This post looks at what bloggers can learn from forward thinking modern project management techniques. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do on your blog? There are always links to update, designs to be improved, posts to write, links to build, affiliates to partner – you probably have a whole list of things to do and, if you are like me, you are always jumping between different projects, registering new domains that you hope will become the next big thing yet you never seem to get anything finished!
Agile management practises have rapidly gained popularity over recent years and are now employed by companies operating all over the world. I am a professional developer who works for a large UK consumer website that strives for continuous improvement in management processes. So not only has this helped me to learn the insider knowledge of how the “big boys” run their websites but it has also taught me how to manage my ownpersonal blogging projects much more effectively with a few simple techniques anyone can use.
A Quick History Lesson
In the old days, website creation was a long process that required careful planning and upfront investment. Traditionally the process would have involved the following steps:
- Requirements specification
The traditionalist will see this as the ideal development cycle! But there are some clear problems here, for example we are unlikely to know what the exact requirements are going to be. If working on a personal project then in all likelihood you have no idea what the ultimate direction of a new site is going to be and our sites will grow in unexpected ways which will inevitably render any detailed site plan useless.
The average hobby website builder doesn’t have the time to plan and will just want to get stuck into making improvements.
What can a Blogger learn from Agile practices?
Here is a basic starting point that I think any reader can employ and get to grips with quickly. Changing your working habits takes persistance and it is important to go one step at a time. The following ideas will help you to start refining your own productivity patterns and allow you to get more done and get it on to your website quicker!
Introducing the Card Wall
The first change in thinking is to break down any activity you perform on your website into an individual task. Each task you create must represent a single piece of work that will deliver additional value to your website. So for example it might be to build a back link from a high PR site, it might be to post up a new page, perhaps it will be setting up an RSS feed. It needs to be something that you can start and finish in a reasonable time and something that will have a notable benefit to your website.
Take this task and write it down on a Post-It note or similar. Also note down what has to be achieved for this task to be fully completed, this is the acceptance criteria. Different coloured paper can be used to signify different activity areas, for example content, SEO or design.
Stick the task up on your wall!
Does this all sound a little low tech? Yes. But it makes the process highly visible. Each time you have a new idea you add it to a column on the left of your wall, this is your “backlog“. You order this in terms of priority, pick out the tasks that will add the most value to your blog and then work through them. Each task in progress is moved across the wall into your “in progress” column. When each task is completed, it get moves to the “done” column on the far right of your wall. A task is only completed when it has been delivered to your website and it is adding value.
It is critical that you limit the amount of work in progress. I’d argue that this should have a limit of one task at a time as let’s be honest, if you want to do something well it needs your full attention. The visual nature of a card wall ensures that you will notice very quickly if you are trying to work on five things at once with none of them actually moving into your completed column.
Constantly Adding Value
The goal of working on your site is to add value. You will quickly realise that any tasks that are sitting in progress aren’t actually adding anything and this will highlight the false economy or trying to get 10 things done at once but without actually achieving anything. We all know this is a very common problem for bloggers all over the world!
If you notice your backlog getting larger and larger then this indicates that you are trying to work on too many things. Discard the items that provide the lowest value and prioritise the things that will really make a difference.
So in summary, here are some key benefits that Agile can help you to build a website:
- You will never be unsure what to work on next
- You will roll out improvements to your website without wasting time on work that is never delivered
- You won’t spread yourself too thinly
- You will break down work into achievable units
It’s hard to get across the real benefits in a single blog post, but now that my eyes have been opened – I won’t be going back to the old ways!