This year I asked some product leaders from around the world to form an advisory council for the product initiative. This advisory council gives us access to their depth of experience, ongoing learnings, what they are looking to solve, and what’s on their mind at any given time.
You may not specifically know it, but you’ve already learned a lot from them through the output of the Product Initiative, such as the blog posts and virtual event programming.
Recently I asked them what they had focused on and learnt this year. Before we go into these, let me introduce the group to you:
Karl Oskar Teien, director of product, Schibsted Subscription News (Norway).
John Kundert (JK), chief product officer, FT (UK).
Kara Chiles, vice president/consumer products, Gannett (USA).
Katharine Bailey, global head of product and design, Condé Nast (USA).
Gaurav Sachdeva, chief product officer, SPH (Singapore)
Julian Delany, chief technology officer/data and digital, News Corp Australia (Australia).
Durga Raghunath, digital head, Times of India (India).
1. Organisation structure and goal setting/OKRs are “works in progress”
The move to product-driven organisations is far from complete. Most organisations see the need to create multi-disciplinary teams, but it’s a big change to make. One council member cited the “turbulence of shifting the organisation and culture to OKR/cross-functional pod structure” as a key focus area for 2021. And it takes time to not only make the change but to build trust within and between departments.
OKRs (objectives and key results) are a popular form of goal setting and tie into organisational structure. As product works across departments and has a need to understand stakeholder goals, it’s often the product team that is pushing and advancing the discussion. Within large companies, it’s a challenge to get these frameworks to tie into each other across brands, markets, and central disciplines.
2. We’re still catching up on tech debt, which affects our ability to deliver quickly
Many companies are still in the midst of combining technologies, migrating systems, and moving to homegrown stacks. As we develop our capabilities and look at new products and services, there is a constant need to evaluate what we build and what we buy.
Julian Delany told us: “There are moments when partnering with a specialist tech or SaaS provider will enable an increase in velocity, however holding internal IP on how, what, or why consumer benefits will come from the partnership is key.”
Having resources tied up in these projects affects our ability to ship new products and that affects time to market. As product people, we want to get things out quickly. It’s not just a desire though. We’re finding that it’s actually a consumer expectation.
That said, not everything has to be perfect before it ships. John Kundart told me a big lesson for his team has been that “experimentation through shipping MVPs can not be underestimated” and that previously they had “over-indexed on seeking certainty of any opportunity. We got stuck in ‘let’s learn everything before we ship’ at the cost of ‘let’s ship something (MVP) to learn about our customers.’”
3. Solving for the discovery and consumption of content
Our job as product people is to create a content experience that delights users. That means a constant focus on improving discovery to enable readers to get to the journalism that’s relevant to them quickly and easily. Here are some of the ways the advisory council is looking at this:
Design, dynamic navigation, and opportunities for recirculation.
New concepts for users/cohorts based on qualitative and quantitative insights.
Text to speech/and narrated articles as a new way of consuming content.
It’s also been pointed out that the impacts of streaming (such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime effects) are becoming a more prevalent dictator on how consumers engage and discover content.
4. We need to look outside the industry
Sometimes we have “mind meld” as an industry, which is not conducive to innovation or necessarily meeting readers’ needs. There are a number of ways to go outside the industry — including market research and talking to outside experts — and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of hiring from outside the industry.
We don’t always need the industry knowledge. Sometimes the skill sets are more valuable. The New York Times also made a point of this at the INMA World Congress, explaining that they hired gaming experts to help with engagement. The counter is that we can’t continually hire new people so how do we ensure the “novelty doesn’t wear off?”
Related to this topic, Kara Chiles recommends reading Think Again as a good reminder to test one’s expertise.
5. The continuing move to registrations and subscriptions
In a cookieless world, many brands are pushing for registration as part of the funnel. And newsletters continue to be a large driver for registrations. How do we manage reach v exclusivity? This is an audience question as well as a content and feature-set question as we look at different products for different audiences. And Karl Oskar Teinen has been looking at how to solve “the bad conscience problem” by enabling users to step down to a smaller subscription product.
To go deeper on registrations and subscriptions, check out INMA’s Readers First initiative.
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