The Skills You Need — and Probably Have — to be a Product Thinker
2:00PM Jun 24, 2021
Emma Carew Grovum
Hello everyone, welcome to our session, I'm Becca Aaronson. Joining me is Emma Carew Grovum. We are very excited to talk with you all today about product thinking in newsrooms. So, for those who don't know us. I'm the Interim Executive Director of the News Product Alliance and Emma, who will introduce herself in a minute, is both the founder of Kimbap Media and our program director at NPA. So, you might be asking, what is the News Product Alliance? Well, we are a new nonprofit organization that is building a community of support and practice for news product thinkers. We'll talk a little bit more about what we mean by news product thinkers in a minute. But what our mission is is to elevate the discipline of product management in news organizations, and also diversify the product thinkers in decision-making roles. So Emma, do you want to tell people a little bit about yourself?
Thanks Becca. Hi everyone I'm Emma Carew Grovum and I'm the founder of Kimbap Media, which is a small consultancy. We're based in Brooklyn and we solve problems at the intersection of technology, audience, content, and inclusion. I also work with some partners under the name Media Bridge Partners and we do a lot of DEI work together so I'm super excited about this session, I have been a product manager like you have been in newsrooms past, and we're excited to talk to other folks who are interested in that role.
Yeah. And so to kick us off, you know, my background is that I started at the Texas Tribune as a journalist before becoming a designer/developer on their news apps team and co- founding their news apps team, and then I became a product manager, and later went to Chalkbeat and became their director of product so I know firsthand what it means to transition from being a journalist to a product manager, and so does Emma. And so to start off, Emma, do you want to tell, talk a little bit about what is product thinking to you, what does it mean to be a product thinker.
Yeah product thinking to me is about being the person who connects the dots between editorial, business, and technology. And I think, you know, it's someone who is a connector and it's someone who has a foot in two worlds, at least, right? All product people are not experts at every single thing across the board, but most of us have a specialty of some sort. And then we tend to be good pinch hitters and generalists, right? We're easy to pick up new skills, it's easy for us to walk between two worlds, work with different teams and really collaborate across disciplines. What about you?
I think that that's a great definition, I would add a lot of times, product thinkers are also problem solvers, you're trying to look at how do you how do you solve a problem that takes into mind, both the editorial mission and audience needs, business considerations, and the technology or resources that are available to you. And when you're solving a problem in that way you end up thinking about it as a product that has all these multiple dimensions, and so you might need to bring in expertise for other people, other departments as you figure out how to solve this problem in the best way, or the most strategic way.
I think that makes a lot of sense. When we think about product and intersection with the newsroom, what kind of role do you think product managers should fill in a news organization?
I think they can fill in lots of roles, and I think what we're seeing is that product thinkers, aren't just limited to the technology teams. There are product managers on technology teams in newsrooms that are doing things like leading CMS evolutions or leading personalization of data efforts, or are leading the development of a new podcast or newsletter, but you also see these roles emerging directly in the newsroom, a newsletter editor, a social media editor, someone who is taking on a lot of responsibilities and finds themselves kind of building editorial product and also trying to think about like the analytics for that product, the revenue opportunities for that product and all those different things, so I really think that you can find product thinkers in all parts of the organization. What about you?
Yeah, I think that speaks so clearly to my experience because first I was an assistant managing editor who helped build a CMS, and then I transitioned to becoming the product manager, who owned the maintenance and development of that CMS, and it was very similar to what you're describing right it was like, well we need someone on editorial to be a stakeholder for this project but that person has to kind of understand what is happening to the technology, right, they can't just be like, we're here for the content and nothing else. And so I was specifically hired because of my interest in that intersection of technology and audience.
That makes a lot of sense. So what are the skills that you think product people or product thinkers need to be successful.
Communication skills I think are number one and in journalism, it's super interesting that like many of us are not great as communicators internally as we are externally, we're great at telling other people's stories, we're great at, you know, finding things out in the wild, but when it comes time to say, hey, this is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it, we often stumble as newsrooms so I think clear communication, and the ability to break down a complex idea into smaller pieces right so it's not, we're gonna launch a paywall, great, right? It's we're gonna build a paywall, we're gonna build login, we're gonna have all of these other things on the back end and here's how it's going to connect the dots. So I think, product managers, whether PM is your official title or you're just an amazing product thinker out in the world in a different role and title, I think you just have to be really organized and you have to be willing to move the ball forward and not accept kind of this like stasis that you see I think in a lot of legacy media organizations for sure. What about you.
Yeah, I totally agree. I also, you know, I get asked a lot in my like mentorship calls with a Digital Women's Leader Program, like, people ask me, How do I become a product manager, and a lot of times their biggest fear and concern is do I need to know how to code. And what I tell them is that it's not necessarily about knowing how to code but it's knowing how to speak the language, it's knowing how to communicate with engineers and understand what they're saying. And the other part of it is like thinking about your passions and the things that drive you whether that's design, whether that's storytelling, and figuring out how do you then expand on those skills, and use those to kind of propel you into product career. So I think there's a lot of different skills. Communication, like you said, though, is to me the absolute biggest one, because it's really about not necessarily having all of the skills yourself, but learning how to get that expertise from others and learning how to facilitate collaboration. Probably one thing I would add, though, is being data-guided, which I feel like is a term that I really picked up from you, Emma. It's not about using data to, like, scientifically decide every decision, but it's about understanding the information you have available, and using that to inform strategic decision making, like using the data you have, understanding its limits, and what it can do for you, and using that to kind of guide your decision making so that you're a little bit more strategic,
Yeah we heard a lot of folks move into like data-driven newsrooms in the last five years. And that worries me because it, it to me signals that folks are blindly following the data and not contextualizing it, and as we know, a big part of product is putting things into context and making sure that folks who are are focused on a narrow part of the product understand the bigger picture. What do you think are some challenges that face product thinkers in news organizations?
Well, you kind of hinted at this. A lot of times product thinkers are pushing for change, and that can be really challenging. The news industry as a whole has been undergoing change, very dramatic change, for at least the past 30 years if not longer, and people are tired. We know specifically from this year, like there was a ton of change that happened in all of our personal lives because the pandemic and the racial reckoning, and it really can be challenging if you're also then pushing for digital innovation or changes in process, changes in the way we approach journalism, to push for those changes and sometimes feel like you're meeting resistance. And what I tell people is like one, don't take it personally, because it's not personal, and two, is to try and figure out like what is the dissatisfaction or the resistance to change like where is that coming from in individuals. Can you better understand what their needs are. I think a lot of times, journalists are just tired. They've been asked to do more and more with less and less. And for less and less. And they're tired and so when you're coming in as a person saying we need to do this, we need to do that, we need to make all these big changes. It can be really hard when people feel like they're already at their wit's end and putting out lots of fires.
I would totally agree with that, I think I often relate, or use a metaphor for teaching digital skills which is like when I was a swimming instructor, you'd have some of those folks who were like really ready to just charge ahead and they're gonna dive off the deep end and you have some folks who are like, just here to learn, let's say, and like they really want to know exactly what's happening. And then you have those folks who are like tearful and fearful and you can't just be like, get in the water, right, that's gonna like only exacerbate the like tearful and fearfulness of this swimmer, and you want to kind of support them and say, here's why you need to learn how to swim so that you don't die when you're on a boat and the boat capsizes, right, but also don't just pack it, wear your life jacket. So it's a little bit about meeting them where they are, but also pushing them to get outside their comfort zone and I think that is a big part of product thinking is not just, hey we need to do this differently but we need to think about this differently from the top and I think that is where product thinkers are often facing a lot of challenges, is they're on board, their direct managers on board, and then it hits this wall at the executive level where folks aren't sure what's happening, folks aren't familiar with the frameworks that are being introduced. So you really if you're product into your newsroom, I think you have to have a holistic approach and bring everyone with you as opposed to push it on to them.
Yeah, I 100% agree and I think that a lot of it has to do with finding those people who feel maybe insecure about their ability to contribute but want to contribute. You know who kind of like, they're not actually resistant, they just need support and they need understanding and really going after those people first and building out allies there, and introducing tools and frameworks that are going to help those people succeed in their jobs, then you get more allies that can help you to make the changes that you want to see. By the way, this is an open forum, and Emma and I would love to take your questions. So if you have any questions for us just drop them in the chat of the live stream page and we will get them and respond.
And what does it look like when someone builds product culture in your organization.
Yeah, I think. I think the first thing that you see is collaboration across teams you start to see breaking down of silos and people really communicating across the organization. And you also see people being more data guided. What do you think it looks like, what are some of the things that you've noticed?
I think that pretty mentioned at first right like that collaboration across departments, the ability to say, Oh, I'm going to go talk to another department who is not my own and feel not only comfortable with that but feel really positive about that interaction right, I think in a lot of news organizations, there is internal strife, like, oh, the business team just wants us to sell things that we don't want to make or wow the technology team only builds for this part of the newsroom and not our part of the newsroom and there's a lot of, whether it's finger pointing or just generally like folks not coalescing together, I think the first sign of product culture is that everyone wants to reach across and say, you know, how can we work together.
Yeah, I think that you're completely right and I do think that there are also healthy and unhealthy product cultures like any sort of culture that can be an extreme, and I think part of what makes a healthy product culture, especially in a news organization is a clear alignment around your editorial vision. If your news organization has a real clear understanding of your mission, who you're trying to serve and the values that everyone upholds in the organization, it's easier to have that collaboration because you know you're all rowing the boat in the same direction, you know you all want to accomplish the same task. So when you do have conflict, when you do have disagreement on how to get there, there's still this like understanding and trust within the team that makes it easier to have that collaboration. If you don't have this alignment, if the leadership and the executive level isn't aligned or giving you a clear direction, people are going to have different goals, and so of course they're going to be in conflict and they're going to be going in different directions because they're not rowing the boat in the same direction. So I think that that's a really important and key factor here. And the great news is we're starting to get some questions. So Emma, how about this question from Laura, what has helped you develop your internal communication skills, do you have any good hacks.
Yeah, single source of truth is my like number one communication skill is that everything should be in a single, centralized, transparent, easy to find location for everyone who's involved with the project right, that means, liberating key information and files from your inbox and Slack, unless Slack is your single source of truth and then, which case, go ahead. Fine. Email is increasingly like not the way to go for product right whether it's a JIRA board or an Airtable. You don't have to get super sophisticated and super complicated with your comms. They just have to make sense, and they have to be easy for everyone to catch up. So whether it's, hey, we had a meeting, here's what we talked about in the meeting. Here's the next action items, here's who is assigned to what, here are the decisions we made, right, how many times we've been in meetings where we're just relitigating a decision that was already made previously. I think the other thing that helps with clear communication is bringing in like a RASCI or a DACI model, which helps to set up different roles for a project right and say who gets a vote, who gets a voice, who was consulted and who is like just informed at the end of what the discussion is right. I think that can help a ton with that decision making process so it's clear, who is actually going to be involved in the final decision.
Yeah. And for those of you who haven't heard of RASCI or DACI, it's R-A-S-C-I, or D-A-C-I, you can Google these terms, but they are frameworks for assigning roles and responsibilities. As Emma mentioned, which can really clarify the communication on the team. And another thing that I would add to your great list of like communication hacks is not actually a hack at all. It's just being nice to people for the sake of being nice and being kind and having personal relationships with people and taking interest in them beyond just like the basics of what you need from them, but just kind of getting to understand their values and their motivations and having real relationships with people, helps you establish trust, like trust is not automatic. And that's really what you need in order to, you know, make change and work with people effectively.
And that's a journalism skill, and that's like what a big thing that we talked about with NPA is product skills are journalism skills in disguise. And so building sources and building relationships is the same skills that so many of you are already equipped to do which is great.
It could just be mea having more one on ones with certain people in your organization.
Absolutely. We got another question from Mike, journalists are burned out on hearing things that will save journalism and product thinking can sound like another buzzword, how can we overcome that particular cynicism, Becca.
I don't think that product thinking is going to save journalism. I think that people are going to save journalism. Product thinking is a tool. It is a tool, and there are frameworks for product thinking, and it helps people solve problems, but ultimately it's about the people. So that's why especially the News Product Alliance, like, our mission is focused on serving individuals and building a community for co-creation, because there isn't a one size fits all solution for any news organization, you have to figure out how to solve the problems that are unique for your audience and how to solve the problems that are unique for your market in your setting, and the resources that you have available to you. So, product thinking helps you solve those problems, but is not a cure-all like, ultimately you need people in these roles who are going to make these changes happen.
Yeah I would agree. I think just because it's innovative doesn't necessarily mean it has to be industry-saving, right. We're looking for people who not only save journalism is whether you want to call it or not, but we want to work to make journalism better right? Journalism is like not in its best form right now. Great content is being produced by phenomenal journalists, But we have revenue struggles, we have delivery struggles, we have digital struggles or all kinds of struggles that product thinking is trying to create alignment around so that back to your, your response about mission, vision and values right so that again, everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction, if we're building a popsicle stand we're building a popsicle stand, you don't have some guy in the back, who's like I'm building a hotdog stand. Right. It's really about that alignment and getting everyone on the same team.
Yeah, so our next question is from Anyel, I'm the executive trying to get my teams and various departments to adopt collaboration tools such as JIRA, to improve and streamline interdepartmental work, but I'm meeting some resistance, any advice on winning them over.
Oh, JIRA is tough, JIRA is tough, even if you love product thinking already because JIRA is a very, very large tool and it's meant to do very, very big things, right. So part of the resistance you're facing might be the system is just too large for what you're trying to accomplish. You might accomplish what you're trying to do with an Airtable or a Google spreadsheet to start. So, you're both trying to do two things, you're introducing a new concept of collaboration together, and a single source of truth, and you're introducing a new tool and piece of software which is very unwieldy and difficult to use. So I think, pick one and prioritize. Product thinking is all about prioritization, do you want them to work together first, or is it more important for folks to onboard to the tool, and then you meet in the middle and figure out exactly how you're going to work together. But I think JIRA is a tough one, especially to start with because it is so complex because it is very sophisticated so if you're only using a small part of JIRA, I think things like Loom videos are helpful Loom is a tool that helps you do video recordings, really strong documentation on how we're going to use it and a lot of really aggressive, one on one onboarding.
Yeah, I would say for most tool transitions, you really have to commit to one on one onboarding over a longer term. The other thing, there's two tools that I would also recommend you think about when making any sort of like changing process that requires a big tool migration, because whether it's Slack, Jira, whatever, anytime you introduce a new tool into someone's workflow, you're going to meet resistance because they need to know why they need to, what incentive is in it for them. So you really need to think about sticks and carrots. Like, what are the carrots, the incentives for people to use this tool, does it help their workflow. Like, what is it actually do to improve their day to day lives. And you also need to consider the sticks like, how does it impact the time they spend on these things that they're used to doing, how does it impact like the other parts of the communication that they're trying to accomplish. So you need to think through these things before you make the decision. And then when you've actually made the decision, and you know you need to make a certain kind of transition, actually a tool that I learned in table stakes is a power opinion matrix. So this is looking at kind of the people in your organization, not necessarily who have like people who have power, and power is not necessarily related to where they are in the org chart but it's related to the level of influence they're going to have on the change that you're trying to make, and where are they in terms of being in alignment with you, are they supporting you, are they detracting from what you're trying to do through active resistance, are they waffling, are they going back and forth or do you just have no idea where they stand, and trying to move all of those people into the supporter category, while also maybe ignoring some of the people in the low power detractor category. If they don't actually have power but they're really getting, you know, under your skin. Sometimes it's best to ignore that and try and kind of focus on those people that you really can move
The other thing is making it super easy to get involved right so I was a social media editor in the early 2010s, and I was tasked with putting 250 journalists on Twitter. Many of them didn't need to be on Twitter, most of them did not want to be on Twitter so we made it a game, we incentivized it, like, tweet several times a day, tweet from an event, tweet a photo is very like learn these skills, try these things. And at the end of it like someone won baseball tickets, right. When I moved everyone to Slack in my last newsroom, we made it so that if you wanted your story to go on the website, it was a digital-only publication, you had to file your copy to an editor via Slack. We had 99% adoption of Slack by the end of the week. Everyone wanted thir story to go on the internet so that, I think, think about ways to incentivize it and make it fun, but technology should not make people's lives, more difficult, it should always make things easier, more efficient faster, smoother, whatever.
Yes, definitely. Okay so Paul's next question for us is, any advice for communicating the difference between big A agile product owner role, and being a news product manager.
That's really interesting. Um, a lot of news organizations will not have clear distinction between these types of roles right? Becca you might be better and better to answer this because you've worked in a larger product organization before.
Yeah, so I think for anyone who doesn't know what Agile is—big A Agile, Paul's question—this is a process that developed in technology companies to iterate on product development using two week sprints. So the idea is that you have a set amount of work that you agree to do in two weeks, you assign it out and then the next two weeks you evaluate what was accomplished and you keep going. It's usually associated with a longer timeline or something they call epics, which is not that important. You can Google these things and learn more about Agile, but essentially it's a workflow process. And so, in Agile there are very specific roles, a product owner is the person who oversees everything for a specific product, they are not necessarily the person who does all of the work but they kind of facilitate the decision making around that product to make sure that everything is still going in the strategic direction that the team agreed upon. So, in newsrooms there often isn't an assigned product owner, you might have a newsletter editor, like you might have someone who is essentially the person who oversees most of what is happening on a specific product or maybe it's like a producer on the podcast that you know is like the central decision maker, the central person who is kind of making sure they're watching all the different parts and they're pulling it all together in a single direction. Being a news product manager, it can take so many different forms and people have so many different titles when they're in this role that often you might not even know that you're doing the product management. I think sometimes, something that often gets confused in conversations about product management is like, it's an organizational function to manage a product, and who owns that function may or may not have the title of product manager. So that I think can get confusing, especially when you have organizations at different levels of adoption in the philosophy of product thinking. And the idea that this is an organizational function that should be structured and have assigned roles within the organization.
Let's get Gabrielle's question next. How do you all manage burnout related to always being the person pushing for change and moving the ball forward when you're fighting for status. This is a great question because it not only hits me in the, in the product field but it also hits me in the DEI fields where this has been my role since I entered this room was to say, we could be doing better at this, I think we could do this differently. Whether it was digital innovation, diversity innovation and now product innovation. You know, it is difficult and it is, it is hard and it is very tiring. And so, you know we need allies right again we need people who are going to say, oh yeah that's a good idea in meetings or afterward to this, you know, to the CEO to the editor in chief, we're going to go to them and say like, Hey what Becca said today really made sense, can we make sure we follow up on that. And how do you identify those people? Again it goes back to that relationship building, that source building of are you talking to your stakeholders are you talking to the people who are building the things that you're working on. Are you talking to people who are talking to the audience on the frontlines about what they're looking for and what they want. So, how do you manage burnout. I don't have a good answer. I'm a consultant now and so I think that is a big way I manage that is I don't have a primary newsroom anymore. Becca, what do you think?
Yeah, so I'm going to, I'm going to talk about like a personal trap that I've fallen into in this regard, and that is feeling like everything is urgent. When you are pushing for change, especially as journalists, because we are passionate, like we do this work because we deeply care about it, like we deeply care about the impact of our journalism on communities and we deeply care about our audience. And so, when you feel like a certain change needs to happen, it can feel very personal, it can feel very urgent. And a lot of times change takes a very long time and I've looked back on my career and seeing that like some of the things that I felt like were so so urgent. It took me a year or more to accomplish them. And when I got there, I was so burned out, I couldn't even be proud of what I had done. And so I think sometimes in the moment, figuring out how to recognize that it's going to take a long time and the small wins, like, really, really celebrating those small wins, whether it's like moving the needle on one person who's been somewhat resistant and getting them to like use the tool for the first time, or having a meeting with someone who you know has a level of power that you don't have and being able to influence them even just a little bit like you really got to capitalize on those small wins and appreciate them for what they are and not put too much pressure on yourself or take things too personally in the work. And the other thing that I think is really important is setting personal boundaries between yourself and your work, and figuring out like, what are the limits and like how do I create space in my life for things other than work that are important to me, especially as a journalist, it can feel like your whole identity is your work, because you're so mission-oriented, at least I found that for me personally, and figuring out like the other things in my life that are important and prioritizing those has been helpful in kind of managing how my burnout and feeling like I was able to contribute in a healthy way.
Julian has a question about self employed product thinkers and developers, how to identify established newsrooms that might be interested in his ideas and how to pitch them. We can both speak to that because we're both self employed. Do you want to go first Becca.
How about you go first on this one. I don't really have a thought off the bat.
That's okay. So, um, yeah I do a little bit of product work on the side, through my consultancy, and it's, how did we find our clients—they kind of just came to us, because they knew when we worked on, on product things. I think the first thing that you have to do as a self employed person is tell people what you want to do. If you just say I'm looking for options and opportunities you will get opportunities that you don't want to do, and you will take them out of desperation, so if you tell people exactly what you want to do, I want to build CMSs, I want to help support newsrooms that are transitioning from a legacy to a digital first mindset, I want to do X, Y and Z, I'm a WordPress developer, or I am a designer or I am a strategist. News Nerdery is a great place to find out about these kinds of gigs, I think if you're not in News Nerdery I would highly recommend and I'll drop a link to that in the chat.
Yeah, I think one thing I would add to that is like any sort of freelance work is really a relationship game. And so, if you're currently looking for work, just call a bunch of people, like, even people you might not know but you have some sort of connection to and ask them like, what are you doing in your work, like don't ask them do you have work for me. Ask them about the work that they're already doing and get a sense of like the problems that they're trying to solve, the needs they might have and if they, if they know of anyone you know at the end of your conversation, do you know of anyone who might be looking for help with these kinds of skills that I have that I can offer, and making those kinds of connections will only serve you really in any career whether you're looking for freelance work or you're just trying to learn more about like what's happening in other companies or other industries and bring that knowledge back to your current job.
I would also say that it's not just about finding established newsrooms that might be interested in these ideas. There are a lot of small to midsize newsrooms that don't have any tech support in-house. So one of my long-term clients, you know, they had a digital security officer and they have a digital strategist, but they don't have a technology team, they don't have a product team in-house and they wanted to redo their CMS, so I've been their point of contact with their vendor, I help them find a vendor. Vendor selection is like a, is a product thinking skill that I found there's a lot of interest in from news organizations, especially smaller publishers. I presented at the Facebook Accelerator for example and I've gotten several clients from working through, they get a grant from Facebook to do something cool with their money and then they can maybe hire someone to help them choose a new email vendor. So I think that's another area where if you are a self employed product thinker, helping folks with vendor selection is huge because not everyone knows how to look for a technology vendor, or how to read an SLA, how to ask good question, what to look for in a demo, all these things, and if you're good with technology, you're good with vendors and tools, there's a huge need for that right now, in the industry.
Yeah, definitely. I think we have about 15 minutes left. If you have any questions, please drop them in the chat. And our next one is from Samantha. For newsrooms with limited resources, what are some small things that you can do that will really pay off in transforming this mindset.
I would say a roadmap, a shared roadmap across the organization is free, right, all you have to do is get into a room together and agree, what are your priorities, what are your goals and how are you going to get there, which makes it sound a little Polly Ann-ish I totally understand that. But to truly to start with this is to say, what is our goal, what are we trying to accomplish as a team, as a company, in terms of revenue in terms of content, in terms of audience, and then you say okay, what are we doing in the next month. What are we doing in the next six months. What do we hope to accomplish by the end of the year, and you kind of work backwards and build out your big projects, your small projects. And who's gonna be working on what. We have some resources. I think that we can probably share somewhat somewhere online about roadmapping and things like that but the idea of a roadmap is to show what you're working on, who's working on what and what the timeline looks like across various resources. So I think that's a good cheap way to start bringing product thinking into your organization.
Yeah, I 100% agree I think a road map is a great idea. Just start with some other things that I found successful is ideation and design thinking brainstorms, figuring out how to bring people into the early, kind of like conceptual stages of product development can be really fun. I will say there are certain journalists for whom this is torture. And for those people you should not require them to do this, but for others they really enjoy it. And you can do design thinking, ideation sessions with like, you know, Post Its virtual or in person, where you, you know, say, how might we blank, how might we, you know, expand our audience in these specific communities or how might we build engagement with blah blah, like, whatever the question is that you're trying to solve, and have them kind of write all their ideas out on Post It, and then you group them and talk about them together and this can really bring people into the process in a kind of a fun way. Another tool that's a little bit similar that can be good for introducing product thinking is retrospectives. A lot of newsrooms call these post mortems, and they only do them at the end of a big project, at which point, people probably want to kill each other. But I recommend doing retrospectives with your team on a biweekly or monthly basis, and really all you need to do is like, set aside time for a conversation where you talk about what's working, what's not working and how you're going to change, how your team wants to change. I'll also sometimes add in, what are we thankful for, which is another good way of like building gratitude and trust into your team dynamic. But when you have this conversation on a regular basis, it preps your team for understanding that they can contribute to iterative change, but nothing is set in stone, that we're all kind of evolving and chang is this constant thing, and they all have like value and kind of contributing to what that change is, and that you value their perspective. And so, I think retrospectives on a regular basis are a really great way for getting people to start thinking iteratively, in terms of their own process but then in terms of product development as well.
So Ann has a question about roadmaps is how do you stick to the roadmap, and that's a great question right. A lot of people think about roadmaps and goal setting is kind of set it and forget it, especially if you're coming from a newsroom background. So, it doesn't matter how much of Agile or lean product you're doing. One great like workflow thing you can take from there is like the process of having rituals, right. So, when are we going to update the roadmap, where are we going to hold ourselves accountable on the roadmap, build that in from the start. Are you who's going to update the roadmap every month, who's going to give a presentation to the executive team about where we're at with the roadmap every six months or every quarter. So it's really about building in those milestones and those rituals to follow up on your documentation.
Yeah, I completely agree. Figuring out like who is responsible for updating the roadmap and when is really key, and it could be that everyone on your team is responsible for updating their own tasks, and if they don't do it, who's going to hold them accountable for that, you know, Or it could be that there's one person who goes through and checks with every person ahead of a meeting or planning meeting to update everything and then come back with like a list of priorities that need to be discussed, you know, but having that responsibility assigned is really important for the roadmap. I think a lot of people just don't like doing it, and so it doesn't get done. But it's important, and your roadmap is pretty useless if it's not being kept up to date and it's not actually being used as a tool for better communication across the team.
The one thing that I really like about product culture is that it democratizes tasks, and everyone clearly has a role and like a role to fulfill, right. In a newsroom, I think it's often easy to feel like you're just a cog in the wheel, you're not really sure what kind of impact you're making or if your work is really counting for anything. And in product thinking and in product culture, you have a role and if your role doesn't get fulfilled, someone else gets blocked, and that person is going to hold you accountable, in a way that you may find uncomfortable if you've come from the newsroom side. So I think all of this says, be open, right? Be open to new ideas, be open to trying new things. Be willing to say, I want to try this differently, right, we know that traditional newsroom workflow, traditional newsroom cultures aren't serving us at their highest capacity. So what could you possibly lose by trying something that is meant to help you get to the next level.
Yeah, and this is again where I'm going to plug retrospectives because let's say that you have a two week planning process, and everyone on your team is responsible for updating the roadmap, but two out of the five people aren't doing this on a consistent basis and it's caused some communication problems. During that retrospective, you can talk about things that aren't working well, and you can say without pointing fingers like people being slow to update the roadmap affects me in these ways, it prevents me from moving on to the next task or it's like, you know, I haven't known what to say in this important conversation with another person, the person from another department, or, you know, it had this kind of spiral effect and you can talk about that, people understand the effect of their behavior on others, which I think is often something that we're so uncomfortable doing that we just don't do it, but creating space for that is, is really important, and thinking about how you can work better together and have that level of trust in your team as Emma said, to kind of democratize some of this work and give people greater autonomy. I think that that is really a big pro is that if you have shared processes, and you're aligned towards the same goals. Each person can have more autonomy to contribute in their own unique way, which I think a lot of people really value, they don't want to be told what to do exactly. They want to be able to do things on their own and contribute value that they have that's unique. And so, having shared processes can really aid that autonomy.
I really like that one Becca because it's not about, I think a lot of people think, Oh, we're bringing in this routine and it sort of forces us all do things exactly the same way, product thinking isn't about setting up your assembly line, it's about how are you going to build your factory to start, right, it's what's really taking that step back, a big picture look and saying, are we working in the way that we want to be working. Does this make sense, and what can you bring to the table as an individual contributor and what are your secret skills, and it's not necessarily like if you and I were given the same problem we could solve it totally differently and both be right and that is so important to acknowledge.
Yeah, definitely, I think, you know a lot of people assume that if you're a product person you're, like, more orderly or organized which there's this like great chaos theory like the theory of Chaos Muppets versus Order Muppets which you should also Google this because I love it, but I'm a Chaos Muppet I lean towards order, I wish I was an Order Muppet, but I'm a Chaos Muppet. And I think sometimes people assume that like having structure means that you have to be very, like, strict in enforcing it, But product thinking is also about kind of having enough structure, coupled with flexibility and a willingness to iterate and evolve and change, and having that little bit of creative chaos can be really helpful. And so you need enough structure that people know how to engage together effectively but you also need that flexibility that allows people to contribute their individual value, have autonomy. And so, whenever you're thinking about like tool, like, you know like if you're introducing a new tool. No one is going to use it the same way, like people are just going to use tools the way that they use them, but you need to know like what is the primary value as an organization that we're getting from this tool, what is the one thing that we all need to be doing together, and then let people do whatever they want with it on their own, you know, like, you have to allow for a little bit of that chaos.
I think the one skill we haven't mentioned Becca that I think is a great place for us to close out on is empathy. We have a thought about empathy in product thinking and product culture, because if you're not practicing empathy, and this is different from kindness right we talked about being kind to our colleagues, the same way that we would build that relationship with our sources to build trust, but trust and empathy go hand in hand in product work. When you're trusting the other person is going to do their job so that you can do yours, right, you're trusting and building empathy for mistakes. Mistakes will be had, right, product thinking is about innovation and experimentation and trying new things, which means that some things are not going to work. So I want to just close out on the note of empathy and feeling for others, especially during this difficult time that we're facing as a world.
Yeah, I totally agree, Emma, I couldn't agree more. And I think that empathy is really important for thinking about how we diversify both our newsrooms in the people that we serve. I think sometimes it's really hard to see past your own perspective of your lived experience of the world, and empathy is a great way of like feeling the real value that people can contribute when they have a different lived experience than you, especially when you're trying to understand how you can serve different audiences that might not reflect your own reality. And so, having that empathy and really valuing it is a huge boon to your product thinking skills.
Awesome. So that brings us basically to time unless anyone has a last minute question that can sneak in in a minute. But this has been super fun. Thanks everyone for the questions and participation,
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Have a great ONA.