The question I get asked the most is around organisation of product teams. The underlying question may be better stated as “What is the scope of a product team?” combined with “How are we articulating our goals?”
These questions come up so much that we’re dedicating an entire workshop to the subject at our World Congress in London this April. In today’s newsletter, I’m looking at the two areas where I see most contention: product and tech, and product and editorial.
Product and tech organisation
Technology and product go hand in hand for the most part. Most organisations map these two teams together to some extent, even if they are not entirely under the same proverbial roof.
From the outside, product teams decide what to build and technology teams build it. But that is overly simplistic. Technology teams are responsible for architecting a stable yet agile organisation.
Product teams “build, measure, learn,” and product managers may work without the context of a larger tech stack. These differing points of view can lead to contention: Product wants to move quickly, technology wants to architect properly — so the end result is a slower build of external products or stacking up internal tech debt.
Some organisations balance this by having a decision-maker who is able to make the trade-offs at a senior level. One executive once told me that it was essential otherwise any disagreements would need to be decided by the CEO — and that is not their role.
Examples of a wide remit include the INMA Product and Tech Advisory Council’s John Kundert, chief product and technology officer (CPTO) at the Financial Times, and Julian Delany, chief technology officer/data and digital at News Corp Australia. While Julian’s title doesn’t specifically say product, it includes product in the remit.
One media company had a hybrid for a period, where the software development team sat with product, and architecture and PaaS remained separate. But when checking in for this blog post, they told me that they have moved everything under product. Not because it didn’t work per se, more because of a senior departure made an umbrella organisation make more sense.
Other people I have spoken to have said that the roles need to be separate as they have different objectives and it is good to have a colleague to counterbalance. Also don’t forget that “tech” may also include internal systems (IT help desk) and areas such as cyber security. Keeping a company safe, up, and running will take priority over product development.
Ultimately, some of the decision comes down to size. A larger organisation can support/justify more hierarchy. Smaller organisations have to be more nimble with the resources they have.
It’s also worth noting here that the question of team organisation gets harder when discussing groups with multiple titles. Centralisation of resources, particularly around product and technology, makes a lot of sense. Why would you have multiple teams building similar things?
Ultimately, this leads to slower overall development and a bloated tech stack that needs upkeep. However, centralising everything means losing some of the nuances of local brands. This is an area that I will dig into in more detail soon.
Date for the diary: April 26
Technological progress has never been so fast. In this ever-moving environment, how can news media companies stay nimble to create and pivot products that customers want to spend their time and money on?
The key to this question is through effective organisation. In this session, we will look at best practices in creating an environment for fast flow while balancing business needs and voices. More about that here.
Product and editorial organisation
When we started the Product Initiative in 2020, I would have told you that although product teams vary wildly, what they don’t include is editorial. I was wrong.
As our content becomes truly multimodal, it’s no longer just which medium is used to tell a story. It’s which format is right for the person and/or the delivery platform at any given time. This makes for a nuanced role which bridges the newsroom and product to ensure that the options for multimodal formats are in place, as well as the internal workflows to make it easy for newsroom teams to implement.
Welcome the role of the “storytelling product manager.” This role, as I have seen it, sits in product but has a dotted line to the newsroom. The role will become more necessary as technology enables even more formats for a single story, more end destinations, and more individual personalisation.
For most organisations I speak to, this is a PM role within the product organisation. Editorial and product are rarely combined at higher echelons and almost never within c suite roles.
That is aside from Kat Down Mulder, whose former role was chief product officer and managing editor at The Washington Post. The reason for this, she argued, is that it is impossible to decouple the content (editorial) from the content experience (product). You can see her deck explaining this at our World Congress in 2022.
Ultimately, what do people buy? You can have the best content in the world, but if you make it hard to access, you don’t have a business. The benchmark for consumers isn’t just other news organisations; it’s leaders such as Spotify and Netflix that set consumer expectations. It’s a convincing argument.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product and Tech 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 and Tech Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at email@example.com with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.