Continuous Optimization is a paradigm I used and developed over the years as entrepreneur, team lead and consultant. It’s combining concepts from software development like “Agile”, with “common-sense” and some “best-practises” I learned over the time. In this post I want to share this mental framework with my readers as it is helping me to continuously optimize and grow my business and the business of my clients.
The core idea is to simply break with the thinking in the well-trodden paths of organizing the workload in something like “the classic big project”. What do I mean by that? In my definition a such a “big project” is characterized by a set of negative aspects:
- It is typically monolithic, which means it will be released only when all its features are ready to be delivered.
- Usually it is huge and even if it started small it is growing steadily while it is consuming tremendous amounts of resources like work hours and budget until it is finished.
- It is never really finished in schedule because the requests for features are often added faster than they are developed.
- Time for planning and especially time for meetings is often equal or bigger then time for actual development.
- Multiple stakeholders having different visions of the desired output.
When going through this list it is obvious for most people that such a project is doomed to failure. But often the people within such structures are too close to recognize this. My work as consultant starts often with opening the eyes of my clients for this issues.
But what is the alternative? It’s what I call “Continuous Optimization”
As I’ve written in the introduction Continuous-Optimization is a mixture of best-practises and common-sense. Its core is to break and reorganize the typical “milestones which should to be done one after another” to reach a desired final result, into tasks which “could be done fast and in parallel”. This philosophy is taking into consideration that there will always be some unanticipated blockers, problems and restrictions to deal with along the way. The trick is to ensure this is not of an issue and you have to make sure there will be always something meaningful to work on while other parts are delivered later. Generally speaking it’s more important to deliver intermediate results fast and to deliver constantly then having a perfect result in the end. With Continuous-Optimization you have to step back from the typical idea of a monolithic big project with a final outcome. To make use of this framework you simply have to reframe the classical project into a desired end goal on one side and the many parts which could be delivered along that way on the other side.
Let me illustrate this approach with a very common marketing “project”, an description how it often fails in my experience and what you can try instead. The issue is from the space of content marketing. I call this situation “let’s have a Blog”. But to be honest there are numerous examples of this type of problems in every day business world.
Example: Content-Marketing or “let’s have a Blog”
At the beginning there is the desire to have a Blog on the corporate website. To make things worse in most cases this decision is to be made even because of the wrong reasons. No matter what the wrong assumptions are, it could be the competitors have a Blog or someone has heard is “good for SEO”… More important no decision maker is really validating the initial assumptions and in the end you get a typical dysfunctional outcome.
Low Budget / Priority – Project
The first variant of this is a “low budget / low priority” project. Here someone in the organisations will be given the additional task to write Blog posts along his main duties. Usually a simple out of the box solution like WordPress will be deployed in this scenario. This is per see not wrong but often the necessary maintenance work of such an solution is totally underestimated. As the “blogger” has other tasks to do the posting frequency, quality and depth of the articles will diminishing fast. The latest after the first mayor WordPress update the rare website-visitors will only see a stalled Blog with posts from last year promising cool new things “soon” and maybe some error messages of deprecated plugins in the footer.
High Budget / Priority – Project
Second variant is an “high budget / high priority” project which is typical for bigger organisations. Often a marketing agency will be hired do do the “design” of the Blog. To prove their value they decide to “leave the path of a typical Blog” and design (and program) something “really new and exciting”. Often enough they also leaving the interest of the target audience along with this path. The project scope usually grows steadily in the active planning phase. As new features are requested, a Blogging solution will be customized with a lot effort (and resources) to the growing “needs”. The constant stream of request for new features is making the project more and more complex. This is beginning to block the actual deployment of the Blog. Some time after the scheduled release date still many basic features are missing. In the beginning a team of dedicated expert writers was about to be hired but the new applicants for the writing roles are way too expensive. At this point the planning-, technical- and design-side of this project is already costing 120% of the original budget. So more meetings are held and the decision will be made to hire some interns as writers to save cost. The result? Another stalled Blog with missing basic features and a huge block of many low quality and flawed articles from a short time frame until this “project” was stopped by controlling.
But how could you develop a sustainable content-marketing strategy with the “Continuous Optimization” framework? First of all a Blog is often not the right content marketing instrument for many organisations, team sizes, budgets or even target audience at all! A successful business Blog has typical features: a constant stream of near time industry news, background stories and light but relevant entertainment, not too much self advertisement and this still highly relevant for the target audience. If this could be delivered from the existing team within the planned budget, a Blog might be the right solution. But with capacity and budget restrictions it makes way more sense to provide customers and prospects something like an FAQ, an knowledge base, whitepapers, customer success stories or similar “evergreen content”. This type of content could be written in batch mode and partly even by freelancers. A group of employees could be sharing the workload of content creation part time asaid their main duties. Later the content will be updated when there is capacity for it. In the optimum case this will be done continuously, every week a little bit. Here you are doing already “Continuous-Optimization of content-marketing on a budget”. After awhile the marketing team will possess a useful content marketing instrument. It will be relevant for the target audience, long lasting and cost effective. Maybe it is not so “sexy” in the beginning but it will deliver results over a log run and in an more sustainable way.