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Making the right products in the right way: a consistent product lifecycle

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Chris Russell | 10:00 UK time, Thursday, 7 April 2011

This week, BBC Online meets another important milestone in its plan to fully embrace and adopt the discipline of Product Management across the BBC Online Portfolio - the implementation of full Product Lifecycle Management across all ten BBC Online products, outlined in the Putting Quality First announcements of January this year.

You may ask why I am blogging about our business processes. If you are familiar with product or software development you may well think that the lifecycle is a fairly standard approach.

However we think it is significant for a few reasons:

• It is a mechanism to ensure efficient spend against the BBC Online Service Licence. Put simply - making the right products, in the right way.

• Our partners and external suppliers can now more clearly understand where they can engage and with whom.

• Product management is being taken more seriously across the industry and being both adopted and adapted for the different needs of audiences compared with the users of purer software products.

The BBC's Product Lifecycle Management process describes the way in which the Product Lead and Editorial Lead for each product should work together with their team, and their stakeholders inside and outside the BBC, to define and deliver the strategic goals for the product.

Product management lifecycle

The BBC's product management lifecycle

Creating a world class BBC Online depends on teams from diverse backgrounds working together, and this demands clear and consistent terminology, processes, and governance structures across all products in the BBC Online portfolio.

The Product Lifecycle Management provides a framework for collaboration between technical and editorial disciplines.

We have worked hard to ensure that we maximise the efforts of our skilled software engineers, developers, designers and content producers by properly 'shaping' the product to articulate its evolution through a set of important lenses: audience value and performance, feasibility, deliverability, cost, technical and experience design. Whatever the scale of the output - a BBC News guide to breaking news stories or a longer-term deployment of something like BBC iPlayer to a new platform or device - this process ensures we are focussed on giving the audience what we believe they need in the most cost-effective and innovative way.

Last year the BBC Academy told the story of how the media industry is adopting and adapting product development to fit the cultural differences found in creative organisations whose reputation has been built on content and not software.

While some purists insist that a software product has to have a single owner accountable for success or failure, we believe that each product should be equally led by an editorial expert, accountable for the content and its production, alongside someone with more "traditional" product development expertise. The Product Lead and Editorial Lead - united in a Product Direction Group, reporting up to the Online Direction Group - both have shared targets and devolved budgets to deliver.

BBC Online's product direction groups

How the BBC's Online Direction Group and Product Direction Groups work with each other

We also think the process and governance models can be applied to our 'technical products' which provide underlying services to power the products which our audiences immediately recognise - for example BBCiD, which allows users to log in and personalise their experience, or our content management systems.

It's true that the aims and performance targets for these products and services are defined differently, but the process by which we arrive at these is the same. A clearer, consistent process will be in place to make communication, collaboration, planning and integration easier and we will measure our success here by focussing on more efficient sharing of fewer and more robust technology products than we have managed in the past.

It is also important to make the process more transparent to our partners, suppliers and audiences outside the BBC. During recent consultation with the market concerning options for our future external supplier strategy, I presented this lifecycle making the following key points clear:

• Where "build or buy" decisions are made - after the Definition and Discovery review.

• That their proposals and ideas will be considered using this process.

• Who to contact and who makes decisions. We have also shared details of the Product and Editorial Leads on our commissioning website so partners can easily get in touch with the right people.

The suppliers' feedback was positive, although one person did point out that deploying this process was a significant undertaking. I can certainly identify with that! Recent weeks have been busy for product managers and a small Portfolio Planning Group within Future Media, which is responsible for monitoring our delivery performance and helping product teams adapt. We help to create templates and training for product teams, encouraging everyone to learn from our successes and failures, by copying each other where it makes sense!

While there's more to do, and some teams are further ahead than others, we're pleased with the progress we've made so far, and excited by the potential for dramatically improving the way we work, and the results that could be delivered by the Product Lifecycle Management process.

Coming to a BBC Online Product near you...soon!

Chris Russell is Head of Product Management, BBC News and Knowledge


  • Comment number 1.

    Since the BBC is not a 'commercial organisation what happens to project which go in the bin after assessment or even later in the process? They are part of the intellectual property to be deployed for the benefit of 'all in the UK etc.

    It is a well know feature of development management that there is always a a solution to a difficulty 'round the corner.' hence delivery times are extended and cost rise. Been there done that, but I don't see how it fits in.

    The bit at the end of the diagram (what happens afterwards) is important. There is a prior question as to whether a project should be developed by 'successive approximation' or continually...

    How 'conservative is the risk evaluation.... is there tuppence somewhere for blue ski crazy products?

    Finally what is the role of the user (including where appropriate the 'audience') There is an issue about 'Absorbive Capacity' of internal and external users, and theree own innovative capacity to fit products to there requirements.

    I can't see the second diagram Friefox 4 'cos green background are a problem with text.

  • Comment number 2.

    That's all Greek/Geek to me. If you wrote an entry about the R4/R7 message boards closing, you'd get a lot more responses, but I guess that's the point of *not* writing such an entry. Until then, our complaints will always be 'off topic'.

    And don't make me laugh about the complaints procedure. Don't you mean 'feedback'?

  • Comment number 3.

    Meanwhile, on another thread, we're still waiting to hear why the new Radioplayer doesn't work properly and why the promised fixes have not materialised.

    All the management speak and flow diagrams never seem to stop this kind of thing happening every time something new is launched.


  • Comment number 4.

    @ Chris Russell,

    How the BBC's Online Direction Group and Product Direction Groups work with each other.

    Could the committee not decide on how to display the above image ?

    Who chose that image then, and its format ? (598 x 389px 79kB .png)
    Maybe not a good decision to have white text within a coloured background, and it is badly pixelated, has it been converted a few times maybe starting off as a jpg?

    How about replacing it with one on which the detailed information can be read !
    As it stands all it is is a pretty picture, conveying little information.
  • Comment number 5.

    Ivan - RadioPlayer is off topic on this post. See Dave Price's comment on the RadioPlayer blog post.

    John99 - I'm sorry if you can't see the image properly. I will try and find a better one.


  • Comment number 6.

    Comment 5 by Nick Reynolds

    Indeed. But the problem is that the action promised by Dave Price has not materialised and he appears to have disappeared leaving another BBC Online development that was released in a way that does not work properly.

  • Comment number 7.

    But Ivan #6 that's product management for you .... at least the bit I refer to as risk evaluation.... especially one which may undermine the confidence of the 'audience,' When it's out in the wild it says in the diagram which you have to do.
    But risk analysis means anticipating this or adapt the successive approximation model explicitly. There is a whole literature about this nearly 40 years old!

  • Comment number 8.

    Actually the techies are busy readying two products which look interesting

    here :http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/researchanddevelopment/2011/04/prototyping-weeknotes-57.shtml

    The previous post on that blog looks a useful example of successive approximation with a prototype product literally let out into the wild with the content'ies and the audience (those who chose to be) involved.

    This could be another case study studies of BBC Product Management from outside the lecture hall

    The softies might even learn something

    Techies = R&D
    Contenties = Content producers
    Softies = those who develop in general terms app's

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 12.

    tumblewed - sorry about the lack of graphic. It's been busy.

    I will give Dave Price a nudge.


  • Comment number 13.

    Can I just ask Chris, are you the Chris Russell who created the initial consultation about blogs and message boards, and was instrumental in closing down the 606 boards ?

  • Comment number 14.

    Curmy - blogs, message boards and 606 are off topic on this post. Thanks.

  • Comment number 15.

    As a user of some experience of BBC online I can only judge the effectiveness of your processes by the result. From the evidence of the projects we saw at first hand over the past 3 years i'd summize that your processes are either flawed of fail regularly. All in all a lot of big talk that has in practice resulted in less than ideal products, rolled out clumsily and managed poorly. For certain I would be very guarded about using words like 'World Class'. Maybe we should be the judge of that.

  • Comment number 16.

    Oh well Nick, I presume Chris has just arrived at the BBC, as it seems to be his first blog / :

  • Comment number 17.

    Why is asking about the blog's Host off topic Nick ? I seem to remember in one of your earlier posts on another blogs you said this -

    " 1. People complain that the BBC is "faceless". At least on a blog you get a name, an up to date job title and a photograph. "

  • Comment number 18.

    Curmy - you are indeed getting a name and an up to date job title (although not a picture I admit). But the topic of this blog is product management, not whatever Chris may or may not have done in the past. The reasons for the closure of 606 are outlined here.


  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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