As a Foundr reader, you know that we always strive to create the most professional, quality-driven content we possibly can. That means that at all times our focus is to provide you with the most actionable, useful information we can, whether it’s on our podcast, our magazine, or this here very blog. It’s definitely something that I take a lot of personal pride in, and it’s no small task, and giving you our Ultimate Editorial Calendar is no exception.
Here’s something that might surprise you—the Foundr editorial team consists of three people. Myself as the Content Crafter, Tate our Editor, and Nathan our CEO.
I’m in charge of creating the majority of the content on the blog, which includes writing detailed articles every week and managing contributors. Tate is our editor extraordinaire whom I absolutely could not survive without. Angela, our VA, posts and schedules content as it’s ready. And Nathan oversees it all.
We work with great guest contributors, and other members of the larger Foundr team assist, but as far as the day in, day out of delivering Foundr to you, that’s the team. And we work almost entirely remotely, with some members an ocean and several time zones away.
As we’ve scaled up our operation in the past year, it’s been a challenge to keep it all straight and moving fast. If any of you run or plan to run a project that involves media creation, you know there are a million things to keep straight and running on time.
So how does such a small team working remotely manage to consistently publish great stuff?
We’ve developed a simple and streamlined system using Trello, Slack, and Google Docs that has allowed us to organize and maintain our Ultimate Editorial Calendar and editing process, without having to send a single email.
If you want to get into the content business as well, or you’re curious to know about the inner workings of Foundr, or maybe you’re just looking for a great project management system, then keep reading.
Kanban and Scrum
If you’ve been anywhere near the startup space in the past 10 years then you’ve probably heard about the Lean Startup Methodology. What you probably don’t know is that some of its methodology traces its roots back to the 1940s in Japanese manufacturing, which is where we find Kanban, a project management tool designed with the sole intention of being agile and lean.
At this point some of you might jump and protest and say something along the lines of, “This right here is Scrum! What is this nonsense?!”
Well that’s the thing, Scrum and Kanban look pretty much the same, and use similar principles. In fact there are a fair few people out there who incorrectly use the terms interchangeably. But once you look past the surface, you’ll see that they differ in some key areas. It’s kind of like how an alpaca and a llama look the same, but they’re actually different animals. Fun fact, a llama is actually much larger than an alpaca, and llamas have longer, banana-shaped ears compared to the short, spear-shaped ears of the alpaca. But I digress.
Both tools heavily encourage a lean and agile process, and allow for large, complex projects to be broken down into smaller tasks that can be completed efficiently. The main differences between the two is that Scrum relies upon time-based sprints, and the board resets at the beginning of each new “sprint” of work. In this way, iterations come in set blocks where at the beginning and the end of each sprint, team members hold a meeting and discuss what they’ve learned and what they want to iterate on next. Scrum is all about producing one final complete product at the end of a prescribed number of sprints.
Kanban on the other hand focuses more upon individual tasks, iteration through evolution of workflow, and allows for specialized roles within the team. Another key difference is that Kanban further breaks down the workflow columns, so instead of having the three typical columns of “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” every significant step is given its own column. While a Scrum board may release multiple, partially completed products at the end of the sprint, Kanban focuses more on having each individual product be complete by the end of the process. For Kanban, the process has no set end date, you just keep going until everything is done.
However, no one tool is complete, and each method has its own flaws. So try elements of each method and tinker until you find an approach that fits you and your business perfectly. Remember that it’s a template, a guideline for you to build upon. You don’t have to follow it religiously, and we certainly don’t.
Check out this video on just one of the ways you can combine Scrum and Kanban together.
So how does a Japanese manufacturing method apply to the Foundr editorial calendar? Well, what we’ve found is that Kanban is perfect for creating an editorial calendar, especially for remote teams.
We treat every new article, whether it’s generated in-house or by a contributor, as an individual task that’s part of a never-ending process.
I definitely recommend you check out Buffer’s public Trello board to get an idea of how they use Trello to source new blog post ideas, as well as their own basic editorial calendar setup. We used it as a starting point, and it’s similar to ours.
Tools we use
As I mentioned above, the Foundr editorial team all work remotely. In order for us to effectively work and collaborate together we mainly rely upon three tools to get us through. Honestly, when we started we had no idea if they would be sufficient, but they totally are. Like I said, it’s rare that we email within the team. The best part of it all is that they’re all free, with paid upgrades, so if you want to create something similar you don’t have to spend a single penny!
Trello is the lifeblood of our editorial calendar, and without it we simply could not survive. Trello is a web app built specifically based on Kanban management and it is fantastic. With Trello, all team members are able to have a bird’s eye view of every item in play on our editorial calendar at all times.
For Foundr, we’ve created 10 lists, or columns, each of which has a specific person in charge, and representing all the steps we need to take in order to complete an article. Each article is assigned a “card” that can be dragged and dropped across the series of columns, left-to-right.
The best thing about Trello is that each card can be assigned checklists, due dates, and colored labels, which make it all the easier to track each article’s progress. You can even add comments to each individual card so you can get a discussion thread going for each article. Each team member can give their own input and we use the space to bounce ideas off each other. If any team member is wondering what’s up with any article, all the details are in the card.
Check out the Trello card for this very article here.
Tate is not the happiest of editors when I’m late with an article…
With Google Docs, the Foundr editorial team are able to collaborate together on an article in real time, and we also ask all contributors to submit their articles using Google Docs. While word processors like Microsoft Word are definitely more robust editing programs, we find that it’s just not worth having to mail around different document versions of a Word file.
This is key: Relying on emailed files is a surefire recipe for losing, forgetting, duplicating efforts, and otherwise slowing everything down. We do everything we can to avoid it.
You’ll also notice in the previous image that Trello integrates very nicely with Google Docs, because we’re able to attach specific files to cards so we don’t have to worry about sending them to one another and risk getting multiple versions of a single article. Everywhere a Trello card goes, so goes the live document.
Also from an SEO standpoint, using other word processors like Word creates a lot of excess code when you copy and paste into WordPress. It’s not a huge deal, but especially in the world of content, the devil is always in the details.
Lastly, and by far most importantly, Google Docs allows Tate and I to collaborate with one another in real time when it comes to writing an article. By using the comment function we can work together and suggest specific edits instead of having to go back and forth with edits and rewrites. This feature is especially useful when it comes to working with contributors for the Foundr blog.
Just like every other startup these days, here at Foundr we absolutely love Slack. The main reason being, just like every other startup, we’re just not big fans of email. See above.
But the biggest reason we use Slack is because of its ability to integrate with third party apps, in this specific case: Trello. Anytime there’s an update on the Trello board (you can customize which actions show up) I’m able to instantly see it on the appropriate Slack channel, and even get mobile or desktop notifications based on personal preference.
By doing this, any member of the Foundr team can stay in the loop and catch up on what’s been happening, whether it’s midnight or first thing in the morning their time. It leaves footsteps behind us chronologically as we make progress. And, of course, we use the chat functions to cheer each other on, or ask questions, like whether we’ve seen the new Captain America trailer.
By keeping the number of tools we use to a minimum, we’re able to keep our system as streamlined and uncomplicated as possible.
Additional tools to consider
While you only really need to use the three main tools listed above, you can use these as extras if you feel like you and your team needs it.
Skype – Because the Foundr editorial team is spread out, it’s important that we set aside time every now and then to have a meeting and touch base. With Skype we’re able to hold a conference call every two weeks or so and discuss any new post ideas, contributors, and any potential issues or problems.
Sunrise Calendar – This is more of a personal choice, but I absolutely love the Sunrise Calendar app because I’m able to sync it with my Trello board (and many other apps). That way I receive a notification anytime an article is due, or is about to be published.
Lifecycle of a Foundr article
So now that you know what principles and tools we use, let’s give you a tour of how Foundr creates and publishes an online article!
While we base our system on Kanban, we have added our own little tweaks. Columns are assigned to specific people (a Trello recommendation), we have 10 columns instead of three, and we have our own variation of three Scrum-prescribed roles. Again I should mention that whatever project management system you use is ultimately a template for you to build upon. Evolve the methodology to one that fits you and your needs. Even for us, this is a work in progress that we fine-tune as needed.
Just by taking a look at the way we’ve set up our Trello board you’ll be able to understand our workflow and the step-by-step process we use.
Pitches and Approved Ideas
This is where it all begins. Any time one of us comes up with an idea for an article, no matter what it is, we’ll create a card in the Pitches list. We’ll discuss which ideas deserve to be pursued, either in Slack chat or on the card itself, considering everything from time constraints to how in-depth we want it to be. From there our product master, in this case Nathan, decides what articles to green light and moves the card from “Pitches” to “Approved Ideas.” A baby post is born!
You’ll also notice that the cards are color-coded. A neat feature of Trello is that we can assign colored labels to cards. Green is for features that are to be published onto the Foundr blog, and Orange is for guest contributors. So for anyone approved to write a guest post for Foundr, this is where your article starts.
Jonathan & Guests Writing
Here we have the bulk of my work as the Content Crafter for Foundr, writing new articles and managing contributors. This column is my sole responsibility and no one else’s. If there is a massive backlog of cards in this column then it means I either have a lot of work to do or something has gone terribly wrong that has caused a hold up.
This is also where Tate steps in as both the editor and the scrum master. Working together with me we’ll then assign the appropriate due dates and checklists to each card as it enters the Writing column. It’s vitally important that we do this because having a deadline actually gives us a set timeframe to work with so we can plan accordingly. For writers, like myself, deadlines might add more pressure to the process but it’s necessary pressure in order to get work done.
He’ll also order the cards so that the ones with higher urgency go on top and continue in descending order. Once that’s done, my job is to have to have each card finished by the due date or I face the cold fury of a Bostonian not to be trifled with. Or I give him my first-born child, either or.
This is a bit of a strange column, something that we only recently created once we realized we kept running into a specific problem. Sometimes, for various reasons, an article will be de-prioritized after it has entered the board. Sometimes this is a result of a missing piece of info, or maybe it needs an overhaul, or we just have a surge of other, higher-priority work that needs to be done.
Rather than leave a wounded post cluttering up the list of active writing jobs, we have this column. Think of it as a pit stop or a back burner. The main thing items in this column have in common is that they temporarily do not have due dates, until whatever issue is resolved and they re-enter the Writing column.
Often the items in this column are near-finished, and I just need to either tinker a bit when I have time, or devote a chunk of time to blasting through a bunch and breaking them loose. If they sit in the column for too long, Tate the scrum master will comment on the card and ask for at least a rough timeline.
Tate Blog Editing
Here we have the column of our amazingly patient editor.
Any article that I’ve finished, I’ll move over into his column where he’ll work his magic, fixing every grammatical error and mistake (and believe me when I say there are many), and offering his own suggestions for larger edits.
“A good editor can make a respectable writer remarkable, just like a good parent helps a child become amazing.” – Justin Alkali
Articles that need more than just a facelift will be moved back into my column where I’ll promptly groan, fire off a couple of words not to be used in polite company, and get back to work. But at the end of the day, the work that a professional editor does is an invaluable one. There have been many times when having Tate as a fresh set of eyeballs and perspective has turned an okay article into a great one.
Once Tate is satisfied with the quality of the article it’s time for Nathan to review. As the product master of the team, Nathan has the final say on all articles before we publish. If there’s something that he’s not happy with, the card will go back to me so I can rework it until it meets the high-quality standard expected of Foundr. Although, if I do say so myself, that is a very rare occurrence. Nathan will also suggest headline changes, and offer any general feedback in the Trello card comments.
Banked and Jonathan Post to Blog/Submit
When all is said and done, completed articles are either moved into “Banked” or “Jonathan Post to Blog/Submit,” meaning that they’re ready to be published.
Articles that are banked are kept there until we find the right time to publish them. We always aim to have at least three banked articles at any time, so we never, ever have to scramble for content to publish. If we have to rush to churn out content, that means quality will be sacrificed, which means we’ve let our readers down. At the same time, we don’t let them pile up. We’re not hoarders, after all.
When a date has been assigned, they’re moved into the next column where it’s my job to do a final review of articles and format them all in order to fit our blog style. This can be anything from resizing pictures to notifying authors that their articles are about to be published.
But once formatted, it’s just a matter of scheduling the article to be published and we’re almost done.
Nathan Email to List and Done
Finally it’s up to Nathan to notify our 100,000-plus mailing list (that’s you!) that an article just went live. After I write up the copy for the email and Tate does his round of edits, Nathan puts it all into Infusionsoft and we mail it out.
When that’s all done the card is moved over in the final column and put to bed.
And that’s how it all works, behind the curtain. Again, we’re always looking for places to improve the process, and this probably won’t work for everyone. But one reason we wanted to give such a detailed overview is so you can see all the individual parts, and lift whatever pieces you find most useful for your own projects. If it’s a good fit, you can go so far as to duplicate our approach 100 percent. But no matter what your project is like, I strongly believe you can use these principles, the main ones being:
- Limited tools – Too many portals and logins and notifications and everyone will tune out.
- Accountability – Every step in the process has someone who is in charge, so it’s easy to spot a bottleneck.
- Deadlines – Tate made me include this one. Bow down to deadlines! (And speak up early if they are not possible.)
- Never Rush – Some individuals work best under pressure, but your brand should never be placed under the gun. Plan way ahead, and give yourself room to breathe.
Oh, and have some fun along the way. We live in a miraculous age when three people scattered across the globe can run a vibrant, growing media brand. We want to see you all find the same success with your own projects!
Have your own experience or tips on project management? Leave a comment below.