In the first post in this series, we talked about the challenge of stakeholders. If you haven’t read it yet, click on over there. It is so important that your team be equipped and on-board with a content-first approach. If the team (even if it’s a team of 1-2) is not embracing the content-first approach, then this post will not help them over the finish line. Now let’s move on to challenge #2: timing and efficiency.

Once you’ve chosen your roles for your team: external stakeholders, creative team, internal stakeholders, and their Chief, it’s time to put them to work. To be as efficient as possible, here are my Top Team Tips, with help from that most solid of teams: the Parks & Rec crew from Pawnee, Indiana.

Ron Swanson says "I am not sure I'm interested in that. No, I am sure. I am not interested in that."

It’s happening, Ron. Get on board!

Teams Discuss & Document

Communication needs vary by team and project. There are a so many tools your team can use to disseminate information and assets. I don’t have particular advise on how your team communicates so long as they do, in fact, talk with each other. If you like a regular check-in time – daily, weekly – then set it up and stick with it. If you prefer email or a project management space/platform, go with that. Encourage your team to use it, though, and make it explicit at the outset or you’ll be hunting through text messages, Slack channels, or Basecamp projects like a crazy person trying to find that one note you remember from last week. Efficiency is impossible without solid, regular, and preferably trackable communication.

Oh, but for heaven’s sake take notes of calls and in-person meetings. I think the person who takes notes on phone calls is the most underrated member of the team. And it’s not just because that’s usually my role in a team situation. Not at all.

Ben Wyatt sits at his desk in front of a row of binders and announces "I don't even have time to tell you how wrong you are." on Parks & Rec

Teams Schedule Draft & Review Cycles

Whether it’s your Chief Internal Stakeholder or someone else, you need someone who has an eye on both the calendar and the project goals from the word “go.” You can shift the schedule as needed, but you need to have a plan and someone who keeps people on top of the plan. Make sure you agree on all the elements of the project – the features you will have and those you will not – when you launch, print, or publish the work. This will come up later.

If you’ve hired a consultant or an agency to help an internal team, they can definitely take that on. You’ll just have to make sure that an internal stakeholder is communicating with them regularly. Make sure to build in time for review meetings and feedback. As a designer, I might want to get nothing but positive feedback like the following:

"Yes, I do agree with you. I agree with you on all things throughout history until the end of time, forever." A quote from Leslie Knope of Parks & Rec

But all designers know their work will likely need revision to suit the client, the technical requirements of the project, or the timing of releases. Be direct, be gracious, but above all, be CLEAR. When you want changes, talk about the specifics. The clearer your wishes, the faster we will get the best design to you.

Teams Avoid Endless Revisions (The Dreaded “Scope Creep”)

Once you’ve set the schedule, you might have to shift it at times. Unanticipated issues arise all the time. So does “Scope Creep,” though. That’s a fun little term for adding more features or changes and exceeding the number of changes or the original functions of the project.

Tom Haverford stands in a sequinned jacket and bow tie asking "Where's my smoke machine? Where are my girls dressed in teddy bear costumes? Where's my Yeezus mountain?" on Parks & Rec

It might not be your flashiest member who starts the process of Scope Creep, but once it has begun it is hard to stop. Perhaps the parameters of your project are genuinely different now than they were when you began. If you just need one more round because your vision took a little longer to communicate to the creative team, you will likely be able to complete the work and just pay a per-hour rate for the extra work. Sometimes, though, the changes are so sweeping that it’s smarter to modify your contract or start over. Your consultant/agency should have a “Kill Fee” that allows you to scrap the project. If you find yourself wondering how best to proceed, talk to your team. Get a feel for the progress and remaining needs. Have a conversation early to avoid The Blame Game later. Plus, it’ll save you money.

"Free money!" shout Jean-Ralphio Saperstein and Tom Haverford as they jump around and throw fake bills in the air on Parks & Rec

The temptation to keep going and going with changes on original project feature is also strong. You can develop analysis paralysis slogging through the dozens of look and feel decisions to be made. Your creative team will determine how many changes you get in your project scope. But even if you have all the free changes you could possibly ask for, here’s what all those free changes do not do: LAUNCH, PRINT, or PUBLISH.

You can create the most pristine content ever but if it’s not out there, it’s no good to your business or your organization. Hitting that LIVE button, though, isn’t easy. One thing that can really mess with your head is off-team reviewers. Be cautious about showing the draft design comps for review. Generally, if you pass around a design to anyone else, you risk getting unhelpful or contradictory feedback. Off-team reviewers likely aren’t part of your target audience and might not fully grasp your business goals.

Chris Traeger sits before Leslie Knope and states "I think you have several options. They're all terrible, but you have them." on Parks & Rec

The one exception to that rule, of course, is testing. If you’re really concerned about getting the best design for your target audience(s), consider a structured testing/feedback process. Plan out your questions, choose 5-9 people from each audience, show them the design, and capture their feedback. With planning and prep, this can be helpful. Without it, you might just end up more confused than when you started.

On a related note, make sure your Buck-stopping Approver understands and embraces the needs of your target audience. That way you can trust them to approve the best design for the final users, not just for themselves or the internal stakeholders.

Ron Swanson sits by a shore line and says "Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."

Efficiency is Impossible Without Trust In Your Team

Sometimes the team will get stuck or a design will get leaked to someone with strong opinions that are unhelpful. Efficiency might stall out as they debate feedback or testing results. Stick with your team and trust them to work the process. Get that content done. Otherwise, you might think a draft is good enough to get started on some wireframes and find your final content doesn’t fit in those neat little boxes. You might get random feedback and find yourself unsure how to respond to it.

As I said in my last post, “What starts out as a shortcut to getting started ends up being more trouble than it’s worth!” Empower your team to get the job done.

Chris Traeger stands by a pond and enthusiastically encourages a duck swimming by with the words "Way to be, duck!" on Parks & Rec

Next time, we’ll take up the final elements of Content First, Design Later: Quality & Originality.