Bring Order to Chaos with Content SLAs

Content SLAs

Long ago in a dark windowless office, I sat frustrated reviewing my team’s content deliverables. We were responsible for a new market segment within a mature software business.  The content review processes we were expected to follow were built to support a 20 year old, billion dollar business. Nothing about that suited our needs.

We had an aggressive content schedule, access to plenty of subject matter experts, and we knew what we were producing was resonating with our audience. The problem was it all took too much time and coaxing to get assets across the finish line. The more we produced, the worse the problem became.

We had to find a way to eliminate the bottlenecks in our content production process.  After a failed attempt to simply ignore the process I found the solution – documented content service level agreements (SLA).  A content SLA is a written agreement between you and your content stakeholders that outlines policies, procedures and timelines that you both agree to follow. It sounds stiff and boring, but it worked!

Many years later I’ve found Content SLAs a helpful foundation to shared goals across a wide variety of organizations.

Five Signs You Need Content SLAs

Not every team needs to document content SLA, but some teams will benefit greatly from them. If you suffer from all or some of the items below it’s time to consider an SLA intervention.

  1. You consistently miss content delivery targets
  2. More than 15% of your time is spent chasing down deliverables
  3. Just when you thought an asset was ready to publish, last minute edits derail your plans
  4. You find yourself focusing on specific topics, not because your audience prefers it, but because it’s easier to finish this type of material
  5. Content authors & reviewers complain that everything they are asked to do is urgent and last minute

What Should Your Content SLA Include

Content SLAs hold editorial staff, writers and reviewers accountable to delivery timelines that builds trust and consistency.  Your documented Content SLA will answer these important questions:

  • Who will review content?
  • How long will they have to review assets? Does it differ by topic or asset type?
  • How will you communicate deadlines?
  • How are edits to be submitted?

Helpful Guidelines

Content SLAs can be a very valuable tool when executed effectively. Follow these guidelines to make sure you make the most of yours.

Don’t be a dictator – when you document SLAs it’s easy to tell people what to do, but it won’t work.  Even if what you are asking is valid, it’s likely participants will rebel against the process. Be sure to include key stakeholders in developing SLA terms.

Hold yourself accountable – Content SLAs should not only hold authors and reviewers accountable, but also the editorial process. Resist the temptation to treat every request with the same level of urgency and formulate consistent review mechanisms and response processes.

Explain the Why – For the best success make sure your content team understands why Content SLAs are being created and what you hope to gain by implementing the process.

Leverage an executive sponsor – Nothing can derail a plan more than a key contributor ignoring the process. It can create a cascading impact on the team as a whole.  Enroll an executive sponsor (For example the CMO, VP Marketing, Product Management Leader) to facilitate roll out of the SLAs.

Use your common sense  – No documented plan is going to account for every conceivable scenario. Make sure you cover the most common scenarios and use common sense to fill in the gaps.