A Slider-Bar Approach to Project Planning

Adjusting content strategy to meet constraints on time, capacity, and budget

I had to put my car down this week. (💀 RIP 2009 Honda CR-V.)

It was already used when I bought it in 2015 and, truthfully, it didn't owe me anything, but it was still a gut punch to realize that I'd have to replace an otherwise roadworthy car because of something as basic as RUST. Unfortunately, here in the Northeast, where there's salt, sand, and snow on the road for about half the year, this is a common occurrence.

So, I bravely ventured into car dealerships with my must-haves and monthly payment budget in hand. I knew I'd have to accept that there was very little chance I'd get everything I wanted: four-wheel drive, low mileage, high quality, on budget, in black or a dark color, and preferably with heated seats.

Oh, and I needed it to be on the lot to drive away before the very foundation of my old car actually disintegrated.

When facing some decisions, I visualize my wants and needs, as well as elements within and outside my control, as if they are sliders on an audio mixing board. The harmony I'm trying to achieve can only be made by fading up or down on each channel until there's balance.

In this case, the tune I'm looking for is a car I can afford that keeps my family safe, and there are priorities I'm willing to scale back on to get there.

The position of some channels is fixedfor example, the number of available cars on the lot or in transit to a dealership, given global supply chain issues, is not negotiable.

But perhaps the mileage I'm willing to accept for a rock-solid used SUV may shift higher if it means I get the monthly payment and other features I want. Or, if I can get into a lease at the same price on a newer, smaller vehicle with less likelihood of maintenance issues, I might be able to tolerate a lighter body color on something available right now.

This slider-bar approach can also help you set a direction for content that is limited by time, capacity, budget, or agreed upon deliverables.

Let's say you have a fixed budget for content creation and promotion of a project, but how you split those dollars is up to you. You can divide the budget evenly or adjust that slider to spend more on one end than the other.

With a talented in-house team, maybe you can save money on the build and spend more on a fancy ad strategy. If you want to spend more on freelancers to create the content, you might decide against a pricey geo-fenced retargeting ad and put all your money into paid search and social.

Time and capacity also come into play: You can't change the size of your team or the hours available to them for this project in a given work week, but the deadline or deliverables may be negotiable. Maybe you have a number of relevant timing hooks to choose from and you can launch the campaign later than you originally planned. Or maybe you can go back to the funder and suggest a digital product that would take less hands-on time than a printed report.

If the deadline and scope are fixed, it might be worth spending more on contractors to boost the turnaround time or amount of content you can produce before launch. You just might have to scale back on promotion.

And so you make adjustments, keeping in mind what you can’t change, what you care about most, and how it will impact your team.

I recently spoke with a web developer who gave another great analogy related to this slider mindset: You know your desired destinationa website redesign or sponsored video series or monthlong fundraising campaignand you can get there by bicycle, Honda Civic, or Tesla, depending on your budget.

What does a reliable, cost-effective Honda Civic campaign look like for you? Which of your projects only require a little pedal-pushing power, and who is free to take that on?

It's all relative. What I know is that no one can afford the Tesla experience for every project. And you can't find harmony in your work or life by sliding all those audio faders to max all at once.

In case you're wondering, I ended up leasing a 2023 Hyundai Kona, a little crossover hatchback in a color called Cyber Gray. There's less legroom, no heated seats, and it's already caked in mud from our dirt road, but it’ll handle our winter weather and it’s pretty fun to drive.

Beep beep,

P.S. To the new faces here, hello and welcome to Conservation Makers! Here's a post about the goal of this newsletter and here are 10 free resources I'd recommend for conservation comms pros. I'd love to hear what you think and what projects you're excited about right now.

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