Three principles for effective development from The Washington Post

A Talent Network for freelancers, an Apple Watch news app, and Arc, a software platform for news publishers are just three of the new products The Washington Post has launched in the last year.

Since Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Post in August 2013, the outlet has “pivoted significantly” to become more national and internationally focused, explained chief information officer Shailesh Prakash.

Speaking at Digital Media Strategies USA today, Prakesh said this shift had created new demands of the technology and systems utilised by the Post’s development teams.  

“Content is king, no doubt about it, but equally as important is the quality of the product, the speed of the site, and the crash rate of your apps.”

Also important, said Prakesh, is the speed at which news outlets innovate and push features to market — and the speed at which these features are removed if they do not work.

“Technology is a dirty business. It’s hard to get it right the first time.”

Identify key trends

One way news outlets can stay one step ahead of the competition is to not just think about future technology, but to think about when it will arrive and prepare appropriately.

“If you think it’s coming you need to play,” explained Prakesh. “You need to play with it in terms of user-facing features, we need to play with it in terms of cost – what it takes to run, and you need to play with it hire the right talent.”

Hiring is one of the most important elements of getting technology right, he added.

By rooting out new talent that is seeped in new technology, it helps to drive innovation and cultural shifts within the rest of the company.

Be ruthless

Media organisations should hold no punches when measuring and analysing what the products and features they design actually achieve, believes Prakesh.

“It’s so, so hard to get that right,” he said. “Sometimes it takes months to trust the data.”

He recommended outlets “spend time upfront” building systems to monitor and analyse data so they are not playing catch-up once a new product has launched.

Similarly, he highlighted the importance of agreeing how success will be measured before a product goes to launch, so it is clear what to look for – something he noted can be “tricky”.

Speed

“For too long media companies operated like brick-and-mortars, where it’s acceptable to take a year, sometimes two years, to get things done,” said Prakesh.

He believes news outlets need to think more like technology companies, where development is done “in weeks and months”.

How long it takes to develop new products, be it a newsletter, a homepage redesign, or a commenting platform, is important, he added.

Media outlets needed to follow the lead of tech companies and embrace the concept of MVP (minimum viable product), where the thinking is: “It’s not perfect, but it’s out there”.

One way the Post has increased the pace of product development is by de-centralising their engineers and making them “self sufficient arms” distributed across the newsroom and advertising departments.

“We have decided that centralised IT does not work. It’s not an option for there to be design by committee, acceptance by committee, quality control by committee, and so forth.

Although he noted that with that with this de-centralised structure comes chaos and duplication, Prakesh believes that too much control can slow development down.

“If you wait too long, it’s too late.”

By |2015-09-11T00:01:00+00:00September 11th, 2015|Analysis|Comments Off on Three principles for effective development from The Washington Post

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