mise_en_place_michael_liang_2By Christy Pretzinger

I recently read an article on NPR.org called For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef. The basic premise is that the principles of culinary organization can be applied to other areas of life, specifically the concept of “mise-en-place.”

According to the article, “The system that makes kitchens go is called mise-en-place, or, literally, ‘put in place.’ It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.”

Kirsten and I got to talking about how mise-en-place could be applied to content development – specifically really big, mission-crucial content projects. If marketers could apply these principles to their work, it would set them up for success from the very beginning, just as chefs set themselves up for success often hours before they begin the act of preparing a dish.

It’s really worth the three minutes it’ll take you to read the NPR article to get a broader idea of mise-en-place. Mise-en-place is more than simply putting things in place; it’s a form of thinking and organization that enables complex work to be accomplished with minimal fuss. In fact, chefs can often prepare a dish blindfolded because they always put the oil here, the salt there, the butter over there. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do the same with content development?

The recipe

The good news is that you absolutely can do the same. And while there are literally dozens of moving parts involved in large content development projects, we’re going to simplify it for you. Here are the main ingredients:

  • Timeline
  • Target audience
  • Tools
  • Tracking
  • Team
  • Tasks

The trick to ending up with fully baked content (instead of a half-baked, unfinished project), involves using the mise-en-place philosophy long before you begin the actual process of content development. Once you do that, you simply follow the process (the mise-en-place) that you’ve created. You’ll find that you can meet even the most aggressive deadlines.

Timeline

You need to know where you’re going before you can get there, and the timeline is a good place to start. Everything else falls out of this. A well-thought-out timeline builds in checkpoints and milestones, ensuring that your content ‘dish’ will be served on time, as well as perfectly cooked.

Target audience

You need to know who you’re ‘cooking’ for, which means knowing your target audience. You want a clear idea of the tastes and desires of your audience that you can use to guide content decisions along the way. Like a fine chef, be sure that you’re serving up content that is tasty to the intended recipient, not just the cooks in the kitchen (like subject matter experts, physicians, clinicians… you get the idea).

Tools

There are myriad tools involved in content development; think of them as your measuring spoons and cups, the mixer, whisk, a good set of sharp knives… all those things that make cooking easier and more fun.

A partial list of tools could include:

  • Source information
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Examples of existing content
  • SEO approach
  • Style guide
  • Voice, tone and brand guidelines

Another valuable tool is the content template. The template that WriterGirl uses was developed over years of trial and error, and there’s a good chance that you have a bunch of trial and error in your back pocket, too. You simply need to set aside time to think about it. What kind of issues have you faced when creating content? Just as with cooking, it’s important to remember if you modified the recipe the last time you made it. Did you find it difficult to keep track of who made what edits, or what SME requested a specific change? If so, did you develop a process to handle that? How about keeping track of versions? (That can be a full-time job in itself.) And don’t forget your file-naming protocol.

All of these issues and more can be addressed by carefully developing a content template. And the best way to do that leads right into the next ingredient: Talent.

Talent

Talent is one of the main ingredients in any content project. When you’re making a special dish, you often need to visit an out-of-the-way specialty store in order to get the required ingredients. The same is true for talent when it comes to content development. Consider leveraging people from other departments to build out your team. There is untapped talent all over your organization, and people are usually very ready to help. But you have to ask.

Building a team is a bit like making a sauce: A dash of this, a teaspoon of that… taste and see what else would add flavor. Spice up your team by including stakeholders, SMEs, IT people, any vendors you’re working with, anyone who will review the content… the list can go on and on. And while too many ingredients (aka people) can dilute the flavors and end up as a mess, the right mix can result in robust content that truly meets the tastes of your audience.

Tasks

Think of the tasks as the overall recipe; what do you do first? When do you add the tools? Who from the team jumps in when? Defining all of the tasks involved in a large content project requires careful thought and planning. If this is the first project of this scope that you’ve undertaken, ask experienced vendors for help in thinking through all the tasks. Pull together a core team and then walk yourselves step-by-step through the entire process of developing one piece of content. Taking the time to do this properly allows you to then apply the recipe to all of the content you’ll be developing.

The NPR article has a lovely conclusion, that applies here as well:

“But practiced at its highest level, mise-en-place says that time is precious. Resources are precious. Space is precious. Your self-respect and the respect of others are precious. Use them wisely. Isn’t that a philosophy for our time?”