Our Work


A More Agile Content Team

By Dina Nikitaides on May 19, 2015
Kan Ban Board Example

We have a great content team here at Illinois Legal Aid Online. Each individual has distinct, valuable skills and expertise that have made it possible for us to create some pretty cool and user-friendly resources. Yet we have struggled to harness each individual’s contribution to collectively create a unified and efficient team. So, we (Lindsay, Legal Content Manager and Dina, Interactive Content Manager) decided to take what we've learned so far from our tech transformation to develop a more cross-functional content team.

Our success in using the scrum agile methodology to build our new website inspired us to investigate applying agile methods in creating and maintaining our content. First and foremost, we needed to confirm that agile was the right fit. As it turns out, a good majority of the agile principles do align with our content team goals. In particular,

  • We want to “satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software content”.

  • We want to “welcome changing requirements”, “deliver working software content frequently”, work as a “self-organizing team”, and create “the environment and support” we need to get the job done.

  • And we want to “promote sustainable development” and “be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

Next, we designated a small subset of our content team to investigate how we could become more agile in practice and test the waters (before bringing other members on board). This small team's first step was to document our main goals, which include:

  • Reduce duplicative efforts

  • Eliminate roadblocks

  • Prioritize workload on a weekly basis

  • Improved understanding of other team member’s role and skills

  • Get help from colleagues to find solutions, complete tasks and meet deadlines

  • Share knowledge

  • Get more work done - taking on too many projects leads to being overwhelmed and things are left in progress forever

Then, we evaluated different workflow tools to determine what would best help us achieve these goals. We decided to use a kanban board (see below). A kanban board is typically set up with columns representing the workflow. As we have varied types of issues to tackle within our group, we set up our board with the most basic workflow of “to do”, “in progress”, and “done.” Cards are used to represent tasks, which move through the process from left to right.

With a kanban board, the goal is to match the amount of work in progress to the team’s capacity. If there are too many items in progress or nothing is making it to “done,” it will be visible on the board. To avoid these issues, it is common to set a “work in progress” (WIP) limit and have the team work together to accomplish any tasks causing a traffic jam.

Since our central aim is to accomplish the above goals, we're not too focused on executing a perfect agile kanban process. Instead, we are working to adapt kanban to meet our needs. For example, we try to break larger issues into smaller tasks but some of the work we do cannot be broken down into equal bite-sized pieces. Those tasks may be in progress for a week or two while others move through to done in a couple days, and we are okay with that.

We're only two weeks in but we've already had few mini-successes:

  • Less Overwhelmed: During our Monday morning meeting, we were looking at our task list for the week. It became immediately clear that Dina’s list was unrealistic. Unless she quickly developed an ability to work in her sleep, there was no way she could get the tasks done. Together, we identified the tasks that would have to wait until next week. Instead of many tasks getting half-done, Dina was able to fully complete a number of tasks.
  • More Aware: We each have noted a better understanding of what our team members are working on this week. For example, Lindsay noted that a video is in post production and now has a heads up that the review process will start soon.
  • More Motivated: Instead of coming in to the office in the morning feeling overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done, we’ve noticed an ability to focus on the tasks that have been prioritized by the team.

We will be back in a few weeks with an update on our progress. Stay tuned!

- Lindsay & Dina