I spend quite a bit of my working life helping clients through content production challenge on web projects. And sometimes that strays into project management / resource planning territory.
And why not? Content production is a massive deal on web projects so it deserves time under the project manager’s spotlight.
For a while I’ve had my own little spreadsheet with some variables and formulas that helps me to work out the scale of their content challenge and out of that I can make smarter recommendations around timescales, resource gaps, expectation setting, and approach, e.g. phased content rollouts.
Each client, and each project is different (a point of the flaming obvious), but it usually boils down to filling the answers to these questions:
- when do they need to go live / finish the content?
- do they know when they are ready or willing to start producing content?
- how many capable writers have they got to work on the content?
- how much effort (in hours) do they expect each page or piece of content to take to produce (to research, to write, review, approve, upload, check, and publish)?
Stepping into a content production phase without these answers is a client’s one-way ticket to Delayed-Rollout-Ville.
And that’s why good web project manager types are understandably keen to know this stuff too.
A bit of theory with a diagram
You’ve probably seen the popular Project Management Triangle diagram (also called the Triple Constraint) that does the rounds:
￼￼I’ve nicked the definition from its Wikipedia entry:
‘The time constraint refers to the amount of time available to complete a project.
’The cost constraint refers to the budgeted amount available for the project.
‘The scope constraint refers to what must be done to produce the project's end result.
'These three constraints are often competing constraints: increased scope typically means increased time and increased cost, a tight time constraint could mean increased costs and reduced scope, and a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced scope.’
… well it’s pretty much the same for the content production stream of the project:
- TIME - the production window (the number of working days between the start date and the deadline)
- COST / RESOURCE - the amount of writers
- SCOPE - the amount or volume of content to produce - I typically use pages as my unit
Depending on the project, Scope (the amount of content), Schedule (available working days), and Cost / Resource (amount of writers) can all be adjusted up and down to affect the other.
But if the number of writers is reduced then the amount of working days has to be increased to produce the same amount of content without impacting on quality. Or if a hard deadline means no extra working days can be added, it means reducing the amount of pages.
It’s not rocket surgery, but very important to the successful delivery of high-quality content on time.
What's the "effort" for a unit of content?
With content it's super useful to estimate how much effort (as units of time) it will take to produce one unit of content, e.g. a page.
We estimate that a typical page on our new site will require 8 hours of effort by a writer during the production process.
Sure, one page may be much quicker to write than the next page, but having a conservative, blended number that can be used as a crude multiplier reveals the true scale of the content challenge.
In my experience clients often don't even have a ball park figure for how much effort it will take to rewrite all the content for their new site, and what that means for the overall project timelines and rollout. No wonder content delays web project launches time and again.
Read my previous blog on Stop underestimating content production for web projects to learn more about how to estimate effort for all stages of the content production process.
It's worth saying that effort is the hardest variable to adjust as high-quality content will always take a reasonable amount of time to produce.
Good writers will of course be quicker at producing high-quality content and the speed (or velocity as the Agile-set like to call it) should quicken over time as the writers get into the swing of things). But high-quality content is never a quick process. As much as we would like it to be!
Note: quality is also a variable in content production but the default for my clients (and hopefully all clients) is high-quality so that shouldn’t really be on the table to adjust down.
The exception might be to produce less expensive, time-intensive rich media content and fallback to well written text content.
The content production calculator [BETA]
So I’ve been building a little calculator that is a bit more user friendly than my Google spreadsheet.
How many writers do we need?
The calculator handles all the key variables I’ve mentioned above, but I had to make it a bit more focussed on a specific user need.
So I reflected on my experience with clients (and my previous life as an in-house editor) and came to the conclusion that the most important need (or question) to help web project people answer is:
“How many writers do we need [to get this job done]?”
And this is why it is such an important question:
- resource gaps - do we have enough writers for the scale of the project’s content? If not, how short are we? Where and how are we going to recruit good writers?
- budget implications - if additional writers need to be hired it won’t be cheap. How much are we talking about? Is there sufficient budget?
The calculator weaves in some suggested numbers based on my experience over the years, such as the effort (in hours) to write each page depending on the scenario.
My hope is that it will help teams to focus on the key numbers around their content challenges and manage their projects accordingly.
Note: I know I’m simplifying things a bit to just focus on writers. Producing web content can take illustrators, videographers, animators, etc to get the job done. But the principle is the same.
I would love to get any feedback you might have. I’ve tested it out but you might spot a glitch. Or you might have some ideas about how I could improve it further.
I’m already thinking about adding a feature that calculates the cost of hiring writers based on market rates.