In an environment with smart people, good ideas, and plenty of history worth preserving, being ruthlessly editorial is a prerequisite to the focus required for success.
Building products with a voice and a point of view is editorial. Creating home and landing pages, e.g., that say “Here are the handful of things we bet you’ll find interesting and entertaining” is different from “Here’s everything you may possibly be interested in; click something” as we see in other sites. This isn’t to prevent people from discovering on their own — folks can move off the path at any point they want. It’s about making informed decisions so others aren’t forced to if they’d prefer some expert guidance. As publishers and product creators, the more choices we present, the more work deciding we’re expecting others to do.
Maggie Murphy, PARADE’s Editor in Chief, shapes thoughts, ideas and words for a living. As we’ve worked to apply these editorial rules to our product redesigns, Maggie related a story about Costco that solidified things for her. Costco puts time and effort into creating a simple shopping experience. They have significant expertise guiding those decisions. “They don’t stock 26 jams,” Maggie said. “They have the six they feel work best. They curate their products.” It’s not about having every possibility — it’s about having people who know what they’re doing making good possibilities easy. This aligns interests of seller and buyer.
As we bring on more of the voices we admire and expect to help guide the community we’re building, ruthless editorial also gives us focus. Identifying, recruiting, on-boarding and managing voices works through defined processes. From legal a point of view, we’re starting from a single agreement. Within that agreement, we’ve stripped out any clause not directly related to the behaviors and rewards we’re pursuing within our aligned interests.
With simple and flexible legal docs comes simplicity in workforce management and scalability. We onboard talent without bureaucracy. We’re streamlining the process of invoicing and payments. We can scale quickly. We can get people compensated soon after their first weeks with us. Accountability’s attached to the staffer who’s identified, recruited and on-boarded.
We’ve cut out what takes focus away from getting the talent we want on board. We’re refining what matters as we progress. We’ve got plenty of metrics to guide all of this. All of these metrics run through people, though: Metrics guide; people decide. That combination continues to be more successful that either tech or people on their own.
The metrics that matter to publisher and talent are well communicated and understood. These, again, are guidelines that provide us with flexibility in who we keep on, who we reward through promotion across properties, who we let go. We have in place what we need to reward voices who perform well. The metrics we use as guidelines are available to contributors, staffers, editors, management. There are few surprises.
Product Development, presuming your ideas aren’t crap in general, is about focus. We’ve got smart people with plenty of great experience. We’ve got lots of good ideas. We’re working to build the best ones first. We’re doing this dispassionately — or working toward that, at least.
“You have to pick carefully,” Steve Jobs said. ”I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” As far as execution, we’ve got to be ruthlessly editorial about what we do first, and what we do at all. We’re shelving plenty of good ideas so we can focus on the few that matter. As we’re working on those we’ve said matter most, we’re continuously editorial in what’s included and not included.
What’s core to the experience of the product? The work is in releasing what’s both Minimum and Viable. It takes strong guidance to be both and get Version 1.0 out the door — where it’ll do the most good — in short order.
What can happen with iteration through a laundry list of products, though, is you don’t get to the second release of any of them quickly enough. Working to get Version 1.0 of the Next product out the door means Version 1.1 of something released already — something viable, but also minimal — stays as-is for longer than most would like. Not following through on iterations creates a bad cycle:
- People want to add more to version 1.0 because getting to V1.1 takes too long
- This makes for longer product development cycles
- This, in turn, pushes out roadmap schedules
- Which in turn makes for fewer iterations
- Which gets people asking for more stuff included in Version 1.0
It takes significant cooperation across the business to be this stringent about being iterative.
At the startup I helped build(), we had several dozen iterations of the same products released over the eighteen month period before Forbes acquired us. Every one of those releases gave us valuable insights from our community of participants. (They used and fed back on what we were building together; they saw their feedback incorporated in released iterations; they rightly felt ownership and so used and fed back more meaningfully. And they understood if release 10 didn’t include all their hopes and dreams, that they expect to see more in following releases. This virtuous cycle is precisely the opposite of the bad cycle noted earlier.
At Parade, we’ve been in a position to be mercilessly editorial about product releases so far. We’re releasing third and fourth iterations of a couple of key components just in the last few months. We expect that to continue. We’ve communicated a roadmap and the editorial thinking behind it.
Cutting out what’s not essential to focus on what is no great epiphany. Like a lot of great advice, the execution — rather than the idea — is where the value is. Applying editorial concepts to all aspects of the business, figuring out how to express more with fewer words, cutting back until just the mains remain is a key to focus and success in communicating and executing to plans.