Posted by dan_leibson
Product and project management is a critical part of managing any business based on SEO; it’s also something that doesn’t get discussed nearly as much as SEO in professional circles. For me, I care equally about how our internal process are working versus how our SEO services are performing, primarily because they can’t be separated.
If your internal processes suck, your products and services are likely going to be heavily burdened by that fact.
Conversely, great internal processes will likely be a huge boon to your business by enabling you to deliver on your SEO engagements.
Before we get too deep into that, you should know I am a big believer in Lean Startup methodologies.
So, if you want to model any part of our internal processes in your own businesses, I would highly recommend reading The Lean Startup as some light background reading while you ponder how to implement any of this stuff.
So let’s talk about our Lean Startup process real fast before we go over the ideas that inspired it. We utilize a process called SCRUM that I’m sure many of you are familiar with (and many probably aren’t). The way we leverage SCRUM is two-fold:
- We have daily SCRUM meetings – These are primarily about fostering a group dynamic in a remote working environment, creating a shared sense of accountability, and eliminating road blocks. Moving from weekly to daily SCRUMs was actually suggested by team members to help them prioritize; we haven’t looked back.
- Sprints – Sprints are basically “production units.” Every single task, whether it’s a citation audit, website audit, or a month of link building can be a sprint. Team members are limited in the amount of sprints they can have at one time to force prioritization. (This process is called Kanban.)
And, of course, we utilize a project management tool to help us with this. Having used lots of project management tools before (Trello, Basecamp, Podio, and JIRA, to name a few), I settled on a tool called LeanKit. I really love LeanKit for its robust feature set and customization options. It’s also really affordable. So, if you are considering moving to a lean/agile system or are unhappy with your current project management software, I totally recommend giving LeanKit a try.
There are a few some more things we do related to project management, but I will get to those in a second.
How the Lean Startup can help
For those of you unfamiliar with “lean startup” methodologies, the most important thing to know (in regards to our process) is “Validated Learning,” which is basically a way to iterate on your products and services based on data and insights gained in a production environment.
By now, you’re probably wondering, “Dan, what does this have to do with running SEO operations?
In order to make sure that we are constantly improving our service offerings, we set up everything in a way that allows for it to be measured.
That means we can internally measure the success of basically everything we do regardless of final client deliverable. That allows us to have regular post-mortems where we discuss both the efficacy and efficiency of a process.
Let me share an example: We had a client engagement recently where we were really struggling with the citation audits (which is the build part of validated learning). It was a really complicated situation, so the struggle was no surprise. However, since we track how many citations get tracked across citation audits/cleanups as well as scope how long we expect individual audits/cleanups to take, we knew exactly where things were going wrong. (This is the “measure” part of validated learning). During our post-mortem for this sprint, we talked about these breakdowns in a meaningful way. As a result, we were able to surface two things to incorporate back into our process, which would prevent the same issue from happening again in a similar situation. (And this is the “learning” in validated learning).
There is no rocket science in any of this. It’s just about being mindful of how you build and implement your processes so that you can leverage them for success instead of having them be an albatross around your neck. As a result, we are constantly improving the way we perform Local SEO, which to me is the true measure of success.
What can you do right now?
Obviously, it’s not feasible to overhaul you entire project management and operational system overnight. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff you can do right now as you plan how to go lean/agile. Here are some quick wins that you can implement right away:
- Install The Five Whys process – This is a process of question-asking designed to get to the root cause of a problem/failure. When you are trying to iterate fast to improve/learn, then surfacing root causes of problems is critical. That is why many consider the 5 Whys the most important tactic of all in lean/agile methodology .
- Adopt internal kick-offs – This is in addition to kick-off calls with clients. I know what your thinking: “Ugh, more meetings.” But seriously, this is a meeting that can save you lots of headache in the future. An internal kick-off allows team members to discuss potential challenges before they happen. When everyone in the project is on the same page in regards to potential roadblocks, troubles are much easier to navigate.
- Start using post-mortems – Seriously, hold post-mortems for all your projects. It may sound like a daunting process, but #4 in this post shows just how easy it can be. Create a questionnaire for team members, have the meeting, and start trying to figure out what went right and what went wrong. We have primarily talked about what went wrong. However, post-mortems are a perfect opportunity to also discuss what went right and make sure team members are recognized in front of their peers for solid work. What’s more, it lets you talk about how to make sure those things that went right can be incorporated into your processes in the future.
Preserve the good, eject the bad, rinse, and repeat.
What are your thoughts on using the Lean Startups methodologies to enhance our SEO-related experiences? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!