2021 taught the media industry so much about product

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


My biggest lesson of the year is this: Clearly articulated goals and objectives are everything. Without this, nothing else comes together. 

Not only do they need to be clear, but they need to be easy to understand and available to all. This transparency, and being able to point to joint objectives, solves many internal issues. 

Clear objectives make it easier to give teams autonomy. Once people know the big goals, they can use their expertise to pull their relevant levers. Lucy Butler, chief analytics officer at the Financial Times in London, laid this out nicely. I still find myself referring to this slide: 

Lucy Butler, chief analytics officer at the Financial Times, explains the importance of clear objectives in product strategy.
Lucy Butler, chief analytics officer at the Financial Times, explains the importance of clear objectives in product strategy.

It’s not just the goals; it’s articulating them clearly. Communication is key to success. Strong product leaders usually start any part of decision-making process by reminding people of the goals. Caroline Carruthers, author of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, told us you do not have to be a data scientist to be a leader in data, but you do have to use data to tell stories focusing on outcomes that people can understand. Katharine Bailey, global head of product and design at Condé Nast, used this process to define her “big bets” for the upcoming year. With that she found her colleagues and peers were much more receptive and therefore able to grasp and contribute to these major projects.  

Road mapping is as important for communication and storytelling as it is for planning purposes. Lippe Oosterhof, Yahoo’s head of product for news, entertainment, and lifestyle, told us that much of the value of using goal setting frameworks such as OKRs (objectives and key results) comes from the process itself.

When we articulate goals to colleagues, we need to remember that it’s not just the business goals we should be focusing on. Listening to user needs came out high on many speaker’s lists from Dmitry Shishkin, who is ex BBC and Culture Trip, to John Pipino, consultant at Doblin. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on business goals. What we really need to do is look at where the business goals and the user needs align. 

Solving problems according to user needs is important. Solving the right problems is essential. This can only happen with goals. Gibson Biddle told us: “I can do anything but I can’t do everything.” Again, we can only prioritise if we know the big objectives.

And finally — you’ve heard me say this before, but I’ll say it again — multi-disciplinary teams are essential. Product teams are the customer advocates. We balance user needs with business needs: These are the goals. Which means that every other department is looking at one or both of these, too. They have insights and views that may be different — and this isn’t only healthy, it’s necessary. We must find a way of working together that brings all know-how and data points together in a productive manner. 

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About Jodie Hopperton

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