Why Product Management Matters for Publishers

This post was originally published on the AOP website on 24 November 2010


Nic Newman, former World Editor of the BBC News Website and author of 'the State of Product Management 2010', is chairing AOP's 'Secrets of Product Success' event on 9 December.

Ahead of the event, Nic explains the importance of product for publishers and the same conclusions a diverse range of media owners are drawing in this area. He also provides some advice for product managers on how they can maximise their impact here and now.


1) Why is a product management/product development process important?

For me the future of many media companies depends on their ability to build digital media products that consumers love and want to come back to again and again.

In an ultra-competitive world, only those products and services that are easy to use and provide a compelling experience will be successful.

Increasingly these products are more complex to put together and require a mix of technical, editorial, design and marketing skills - and all of that needs to be orchestrated and co-ordinated with the needs of the audience in mind.

That's why product managers are going to be increasingly important figures in the media industry.

2) In your recent report on 'The State of Product Management 2010' you say that the same conclusions are being drawn about how to create successful digital media products in very different organisations. How would you define these?

  • Successful organisations start with a clear, simple process that is understood across the organisation (product development lifecycle) - a common language so that everyone knows where they are and where they are headed
  • Part of that is to clarify the roles and responsibilities (Product Manager, Project Manager, Editorial Lead, Creative UX Lead, Technical Lead etc.) and ensure that you have the right people in each role
  • Put multidisciplinary teams together and empower them to make decisions
  • Make stakeholders part of the process - shaping the process at the start and checking in throughout the process
  • Work iteratively and quickly - don't expect to get it all right first time, but listen to your audience and keep moving it forward

3) How are the skills required to manage an ‘ongoing digital promise’ to consumers different from those that have built media companies of the past?

a TV programme or newspaper was normally about assembling elements into a package that could be delivered and launched at a moment in time - to shine brightly but be quickly forgotten.

Internet products invert that process - items are created but then take on a life of their own once they touch audiences. The product itself iterates and develops as part of a constant conversation.

The first mode requires an enormous amount of creativity but does not need the attention to detail, the focus on listening or the multidiscliplinary skills required to deliver an ongoing product.

4) What would be your advice be to Product Managers in organisations where the product function might not be quite as developed or powerful?

  • Focus on the processes rather than the function and do what you can within the constraints you are working with
  • Work with others who believe that better products can be created with proper research and definition up front
  • Talk to others outside the organisation and let them help you tell stories that will help decision makers within your organisation understand the need for change
  • Show your bosses the charts which show that the top internet sites in the UK are almost all US companies with a product-led approach