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Get the Content in first – the Role of Content Modeling in Agile development

It’s the conundrum that most people face when developing their site:

  1. You can’t really design the site without some content.
  2. Developers will tell you they can’t build the site without the design.
  3. Without the development of the CMS, you have nowhere to put the content.
  4. You can’t really design the site without some content.

It’s important to focus on content structure early on – it’s the only way to get going quickly and have everyone working, on everything, all at once.

Content Model First

The reality is that your content will have an effect on almost every aspect of your website, so working out what your content will look like is a necessary first step.

A List Apart has a good definition of what a content model is:

A content model documents all the different types of content you will have for a given project. It contains detailed definitions of each content type’s elements and their relationships to each other.

In terms of getting a project going, the content model is the most important thing you need to get done. With a strong content model, your development team can build the content types into the CMS, which will enable your content team to start putting content into the site, even if there is no design, and as the content element is often the longest, most time-consuming part of the project, getting started early is always a bonus.

Building a content model doesn’t need to be daunting.  Pebble Road have a good overview of the different (and complementary) methods you might want to use, and ultimately, if you’re prepared to adapt, you can knock the initial content model up in a spreadsheet in around half a day.

Once you have a content model, you can hand it to your development team – who should be able to add the model to the CMS with very little effort. If you’re saddled with a CMS where it does take more time, you can use services like Gather Content to plan and build the site while you wait.

Agile and Content

Agile projects are delivered in small increments, over time, often focusing on getting the core needs of a project delivered quickly, before iterating over the lifetime of the project to improve and hone the product until it is fit for release. Producing content on an Agile project works in just the same way.

Prioritize content

When focusing on the needs of the users you will already have a good idea of the high volume content for you site, and this gives you a good starting point.  Write the content to enable users to do these tasks first, but remember that in an Agile project, it’s all about iterations. So:

  • Draft – don’t try to get the content perfect first time. You can improve it as the project evolves.
  • Review – as content is created, make review notes (ideally in the CMS) – then you will be able to see what  still needs to be done.

Don’t worry about the homepage (yet)

It is always very tempting to design, build and write the homepage of a site first, but without your content and structure this isn’t easy to do well. A good homepage will reflect the whole site, so until your site exists, you’ll be driving blind.

Instead, concentrate on your most common content type (e.g. a standard content page). While your homepage might be the single biggest in terms of page views, it won’t be the most viewed type of page.

Typically the homepage might get around 10%-15% of site traffic, but if you’ve succeeded in getting people to the information they need your “standard” content pages will be viewed by nearly 100% of your visitors. In terms of getting people information, it’s more important than the homepage.

Expect change

If you are familiar with Agile development, you will know that change happens, almost every day, and content is no different. No matter how well you plan your content model, as you develop it, you will encounter things you didn’t think of, and will need to find ways to add them to the system. This is a natural part of Agile development. Don’t be shocked or saddened – change happens.

Summary

There is no reason why content creation cannot fit into Agile projects – in fact, getting the content model defined early is the key to letting Agile projects run, freeing up all elements of the team to concentrate on their part of the project, without having to worry about how the content is going to fit in, once it’s finished.