The Mews Blog > How to build a Product Content team that has fun and impacts the business
As Director of Product Content at Mews, I’ve grown the Product Content team from three people, myself included, in January 2021, to 11 in the summer of 2022. It has been quite a ride!
The team started with a Technical Writer and a UX Writer, and today we have three Content Specialists, a Content Manager, a Translation Manager, a Technical Writer for API Documentation, two full-time Translators, and three UX Writers. It has been an enjoyable challenge scaling the team to meet the needs of a rapidly growing product department. It has also been very exciting.
Growth is good – when done wisely
If there’s no business case for it, growing a team isn’t an end in itself.
Simply put, as a product scales, so too must Product Content. And as the content team grows to meet the demands of the product teams, it becomes ever more important to authoritatively guide the strategic direction of the product’s content design. Not to mention the necessity of maintaining existing documentation and producing more localized guides and release notes for new features.
Rapid growth is always exciting, but it comes with risks, especially when there’s time pressure and the end result will more than double the number of individuals on the team. That means the team’s working relationships, talents, blind spots and personalities all multiply, guaranteeing complexity and threatening to derail even the best-intentioned team – if not strategically planned and managed.
I’m proud of the Product Content team at Mews, because we have fun while having an impact on business. We’ve created a positive, creative and safe atmosphere, giving everyone access to the tools and knowledge they need to thrive and become better at what they do.
We’ve managed to maintain the positive attributes of our smaller team, while embracing ideas and processes that new team members brought to the table. Luckily, even in the midst of rapid growth at Mews, we’re encouraged to find the best person for the role, not just the next person available.
A team is never a settled entity. Teams change slightly with the addition of each individual and developments in the company’s direction and business goals. That’s why it’s important to have guidelines. There are a few principles that I’ve followed while scaling the Product Content team, and I want to share them with you.
Step 1: Hire with a sense of purpose
Especially on smaller teams, it’s crucial that everyone you add brings something strategic to the table, something that the team is missing. Hiring managers need to plot what’s missing and balance these needs with the direction they want the team to go. Hiring is also about filling gaps you don’t know exist yet, future-proofing the team against unexpected business developments and rapid growth.
Focusing on the skills that are missing from your team is a great place to start. As Sarah Winters suggests in her excellent book, Content Design, start with the skills you need, the gaps you need to fill, and build out job descriptions from there, using these skills as a framework to guide interviews.
While interviewing, you should seek to provide as complete a picture as possible of the current team and scope of work, then ask candidates what they can bring to the equation. It’s a good idea to bring current team members into the interview process, which allows you to get a team perspective and see their chemistry with the candidate.
And really try to visualize that perfect team beyond skill sets and work experience. Who are the different personalities you’d have in an ideal world? Knowing that is key to hiring with a sense of purpose.
Step 2: Instill a responsible sense of ownership
It’s hard to tell during the interview process how committed someone is to their work. But the best Product Content teams have the most committed and passionate individual contributors, because as the product scales it becomes impossible for a single manager or director to keep tabs on every new release and feature update.
So it’s important that the team has a responsible sense of ownership for everything they do. At Mews, the Product Content team works on an embedded model, so every Technical Writer, UX Writer and Content Specialist is assigned to two or three product teams. They attend stand-ups and sprint reviews and are responsible for all releases and updates from that team.
With new releases come release notes and documentation updates as well as new UX copy. Over time, each member of Product Content becomes the team authority on their products and features. Eventually we’ll start to rotate, so over the long-term everyone becomes familiar with all sides of the product.
None of this works if each team member isn't committed to owning what they do, being responsible for it both in how Product Content communicates to the rest of the company and the customer, and also how new features and updates are conveyed to the team as we decide what releases merit what type of content. The team needs to know that while leadership sets direction, each individual contributor needs to step up and own their part of the process.
Step 3: Inspire creative thinking and solutioning
This one can be tough. How do you make people be creative? You don’t. But you can encourage them to be creative and you can cultivate an environment where all ideas are worth discussing and experimenting with.
It’s important for managers to get themselves out of the way, to turn their team’s talent loose and not limit them with any preconceived notions or cookie-cutter solutions. It’s also important to establish a culture of creativity through team workshops and shared learnings. Remind team members that they’ve been invited to the table because their perspective and experience are valued. Create an environment where people are never scared to share their ideas.
It’s tricky, but if you can get your team inspired to bring their own unique creative thinking to their work (and Marty Cagan’s wonderful books, Inspired and Empowered, will help here), there’s no limit to what you can do.
Step 4: Insist on data in decision-making
Many technical writers come from a background where one’s individual contribution – the amount of content they produce – is the clearest and sometimes the only indicator of their success and value to the company. But Mews is a data-driven organization and the insistence on data in decision-making applies from the C-suite down to every individual team.
Using Google Analytics to track page views is something most writers are familiar with, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We use tools including Looker, Power BI, Salesforce and Beamer to track all the content we produce and to learn more about how it works for users and Customer Support. We monitor this data to analyze the results of any experimentation we do with content, from style to length of text to the number of screenshots in documentation.
This requires a shift in thinking for many content people, but staying data-driven is key because it’s the only way to properly measure the effect your content is having. And that’s a necessity for making a real impact with customers and evangelizing for Product Content throughout the company.
While many writers are used to making decisions based on their feelings and editorial experience, only data-driven Product Content teams can assess their impact and let customer behavior dictate how and what they write.
I hope this post is inspiring to anyone who is building a Product Content team or is part of one that is scaling up. I’d love to hear more about how you’ve overcome the challenges that come along with growth. Get in touch so we can chat!
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