Four practical ways to collaboratively prioritise content requests

Four practical ways to collaboratively prioritise content requests

I recently gave a conference talk about overloaded content teams and the challenges of receiving a high volume of content requests. I shared the impact too many content requests have on those teams, their audience and the content itself. The final part focused on swapping chaos for calm by using four different techniques to prioritise content requests. In this article I’ll share those techniques including the challenges and benefits of each technique too.

The four collaborative ways to prioritise content requests that I’ll focus on are:

  1. Dot voting
  2. MoSCoW method
  3. RICE method
  4. The 5 Whys

You may want to use one or more methods depending on what works best for your team, number and frequency of requests, content types and how effective the methods are. The best approach is to try them and see what works, what doesn’t and then refine the techniques the more you use them.

There is no one-size-fits-all for techniques like these so I have included some main steps to get you started but you'll need to adapt them based on your own circumstances. The challenges and benefits included for each can also help plan, deliver and refine your approach to these techniques too.

Where possible, send information prior to the sessions or have a separate briefing chat. You outline the process, share the purpose of the session and set expectations for how people should contribute. You could also send the list of content or items being prioritised ahead of time so participants have time to consider them.

All of these sessions can be done in person or remotely. I've also done some in a hybrid session which was harder to facilitate but by no means impossible.

Prioritisation method 1 - Dot voting

Dot voting is a decision-making technique used to prioritise ideas or options within a group. It is helpful in collaborative sessions where multiple ideas need to be evaluated and selected.

How to do the dot voting prioritisation method

You'll need a few materials for this session such as a whiteboard (physical or digital), sticky notes and way of voting.

  1. Each participant is given a certain number of sticky dots (or use markers)
  2. Participants review a list of ideas, options, or proposals
  3. Participants then place their dots next to the ideas they consider most valuable, important, or deserving of further consideration
  4. Once all dots are placed, the group examines the distribution of dots to identify the most popular or highly ranked ideas
  5. The ideas with the highest number of dots are prioritised or selected for further discussion, development, or implementation.

Challenges of the dot voting prioritisation method

The risks and considerations you should keep in mind when trying dot voting are:

Biased voting - people may bring their own needs, priorities and ideas to the session, especially if they have requested any of the items being included. People will navigate to their own requests. So there needs to be care in the facilitation and in laying the ground rules to get people to step back and think more broadly and with less bias.

Lack of innovation - the session may not allow enough analysis and discussion of ideas so items are chosen arbitrarily. You could do the dot voting and then have additional sessions to interrogate the priorities in more detail.

Bandwagon effects - people may be influenced by what others have voted for and use their own votes on the ideas that others have already chosen. This can result in a focus on popularity which shouldn't be the guiding factor in the decision making.

Uneven contribution - this leads on from the bandwagon effect in that some people may be more engaged and involved in the process whereas others may just add a vote to something without as much consideration or effort. Facilitation is important again here to create a fair and comfortable environment for people to participate.

Missing context and reasoning - this could be tackled before or during the session. People may not know enough in order to make decisions on priorities so communicate all of the related information that you can so any decisions that are made are informed.

An additional challenge is that a common voting technique is to use different coloured dots. To be accessible, check if any participants are colour blind and if so, find out what colours they can see or would be most suitable. This allows them to participate without fear or worry of mixing up the colours and voting for the wrong things.

Benefits of the dot voting prioritisation method

The positive aspects and benefits of dot voting are:

Democratic and inclusive - anyone can be involved and it is democratic by definition of following a voting process.

Streamlines discussions - any discussions that take place during the session can be streamlined. You can remove lots of unnecessary chat and distractions and cover a lot of ground in those chats which may take much longer over email or other communication channels. This means attention is focused.

Connect silos - participants may be from across the organisation and don't often have the chance to come together to collaborate either in person or remotely. This helps to develop and sustain meaningful relationships and collaboration between teams and individuals.

Reveals patterns of divergence and agreement - even if there is no definitive outcome or things need further discussion, patterns will start to reveal themselves. That can help to focus further stages and even mitigate potential conflict or tension.

Prioritisation method 2 - MoSCoW

The MoSCoW method helps teams assess and prioritise content based on the following:

  • We Must
  • We Should
  • We Could
  • We Won’t

This method could be a well-facilitated conversation or a practical exercise in a workshop setting.

How to do the MoSCoW prioritisation method

If you have a content inventory you can assign Must, Should, Could, and Won’t to each content item in your inventory and then filter by each to generate your prioritised lists. You could also have a list of content and talk through each item in relation to the four categories of this method. Spreadsheets work well for capturing different people's opinions and then being able to sort items.

Once everything is categorised you can assign owners and deadlines to start creating a delivery plan for the content. 

For content, this could result in decisions such as:

  • We Must - include this content in phase one launch due to legal requirements.
  • We Should - have bespoke images and not stock photography on all articles.
  • We Could - create a social media campaign for the new product feature.
  • We Won’t - include updated staff bios this time due to the agreed scope and timescales.

You will need to consider different resources, capabilities and limitations when making decisions such as timescales, people available, budget and other variables. If you are working in phases you could use those project stages to influence the groupings too.

Challenges of the MoSCoW prioritisation method

The risks and considerations you should keep in mind when trying MoSCoW are:

Misinterpretation of categories - there needs to be alignment and a shared understanding of the meaning of the categories. What someone thinks is a must someone else may consider a should. You'll need to decide whether a majority opinion is acceptable to move forward and also discuss what might make something a must such as a change in legislation. Using examples can help bring clarity to the categories in the context of your discussion and content.

Lack of specifics - there may not be enough information or context so you may again consider sharing information beforehand.

Static prioritisation - once you have categorised everything you may take that forward for the remainder of the project but if there is a change in scope or requirement that may influence your list. Something may go from a should to a must so you may need to review the list depending on the circumstances and the duration of your project.

Overemphasis on must-haves - everybody could insist that you must do everything on the list. You already know that isn't possible which is why you are having the session in the first place. Again, the criteria you are prioritising against here will be important for reducing or removing this potential overemphasis on must-haves.

Unrealistic expectations - you have to be realistic about what can be delivered and when. Think about the resources and people available to take forward the work once you have made your decisions.

Benefits of the MoSCoW prioritisation method

The positive aspects and benefits of MoSCoW are:

Separates essentials from desirables - you will have individual lists that will immediately give you the essential items and the desirable items.

Provides a structured framework - the method gives a structured guidance for your discussions and decision-making.

Focuses efforts on delivering most critical work - effort will be given to musts and so you can have confidence you are spending time on the right things at any given point in the project.

Flexibility to deliver lower priority work - you can also deliver other priority work such as a should or a could if there is capacity to do so.

Prioritisation method 3 - RICE

RICE is an acronym for:

  • Reach
  • Impact
  • Confidence
  • Effort

The RICE method invites content teams to assess their priorities in relation to the available resources, audience and expected return on investment.

How to do the RICE prioritisation method

For each task or initiative being considered, stakeholders assign a score from 1 to 10 for reach, impact, confidence, and effort, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

The scores for reach, impact, confidence, and effort are combined to calculate a RICE score for each task or initiative.

Tasks or initiatives are then prioritised based on their RICE scores, with higher scores indicating higher priority.

I will say there are a few different ways of scoring so you may find other approaches online that you prefer. Again, it is worth trying something to begin with and then refining as needed based on what you learn.

Challenges of the RICE prioritisation method

The risks and considerations you should keep in mind when trying RICE are:

Conflicting opinions - this is a challenge with all of these methods but perhaps more so here when discussing the four variables.

Subjectivity of categories - using 'effort' as an example, somebody would find changing the tyre on a car low effort and somebody else would find it impossible. It is all relative to someone's knowledge, skills and experience. Broad opinions can be valuable but care is needed that those opinions don't get in the way of effective prioritisation. Those criteria need to be clearly defined.

Emphasis on quantitative metrics - things are being scored so doesn't take into consideration qualitative aspects, although you can allow time for this in your sessions. Sharing research and other data or evidence can help to keep things balanced.

Incomplete assessment of risk - the four criteria aren't necessarily making it clear what the risks are if you do or don't do something. You could introduce another technique here to get to those details.

Benefits of the RICE prioritisation method

The positive aspects and benefits of RICE are:

Consider potential impact - some of the other methods don't consider impact so it is a strength of RICE that impact will be part of the conversations.

Make informed decisions about where to allocate resources - this too is absent from some of the other methods but is an important consideration because this can significantly impact what you can do, when and who needs to be involved.

Brings ‘effort’ into the process - you could have a great list of prioritised items but if the effort to deliver them is too high you will be stuck. Thinking about effort during the prioritisation stage, and not as an after-thought, is a big benefit to this method.

RICE allows for structured conversations to find a general consensus.

Prioritisation method 4 - The 5 Whys

The five whys is a technique used to determine the root reason or cause behind something. 

How to do the 5 Whys prioritisation method

When applied to content, the analyst asks the stakeholder five times ‘why’ until the deeper importance is established. For example:

  • We need to create/publish X content...
  • Why? Because ...
  • Why? Because ...
  • Why? Because ...
  • Why? Because ...
  • Why? Because ...

The person asking the question may be the owner or the content professional. They may be asking the stakeholder, subject expert or person who made the content request. This process can confirm there is a real need for the content but it could also reveal that there isn't in fact a need.

On the surface it is a simple process but it does take time to refine and to make sure these conversations are meaningful and go deep enough.

Challenges of the 5 Whys prioritisation method

The risks and considerations you should keep in mind when trying the 5 Whys are:

Superficial analysis - you are depending on the person answering with enough detail at each stage to get to the actual root cause, need and purpose. This method definitely takes practice to perfect.

Limited scope - the conversation may not get to other important criteria like some of the other methods do such as effort, impact and resource. It can become frustrating for both the person asking the question and for the person answering too.

Singular focus - you will be thinking about one thing in detail but neglecting the broader needs or associated requirements. It also doesn't consider other priorities where the other methods do.

Time consuming - you'll need to get into the details and this can take a lot of time. That is more challenging when there is a lack of expertise in this style of facilitation.

Benefits of the 5 Whys prioritisation method

The positive aspects and benefits of the 5 Whys are:

Reveals whether content is really necessary - when the deeper discussion is meaningful it really does real, despite personal opinion, if a piece of content is really needed. You can separate the whims from the wins. Some of the other methods don't get detailed enough to know if there is a valid reason beyond somebody insisting there is.

Encourages deeper discussion - this benefit shouldn't be underestimated because you are making time to really focus on the purpose and user need for content. The chats can also reveal other valuable insights too so getting it right removes the challenge above of being superficial and offers something more focused and detailed.

Provides reasoning - by asking why you will get reasons in your answer and that can be good evidence to convince others and to take the prioritised work forward.

It's important to remember that you may need multiple methods and whatever you choose, practice and refine so the methods work for you. It really can help bring people together in a meaningful way. Prioritise content collaboratively to stay focused, deliver quality and avoid overwhelm.

If you’d like me to present at your event or meet-up about how to prioritise content requests and make informed decisions, please get in touch.

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