Breaking down the tech stack from a product perspective

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

I’ve been working on recruiting some excellent speakers for our virtual product event in May, which is focused on innovative content formats. If you’re thinking about organisation design, approaching Gen Z, the audio opportunity, or personalisation, you should join us! Check out the line-up here

Today, I’m delving into something out of my comfort zone yet something so core to product and our businesses as a whole: tech stacks. If you have anything to add to the conversation, please don’t be shy on Slack or sending me a note by e-mail. As always I’m at

Thanks, Jodie

Understanding the tech stack

As our businesses have become more complex, particularly with more distribution channels and formats, our technology has had to change significantly.

In recent conversations with industry leaders, I have heard frustration around aligning product and technology. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone! In this post I’m addressing the tech stack rather than the organisational considerations to an effective partnership; the latter we’ll talk about in an upcoming Webinar). 

A tech stack is a puzzle with a number of pieces. While there are likely to be major pieces of technology, no news organisation works solely within one system. Therefore each PM needs to have an understanding of the tech stack for the area they are working on, the possibilities and the limitations, to do their job effectively. 

Sometimes a piece of technology isn’t giving what we need, but we must also understand the impact any changes made will have on the rest of the business. Any change may also have a knock-on impact on what can be delivered within a given timeframe. When you recruit, this may take a little time and relies heavily on the relationship the PM has with their technology counterparts.

A tech stack is a complicated system, and product managers must have a full understanding of their piece of it.
A tech stack is a complicated system, and product managers must have a full understanding of their piece of it.

A sometimes-overlooked fact, which gets projects in trouble, is that technology underpins our workflows. I’m not talking about basic office tasks but how copy is filed, edited, and published, how and where visuals are created and stored, how adverts are uploaded and placed, how we run experiments and tests, how we analyse and measure. 

Our need to understand technology is also about how it affects everyone else. A good PM will understand how each stakeholder uses the technology stack, and a great PM will understand their frustrations and opportunities for improvements.  

I am seeing more and more organisations breaking down the core system into speciality areas. It may be a highly focused video-based software or a subscription tool or a single login. There are many reasons an organisation may start looking at new pieces to add to or replace a part of the core stack.

And when this happens, there is the age-old question of build vs. buy — the debate of whether to invest in building your own technology or buying it from a vendor. Technology built in-house gives you greater control and comes with the cost of doing so. 

The devil is often in the details. And it’s not just about creating and maintaining the technology itself. It’s about the integrations to everything else you are doing and the speed implications. Outsourcing gives you advantages of learnings from their multiple customers and is likely to be developed faster by specialists. However you don’t control the road map so you are at the whim of the creator.

Two dates for the diary 

Wednesday, March 29: We are going deeper on the relationship between product and technology, speaking with a pair that worked together at Gannett to discuss what they implemented to create a smooth and fruitful partnership. This is free to INMA members. Sign up here.  

Thursday, May 4: Our four-module Product Innovation Master Class starts on innovative content formats. If you are looking at organisation design, approaching Gen Z, the audio opportunity, or personalisation, you should consider joining us. Check out the full agenda here.  

Atomising the tech stack: building a modular system

A tech stack can become complicated in any organisation, yet is further complicated in multi-title organisations as different brands and teams want different things. A centralised team will have to make trade-offs on what gets developed when. I am seeing more and more companies move to a modular system that allows a lot more flexibility. 

This approach isnt just for large companies with centralisation challenges; it can work for any organisation that uses a monolithic platform.

While the problem is not solely limited to multi-title organisations, it is certainly more acute in such organisations. If different brands or divisions are doing the same thing, it makes no sense for numerous people to tackle the same problem independently. The important point here is that pulling this into a central resource promotes efficiency and, when done well, allows local brands and titles to be a lot more nimble and should limit tech debt

One solution is to break down the tech stack into several main layers, using multiple APIs as interfaces. For instance, content storage, editorial workflow, and front end may be decoupled into separate systems. A couple of leaders have found that bringing some of the boring tasks in-house to a smaller group of people allows local product and engineering teams to be more creative.

NewsCorp Australia has adopted this strategy and shows the difference in approaches in the chart below:

News Corp Australia illustrates how it is switching to an atomised architecture.
News Corp Australia illustrates how it is switching to an atomised architecture.

This approach involves building a suite of tools and processes that can be mixed and matched, and possibly switched in and out with other solutions, including third parties. Its much easier to A/B test solutions without committing to a whole new suite of tools, which is a huge upside for organisations as they can be more flexible with their integrations.

This modular system allows individual brands to have more control over the design, UX, features, and functions of their products. However, it has to operate within a framework to avoid becoming a free-for-all. This only really makes sense when different parts of the organisation are using the same tool. For example, editorial workflows would remain on one platform, not have every brand working with different tools and technologies. 

Its essential to give teams autonomy to focus on the biggest customer problems and let them own these areas. Often this will relate to OKRs but must allow for some creativity, not just hard data. Culture is also vital in this system, which works on a sharing and listening basis.

And once the system is set up, it allows for new products to be spun up much more quickly, as laid out below in the slide from NewsCorp Australia:

News Corp Australia's modular system gives product teams more autonomy.
News Corp Australia's modular system gives product teams more autonomy.

A modular or atomised system makes a huge amount of sense and can transform the way a news organisation works, allowing more nimbleness.

But we need to be clear that this is no easy feat. It takes years, not months, to get this right. It can only be transformed when there is a full understanding of workflows around the business, selecting the right vendors and systems, and building pretty much from the group up. I have spoken to one leader who has seen a team broken from this process because they tried to move too fast. 

I am convinced this is the way forward. I don’t envy those undertaking the project — just those benefitting from the fruit of the labour!

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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