Blog Writing Workflow and Visual Management

By Jon Miller Updated on September 3rd, 2021

Here’s an update on my ongoing experiment in making the process of publishing forty-plus blog articles per year easier, more fun, and defect-free. It’s going well. I set a task for myself every Friday to look at the WIP within the blogging platform. If WIP is less than 3, the priority is to get it back to 3. This means working on getting a draft ready for proofreading or developing an idea all the way to a draft. If WIP is greater than 3, I can work on developing a new idea, finish one in WIP, or take a week off if needed.

The Blog Post WIP Queue

Here is an image of what a healthy WIP queue looked like in mid-July. It shows that I was a few weeks ahead at that time. This allowed me to take a break for a week or two to enjoy visiting with family over the summer. There are three articles ready to hand off to the next process steps of proofreading and publishing. There are two ideas not quite ready. This is clear at a glance thanks to some simple visual controls.

Visual Controls for WIP Progress Status

One of the failure modes this year was having duplicate drafts of an article, making it look like there was more WIP, and causing a shortage. This happened because sometimes I would title multiple articles “DRAFT” before deciding on a title. The countermeasure is to give all drafts at least a tentative title but to code them with D, DRA, or DRAFT based on level of completion.

A draft with a few notes or an outline is coded D as in “D How to Improve.” The letter D represents a level of commitment to the idea, but not yet enough clarity to begin writing. Once the idea is clearer and there are a few paragraphs, it’s saved as “DRA How to Improve.” The code DRA is a visual reminder to work on this one and get it over the finish line. When it’s done and ready to hand over for proofreading, I change the code to “DRAFT How to Improve.”.The standard is to have at least three articles coded DRAFT in WIP at any time.

Visual Controls for Quality

The publishing dates are set a year or more in the future. These are not firm dates. In fact, all of these articles have already been published this year. This is a mistake-proofing step. It prevents accidentally hitting “publish” when saving a draft, causing rough drafts to get published and go live. This has happened before, but not since this adding this simple mistake-proofing step.

The red and orange dots indicate readability, something that the blogging platform is able to judge based on the use of passive voice, sentence complexity, how sections are broken up, etc. I try to make these go green by the time they are in DRAFT status. Even when I can’t, Jessica provides a second pair of eyes to either clean it up or judge that it’s okay.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

The bottleneck in the overall workflow continues to be idea generation. Coming up with an interesting topic every week is the toughest part of writing weekly blog posts. In an effort to make this more of a process, I’ve created a crude checklist to review whenever I’m running low on ideas. This is based on reviewing the past couple years of articles by type, identifying sources of inspiration, and grouping these into 10 categories. I start at the top of the list and work my way down.

At the bottom of the list are two categories that are a bit of a push. Second, from the bottom is “pick a word” and the last item is optimistically labeled “serendipity.” In the most desperate times, I’ve literally opened up a lean book page at random, pointed at a sentence, and riffed on that idea. At the best of times, it’s a reminder to keep my eyes and mind open to stumbling across an idea.

The fourth through eighth checklists are idea sources from some sort of regular news or updates. These vary quite a bit in terms of who, when, and how, but on the whole are reliable.  Often, I’ve heard, seen, or thought of things in the course of the workweek that turn into a decent idea for a blog post. Ideally, the checklist works as a memory jogger that helps me reflect on the past week. Second and third on the list are articles about continuous improvement topics, methods, tools, or other things that can benefit from a brief explanation or introduction. The best ideas come from customers. It’s their questions, observations, or struggles that point to a topic of wider potential interest. This is also a good reminder of the principle that when we want to deliver value, a great place to start is by listening to how customers talk about value.

  1. Bart Shoaf

    September 8, 2021 - 5:27 am

    Jon, this is inspiring to me on two levels. It is great to see a lean practitioner apply the tools and concepts to something more personal and something more “office.” And, I’m a fairly new blogger, so your ideas here are encouraging me to study my flow in this effort more carefully. Thanks for blogging on blogging!

    • Jon Miller

      September 8, 2021 - 9:38 am

      Glad you liked it Bart!

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