Product teams need the space to do quick experiments

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Product as a discipline brings a focus to the customer journey. It’s a process. We like process. Except, do we always need a process?  

A major publication in London (my original hometown) told me journalists sometimes see their colleagues and friends, who happened to be engineers in the pub, and all of a sudden the thing that they had been asking product for had miraculously been spun up. Had product been informed? No. They noticed changes online in real time.  

Should product be angry? Annoyed? Frustrated? Honestly, I think not. And neither did the leader of that department. Here is why:

Because this is a defect in the process itself. To be pedantic, you could say that there is a customer problem, an internal customer problem. People will always find a way around a process if the process is too hard. 

Before you throw your arms up in despair, I come bearing a solution. Not me exactly, but several leading publications use the same solution. It’s tried and tested. And it’s simple:

Leave some capacity in your roadmap for small projects and experiments to be spun up and down quickly. Ben Haywood, director of product at Nine in Australia, summed this up well in a  recent presentation:

In a recent presentation, Ben Haywood, director of product at Nine, explains how product teams can accommodate quick experiments.
In a recent presentation, Ben Haywood, director of product at Nine, explains how product teams can accommodate quick experiments.

Gannett in the United States and The Guardian in the UK use similar methods. We work in the news business and, by default, things always come up that are unexpected. This allows you to plan for them. How much capacity depends on your team, the workload etc., etc. But if you want a number, I suspect the 80/20 rule works here: 80% planned, 20% spare capacity for fast tracking as needed.

It seems appropriate to close this with some wise words from Cait O’Riorden, the CIPO at the FT (which for the sake of clarity, is not the aforementioned London-based publication I was referring to). She told me that sometimes it’s better to focus on the small projects. Why? Because the large projects have more stakeholder, hence more opinions, and can carry a lot more risk. Here is where you really need the process.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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