How to Use Kanban Tools to Manage a Content Pipeline
Managing a content pipeline is a surprisingly involved task. This applies whether you’re running a relatively small blog, or a website for a huge enterprise.
First and foremost, you have to ensure that you publish content in a timely way. This means having relevant content ready for special days and events, as well as keeping up with more general seasonal trends. This is core to making the most of your content marketing efforts – because it’s otherwise very easy to miss opportunities.
But there’s much more to it, especially when multiple people or teams are involved in content production. Often, a piece of content moves through several phases, from the conceptual stages, through to editing, optimizing and publishing.
If you’ve ever taken control of a content pipeline you’ll know how easy it is to drop the ball. Thankfully, this article can help you regain the upper hand, using something originally conceived to streamline car manufacturing in the 1940s – Kanban tools.
Excuse Me?! Cars? Kanban Tools?
So what can producing content possibly have to do with car manufacturing?
Kanban is a visual project management process, based on basic concepts of boards, lists and cards. One simple way to think of it is as moveable stick-on notes on a wall-board.
For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about the ever-growing selection of Kanban software tools.
Some of the best-known tools include Trello, Asana and Monday. However, there are many more to choose from, including new arrivals to the market, and bespoke systems for specific tasks.
Essentially, these tools all work in a similar way. You can set up multiple boards, lists and cards to match how work flows through your business. Usually, you can add specific people to the cards, and use the system to monitor and manage your processes.
The link to motor manufacturing is that Kanban was originally born to produce vehicles more efficiently. Parts would flow around the manufacturing process, and from factory to factory, complete with attached cards.
While many people are well versed in software like Trello these days, few realise they’re actually using a system with such a long history.
Kanban and Content
There are three fundamental reasons why Kanban systems lend themselves so well to content production.
- Kanban systems are flexible and versatile, and easy to “bend” around the specific workflow of any business.
- Their visual nature makes them easy to understand and work with.
- The concept of moving a “card” through various steps of a process is very relevant to how content is often ideated, produced and published.
The Stages of Content Production
Obviously every company has its own quirks with regard to how content is produced and who’s responsible for what. However, anybody who’s taken responsibility for content will likely broadly relate to this example.
Any given article (or item of multimedia content) typically goes through a number of stages. For example:
- Brainstorming topics.
- Selecting suitable pieces of content.
- Keyword and competitor research.
- Final topic and outline.
- Writing (or production).
- Addition of images and other multimedia.
- SEO optimization.
- Social sharing.
By using a Kanban system to manage content production, you can treat each article as a “card” and move it along the “board” through each stage of the process.
The Journey of an Article
Let’s expand on the example a little, and imagine how an article could move from an idea to a published and shared piece of content:
- The whole team is encouraged to submit content ideas.
- A Content Manager selects topics to move forward with.
- The SEO team does keyword research, notes necessary phrases to incorporate in the article, and perhaps also adds links to competing articles for reference.
- The Content Manager then creates the final outline, and assigns the article to a writer.
- After writing the article, the card moves along to an editor.
- The card then passes back to the SEO team for any final optimisation, such as meta tags and descriptions.
- The article is published and then passed to the social media team for sharing.
Obviously this is only an example. The key point is that Kanban systems are flexible, and that the system can adapt to whichever stages and people are involved in your company. Regardless of the exact details, the cards (articles) flow along the board, progressing from an initial idea, to a published and shared state.
There are two key stages to setting up a Kanban board to work as a content pipeline:
The first is working out the key stages of content production within the individual business, and designing the board itself.
The second is working out exactly how the system should be used.
For example, some systems have checklist functionality, so you could include a tick list for the various stages of content production (such as everything that must be completed for SEO optimisation).
Timing is also critical for article production, so it’s important to think about due dates, who sets them, and what reminder processes are in place. Depending on the system you choose, you may have the option of a calendar view. If so, you have an alternative way of tracking what needs to be done, and by when.
With the basics set up and decided, it’s a question of populating the board with forthcoming work. As we discuss below, you’ll probably find it necessary to refine the process as time goes on.
The Importance of Management and Widespread “Buy In”
One crucial thing to realise is that Kanban systems don’t manage themselves. Everybody involved in content production must play their part in using the system as intended.
For example, imagine a writer completes an article but doesn’t move it along the board or add the SEO team to the card. The article effectively gets “stuck” before it’s published.
This is why the process (and the Kanban board) needs oversight. The huge plus here is that it’s easy to see where things are falling over and where blockages occur. If, for example, there’s a huge stack of articles in the “SEO Optimization,” it could indicate that the SEO team is either under-resourced or not performing.
Refining and Improving
A Kanban system can take some time to “bed in.” The individual stages of work (or columns on the board) can change over time. For example, you may decide that the Content Manager is to start doing the initial keyword research, requiring a re-shuffle of the process.
This is to be expected, and it’s never a big deal, thanks to the flexibility of these systems. It’s all about seeing which elements of the process work, and which seem to stall and cause problems.
After a few weeks of using a board, you’ll probably see a couple of columns that never actually get used. You might realise you need to tweak how you manage due dates, so that content isn’t just published on time, but put up a little ahead of time to ensure Google indexing.
These tweaks don’t mean you designed your processes wrongly to begin with. It’s only natural that you should expect things to evolve to fit with changes – and with reality!
Explaining something that’s such a visual medium in text form is something of a challenge. But hopefully this article has convinced you it’s worth trying a Kanban system to manage your content.
As explained at the start, this can be as useful for individual bloggers as it is for multi-disciplinary teams.
The very best way to learn more is to start to use a suitable piece of software. Many are free — including the Kanban feature on nDash — and you can lay out the basics of a board in just a few minutes. It’s one of those things you didn’t know you needed until you had it. Try it and you may well agree.
This post as written by nDash community member Ben Taylor.