Why do media tech projects fail? No product management
Editors are the media industry's product managers, right? Sometimes, but assuming that the two roles are the same can have negative consequences.
Here are two job descriptions from Wikipedia (normally not my first choice for source material, but in this case are quite on point).
- Product management is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.
- Editing is the process of selecting and preparing written, visual, audible, and film media used to convey information through the processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications performed with an intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete work.
What is it about these two job descriptions that makes media people think they can be combined into one? I know a few editors who love to talk about product lifecycles but not many. On the other hand, I know a ton of editors who are passionate about "producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete work." In a world where we need both more content and better content, why would we further burden our editorial staffs with product development?
Editors, readers and advertisers all have great ideas
Because writers and editors speak to readers often, they have their fingers on the pulse of the community. This makes them a great source for new product ideas. You should encourage that and offer them as many ways to vet their ideas and route them to the right person. However, do you really need them to take charge of the requirements, design and development of that project? This makes a key editor internally focused, which is counterproductive to the content-creation process.
Instead of turning editors into middlemen between your product development team and your readership, why not open the new product idea-submission process up to readers, advertisers and all employees directly? Let editors weigh in on which ideas they think have the most merit and give them a strong voice in the product development process without burdening them with requirements, focus groups, developer meetings, etc.
Hire experienced product managers
One of the biggest challenges with product launches in the media space is that we love 'em and leave 'em. That is to say, we launch them and then don't improve them. In most cases, the launch is just the first version of a product that will need many more iterations to acheive its full potential.
By hiring a product manager who is responsible for that product throughout its lifetime, you ensure that it will get love and attention post-launch.
Product managers make great sales engineers
An added benefit of hiring product managers who don't have editorial responsiblities is that they can assist on sales calls. Technology companies recognize that the pool of candidates who are great salespeople and understand their particular technology is too small to be affordable. Instead, they hire great solutions-based sales people and arm them with sales engineers to ensure that the technology questions are answered with authority and accuracy.
In this scenario, prospects feel like they are getting service from the salesperson and expertise from the sales engineer. The salesperson feels comfortable learning about new products without having to be an expert in them. The sales engineer / product manager gets to talk about his or her baby, the product they brought into this world, with passion and receive feedback for new features and usability tweaks. All in all, it's a recipe for improved product quality and sales success.
Learn from my mistake
If Pete Hartley is reading this, he's probably flipping me the bird right now. Pete encouraged me to develop PRIMEDIA Business' organizational structure around product mangers in 2004. I thought his ideas had a lot of merit, but I had a lot of political pressure to align our New Media Division around our operating divisions. Each SVP wanted its own pod of resources.
This actually worked incredibly well until we tried to scale up from 60-some properties to 120-some properties when we acquired Penton Media in 2007. Every time we had a reorg of the business units (which was often), I had to reorg my team as well. The video below symbolizes what ensued.
What do you think? Should editors be in charge of product development? Drop us a comment below.