News Leadership 3.0

August 07, 2008

Embrace ‘iteration’

Leadership report:
Technique untangles
new-product snags


Last month, Knight Digital Media Center brought together teams from 12 news organizations to learn more about digital media and make plans for moving their newsrooms forward online. Now those editors are back in their newsrooms making changes—and I will be reporting on their progress in the coming months. In the meantime, I’m preparing a report on the conference—something KDMC can put online to benefit other editors.

As I review my notes and the conference presentations, I will blog chunks of the conference materials and discussions. I hope comments from participants and other editors will enrich the final report.

Here is the report from the 2007 conference. I plan to use a similar format of lists—key takeaways, tools, quotes and questions.

I want to start with the idea of “iteration” from a presentation by Stacy Lynch, a project director with Media Management Center and former Innovations Director at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lynch focused on decision-making and the difficulty news organizations have in making them quickly because of unproductive loops in the typical process.

“Iteration,” is one antidote. It’s a process of breaking a project into stages and launching them one at a time.

Lynch noted that it’s a model that works in other fields. “In most software development, 60-80% of work is done post ‘launch’ as new versions emerge.”

Those of us who are native to print will have a hard time imagining how that might work on the printed page. And the perfectionistic culture of newsrooms may frown on launching something that is not fully nailed down. But the process seems remarkably simple and suited to online.

Lynch used the example of building a new entertainment site to illustrate iteration:
1, Initially, launch only an events database. Fix any bugs.
2. Add a rating component.
3. Enable users to upload photos from different events.
4. Build in files associated with different performers.

“From the very beginning, say what it will have, but say it’s going to come out in different chunks,’’ Lynch advises.

The process helps prevent overspending resources at the beginning—perhaps adding features that users don’t really want. It builds in flexibility and allows you to get feedback as the project develops. Perhaps most importantly in the digital world, it speeds time to market.

Lynch presented a second tool, called RAID, to speed decision-making. I’ll write more about RAID next week.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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