Thursday, 14 September 2017

Mastering Digital wizardry – A Business Owner’s Perspective

Since I joined Cancer Research UK 3 years ago there’s been lots of conversations going back and forth between teams about the performance and layout of the volunteering pages on our website. I sat in lots of meetings where we talked about what we wanted to achieve, and the feedback we had from volunteers to back up the need for change. But we didn’t have the resource to move forwards our requests. But then in 2016 a mythical beast called ’the spoke’ happened and suddenly things began to change.
We first saw the spoke as a magical wand we could point in the direction of all of our previous development requests to Digital and  use to banish them – bish, bash, bosh! But actually, the digital hub and spoke model was much more about developing the team’s skills and knowledge so that we could handle those requests ourselves in the future. So it didn’t take long with our Proposition Manager, Rob, to bring us back to reality about what we were actually going to achieve during the 3 months we’d be working together.
It turned out our magical wand was in fact lots of helpful wizards:
Rob – Head Wizard (Proposition Manager) who was going to teach me everything digital (how to edit pages, build forms, run a/b tests, usability testing and most importantly to be able to write clear business cases and to articulate value for future development requests that are needed).
Becky – Training Wizard (Digital Producer) who spent time showing me how to set up lots of A/B tests using Optimizely so that I was able to do this on my own.
David – Technical Wizard (Developer) who was there to build things that we couldn’t do ourselves, like our brand new search function.

What happened during the Spoke?

During the Spoke we focused on how we can recruit more volunteers in 3 key areas: shop volunteers, event volunteers and skilled volunteers. Shop volunteers represent two thirds of the total hours worked in our shops, so they’re crucial for shops to run successfully. Event volunteers donate their time every year to support thousands of participants who walk, run, trek and cycle to raise thousands of pounds for our life-saving research. While skilled volunteers come into our offices and use skills such as photography, graphic design, and project management to add real value throughout the organisation.
We spent about a month working through KPIs to figure out where we could have the biggest impact. This helped us understand the impact of each new volunteer to the organisation, something we hadn’t really considered before. From this, our main focus was on recruiting shop volunteers and we realised that the easiest way to increase the impact of these volunteers  was to increase the number of people who completed an application form and then went on to actually volunteer with us. We managed to increase the number of people volunteering with us by 20% by the end of the project and it’s still a key area for the business at the moment.
With skilled volunteers one of the biggest challenges we had was around opportunities within the business. Although there’s a huge appetite from people to do skilled volunteering, there just aren’t enough roles for them at the moment. The team are looking at new ideas for increasing the number of highly skilled volunteering opportunities within the organisation by focusing on engaging internal staff to make more people aware that this is a resource that’s available to them.
With event volunteering we had less time to spend on this during the spoke, but we’re continuing to run tests to help us drive volunteer numbers.  One particularly successful test we ran was to cross-sell event volunteering opportunities on different volunteer application forms, which saw about 12% of people signing up for other events.

What’s happened since the spoke?

After my 3 month intensive course in digital wizardry I’m starting to put my new skills to the test. A new role was created in our team to focus on all the things that we didn’t get to cover in the spoke – like looking at our volunteering data and the experience for volunteers post-sign up.

What have we learnt?

What’s in a name?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently with the arrival of a new mini me due at some point in October. This one has definitely come into question when I took on my new role within our team. My title was  ‘Digital Product Owner’ which caused a lot of confusion in the Digital team, as they thought it meant we’d be building a brand new platform for volunteers, when essentially we’re reviewing and improving what we have in place. So if you’re going to adopt a similar role within your team it’s important to iron out the name first to avoid any confusion.

How much extra resource do you need?

My new found wizardry skills mean that although I can test a lot of things on the site and write successful business cases, there’s still competition from the rest of the business when it comes to resource for development. As a wizard you need to learn to have patience and to realise that things can take a while to move forwards. From a business perspective when training up lots of extra digital wizards, it’s worth thinking about the knock on effect for other areas of the business and about where future investment could be needed.

Surely everyone wants to be a wizard, right?

Remember that not everyone within your team will have an interest in digital, and that’s fine. So invest your time teaching and supporting the people who do, as this will be far more beneficial for both you and them.

Getting to know other wizards

There’s a lot of people within the Digital team. I didn’t realise how many wizards there are that keep our webpages up and running and moving forwards. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my new role is that I’ve got to meet so many people within the business in the last 5 months. It’s great to understand what other projects are happening and to work out where we can all work together

What’s happening next?

In early October, we’ve got a new project starting where we’re going to be focusing on our volunteering data. A lot of our data is stored in separate databases which can mean teams are unclear of the processes they need to follow. We’re going to be working to understand what the needs are within the business and to look at how we improve this moving forwards.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Making the move to agile ways of working

Starting at Cancer Research UK over 10 months ago, I had no idea what it meant to work in an agile environment. In all honesty, when I first heard the word agile, it conjured up images of sprightly employees making their way across the office, leaping through the air, before twisting and twirling into their designated meeting rooms. 


Realising I probably wasn’t quite grasping the concept, I decided to do some reading up before my first day. Article upon article told me that agile ways of working had sprung from thinking of new ways to manage software development projects which resulted in the creation of the ‘Agile Manifesto’. Surprisingly, unless someone was going to quiz me on the origins of agile, this didn’t really help me a great deal.  

There was only one thing for it, to get stuck in and learn as I went along. And that’s what I did. 

You won't have a clue what anyone is talking about...


… well for a few days (or weeks) at least.

‘So you’re used to waterfall ways of working then?’
‘Quick, it’s time for stand-up.’
Have you added it to the Trello board?’
'Are you working in Kanban or Scrum?’

Huh?!

As with any job you come into new, you soon realise that all the acronyms, jargon and technical terms that people throw around, are all just fancy words for something that’s not actually that complicated to get your head around.

Once you experience the tools, meeting and methods in practice, it all becomes a lot clearer and you soon get into the swing of things. And of course, when things don’t make sense, there’s always someone more than happy to explain it to you!

Your first stand-up will probably be a bit unnerving...


Stand-ups are a chance, usually once a day, for the whole team to meet for a quick status update and take place standing up (hence the name.)

My first stand-up experience, for want of a better word, was slightly unsettling. As each member of the circle declared to the group what they had worked on the day before and what they were planning to do the next, my turn crept closer and closer. As all eyes fell on me, two thoughts crossed my mind: 

  1. Why is everyone so happy to let everyone know what they’re working on?
  2.  I’ve not actually been here that long yet. What the hell am I going to say?!

First my defensive side came out. I was very much used to just getting on with a task and then delivering it and found the thought of sharing what I was working on very uncomfortable. Why did everyone else need to know? Why does it matter to them?

Then my self-conscious side came out. What if they thought I wasn’t doing enough? What if I worked on a different project the day before and hadn’t anything to say the team whose eyes were now fixed on me?

What I soon learnt was that stand-ups aren’t there as a forum for people to judge each other’s workload. Stand-ups are in fact a great way to keep things moving. Instead of just putting your head down and plodding away at a task until it’s finished, stand-ups give you the opportunity to air any concerns or barriers you may face, and allow you to quickly and honestly tackle them together as a team. 

You don't know your user as well as you think you do...


I’m by no means a stranger to putting the hours into researching what users wanted from their content. Pulling stats, numbers and data from various tools and reports. But one thing that I wasn’t used to, was taking the time to stop and actually listen to the users themselves.

My first experience of user testing was fascinating. Sitting in the usability lab, watching from a separate room through a live feed, I was able to watch real people interacting with pages on our site in real-time. Where some elements worked well, some aspects of the page, that as a team we’d assumed were obvious and easy to use or understand, saw the users struggling.

Agile is about responding to change. It’s too late to wait till the end of a project to ask for feedback, only to find what you’ve produced isn’t quite right. It’s about testing and listening to your users throughout the entire process. 

Taking our observations from usability testing, we were able to respond and implement the changes moving forward. The end result? You’re left with something that actually makes sense and works for your users.

For me now, users are not just an abstract concept. They’re real people, with real insights. So why not make the most of that?


Moving to a completely new way of working is always daunting and is almost always going to generate some scepticism.  But from my experience of working in agile, the benefits seem obvious. Put your users first, work together as a team, respond to change. Immerse yourself in these principles and you’ll be an agile advocate in no time. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

10 top tips for awesome remote usability testing


Usability testing is fundamental to how we do digital projects at Cancer Research UK, helping us get to our ambitious target that by 2034, 3 in 4 by people diagnosed with cancer will survive. Testing our ideas out early and often on the people who use our products and services means we save a lot of time and money and give our users what they need in the most intuitive way possible.

We do all sorts of different types of testing (A/b testing, guerilla testing and lab testing to name a few!). But what about if you don’t have the time or budget to meet people face-to-face? That’s where remote usability testing comes in. With remote usability testing, you can share what you're testing with people who are in different locations to you and ask them questions about it. It’s a great way to talk to people who may not have the time to come in to talk to you. And it means you can speak to people that don’t just live near where you work. As a national charity, this is especially important to us at Cancer Research UK.

We recently did some remote usability testing on a new version of our publications website, which allows health professionals to order leaflets and other resources to help educate the public about cancer.
Here are 10 top tips that helped us run a great session:

1. Assemble an ace team



User testing is a team sport so it’s useful to get a small team of people together to help organise all the tasks you’ll need to do. Our team included me (UX designer), Hayley (Product manager) and Becky (Digital producer). We were all quite flexible in the tasks we picked up and all very willing to get stuck in!

2. Know your research goals

Before you start, it’s important to work out what you want to get out of your testing. For this session we wanted to know more about our users, and see if they could complete specific tasks when ordering resources. From these research goals we created a list of questions about the participant’s day-to-day working lives and some more specific task-based questions where we asked participants to use a prototype of the new website and tested out whether they could use it. 

3. Recruit the right people

This is really important for getting meaningful results. Luckily we had a list of active users from the old website who had already signed up to hear from us. So we emailed them to ask if they’d  be willing to help us improve the new site. A few people responded, so we were able to get 6 willing participants (6 is usually a good number to aim for, enough to start seeing patterns without getting too many repetitions). There are lots of other ways to find people though. In other projects we have asked our work colleagues and friends if they know the kinds of people we’re looking for. We’ve also put shout-outs on social media.

4. Write the script

Based on your research goals, you’ll know what you want to get out of the session. Now you can write the questions and tasks that will help you get the answers you need. For each task, think of a goal, the question you will ask and what a successful result looks like. Here’s an example from our session:




5. Do a dry run

Sometimes the questions you’ve written will make total sense on paper, but don’t work out when you ask them on the day. To minimize the risks of this, practice all your questions and tasks out on a member of your team who isn’t too close to the project. This is a great way to find out whether the questions make sense to someone else, and an opportunity to get your timings right.

6. Prepare the tech in advance

This bit is super-important. It’s very easy for a perfectly planned testing session to be cruelly foiled by a dodgy microphone or an out of date screen sharing subscription. For this test we used join.me to share our screens with participants. We made sure we tested both this and our own hardware (computers, microphones etc) out the day before we did the real thing.  

7. Meet with the team to make sure everyone knows their roles

Once you’ve assembled your team, make sure everyone understands their roles, both in preparing for the tests and what they’ll do on the day. You’ll need to work out who will be facilitating (asking the questions) and who will be doing the note taking (Pro tip: If possible, the facilitator shouldn't be someone who's been too involved in the design, as this can bias the testing). We used google sheets for note taking, as it’s the easiest way for the whole team to share and add their notes.

8. Invite the whole team along

Invite anyone involved in the project, including your development team and any stakeholders you have. This is incredibly useful as the project progresses so you will have a shared understanding of your users and their challenges.

9. During the session – Don't forget the notes










Now’s the interesting part where you actually get to hear from your users! Make sure the note taker is taking qualitative notes (describing how the person is doing the task) and quantitative (usually a score for each task of between 1-3, based on how easily someone completed the task). Both will be very useful after the session for understanding what the pain points were.

10. After the session – get into the detail

Well done, you made it through all those interviews in one piece. Take a well deserved break, but not for too long. Now’s your opportunity to take stock of what happened. Review the session with your team. Take a look through all your qualitative and quantitative notes and make a list of what can be improved. Don’t leave it too long or you may start to forget what happened in the session.

Remote usability testing – one piece of the testing puzzle

Remote usability testing is a great way of testing out your ideas early and in this project it helped us discover insights we would have never have uncovered otherwise.  But it’s just one of the many tools we use at Cancer Research UK to understand our supporters better, making them happier and helping us beat cancer sooner.



Monday, 12 June 2017

Content: Year Zero

I joined Cancer Research UK about a year ago with a clear, but slightly scary remit. To help the charity figure out how to make content strategy a ‘thing’. In other jobs, I’ve been a Head of Content and led an established team. And I’ve done the agency consultancy thing, where I’ve been shunted around from project to project. But this was the first time I’d actively been tasked with building something from the ground up.

So, what did I learn? Well, for a start, establishing a content team involves a lot less content work than you’d expect. I’m a big fan of Brain Traffic’s content strategy quad, which places as much emphasis on the people involved in content creation as it does on the content those people actually create.

With this in mind, it’s probably no surprise that building content strategy up in your organisation relies on building relationships with the people you work with. And there are a few things I’ve found that help to do this.

Think about how your world connects to the big picture

If you’ve been hired to establish a content strategy team, then you’ll need to accept there probably isn’t a huge culture of content strategy in your organisation. So stop and ask yourself, “Is there something similar to content strategy I can piggyback onto to get my message across?”

When I started, content was definitely something we all knew was important. And we were being strategic about it in pockets. But did we have one, unified org-wide approach to our content? Not so much. Luckily we had a well-established UX team who made it their mission to put the user front and centre of what we do. I soon found getting buy-in to content strategy was a lot easier when I spoke about how it relates to UX.

So, when I was running KFC workshops, I’d position them as a way of figuring out what content we needed to support our user journey. When I was asked to grade how ‘good’ a piece of content was, I’d put it in the context of SUS. And, when I explained benefit-led vs. feature-led coms, I’d do it in terms of user goals vs. business goals.

In all of these cases I was fighting the good fight, and doing all the things a good content strategist should. But I was positioning the conversation in a way that spoke to the values the organisation felt were important.

Figure out who likes you, and who doesn’t

One thing I learnt early in my career is the rule of thirds when you start a new job. 

A third of people will be thrilled you’re onboard. They’ll get the value of what you do and they’ll see the knowledge gap you’ve been hired to plug in the organisation. They’ll probably even challenge you (in a good way) about the finer details of your experience.

A third of people won’t be too fussed either way. They’ll need a bit of convincing about what you do, or perhaps how it applies to their own role. But generally, once you start demonstrating your value, they’ll see you as someone who is going to help make their life easier.

And then there’s the final third. These guys will see you as an open threat. Maybe there’s a perception you’re stepping on their toes. Or perhaps they’ve worked with someone who did what you do before, who just wasn’t very good. Either way, these people want to actively stop you doing your job. They’ll be the ones at the back of every meeting rolling their eyes and shouting you down.

As the person selling content strategy, it’s pretty much your job to move people between these categories (hopefully in the right direction!). And what’s the best way to do that? Well, in my experience, most problems in life can be solved with a Twix. And this is no exception.

Offer to buy them a coffee and a cheeky Twix* and try to figure out why they see you as a threat. It’s probably because they care so much about their job they’re worried you’re going to steal responsibilities away from them. Or perhaps they're just not used to hearing the user-centric, agile and MVP based jargon that you take for granted. Whatever the reason, if you say to someone “Let’s talk about how I can help you” then deliver something that provides tangible benefits for them (even if it’s perhaps not what you’d consider ‘best practice’), it gives you influence. And influence helps you move them into being, if not BBFFs, then at least pleasant acquaintances.

And for those people who aren’t too fussed either way about you arriving? Well, do the same. In this case, spend more time talking about who they are and what they do before diving in and offering help. What motivates them to come into work in the morning? What are their pain points? What one simple thing could they do with content that’ll impress their boss? Here it pays to be a bit more strategic. If you can use content strategy to help them secure their next promotion, they’ll quickly move from being indifferent to a real cheerleader for content strategy.

And what about those people who are already onside? Use them to spread your influence. Talk to them about your big plans. Excite them about how you’re going to be the most content-y content strategist in the history of content strategy. And, again, explain how it’s going to benefit them. Not the organisation’s content, not even the organisation – but their team, their career. Them. Once they’re excited enough they’ll be singing your praises far and wide. Because they’ll know your vision and buy-in to its importance.

In the interests of fairness you should still buy them a Twix though.

Be aggressively nice!

Justifying your existence in an organisation can feel like a pain at times. After all, you know the value of what great content can bring to the table. Is it really your fault if people can’t see that? Well, maybe.

I’ve found this stuff gets easier if you just remember 2 things about most people you meet at work.
  1. They want to do good work and help the company succeed.
  2. They’re doing their best.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but there are lots of people out there in the digital world who get their kicks from proving how clever they are, and how no one else could possibly understand their area of expertise.

In my mind, a key skill of a content strategist is the ability to empathise with people. Start off from the position of “how can I help you?” and, over your Twix, explain how you can help them build great stuff, and how you recognise they care deeply about what they’re doing.

Create content that rocks

Whether it’s the people you’re creating content for (your users), or the people you’re creating content with (your stakeholders) it all comes back to helping people feel like a rockstar. If you can do that, and do it in a way that makes it clear you genuinely do want to help them, then it’ll make it very hard for them not to come with you when you embark on your content odyssey. 

And if you don’t like being helpful and making people feel good? Well, you should find another career – content strategy probably isn’t for you.


*if they turn down a free Twix then they may be a lost cause. Never trust anyone who turns down a free Twix.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Building digital confidence at Cancer Research UK

Back in wintry January we wrote our first blog post about how we’re building the digital skills and knowledge of people at CRUK through our hub and spoke model. We’re doing this to become a more digital organisation and to keep moving towards 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

When our digital team works with another team at CRUK in a ‘spoke’, we help them deliver a digital outcome. Like increase their digital presence or the performance of their pages.  And just as importantly we help them learn new digital skills and ways of working. This way we’re developing our staff and becoming a more digital organisation at the same time.

But we haven’t stopped there. We’ve provided lots of other ways for people to build their digital skills and confidence.



Digital Talent Development
Through our Digital Champions scheme, we’re giving more digital responsibility to teams across the charity. Following some introductory awareness building workshops with each of our digital Practice Leads (UX, Agile, content, SEO, analytics, production and proposition management), we’ve matched each of our 16 champions with a digital mentor. The mentors help the champions work out an individual digital personal development plan. And offer face to face training to build their confidence.




Senior marketers can attend our Modern Marketing Academy. Over 8 weekly sessions we’ve challenged our marketers to diversify their channels and test more ideas. We've used internal and external inspiration. Including a trip to our UX lab to observe some live usability testing, a speed meeting session with a range of media owners and an analytics and measurement workshop with the help of our in house analytics team. And we saw a big increase in participants' confidence levels. The group reported a commitment to making a change in their area of responsibility of 4.7/5. And they’ve made some important changes. Like setting digital development objectives, building test and learn strategies and introducing UX tools for marketing.




We also run a regular programme of training on everything from agile to UX. We support this with twice weekly ‘Digital Hour’ drop-in sessions. Anyone can come and chat to a generalist producer or a specialist in content, SEO, agile, UX or analytics. It’s working well as a training refresher, a way to get advice on a new idea or a way to get a quick digital task done to a high standard.


Some success stories
Many of the talented people whose digital skills we’ve helped build are creating real change. Several teams have reviewed their structures to make digital more prominent. And to encourage more innovative, ‘test and learn’ ways of working. A member of our internal communications team, Joe, learnt lots about digital while on a spoke. His team have now reshaped his role to make the most of his new skills. He’ll now be leading a review of all of our internal digital platforms and developing a strategy to ensure we’re gaining maximum value from them.

Freya, in our research innovation team, has also been on a spoke. Her team recognised the need to retain and challenge her, to harness her new digital skill and awareness. She’s recently gained a Head role, from which she can encourage digital ideas and ways of working.

Our goal? 3 in 4…
Our digital talent development strategy allows people to get things done quicker and with less support from digital. We’re building the digital capability of our great people so that we can move at pace and make sure that we reach 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.

Are you doing something similar? Taking a different approach to building digital skills where you work? It would be great to hear from you!

Ed Willis
Learning and Development Manager, Digital team

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Being a digital generalist in a world full of specialists

I'm Becky and I'm a Digital Producer at Cancer Research UK. You're probably thinking "What's a Digital Producer?". People often don't understand what we do. Our job title is pretty vague. But that's because we're digital 'generalists'.

Back in the early days of the web everyone was a generalist ("Webmaster"): but it became apparent fairly quickly that there's more to creating and running a website than just buying a URL, sticking up some content and clicking publish. There's now a huge variety of ways you can become a digital specialist, from developing to diving into analytics - but being a generalist, like a Producer, is still a skill in itself.

What is a Producer anyway?

Producers have a broad understanding of all the digital disciplines and, while our role is difficult to summarise, we basically help teams understand what a good digital experience is and how to deliver it for their users.

We're responsible for working with our colleagues across the organisation to produce user-centric content, campaigns and products that meet the highest digital standards, follow best practice and represent our brand.

On a day-to-day basis we can be found:
  • creating or amending content on our content management systems
  • setting up and measuring tests
  • facilitating user testing/interviews
  • analysing metrics
  • writing user stories
  • finding great imagery and optimising it for the web
  • copywriting for the web
  • training people on all of the above, both formally and informally, and
  • supporting colleagues from across the organisation during Digital Hour, which I'll touch on later in this post

Team work makes the dream work

Of course we can't do all this by ourselves.

While we have knowledge of things like UX, wireframing, accessibility, content strategy, HTML, SEO, analytics and product development, we're part of a cross-discipline team which includes skilled specialists in these areas and part of our role involves knowing when to call in the experts, utilising their in-depth knowledge so we can make our digital offering the best for our users (and learn ourselves at the same time!).

Greg already shared how we communicate with each other, using software like Slack and Trello, and these free tools are vital in making sure we can work with our colleagues quickly and effectively. We also have regular stand ups and demos where we show what we've been up to and what we've discovered, so we're sharing knowledge, reducing duplication and all learning together.

Variety is the spice of life 

If you talk to anyone in my team, you'll quickly find the thing we like most about our job is that we get to be involved in everything. Really, everything.

We're constantly learning and having the chance to experience working across all the digital disciplines means we can find out what we'd like to specialise in in the long-term. Since I joined the team, just 10 months ago, I've seen 3 Producers move on to UX and Product Management roles. Getting involved is encouraged at Cancer Research UK - and it's really fun to have such a varied role!

We're also helping the organisation become more digitally empowered, which is saving money that can instead go towards our life-saving cancer research. For example, as part of a spoke to improve prospective volunteers' online experience, we built a registration of interest form so that specialists who want to share their experience in things like finance and photography can give us their details: we've seen 4 times as many registrations as we expected and these volunteers are potentially worth a staggering £3m a year.

Training and support

For colleagues who want to improve their digital skillset, the production team hold regular Introduction to Drupal training and, of course, offer ad-hoc help, guidance and support.

We also host Digital Hour twice a week, where people can drop in and see us with queries or refreshers on quick Drupal tasks, such as how to upload a web-optimised image and ensure it has an appropriate alt tag.

Besides the buzz we get from knowing we're benefiting the charity, one of the best things about being a Producer is getting to work with people across the organisation, helping them to realise all the ways in which being more digital can benefit them, the organisation and their users. It's incredibly rewarding and exciting.

Becky Colley
Digital Content Producer

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Can content ever be agile?


Content strategists often have an uneasy relationship with agile. We’re not as technical as developers. Not as obsessed with post-it notes as UXers. And nowhere near as hipster as most designers. Because of this, it’s sometimes tricky to figure out how content should work together with these disciplines. So we end up as natural outsiders. Mavericks. Loose cannons. 

Part of this boils down to our history. Like a lot of content people, I started off in print. And traditional publishing is very much waterfall. Fixed cost, fixed deadlines and fixed scope. So when I moved into digital, I had to learn how to retrofit those traditional publishing processes to digital content.

But I think a bigger issue is our obsession with being recognised. We’re a young profession, which means we often get sidelined, brought in at the end, or just generally underappreciated on projects. So to get around this, we decided to invent a bunch of buzzwords that people could reel off to get them thinking about content. That’s great – God knows the UX guys have enough of them.

The problem with these buzzwords is they encourage the idea of content as something sacred and holy that needs to sit outside of the agile process.

Content isn’t king

If you’re ever bored during a conference, count the number of times you hear “content is king”. I guarantee you’ll run out of fingers by the second presentation.

The problem with this phrase, is that ‘king’ implies content is more important than great UX. More important than awesome design and solid development.

It implies that those other disciplines are just there to do the grunt work to let your content shine.

And it implies that content doesn’t need to be iterative – it’s too important.

Quite frankly, it implies that content is a complete douchebag.

Rather than a king ruling over all he surveys, it’s better to think of content as the kingdom that connects all these different digital disciplines together. Yeah, your users come for great content. But great content needs awesome UX and design to deliver the best possible experience.

So understand these other disciplines

If you want to produce good content you should understand UX principles. You need to know what goes into making a design appealing. And you should recognise the pain points developers need to go through to make that ‘tiny’ CMS template tweak you’ve asked for.

I can’t stress how much easier it is to create great content if you’re working side-by-side with these other disciplines. If you don’t understand what your users want, then your content will suck. But if the UX guys don’t understand the best content to give to your users – well, your UX will probably suck as well.

As content strategists we shouldn’t be hung up on our content in-and-of-itself. Instead we should be focusing on how to use that content as part of a great digital experience. So next time you have the chance, attend that development standup. Be part of that UX workshop. Share an overpriced latte with a designer.

Learn about the other disciplines you’re working with – understand their challenges, and figure out how content can help.

Content first is a bad idea

For non-digital folk, content first implies a defined process. You do the content, then the UX, then the design, and then the development. Classic waterfall project management.

When people use this phrase, what they really mean is “think about content at every stage”.

The best agile teams treat content as an MVP to iterate on. Start off with your message, then hone, focus and optimise it over time.

This can make stakeholders uncomfortable. Mostly because they can never “sign off” the content, since it’s always changing based on the stuff you’re learning.

So how can we encourage this approach?

Never, ever, ever (ever, ever, ever) accept lorem ipsum

Well firstly, acknowledge that lorem ipsum is the devil. Seriously. If you take away nothing else from this post, it’s that content is linked tightly to UX and design.

Without real content your user is always going to have an artificial experience. And you’re never going to be able to feed back the insights you’ve learnt into making your content better.

So if you’ve got something to test, knuckle down and come up with a first iteration of the content. It doesn’t need to be perfect. But it does need to be actual, proper content you think your users will respond to. No Latin please.

Accept the idea of a content MVP

Then after testing, if you find yourself changing the UX or design of a page then re-visit and re-test the content at the same time. Now, take a deep breath and repeat after me:
  •   if you do a UX activity, re-visit the content
  •   if you do a design activity, re-visit the content
  •   if your developer builds new functionality, re-visit the content.

Repeat this mantra as often as you can. Preferably on public transport, at important social events, or in a lull between meetings in the office. That way as many people as possible will recognise your commitment to content as something to refine and update over time.

Accept your content is only done when it’s left the website

And when you’ve finally published your content, remember that’s not the end of the process. Your users’ motivations will change over time, as will the way they interact with your content. So you’ll need to keep that content up to date and relevant.

If you take this iterative approach then make sure you build in metrics for success upfront during the planning stage. Then test those metrics 3 months, 6 months, 12 months down the line to check your content’s still performing well.

Making the agile jump

Hopefully by now you’ll recognise that content absolutely has a home in the agile process. It sometimes just takes a little extra coaxing into place than other disciplines.

At Cancer Research UK we’re trying to embrace this approach as much as we can. It’s tough, particularly for people who are used to nice, neat chunks of sketching, wireframing, designing and content-ing (if this isn’t a word it should be). But it’s the best way of using content to create a properly joined up experience for your users.

So take a deep breath, and leap into the agile content mindset. I promise, your content will be better for it. And it won’t hurt. Much.

Chris Flood
Content Strategy Lead