https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/03/31/agency-model-manage-content-projects/

Using an agency model to manage content projects

I was asked to come and run the (then newly formed) Content Team back in August 2016. I immediately began to think about how the team structure would work, and what tools and tactics we could use to help improve content in such a vast landscape.

Where it started

I knew instinctively that a rod of iron wouldn't work. It would be a case of sharing the load, not taking over, as we work with so many amazing subject matter experts. It's our role to consult, provide best practice guidance and, bring our skills to the fore by working alongside our colleagues.

This is similar to the role that many content agencies use with their clients. Sharing expertise and collaborating to reach clear, shared goals.

What we mean by an agency model

A photo of a 'typical' creative agency: inspirational quite painted on teh wall, lots of computers and creative people sitting at desks working with headphones on, lots of greenery, wooden floors, white desks and a slanting ceiling
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Pricenfees

Our 'agency' setup is really very simple. We've identified areas of Parliament that are responsible for producing content for parliament.uk. Each area now has a primary and secondary content sponsor. These sponsors are content designers from the central team.

It's the sponsor's job to know their sponsorship area inside out. To understand who in their sponsored team does what, and to make sure they're supported. Content sponsors are the first point of contact for their sponsorship team if they have a content need. This could be anything from one-off consultations to a long-term content production project. It's also the sponsor's job to identify any content projects or opportunities that might have been missed.

How it works

When a content need is identified, the content sponsor works with their sponsored team to produce a simple briefing document. This outlines the scope of the project, who are the important people involved, and what the timescales are. The sponsor works with their sponsored team to discuss how their project supports the aspirations and principles of the Digital Strategy.

This brief is then signed off by the sponsored team and the content sponsor. It then goes into the pipeline to be graded and put to the content prioritisation group. Here's a diagram illustrating the full process:

Content prioritisation process diagram - the process is described in this post
What we mean by a content prioritisation group

The group has representatives from the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and PDS. The representatives have a good working knowledge of the business, their own priorities, shared priorities, and the Digital Strategy.

It's a virtual group, so they don't meet physically. They get the full brief, as well as the scored grade. The scoring is completed against various criteria. Criteria such as reflecting the aspirations and principles of the Digital Strategy, a cost mapping exercise, available resource, and any other relevant available data.

The content prioritisation group aren't there to decide what work is done. Their role is to consult with the central Content Team, and to give the organisation a good overview of upcoming projects. They also help to identify if there are areas where we could collaborate, repurpose, or join up with other projects. This will help us to be more efficient.

The group discusses the proposal, and then gives recommendations based on a red, amber, green (RAG) rating:

  • green means they approve the proposal and it can be started immediately
  • amber means it's approved, but it's not an immediate priority, so it's put into the backlog for when resource becomes available
  • red means they recommend it's rejected, and the group will give feedback to the team and the sponsor

The final decision is made by me, as Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief of parliament.uk.

Why it helps

The central Content Team is small. The need for content design support is high. And, it's only going to increase. We need to be confident that each piece of work is a good use of our time. That everything we do is reflective of the values and principles that will deliver better digital services for Parliament.

By agreeing on a clear brief, all parties are committing to getting this work done. A brief removes any ambiguity and deals with scope creep. It helps us manage our roadmap because we have a better idea of when projects will be completed, and everyone makes sure that we have done what was promised.

The challenges

Implementing any new processes, not least in an organisation that has been around for a long time, isn't without its challenges. If we're not careful, people could think we're putting in blockers, making life more difficult, or shirking away from the job at hand.

My project is a priority to me, why do you get to decide if it's important or not?

We used to just be able to do as we please, why are you getting in our way?

How do I know that the group will make decisions quickly and that my brief won't disappear into the abyss?

All valid concerns.

When you're looking to make big cultural changes in an organisation, processes are really important. We need them to be fair and give equal access to resources. We also want to make sure that the work we take on positively reflects the strategies that underpin what we do. Putting in a few simple stages means we're making fair and rational choices, and that the people who need the work done, as well as those who are going to do it, are committed.

With clear, simple processes in place we can produce high-quality, strategic results.

If you'd like to speak to the Content Team about projects, please send us an email

Leave a comment