Many other consumer industries implemented product teams long before news media. This can be an opportunity for us to learn from their experience and to hire people with it. U.S.-based MediaNews Group is one of the companies that has done that.
CJ Jacobs came into news media from a product role in travel and bought some new product structure with her. CJ is head of product and technology at MediaNews Group (although she wouldn’t necessarily advise this). Her first year has been focused on setting up a team and building relationships and trust through demonstrable results.
The company has around 100 newspapers and growth has come by incorporating new markets, meaning much is managed at a local level. The product structure has shifted from extreme decentralisation and is now aiming towards much more centralisation, but not all. The aim is to provide the efficiency of shared products and technology, while still allowing local expermination (with some guardrails).
She has implemented some smart product methods and strategies to gain stakeholder buy-in, including product managers that don’t report into her:
Everyone shares the same product roadmapping tool, Aha (which integrates with popular Agile software tool Jira). The tool breaks down the roadmap into three main areas: releases, initiatives, and goals. This gives everyone visibility to the roadmap and independence to the product managers to own their respective areas.
CJ runs a “Product Club” every two weeks with all product managers, most of which report into her but not all. She sees communication as absolutely essential to the smooth running of a team, and the Product Club allows everyone involved to align strategies, goals, and roadmaps in an open forum.
Starting with an ideas portal, in which ideas are then defined and refined, these are then added to the roadmap for more detailed planning. Each quarter, a high-level roadmap is sent out, splitting initiatives by customer segment (“all readers,” “subscribers,” “internal executives” to name a few). CJ is clear that the initiative and details need to be in plain language, giving the what, why, and current status, so anyone in the organisation can pick it up and understand it without having to wade through acronyms.
Quarterly Product Council
CJ is introducing a Product Council with key stakeholders from all MediaNews brands. The idea here is to meet quarterly to agree overall objectives and KPIs, letting everyone have a say and giving visibility to the process. This builds on open communication, giving specific time for feedback and discussion.
Currently, there is annual planning specifically looking at the year ahead, but CJ is hoping to stretch this to three to five years so everyone is working towards the same long-term goals. The longer term would be split into long-term goals:
New technologies or platforms (such as AI).
Mid-term with technologies that are being adopted now (such as audio).
More specific plans for the year ahead, which should build towards the longer term objectives.
To note: CJ acknowledges that much of this is a work in progress and doesn’t profess to have everything right (do any of us have everything all wrapped up?!). She’s keen to engage with the INMA product community so if you have ideas, thoughts, or questions, you can find her on the INMA Slack Channel here.
Date for the diary: Meet-Up on Thursday, January 28
The inaugural 90-minute video Product Initiative Meet-Up will be on Thursday, January 28, at 10:00 a.m.-11.30 a.m. New York time. We’ll be kicking off the first Product Initiative Webinar with a high-level look at differing team structures and the principles behind their decision process: Who gets to prioritise the product roadmap? Is it by title, by department, by user focus, or bang-for-buck demonstrable results on the short term?
In this Meet-Up, we look at three different approaches to decision-making around product — with Ringer Axel Springer Polska moving away from a centralised system to give individual brands more control; The Dallas Morning News, whose product team gathers information and then makes the calls; and Gannet, which uses a more metric-driven process.