5 tradition-breaking strategies for rapid product development



“I think the environment we are operating in is not fast enough to do those journalism decisions we want to make everyday,” said Gerold Riedmann, CEO of Russmedia Digital in Austria, as he kicked off a panel discussion on the subject of rapid product development at the INMA World Congress on Tuesday.

Riedmann believes the capabilities available today are not streamlined for rapid innovation but will be in the future.

Even agile development has overheads, Riedmann said. Another challenge to current innovation practice is getting everyone involved in change when there is not a clear, defined outcome.

“Re-prioritising is painful for everybody,” he said.

Comparing development to skiing, Riedmann said empowering team members to react to unforeseen “rocks” is crucial.

Riedmann also listed five strategies that break traditional rules:

  1. Dedicated teams break up your newsroom: Russmedia keeps print and digital teams separate. The company also follows Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza rule: if your team can not be fed by two pizzas, then it’s too large.

  2. Define core-technology critical to growth: “I think it’s a great opportunity to buy stuff from vendors,” he said.

  3. Critical mass is important: “I think that’s something you’re going to see in Europe: only the language changes, but the product stays the same.”

  4. Design thinking should be in your newsroom: “Prototype, prototype, prototype!” Riedmann reminded news media companies external funding exists for prototyping, such as the Knight Prototype Fund.

  5. Continuous improvement: It’s a living product, not a mission that is finished after being released.

Products should be dynamic, offer services the users want, Riedmann said. Russmedia’s app also offers live updates on the cheapest gas prices in the area. The goal is to give your audience multiple reasons to return.

Two years ago, mobile revenue was 1% or lower. Last month, Riedmann says it was at 30% after regional revenue: “This does not keep me up at night anymore.”

Edward Roussel, chief innovation officer at Dow Jones, discussed modernising The Wall Street Journal. When the news media company re-launched a tech-focused Web site, it doubled the number of people covering the topic.

“The statement there from the Journal was that we want to be at the forefront of technology,” said.

Modernising products at The Wall Street Journal is about adding value through content and relationship. The company re-launched its iPad app with 24/7 news coverage and created a membership club last year.

“Our view is that if you want to be in the subscription business, you have to treat your subscriber as a member of the club,” Roussel said.

Successful ventures — such as an interactive chat showing the history of NASDAQ Roussel calls the 3D “rollercoaster ride” — teach a lesson about the power of collaboration. Great outputs from collaborative efforts only increase the level of quality produced by teams.

“As soon as these products were released, they raised the bar of digital journalism that was being done,” he said.

The right balance of skills is necessary. Collaboration amplifies the skills of individuals: “It’s about bringing journalists together with designers and developers.”

Scale of products was a challenge, Roussel said. Breaking them down to their core and thinking through the design experience is a smart strategy moving forward. Focusing more on speed and performance should be a priority moving forward as well, he added.

Besides obsessing about customers, Roussel said the path to success comes from understanding exactly what success looks like: “I think it’s about having a really clear definition of success.”

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