Content Strategy and Workflow: Know the rules before you disrupt them

Workflow is an element of content development that is often overlooked until someone hits a road block. The fact, though, is that your workflow is bigger than just your editorial flow. Despite this being understood, people don’t tend to document it unless they’re in a corporate space. Digital publishing has automatic workflow, right?

Well, yes and no. The systems that you use have a natural flow. But in a bigger sense, workflow integrates your business rules and decision-​making, and allows you to consider whether you’re working in the best way.

Boromir meme: One does not simply dive into content
Even Boromir knows it.

If you’re in a small or startup business, particularly, mapping workflows feels awfully structured, right? Well, yes — and it should. It’s level of advanced planning that is often missed. I often wonder if it’s because planning feels like lost time; even though the reality is that you can’t build a good house without a solid foundation. More essentially, if you want to scale, you need a clear plan of the who, what, when, how, and why, so you can think about what if.

In a real sense, the content management workflow documented during your content strategy build is part of a greater integrated management system. It is linked intrinsically to other elements of that system because it actually interacts with them. Workflow intersects with business rules, governance, risk management, life-​cycle management, and a host of other elements of your content strategy.

You can see then, that ‘content marketing strategy’ and ‘content strategy’ are not the same thing. But that’s for another discussion at another time; and it’s a core spiral of debate that will at some stage turn into a whirlwind.

So, back to workflow. In one sense, workflow describes your chain of interaction and chain of supply. It is way less exciting (unsexy, even) than content marketing or social media, it is a truism that content strategy is strategic work. It must add value not just to your business, but also to your customer. Therefore, in considering workflow, you must ask yourself which elements of it are redundant, which elements can be adjusted, and — at every stage along the way — you need to ask whether it brings a sense of confidence to every stakeholder along every part of the chain?

And the big question, will your customer be satisfied at the end of that chain?

Customers are a fundamental piece of this because when we talk about ‘stakeholders’ we aren’t just thinking about the people with controlling business interest in what you’re doing. We are talking about your staff, your management teams, your customers, and your suppliers.

Workflow describes for you the processes that are undertaken in order to achieve whatever your objective might be. It describes the people who are responsible for each process, too. Stepped down to a more specific level, a content strategist will talk about mapping people to content. The reason why we do this, particularly for specific projects, is that it creates a greater level (and sense) of accountability. It’s easier to avoid working when your connection is described purely by your title, instead of your name.

When it comes to the review and approval elements of a workflow, being held accountable can be especially important, particularly if there is more than one approving team member with the same title. It also helps you to start sketching out a road block analysis, as you go through the process.

At is most basic level, a documented content strategy workflow will tell you:

  • the conditions that start (and end) a process
  • the sequence of functions within the process
  • how those functions happen — thus identifying how you actually carry out the work
  • the people responsible for doing it.

But in doing this, you encounter other questions. First is, If this goes wrong, how can we still achieve the output? And second is, On what basis are decisions being made? These two questions are your intersections with risk management on the one hand, and governance on the other. They are your side-​roads into pre-​mortem analysis, and governance planning.

Your workflow needs to be documented and controlled. It describes the systematisation of your business: It is not just a document describing what you do — it IS what you do. It means you can go back and audit it, work out redundancies in the process, and control the changes. In this way, it gives you a feedback looped corridor: Map it, evaluate it, adjust it, use it, evaluate it, adjust it, evaluate it. While there’s a saying that what you don’t measure you can’t improve, you also can’t improve a process if you don’t know what that process is.

At a tactical level, you may well need to create a workflow for different types of information products you create. And while it sounds like a clunky thing to have to do, it gives you clarity and transparency.

As an example, it’s no good writing blogs that need to be approved if your single approver is constantly unavailable. If your objective is continuous publishing, and one step (approval) goes wrong, how can you still achieve the output? Better still, is approval absolutely necessary, and if so, why?

Know the rules, first. Then find ways to effectively disrupt and create positive change.

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