Four years ago, a business mentor told me that once I built great dashboards for the business, growing and managing it would become easy and fun.

With that advice ringing in my ears, I went on a dashboard rampage; and the company has been building and refining them ever since.

Four years on, running Future Content is undoubtedly fun. But I’m not sure that I can claim that it’s easy (I guess either my dashboards are wrong, or my expectations were. I’m going to say the latter). What is easier now, however, is understanding what’s happening within the business in a glance.

One of the areas that the dashboards have the most impact is on content creation – tracking activity, predicting roadblocks or holdups, and highlighting priorities. A dashboard to map out and measure content delivery is critical when you create the amount of content we do (a blog post every day for the last three years, not to mention newsletters, ebooks, guides, pillar pages, social media and delivering content strategies.)

They are great for all businesses, though, not just those creating vast quantities of stuff: we’re increasingly developing bespoke dashboards for in-house content teams focused on one or two articles a week.

Whatever these dashboards look like, there are two key metrics for content teams we’ve found add massive value to your content creation efforts.

Two Ahead

“Two Ahead” refers to how many weeks’ content you have that’s ready to publish. If, for example, you need to publish an article per week, to be “two ahead”, you’ll need to have an article ready to publish for the current week, the next week and the week after that. You’ll be at zero if you only have an article ready for the current week. If you don’t have that, you’re into the dreaded ‘minus’s’ – running behind on schedule.

Two ahead is a solid, straightforward metric.  Its value lies in its simplicity and what it stands for. If your team is two ahead, you needn’t rush, marketing have all the ammo they need to create campaigns, and you can go to town on those big ideas that have been dying for attention.

That said, the Two Ahead score hangs above your team like the sword of Damocles. It is a classic “lag metric” (a lag metric ‘lags’ behind activity, telling you what happened in the past without providing any insight into the future) and so it needs to be used in conjunction with a lead metric ( a lead metric predicts future performance). Which is…

Weighted Editorial Pipeline

Anyone who’s worked with a sales team will recognise this metric. Just like sales leads, content creation goes through stages. The closer a piece of content is to completion, the more likely it is to get published.

Just like sales leads, some content fails to progress at different stages – be it writing, editing, proofreading or getting signed off. To illustrate and predict this, we apply a weighted score to our content pipeline – typically expressed as a percentage – depending on what stage the content is at.

For example, with thought leadership articles, the major hurdles are often signing off the brief (10%), passing the first edit stage (50%), and getting a final signoff from the client’s editorial board (90%). (An editorial board is a group of people who sign off content). Different content teams will have different conversion rates for each stage, as will different content types – video, interactive, ebooks etc.

I wouldn’t worry too much about getting the weighting spot-on, a finger in the air judgement is usually good enough (and getting data out of tools like Trello is an ungodly task).

By combining the Two Ahead metric with the Weighted Editorial Score you both give your content team a target to aim for (Two Ahead) and a detailed lead metric (Weighted Editorial Score) which shows them what needs to be done to reach or maintain their target.

A word of caution. While extremely useful, these two metrics say nothing about the quality of the content. These are powerful metrics, especially when they are tied to performance reviews, and can, if unchecked, become the sole focus for a content team. They need to be balanced with strong editorial guidelines built on qualitative customer research.

I can’t promise you that establishing these metrics in your content team will make managing your content marketing easy or fun, but I can say that they’ll provide focus, demand rigorous forward planning, help you hit deadlines and take your content efforts to the next level.

And achieving that certainly is fun.