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The lean approach for publishers in layman's terms

Kevin Heery Kevin Heery is the Digital Technology Director for IPC Media and author of the Lean Grownup blog. Kevin is speaking at AOP’s flagship Summit event on October 12, which looks at how publishers can use the lean startup approach to deliver even better products, with more efficiency. Here he explains the core principles of lean and how they can be applied to publishing.

Robust objective setting
I don’t mean having everyone shout out what they think you should do with your product, putting it all in a list and calling it ‘OUR OBJECTIVES’. I mean starting out with your revenue model, identifying exactly what your customers need to do for it to work better, deciding where you are weak at getting them to do it, and then focusing on those areas. One,two or maybe three high level objectives is a lean set of objectives. A list of 20 objectives is a wish list. Performance Measurement To be lean you have to fall in love with metrics. The lean community talks about vanity metrics (less good) versus actionable metrics (much better). For instance, if your objective is to increase the retention rate of visitors to a site via newsletters (a good specific objective), then unique users is a vanity metric. It’s not specific enough to be useful. Good actionable metrics would be % of visits that convert to newsletter signups and % new newsletter signups that return to the site within seven days.
These actionable metrics give you quick, direct feedback on whether or not the things you are doing are working so you can decide to persevere with your current strategy or pivot to a new one. Incremental rather than ‘grand design’ approach This is another key part of Eric Ries’ approach, giving you the information and flexibility required to know if you should persevere or pivot in terms of your strategy or tactics. The traditional product development method is ‘grand design’: design a huge wonderful product full of bells and whistles, which will wow your audience in to behaving just how you need them to, to send your revenues soaring.
It might. But it might not. Your audience might not care about it and just work around it to behave exactly how they behaved before. This isn’t a rare outcome – it happens all the time, so in lean, you recognise this risk and decide not to build the grand design. Not at first anyway.
Instead you rigorously work out what can be removed from your grand design without it falling over. What’s left shouldn’t be a shoddy product, quality should still be a priority, it should just be simpler. It’s what we call a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – your version 0.1 if you like.

If you know the objective of the product and you have actionable metrics ready to tell you if it’s doing what you need it to do or not, then you build and launch the MVP safe in the knowledge that pretty quickly you will have the data that you need. Hopefully it will confirm that this product really is the game changer you always knew it would be so you should persevere and carry on launching extra features one at a time, checking your metrics and using them to help you shape the product into the one your customer actually wants instead of the one you assume they want. If instead, the data tells you that it was in fact a terrible idea, then you can at least look on the bright side. You’ve minimised the cost and effort involved in finding this out. In other words, at least you’ve failed fast and small rather than slow and big. Lean by Rob Fitzpatrick Rob Fitzpatrick lean image by wilgengebroed