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In Content Marketing, Waterfall Works

July 11, 2019 - Practitioner Marketing - ,
By: Chris Riley

“Waterfall” in the tech world has become synonymous with antiquated processes and lack of execution. So it might seem strange that a content marketing agency like us, who specifically serves tech vendors, champions waterfall content creation processes. The reason is, it’s what works, and we know from experience.

Fixate actively pursues ways to create content on demand, and we will not stop this quest; just like most DevOps environments seek to release their application many times a day. From time to time, when we have to create content related to a product launch in response to some public relations event or to react to market forces, we do create content in short time-frames.

In general, though, our process is to create content in waterfall. At the beginning of each month we curate topics. During the month content is produced. At the end of the month we deliver a predictable number of posts to our clients. The reason we do this is because any time we’ve tried otherwise, things get wonky. They get wonky because we’re dealing with a three-part process.

On one point, we have the vendor. In the middle we have operations that not only include content creation, but also contributor recruiting. At our third point, we have contributors. 

The middle is the easy part. If all we had to deal with was the operations and automation to create content, no problem. But we have highly variable elements on both sides of that point in the process; namely, humans. The flavors of humans ranges from the marketer who chases shiny objects to the techie who has commitment issues, and are collectively massive procrastinators. Added to that, vendors procrastinate on topic approvals and content reviews.

So this is why waterfall is so successful when creating content:

  1. Deadlines help everyone. People know when they have to get topics in, when they have to complete content, and when they will have it in their hands. Clear deadlines prohibit setting subjective dates, and explicitly add commitment to the process.
  2. Everything starts at once. All topics are approved at one time, all posts are received at one time. Otherwise, if you dole out topics and posts at different times it’s hard to keep track of what has been assigned, completed, and approved. There is a lot of confusion when numerous posts are in different stages. The result is: stuff gets lost very fast!
  3. A big reason people use us is because they don’t want to herd cats to get content created. We do that for them. Sometimes we have to swap out contributors for a topic mid-month. Sometimes content gets rejected by our editorial team, and we have to start over. Sometimes we have to recruit new contributors. This is the black box our clients don’t see, nor should they need to. By having content created in waterfall, we can keep that black box out of sight. Topics go in, content comes out. It’s that easy.

Our waterfall process works great for us and our clients. It works especially well for vendors who are doing content creation in-house. You know that editorial calendar you always say you will create and follow, but never do? With waterfall content creation, you can! You end up with an inventory of content that drives your planning process. 

It’s simple, too. Pick a volume level, and set your waterfall sprints based on that volume. We did it monthly simply because that’s how our contracts work; but the sprint length can be whatever works best for you – quarters, bi-weekly, etc.

We believe we can develop automation that mitigates the messiness of procrastinating, disorganized humans, someday soon. But until then, waterfall content creation processes for high-tech content makes sense, and works really well.


Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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