right right we won't.

Robert:

We won't include updated staff bios this time due to the agreed scope and timescales. So having an updated bio may not impact on the top tasks for your users. So actually that can wait. That's not to say you won't ever do it, it's just to say you won't do it for this particular block of priorities or this phase of the project.

Robert:

I would say I'm not going to go through all the different challenges and benefits because you're going to link to the articles and we want to talk about some other things. So I and benefits, because you're going to link to the articles and we want to talk about some other things. So, yes, I would say the main challenge with this method is misinterpretation of the categories. What someone considers to be a must, it could be different to somebody else, you know. And so again, that's around the need there is to align people around what do we mean by by those four different criteria, so that we can prioritize with that shared kind of definite, those shared definitions in mind really.

Robert:

But I think the the benefits are that you can it's kind of like a structured framework, it's a structured conversation, but it really does separate the essentials from the desirables. But it also gives you flexibility to to deliver lower priority work. It's not like we're only going to do these. These are what we're doing right now and then we'll move to those and actually, if, if something changes, if something changed in the world that suddenly made your content not compliant, you can, then you know, you can, kind of you can turn it from a could to a must and so on. So there's some flexibility there in delivering, you know, a broad range of content in a structured way and then we have the rice method the rice method, I think, is the hardest one, personal experience.

Robert:

So RICE is an acronym for Reach, impact, confidence and Effort. So really, teams will be assessing their priorities in relation to available resources, the audience, the expected return on investment and return on that kind of effort. There are definitely different ways of doing this. I've tried it a few ways myself, ways of doing this. I've tried it a few ways myself. But the way that I've settled is for each task or initiative that's being considered, participants to the session or the workshop would assign a score from one to 10 for reach, for impact, for confidence and effort, and one is the lowest and 10 is the highest, and then they're combined to calculate a right score for each task or initiative. I've seen different ways of kind of, you know, dividing things and multiplying things. So again, you know, have a look, do some searches on the method and see what one feels like it would be most suitable for your own process and needs.

Robert:

I think the main challenge of Rice to sort of share is that I guess there's a subjectivity of the categories again, so we're making sure people understand that. But there's perhaps an emphasis on quantitative metrics and also an incomplete assessment of the risk. So this is why, again, multiple methods will kind of fill in some of those gaps that another method by itself may leave out. But I actually like rice because it does consider the potential impact of the work and it can really help you think about the effort needed, because it would be very easy not very easy, I take that back but you could come up with a list of priorities based on certain criteria, but then you may not actually have what you need to deliver those bits of content. So rice does kind of bring that into the conversation around who's available, what skills do we need, what resources do we have, and I think that's an important consideration to make.

Zohra:

And the five whys.

Robert:

The five whys. Yeah, as a journalism graduate, I love the five whys and it is. You start with a statement such as we need to create whatever, we need to publish whatever you know, so have that statement, and then you literally ask why five times? Why, because, why, because? Have a statement and then you, you literally ask why five times? Why because, why, because? And you just go through that process.

Robert:

It's a bit like the sort of uh, the toddler technique. I suppose you know a toddler that asks why all the time, and sometimes it does get harder to answer the questions, but it's um, you really start to like bring that conversation down into something more focused from what is a very, sometimes can be a very broad, flippant request for content. You could argue that the analysis is a bit superficial. I think this one in particular needs skilled facilitation to really hear what's being said and to sort of and to interpret the answers and the responses. And it is a very sort of singular focus. You're taking one idea at a time.

Robert:

With some of the other methods you've got a lot of ideas in front of you and you can kind of compare and keep them in mind. So it is more of a singular focus. So I say it works in some cases and isn't perhaps the best technique in other cases and it can be time consuming and you do need great facilitation. But actually, when it's done well, it does reveal whether content is really necessary. You know when you get right down into it, is it really necessary? And it kind of does encourage that deeper discussion that again, when done well, provides reasoning. So if you get to the point of, yeah, this is needed and you've got really clear articulation as to why it's needed, I I will share this with you the what, the 5y method.

Zohra:

I encountered that when I was uh, I was taking a course on user experience and we were introduced to the whole design process. So, before you start, ask the five whys. And, like you said, facilitation is important and I think we tried to use it, but it definitely wasn't a very refined way of approaching it and it actually created more friction than the facilitation. But at the end, it did help us think more openly and to be open to each other's ideas as to why we should be doing this, although it was a singular idea. So I think it worked well because we were approaching just one single idea. We had a project decided and then we were like, okay, why should we do this project, what should the scope be? And some questions. Then we started the whys, but we were doing it for the first time. I suppose, like anything else, the more you do it, the better you become at it.

Zohra:

Now, thank you for explaining all these four different processes. It's not easy to be talking about a process without a video going with it. You did a great job on that, I think, and of course, the listeners can catch the details in your article. But of all the four that you've used, you mentioned that rice was the most challenging. What was the one thing that you keep going back to? The one process that is the easiest to maybe start with something our listeners can say, okay, the rice is the hardest, let's not approach, start with that. But what of the other three? Which ones would you you recommend? I think the why for me seems again, you got to approach it a little more in an informed way. But what is your take?

Robert:

I agree with you there with what you said about the five whys.

Robert:

I think dot voting is just a great conversation starter and it's actually a great way to get other people to become more aware of the sort of the content that's being requested around the organization and the needs that other people have within the organization, and I just think it's such a great starting point.

Robert:

So I think that is a good. It's a good one to try because, again, you can do it remotely, you can do it in person, it's quite wouldn't involve a huge amount of prep work and I think it just brings those people together and you can. It really opens up those kind of communication channels. It brings lots of different opinions and perspectives and skills and roles and disciplines together and actually is a good point to start from and then perhaps moving into. If you do the dot voting you do get end up with a sort of a short list of ideas or priorities. Maybe then you could bring in the Moscow method you know, know, and by that point people already think in a certain way and get more comfortable with working collaboratively in this type of way around this need for prioritization. So I think dot voting is one. It's a good place to start, I think, especially if everybody involved is new to sort of prioritizing things collaboratively.

Zohra:

Yeah, I think I would agree with you and I think we've probably used this. I have used this in a previous role where we had to revamp a website and we put up sticky notes with the topics and then we wanted to know what to archive. Nobody wants to talk about archiving and this website was massive. At this company, they wanted to maintain every previous version that they could, and for a small team of writers it was impractical. So we started talking about versioning. Which version do we keep? How far do we go back? So even those kind of questions we put up on the board and we had some decent, constructive conversation. If I may say so, that came out of it there. There was a lot of friction. Of course, there's a lot of bias, as you said, because people. So that was one rule we made If you have a sticky note up there, you're not going to vote for that.

Robert:

Yeah.

Zohra:

So we had some rules. So probably you could, like you said, you adapt and you try to keep minimize the friction if you know what to anticipate and try to make it as collaborative as possible. Now you have a journalism background. I suppose these methods, the way I think of them, or at least the way we implemented the DOT method it took us hours, but with your background, where there is a quick turnaround of content or quick decision-making, that needs to happen, what tips would you give for somebody who is in that position where you have to have a quick turnaround of content and if this thing is taking a long time to process through this sort of a process?

Robert:

I don't think you would necessarily do a collaborative session for every bit of content all the time Because, as you say, you know you'd forever be in workshops and never actually get the thing done. The sort of the catalyst for these methods being needed have tended to be bigger projects where there's a redesign. But I've also seen it on that day to day level where there's just lots of individual content requests coming across. You know, and once you've done the prioritization, you still need a process for managing then those individual tasks that you prioritize and getting them done. And you know Trello boards are good for things like that and so on. Sometimes you just once you're in a role long enough and you understand the business and the users and and things. Sometimes you just know if something you get a request, you just know this it's not needed right now, or or you may need to go back and get more information. So there's lots of different scenarios at play that I think you just you become aware of and able to kind of sense right, that's what we need to do then, and so on. So, yes, you can't do it for for every content request. Again, it's a combination of those processes is like, where is it necessary to bring people together to do this, but where do you have other systems or tools or methods in place that can guide you so you can turn things around more quickly? And sometimes that's, um, more of a flow diagram of questions or something. It's almost like turning your content strategy into a bit of a uh, bit of a flow diagram. So I'm branching off to yes or no and then eventually it's like yes, we, we need to do this.

Robert:

Without sounding like I'm trying to not answer the question, it really does depend on what the request is as well. Um, because if it's like you know again, I always use the kind of legislation one because you can't or you shouldn't argue with the law. You know. So if something's happened, changing policy and your content's not compliant, then you know, and that request came in and you would know that that needed to be done and not have to bring people together to discuss that.

Robert:

So it depends on what the request is, but I think it's a combination of, like the subject, expertise for the person, that role, what else is going on, what's influenced that request in the first place, all those kind of factors. But let's not also pretend that it's not always a manageable anyway. That's why teams are overloaded, because sometimes they don't have time to prioritize and to get more information and or even if they do, whilst they're doing that there's still more requests coming in it can be like one out three in and that's obviously, you know, becomes unsustainable and that's why teams are overloaded. So the harsh truth also is that sometimes no method or tool will necessarily help in the short term when there's that sort of rapid request rate.

Zohra:

That, I think, dovetails beautifully into my follow-up question. I think in your article you also build up, you know, you suggest building a strategic and measurable system for content. You mentioned the importance of a content inventory. How does maintaining an inventory assist in effective content prioritization? Since you said it is overloaded? You know content is coming at you. You're drinking from the fire hose. How do you manage that?

Robert:

the content inventory for me is an absolute foundation for what you said. They're building a strategic and measurable system for content. So in a previous role where I was head of content you know we were we were publishing two weekly newsletters. I think in sort of my last 12 months there we may have done like 30 to 40 webinars, nine masterclasses, 113 articles. We were publishing content templates. We'd segmented our newsletter. It was a high volume of content and the content inventory was such an important factor in us being able to.

Robert:

It was mainly me in that role and there were other people in the organization you know who were contributing and there was a freelance writer and so on. But for a lot of that content workflow and that life cycle, it was me and the inventory was was like my best friend, my absolute best friend, because and when I work with clients now I say, say, just create an inventory. Whether you're starting from scratch, create one from day one. If you've got existing content, which most people do you may think, oh, this is boring, taking all the time to create it, but it'll save so much time long term because it actually allows you to move from a place of being reactive to proactive and it allows you to make the most of the content you've got. So it's not just I'm going to publish this thing once and I'm on to the next thing. Actually, you're going to be able to bring that content back. You know you're going to be able to use it again in other meaningful ways and you're going to be able to connect your content in a meaningful way.

Robert:

So an example is in our previous role. If I was publishing a weekly newsletter and the new piece of content was around governance, I would be able to go to my content inventory and really quite quickly and easily find other previous content we've done based on governance, because we're talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pieces of content. I knew we had done a webinar on governance. I couldn't remember that name. I knew we had articles on it and maybe who had written it, but actually without that inventory I'd be going scrolling through the blog and I would find it eventually probably, but not in such an efficient way. So I was able to just search by the invention I'm saying like a spreadsheet is what I use. I was able to search that filter that, categorize that as needed and find that related content, so that in that newsletter I could have put two other links in that were related to that main topic and that main new piece of content topic and that main new piece of content. It also allowed us to scale our content output more easily because, again, we were able to spend less time doing all those things trying to find the content and and things like that, so we were able to, you know, spend more time on on other tasks to allow just to scale.

Robert:

But it serves so many other purposes. It's important, for if the team changes, so somebody leaves and somebody comes in, that person coming in has got that inventory. So they've got you know. They won't know all the details of the content, of course, but they will understand all the content that that organization has created and published and owns when it was published, the format, the content type, you know, the channels it was published on, who the owner was, all those kind of things, depending on, of course, what criteria you have in your spreadsheets. And so it just makes it easier to govern and maintain that content and it makes it easier as a team either changes or the team grows, or even if the team shrinks, actually it's useful.

Robert:

But to kind of link this back then to the broader topic of content requests. If somebody is making a content request, depending on the context, you can use your inventory to see if something already exists. Yeah, so actually you don't need to like create it from scratch, because you've got something there that either is already fit for purpose or, with a bit of refinement, would be fit for purpose, so you're able to sort of match your request to the inventory and see right, do we have something? And if you don't, then you've got a gap. And then you can figure out through some of the methods if that gap doesn't need to be filled or if there's not actually a gap at all.

Robert:

And so I think that that helps because, as the content owner person, as a person in charge of inventory, you're probably the one person, or one of a few people, who actually understand the breadth of the content across the organization. Because, to say, people care about their content first and foremost. Well, of course they, and that's not a bad thing, but it's not their job to understand all the content that everybody else has or wants or needs or has requested. And so it's absolutely. You know, it's a time saver, it makes the most of your content and it really does help with so many different aspects, so I just think it's an essential.

Zohra:

So it looks like it's been a great success for you. I just think it's an essential. So it looks like it's been a great success for you. I haven't tried something like this, probably because my role doesn't demand it, but it seems like a simple spreadsheet can be very handy from what you've shared, and it sounds like it's a very, very multidimensional spreadsheet with all the information that you mentioned, things like what was the subject, who was the owner. You could add all this quote-, quote, unquote metadata to the article. Now, it sounds very simple, but I'm sure it isn't, because you have to stay on top of every article that is being published, or every piece of content that's being published. In your opinion, if, let's say, I can imagine if you are the owner of that content, if you are producing it, then it's easy for you to maintain an inventory of that. If not, do you maintain every piece of content that's being published? Is that what you've done or attempted to do?

Robert:

The spreadsheets. In relation to that previous job where I was head of content, it was very much the focus. On the content marketing side it was the blog, it was the templates, the webinars, it was the masterclasses. And the content marketing side it was the blog, it was the templates, the webinars, it was the, it was the master classes and the content templates. That inventory didn't have all of the pages on the website, I mean all the, all the sort of feature pages and product pages and and all those things. There was a separate inventory that did. But what the inventory did have is for every bit of that, that content from the marketing side, it did have criteria in columns related to one of the value themes for the product. So one of the themes was compliance. Right, these bits of content are related to compliance. I also had a criteria related to the sort of.

Robert:

There was a time when we were using like a traditional marketing funnel, like awareness, consideration, decision.

Robert:

All the content and inventory was categorized against that criteria so that if we published a bit of an awareness content about workflow, that would link to a bit of consideration content about workflow, which would link to a bit of considerate, which would link, sorry, to a bit of decision content about workflow.

Robert:

So we were able to bring that content together to build those user journeys. Of course, not all your users are gonna travel through your content the way that you want them to, but it did mean that there were no dead ends to our content and actually the links that people could follow was meaningful and it was building out a journey and it was meeting those individual needs but actually building context about the product as they moved through that journey as well. It could be that you have one inventory that does all those things you know the product pages. I know some people who use their inventories for social content. It could be that you have individual inventories or it could be that you just have one that's focused on the particular area that you're working in. So again, you know there's a few ways that you could manage that.

Zohra:

Yeah, I really like the suggestion about the user journey because when you have it in front of you with the articles, you see what their journey is like, what articles they're reading through that journey, and hopefully that makes it a meaningful experience for them. Did you have something to add, Robert?

Robert:

No, I agree. I mean we were able to track those journeys so you can see where people were sort of, where they were dropping off and where those journeys were ending. And again it just came back to that point of the efficiency and making the most of your content. Because if I was publishing a new article, the way the cms was set up is that you would add three related articles to that, and if you didn't, you could still publish the article. There'd just be a gap there, you know. So visually it wasn't the best option not to, and because we had so much content there was no need for us not to choose three. But without that inventory to find three that were relevant to the article the person would have just read. Would it be more time consuming when, again, I could go to the inventory and I could find just through searching the spreadsheet whether the keyword was stakeholders or whatever. However we were categorizing it at the time, we were able to find the related content and add that into when we publish that new article.

Zohra:

That's awesome. One of the things that I have juggled with is, when trying to prioritize content, there can be disagreements, and that's something that's surfaced in the methods that you share. What do you recommend to handle these disagreements, or what have you done in your experience that our listeners can take away, especially those who are starting this journey or new to this role?

Robert:

the first thing is to expect disagreement if you go in thinking that we're going to bring everyone together, we're going to have some nice, nice biscuits, and and it could be that it all goes brilliantly. But chances are that there will be uncomfortable conversations or difficult conversations because ultimately, somebody isn't going to get what they want unless you say yes to everything, and you can't do that, which is why you're in the position of needing to prioritize in the first place. So somebody isn't going to get their content prioritized, published, considered wherever, wherever that outcome may be. So expect a bit of uncomfortableness, and the more you do it, perhaps the more comfortable that uncomfortableness will feel. But there will be yeah, there will be absolute disagreements, and so this is where data and evidence are just so important, because it's very hard if it's just a case of personal opinion it's very hard to navigate that without people getting upset and without being able to get that. You don't really need everybody to agree as such on. You just need people to accept that that's what the priority is going to be, the people entitled to not agree. That that's the focus, but you just don't want people to be resistant to it and to sort of get in the way of actually getting things done that need to be done.

Robert:

But if you've got data and evidence, then that can really help. So, again, that's really varied as to what that data and that evidence could be, and it depends what you're prioritizing and what situation you're in. It could be outcomes from user research, for example, so it could be literally things that you've got from the users, from testing content and things. It could be actually that you've got a content strategy and you've got a website proposition and that can guide it as well. That's not necessarily data or evidence. A website proposition, but it's documentation, is something that would guide, like guide that. So right, it doesn't meet the proposition, so it can't be published.

Robert:

Having all those things in place can really help, because then it's like, well, the numbers are speaking for you and it sort of it stops being a personal opinion, it becomes that evidence.

Robert:

So, as much as possible, yeah, have have the data to support that. And, it being so varied, it could be that, thinking back to our previous role, we really understood which content types and formats performed best for us, based on lead generation, which is one of our kind of performance metrics, and so somebody requested a particular type of content and format and we knew that that didn't necessarily bring in the sort of results historically and also took more time to get that created in other versions. Then again, you've got that evidence to support that it's not just oh yeah, well, that format doesn't work fresh. You can show the data. Here's the last six months of data that shows the performance. So again, people still won't like it, some people still won't like it and they may even disagree with the numbers or the way. You know, there's always that potential of disagreement. But I certainly think data and evidence is like a really positive step to that sort of convincing and that kind of alignment.

Zohra:

Yeah, I think you started really beautifully. There are going to be disagreements, so you just have to accept that. I guess, when I think back on my career, the earlier days when I had to organize something like this, I always tried to have somebody senior in my corner who could assist me in moving the work forward and maybe explaining what I couldn't explain. And data, of course, and depending on what the context is. If you have data and evidence, that always helps because it tries to remove some of the bias.

Zohra:

Even with numbers, there's going to be bias, there's going to be somebody's going to challenge you. But I think, walking in, expecting that there are going to be disagreements, I think that makes your job easier because then you go more informed rather than, oh, I'm going to try and bring everybody to the table and we're going to have a great outcome. I think going with that romantic idea may not pan out actually, so it's better you arm yourself with information, data, evidence, metrics, whatever you need in your context, and see if you can have somebody who is a little more experienced or can speak for you in your corner. So then if you cannot move the needle, then somebody can help you move that needle based on the discussions.

Robert:

Yeah, absolutely, and all those conversations. It doesn't need to be no, we're not doing it, move on. We don't need to be blunt and not direct. Actually, there's a lot of value in understanding what people care about. Why is that important to you and why do you care about that? What is the reasoning for what they want? But what is also the reasoning for saying no, so we're not? Don't just say no, we're not doing it, no, we're not because.

Robert:

So, actually giving feedback and that sort of active listening, they're all we say. They're soft skills, but they're hard skills, you know, and they're really important skills. So is it a case of no, never, or is it no, not now, but when? And trying to navigate the conversation in that way, I think it's important to make people feel heard and to be heard. So it's by no means a case of just shutting them down, if it's not the thing to do right there and then, because it is ultimately about building those long-term relationships.

Robert:

Again, the more you have these conversations and the more you do these processes and methods together in theory, the better it it becomes, the easier it becomes and and you may be able to do them a bit more quickly. So you, therefore, you can do them more often and it has that kind of positive snowball effect rather than a negative. So, yeah, absolutely, it's about really just being respectful of each other, yes, and empathetic, and just trying to bring together the data, the the user needs, the business goals, the resources, and consider all those things and then and then moving forward from there and whatever you decide yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned empathy, active listening.

Zohra:

these are skills that I have had to develop because sometimes you believe that, oops, it's going to be what I save. No, that is why it's collaboration, that's why it's teamwork and that's why it's teamwork and, like you said, it's not a hard no, but trying to give what they want. Maybe not right now, but yes, we are going to consider this. And how about giving them a timeline that maybe it will happen? As a technical writer, or something that I do or I have done, is it may not happen today, but maybe in the next sprint. I will definitely give that priority, especially when you're trying to deal with conflicting priorities, conflicting project deadlines, it may not happen. And that way, when you, when you share your side of the pain why it cannot be done, that also brings empathy into the conversation from the other side, so it builds those relationships.

Robert:

Absolutely. Yeah, that's a great point and it doesn't. There can always be follow up as well. If you've really identified that somebody maybe was being quiet in a session or just didn't seem happy with the outcome, maybe you can have a follow up conversation and continue to sort of build that relationship outside of those collaborative sessions. Yes, that takes more time, but those relationships are so important for getting the right content done that I think it's time well spent. If you do identify that somebody maybe has left a session feeling a bit demotivated or you know it's almost like that's the opposite of what you want to achieve. But if none of their ideas, for example, have been prioritised, then that can be hard and it's thinking about how can we yeah, how can we sort of just help them understand that it's not personal and and try and keep that relationship as a positive one yeah, I think, though, the way this conversation has segued, I really it.

Zohra:

To me, it touches upon some very important things. Yes, the different methods that we've talked about on how to collaborate, and so on and so forth, are good aids to have, but then the human element that you're going to bring to this whole experience is what I think we need to focus on.

Robert:

It is because, as I say, content is political and you know, and personal, and people care about it and you want people to care about it and so you don't want to dismiss those feelings. And so I think whenever there's people involved and lots of people, as often is the case with content then that relationship management, that sort of stakeholder engagement, is such a huge part of the job. I think the thing related to that that I've seen that I try to move away from is projects have a big effort at the start to engage people. We must engage people and take them on a journey with us, and then they'll do some sort of session to engage people and then they just get on with the project. And for me that doesn't work because engagement isn't fixed. You'll have some people who are engaged at the start of the project and will be to the end, and have some people who won't be engaged at all because they don't like change and they feel threatened by the change, and and then eventually they'll see the benefits and understand why the work's happening, they'll become engaged and then eventually they'll see the benefits and understand where the work's happening, they'll become engaged, and then you've got people who are engaged, not engaged, engaged, not engaged.

Robert:

You know it's all very fluid and there's like a spectrum of engagement that stakeholders move up and down throughout a project and so I think it's important as as sort of content people to be aware of that and try and sort of track that and understand that.

Robert:

And then when you're having these sessions that might be in the middle of a project or earlier in the project considering that trying to understand who's coming into this already feeling engaged with the work, who's coming into it already feeling a bit confrontational or threatened or worried, and trying to understand that, because you don't treat people the same in terms of how you like would facilitate them. You know some people will just want to do all the talking and some won't want to do talking, so you want to try and bring that voice, you know, make that person feel comfortable to contribute, while trying to politely sort of keep some other voices a bit hidden or a bit quieter so other people can contribute. You know that facilitation in any of those methods is such a skill because you're considering the content and the task at hand but you're also considering a real mix of like emotions and opinions. It's hard to facilitate, which is why I think it gets easier, dare I say, with practice.

Zohra:

Yes, practice is important, and I think one of the questions that I had for you was how large should the facilitation group be the stakeholders that you're going to have in your meeting? Is there an ideal size? I mean, of course, you don't want to have 50 people if you can avoid it, right, but in your opinion, what is the ideal size when you're trying to conduct this kind of a quote-unquote study?

Robert:

I think 8 to 12 maybe yeah it's a good number because there's a good. I think if you did it with like four or six you could still have a really good session, and you may be able to with 20. I think the more people that are, the harder it will become. If you absolutely had to have 40 people involved, I would suggest doing individual sessions and then, from the outcomes of those sessions, looking at what the sort of consensus was then and trying to do it that way. But I think eight to twelve you've got a good mix of opinions and needs and priorities and expertise and disciplines and skills and all those things in those conversations, but not so many that actually you really can't get to any sort of conclusion or outcome or or have enough of a meaningful discussion, because you don't want people there who aren't saying anything because then they're not contributing.

Robert:

You know, so it's. It's trying to find that that sweet spot. That again comes to trial and error. You know you may do it with 12 people and actually find it too much. So next time around you're eight. So I'm working through that and it also depends on the people involved as well, of course. I think like sort of maybe I'll open up like six to twelve or eight to twelve, I I think around that number yeah.

Zohra:

I think that's a happy number for me too, so I'll kind of go with you on that. But I think you touched upon how do you determine whether to have a stakeholder in that meeting, with some leading questions to yourself. What do they bring to the table? Where are you in your journey? Where are they in this journey as you're trying to facilitate this conversation? Apart from those questions, are there other questions that you have asked yourself of the stakeholder that you want to have in the meeting?

Robert:

that probably would help I feel, like I've said, it depends a lot in this conversation, but it depends on who the stakeholder is, in the sense of I think sometimes the stakeholder, if they're more senior, shouldn't necessarily be in the session because other people in the session may not be honest. So I think, again, it comes back to what is the dynamic, what is the relationship, what's going on here in in the team, outside of like these requests, these ideas that we want to prioritize and so that can be hard to right get all that knowledge and unpick it and understand it, especially if you're like a contractor, just sort of parachuting into the, into the team.

Robert:

You know and you have to. There's a lot of catching up to do at the start of projects and and that's why, as I say, I try to track engagement, because as you start to work with people and they trust you more and then they'll open up more and that's when you get the real insights into what's going on. So it depends on the stakeholder whether they should even be there or not in the first place. It's not to say they shouldn't be involved in any way. They're a stakeholder, they want to know what's going on. But that's where, like, a racy chart could be good, you know, are they responsible? Are they accountable? Are they informed? You know, and actually some stakeholders do just need to be informed of the outcomes and not actually sort of involved in the nitty gritty decision making when they do need to be there.

Robert:

All the questions that you mentioned were great. Now, what do they care about? What's important to them? Why is it important to them? What are their concerns? What the challenges? What do they think might be an obstacle if we're going to take forward this particular sort of initiative. What are the previous things they've learned? What are the previous successes? You know, understanding all of that can be really important and it may be that it's not necessarily shared in that prioritization session, but it's shared within the sort of scope and the timeline of the project. So stakeholders they often have a lot of good ideas, previous experience that you can learn from and, of course, a lot of them are the people that can say yes or no to something. So it's an important relationship to build and maintain, but not to the detriment of other people contributing.

Zohra:

Awesome. I just loved how you handled it in a very apolitical manner. But you mentioned this chart, the RACI chart. Is that what you mentioned? Or talked about.

Robert:

Yeah.

Zohra:

Is it R-A-C-I?

Robert:

That's right. Yeah, it's R-A-C-I, it's uh, again there's. There's a few different ways of how you could do that, but often there's like project tasks and then roles on like a spreadsheet or a table could be something in the mirror board, for example, and then for each of those then you would sign some is that person responsible, accountable, consulted or informed? So again, it's the same things we talk about with the other methods. You know, you need to have agreement on what those kind of criteria mean and all those sort of things. But actually some people they're not responsible for doing the thing and they're not even accountable for that, but they need to be informed of that or they need to be consulted, you know. And so actually a RACI, along with these other methods, can be a good way of understanding the role that different stakeholders, different subject experts, play within a project. So it's like a matrix, I suppose.

Zohra:

I'm not familiar with it, but I've definitely had those questions front and center. But if I can have a tool that I can leverage, that's awesome. So there's so much I'm learning from you, robert, today. On content prioritization, we've covered some really great points up to this point. Anything else important that you would like to add we may have missed.

Robert:

I think one point is there's often a lot of focus on tools, and tools can be expensive. They can, you know, as in, like software and things, and they can be time consuming to find the right one and to be onboarded and to understand. I think one of the things that I try to do is make any of my processes as simple as possible with at least friction as possible. That's why I always go to spreadsheets, because, yes, it takes time to set up spreadsheets but it's more certainly more cost effective. A lot of tools out there. So there are some great tools out there, but I think maybe don't get too caught up in trying to find the right tool, actually just creating something and starting with something, and maybe just a trailer board or a mirror or a spreadsheet, or again it could be a form, you know, that guides questions to, to come to a consensus.

Robert:

There's lots of. You can do that. You can just kind of take away and get started with the next day and I really um, I really encourage that and then if it stops being fit for purpose, then maybe you can try and find the right tool and so on. So it's not I'm not saying that I don't have any tools in my kind of day-to-day working but not to get. I've just seen it where people say what tool are we going to use, you know, and it's that kind of common scenario of like a new CMS is going to fix all our problems, it's not going to fix all your content problems. A new CMS there's that sort of hope pinning all the hopes on a tool, and often you don't need to. You can find other ways and it gives you more time then to do other parts of the work that you need to do. That's one thing to keep in mind, I think.

Zohra:

I think you're so practical. I love how practical you are in this conversation and with the more experience I've gained in this field, I've definitely discovered that, yes, tools can only do so much for you, so use them to your advantage. Don't let them become detrimental to what you are trying to get to. It looks like that's been your experience too. So I feel good about that, actually, because you think about all these, all the training that goes with getting a new tool, and then, many months later, you realize, oh, this is not a perfect tool and there is no perfect tool.

Robert:

No, you have to keep that in the back of your mind yeah, I think that's why I favor spreadsheets, because I can set them up the way that my mind works and with my kind of criteria in mind, and so then when I'm using them, like the inventory, I'm able to search and find and filter and sort and all that type of stuff in a way that's meaningful for my need and for the content that I've got listed there. I much prefer just sort of trying something, starting something by myself, and then see how it can work and for all the methods we've mentioned. There's lots of great articles and examples out there with visualizations of a racy chart and things like that. So take a look and see if there's something out there that you can, an existing template that may be a spreadsheet. Lots of people are really open to sharing what they've used and what they have, so there might be something out there already.

Zohra:

Yeah, great points here. Robert, Thank you so much for this conversation Very illuminating, very informative. And what I've realized, this is no matter where we are as content creators, as journalists, as marketing professionals, as technical writers our journeys seem very similar. It's interesting to see that overlap. So this conversation revealed to me, and way back when I started my career, I worked for a media company and I didn't work as a journalist, unfortunately, but journalists have a soft spot in my heart, so to see what your journey has been like, there seems to be a lot of overlap, so that's really beautiful. Thank you, robert, for coming on my show. I really appreciate your time and for sharing your insights with us.

Robert:

Thank you so much for having me. It's been lovely to chat to you Great questions and thank you for making me feel nice and comfortable and for guiding the chat. It's been lovely to chat and to share, so thank you.

Zohra:

Yeah, Catch you soon on another episode.

Collaborative Content Prioritization in Strategy
Decision Making Techniques
Comparison of Prioritization Methods
Content Prioritization and Dot Voting
Managing Content Inventory and Prioritization
The Importance of Data and Empathy
Stakeholder Engagement and Prioritization
Prioritizing Content Without Expensive Tools