Stacking the Cards – What to Expect in a Content Backlog Grooming Meeting

Posted 8/3/2015 7:39 PM by Jeff Julian

Just to warn you, this article is about planning to create content, not actually creating content.

If you are like a large number of marketers I have discussed this meeting with, you might not see having a regular meeting as a good use of your time.  Then when I suggest you meet with the whole agile team (Content Owner, ScrumMaster, and Content Developers) to plan content, you really don’t know how you are going to make it work.  You believe you already know what you need to work on and you have a list of content that will keep you busy for months. 

After nearly 10 years of agile planning, I can honestly say, this meeting is one of those you need to have. Not only do you need to have it, but you also have to make time to have it regularly.

4 Reasons a Repeated Content Planning Meeting is Necessary

Before we get into what should happen during the Content Backlog Grooming Meeting, let’s quickly go through four reasons why having this meeting on a regular basis will benefit your team.

  • Someone has changed their mind in your company – Changes to our products, features, services, and the roles people fill within our organizations can cause our team’s perceived direction of the business to shift.  These perceptions needs to be reviewed and aligned with what we know as reality.  In this meeting, we can start to align the movements with our efforts and find out how they affect our audience.  The last thing we want to do is fall back in the rhythm of talking about ourselves again all the time. We don’t want to send the wrong message to our audience. 
  • Someone has changed their mind in your audience – Your audience is maturing and growing as well.  They are continually solving problems with new tools, adapting to their own changes and moving forward in new directions.  Think about how the value you offered in 2005 is different than today. There was a huge difference like no iPhones, no tablets and no real social networks and that was only 10 years ago.  These types of changes still happen and they do affect the way we market to people and what value we offer.
  • Something has changed in your industry – New processes, tools, and efficiencies are developed as our industries continue to grow.  Whether it is trends in fashion or the way we deliver concrete, our industries are getting smarter and are attempting to achieve faster results. Our customers are looking to insiders for this information and thought leadership around what to do about it.
  • Something has changed in your ability – Our team may be bigger or smaller, faster or slower, or were just off on their estimate for a particular type of task, when these things happen it is good to re-estimate the items in the backlog that are affected by the change. We want those numbers to correlate with our reality as much as possible.  If our videographer left the company and we don’t have to budget to use an agency, our Content Owner needs to see how long it takes our current team to produce the content items.  Afterward, they may need to adjust priority, direction or go make a case to the leadership team for the expansion of the budget.

The Order of Business (Pre-meeting Agenda)

Everyone should be relaxed so conduct this meeting very loosely.  That doesn’t mean we remove the agenda or any need to plan but we place time to focus on the flow of ideas from your whole team. 

It is hard to focus when you have problems on your plate.  We need to get our creative juices flowing and all the current monkeys on our back should be left at our desk.  Make sure you allow for time in your current Sprint planning if you know this meeting is going to take place.

Another area you will want to address to settle the nerves of the leadership team is the duration.  Anytime you put the Content Developers, ScrumMaster and Content Owner in the same room, the meeting is expensive and should be kept as productive as possible. It is up to the ScrumMaster to prepare the agenda, coordinate the room and invitations, and MC the meeting.

When conducting these meetings, I like to rely on the Pomodoro technique for work.  The quick description of the approach is to create a list of tasks with estimates and work for a set amount of time then go for a short break. 

Start the meeting with a list of tasks prepared by the ScrumMaster that should be accomplished during the meeting.  Allow other members to add items based on the meetings objectives and prioritize them quickly.  Start the meeting and move through the tasks and take breaks when your time is up. 

Repeat this until either the meeting time is up or the work is complete, shortest time wins.  Afterward, write down the outcomes and if there are remaining tasks, plan a follow-up meeting to complete them. 

For these meetings, I like to use the work duration of 25 minutes focused and a 5 minute break.  During the breaks, offer a quick trip to the bathroom and maybe something fun or interactive to get out of your seats. 

What Should be Accomplished During this Meeting?

Since this meeting is relaxed, the agenda will be designed based on your current need.  Review the following list before creating the schedule to see what areas are important to you now and need the most focus.

  • Idea generation for new Content Items – Everyone on our team has great ideas about how we can reach our audience and develop assets.  Sometimes those ideas need a little cultivation to bring them out and solidify them.  Conducting portions of the meeting for sharing ideas and working through them will be one of the most looked forward to times your team will have each month.
  • Re-estimate existing Content Items – Things have changed.  The speed or task count for a particular content type, members have been added or subtracted, the silos are being removed and our team members are becoming well-rounded developers.  When any of these happen, there is a chance our estimates will change so we should review the items at the top of the backlog.
  • Updates to the personas – Have you learned anything new about your audience?  Do we need to create a new persona and start to develop backlog items for them? Ask these questions at the beginning of each meeting because the answers will drive the rest of the items we discuss.
  • Breakdown the epics – You should have some big ideas that need to be broken down. These could be in-person events, eBooks, blog series, videos or other content items that are too big to estimate or fit in a Sprint.  If their priority is causing them to work their way up to the top of the backlog, you need to start breaking them into Content Items that the team can estimate and you can get into an upcoming Sprint.  Remember when these items are event based, you have a lot of leg work that needs to happen so make sure you break these ideas down quickly to get the best bang for your buck.
  • Insights into the journey – Are there stops on your customer’s journey where you are not delivering the appropriate experiences? How can your team produce content (remember that word represents so much) to drive the desired experience your audience wants to have?  Ask those questions and use the answers to guide your Content Item development.
  • Priority changes in the backlog and share the reasoning behind the numbers – If your Content Owner is making some ideas higher priority than others, your Content Developers should understand the reasons behind the change. They are customer-focused and to create the best resource for those members of the audience, they should know the urgency behind it being placed in front of them.
  • Review of the current analytics – What is working well?  What is converting sales?  Where are we losing customers? How can we build a new audience? These are the questions you should ask on a regular basis as a Content Owner and the answers should be shared with the team.
  • Audit of existing content and checking the expiration date – Do we have posts that are getting a lot of traffic but they need to be refreshed to remove the reference to the first-generation iPad launch? Most of our best performing content has been live for a long time. Typically when we start producing content we hit the big ideas first and then work our way down into the details of our niche.  Those big ideas drive the most traffic so can we update those posts to change the call-to-action to the next set of articles rather than a newsletter sign up?

When Should We Hold This Meeting?

Once a month!

That was easy, let’s move on…

Ok, ok, maybe you have some concerns so we will discuss.  Yes, I believe you should review your backlog for at least two hours with your whole team once a month.  I hear from so many teams that this is not possible. 

We are too busy! We cannot get everyone in the room for this kind of meeting! We can’t, we can’t and we can’t. 

However, I don’t not believe I have ever heard a reason we can’t meet to groom the backlog that was customer-based. 

If we are truly customer-focused, we will make the time for this meeting. All these bullet points listed above will drive the value we deliver and the time we deliver.  If we write a great post but we are 4 weeks too late to be relevant or allow for the highest social/influencer impact, was it worth even producing it?  What if we are too early on a subject, can we just take it back and republish it later?

Rant: If you have to meet quarterly or annually because you just don’t see the value, you might re-consider Content Marketing. I am not trying to being cruel in this statement but I don’t want you to fool yourself and set up your team for failure. If what you are creating is not audience-driven, consistent over time, and committed for the long haul, it is probably just a campaign.  That is ok! 

Campaigns work and you can use agile tools and techniques like personas, task breakdown, content teams and estimates to create your work product.  You don’t have to be a Content Marketer.  But don’t make it your title, hire people with this expectation and make claims to the world that you are using a Content Marketing approach when you are not.  It is like seeing a person holding a basketball on a baseball diamond and saying they are “hooping it up.”  You’re not, and you are not fooling anyone.  You may even be frustrating the members of your team who thought you were.

Tips for Having a Successful Content Backlog Meeting

  • Stand up – Don’t just sit there, get up and move around.  I love interactive meetings and having teams break into smaller groups to gather ideas.  I love seeing cards shuffled and new approaches to generating value statements and Content Stories.  Consider an area that allows for your team to move around and use post-its on the wall to embrace collaboration and get the creativity flowing.  If it is true we are not supposed to sit as often as we do, then take this time to stand up.
  • Map out your ideas – If your customers are on a journey, then map it out and make sure they are informed at each stop.  I like to use mind mapping for these informational diagrams.  In the center, I place the persona and the nodes that stem off of the center are the journey stops we are attempting to build content for.  Then I list the goals or problems the personas face when they are at these stops. Lastly at the fourth tier are the existing pieces of content and the new ideas we have to provide value for these goals/problems for this stage in the persona’s journey. We will quickly see where are gaps are and can discuss how useful the content will be at providing value.  We may need to produce more content or just to boost the existing content we have with advertising or social media.
  • Get started on time – 2+ hours is a lot of time.  Make sure everyone on the team knows the level of investment this meeting is and the goals we want to achieve by the end.  Stopping at the appropriate time goes hand in hand and your ScrumMaster should make sure this happens.
  • Keep it relevant - We have a bunch of meetings with defined agendas. If the conversation starts to resemble the plan for one of the other meetings, your ScrumMaster should document the details of the current discussion and table it for the next scheduled meeting where it should be discussed.
  • Leaders gotta lead – Your two key leaders, the Content Owner and ScrumMaster and any influential members in the room should be encouraged to stay positive and on task.  When someone is not involved or on their phones, it sets the tone and causes others to feel they should or can act the same way or get angry.  We are all guilty of this one time or another so make sure you address the situation in a calm manner and during a break if possible.  If you make an example of the person, you might as well stop the meeting and try again later because all ability to bring that person back in the fold will be lost due to shame or embarrassment.  Read the No A$$---- Rule for great insights into how much this really affects the team.

Stacking Cars on a Ferry Boat

I hope you start to look forward to your Content Backlog Grooming Meetings as much as I do. They are one of the most effective meetings for bringing the team together, getting on the same page, and driving home our mission for the audience.  If you run into problems or have any questions, please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.