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BBC Online - Adopting Product Management

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 10:51 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

Last week, the BBC Academy launched its Product Management Development Programme to give staff an overview of the discipline and the skills it entails.  At the same time, the BBC Academy published a specially-commissioned report into the state of product management in 2010.  I’m delighted that the BBC as a best practice leader is playing such an important part in the adoption of a discipline which is rapidly gaining prominence in the UK media industry.

Why do we need Product Management?  In March of this year the BBC announced a new strategy – Putting Quality First.  I have blogged previously about the significance of this for BBC Online.  Putting Quality First recognised the importance of BBC Online within the BBC’s overarching strategy, and proposed we focus on doing ‘fewer things better’.  BBC Online started life as a flat text-publishing medium via which static web pages were delivered, before the web began to mature and the offering grew.  To help us to rationalise this, we’ll be introducing modern management processes to bring it all together.

By 2012 it’s estimated that around 90% of UK homes will have access to our services via the web so it’s important that we get this right.  Product management will enable us to think more strategically about developing our online presence, and deliver a better quality and more innovative service for audiences. The pursuit of quality will be supported by better ways of working together.  The report published yesterday defines the product management role as ‘a multi-disciplined person who operates at the intersection of technology, design and editorial and is able to bring all of these elements together’ to deliver products whose lifecycle is managed.  We’ll no longer build websites which are published and which sit unattended and slowly degrade; products will be managed within a life cycle.  This could mean gradual addition of new features, new content, new releases, but also includes the ultimate decommissioning of a product.

How will we make this change happen?  The UK is currently behind the US in its adoption of the discipline, but the BBC is lucky to have a small but solid foundation to build on. Some recent hires of practiced, multi-discipline product management experts will help us lead the charge. On top of this, I’m proud that the BBC Academy is investing in professional development to prepare existing staff for cultural change, and more broadly, our contribution to the development of a new generation of world-class product managers and an important industry standard.

I’ve no doubt that product management will soon be embraced by many other European media companies.  In the meantime, I’d urge you to take a look at the report published last week which provides a great insight into the state of product management in 2010 via various case studies and testimonials.  It concludes that we’ve reached a tipping point where media companies are beginning to understand the value of a product-led approach, but also that there’s a skills gap in the industry, something which we hope our training initiative will begin to address.

Erik Huggers is Director of BBC Future Media & Technology

You can read more about how the BBC spotlights the role of Product Manager in the media  in the press release.


  • Comment number 1.

    Does the new "Product Management Development Programme" and "Putting Quality first" mean that you hope some future fourth round of bug fixing will restore the BBC Messageboards to a properly functioning state. (For the third round of 23 bug fixes, 22 of which were deployed, but probably with only limited success see the BBC fixes blog)

    And hopefully the as yet unanounced Desktop v 3.0.8 release will work to play programmes without them expiring incorrectly so being unplayed. (but sometimes continuing to clog up hard drives).

    It is interesting to read
    "We’ll no longer build websites which are published and which sit unattended and slowly degrade; products will be managed within a life cycle. "
    Is that to be interpreted as the BBC now releases "managed" bug ridden degraded versions of website software such as messageboards and iPlayer Desktop.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi John99,
    thanks for your comment.
    You might be interested in Paul Clark's post on the Internet Blog, about version 3.0.8 of BBC iPlayer Desktop, which is now available for beta testing.

    Best wishes,

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi John99,
    sorry I posted the wrong link! Here is Paul Clark's post on the Internet Blog.
    Best wishes,

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks Laura, I hope problems do get fixed. I just find it rather frustrating that BBC often does not comment on problems, and that problems seem to re-occur thus the multiple releases of iPlayer, and all the problems with the Messageboards.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am a bit worried that your plans include the decommissioning of "products". It's bad enough that so many existing microsites/products/TLDs have been mothballed. But to completely decommission any collection of webpages (whatever you want to call them) will break all inbound links, which is bad for the BBC site, its users and the web as a whole.

    Can't you have a strategy which plans for the future and doesn't result in absurd URLs? We all know that Cool URIs don't change, it just takes a little foresight.

  • Comment number 6.

    sorry I posted the wrong link!
    Thanks, I did find the blogs you mention but I consider Erik Huggers could have posted more accurate link in the main blog post, look at published a specially-commissioned report into the state of product management in 2010.

    The link may then be followed to a 60 odd page pdf :
    "The State of Product Management 2010" - https://www.bbctraining.com/documents/product_mgt_report.pdf

    One section concentrates on iPlayer and on page 29 says without any hint of irony whilst discussing "[BBC Head of iPlayer] Hewines doesn’t use a formal product vision statement.":

    That means making sure that every team
    member knows that the most important
    thing is that the basic things that audiences
    need work really reliably and really well.
    And then when we design features that
    elaborate on that, we do it in a way that
    makes it easy, simple and fun.

    Presumably the report pre-dates the recent managed changes to iPlayer. Maybe the report could be updated.

    Now the BBC is busily adding features back that were removed; and on an eighth revision beta of iPlayer Desktop, in a yet another attempt to fix its unreliability.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm rather a good cook... I buy the ingredients and make the dish. No ready meals for me! I go to the library and get some books... I use them to make up ideas. No 'ideology product' for me. I have a computer on which I do about 100 things. I have some browsers, which I customize to give me maximum fun and practicality. I don't want a black box where YOU decide what to put in it because I fit a demographic, and have sexual preference and am male an old! That's how consumer products are developed.

    Top Shop doesn't like me going there

    And what of this goes into the BBC Archive? I ask.

    The BBC is not really like Microsoft or ITV. The audience in a sense own what is produced and in my view have rights albeit limited by cost the have access not just to products but to everything for ever.

    If you want a product company go HBO.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hello Lucas42,

    thanks for your comment. I asked our editorial management team about this, and Ian Hunter, Managing Editor for BBC Online, replied as follows:

    “We strive to avoid deleting URLs and breaking any inbound links. Permanent URLs now exist for individual programme pages across our broadcast output, and we've taken a similar approach with much of our factual content to ensure URLs are as future-proof as possible. However, we do have lots of legacy content to manage. Sometimes we can 'annualise' this, which lets us showcase the best content from previous years while still providing up-to-date information about the current season. For example, within destinations like Glastonbury
    or Proms. When content is out of date, but still useful for reference, pages are 'mothballed'. This signals that the page hasn't been updated for some time. We avoid removing content altogether unless there are good editorial or legal reasons for doing so. At present, it is complicated to archive old content in a way which both makes it accessible, but separates it from the current proposition. We are working on options and hope to blog about them on the Internet Blog,
    in the future.”

    Best wishes,

  • Comment number 9.

    One set of Lost URLs and a whole lot of functionality to help with BBC accessibility continues to be quietly dropped as "improvements" are made.

    It is something the BBC designed to help the those with vision problems. The BBC 'Betsie' did two things
    1) allowed bbc webpages and message boards to be in LARGER TEXT,giving choices of size colur and backgrond colour.
    2) produced a text only page designed to be used in text to speech readers.

    The function as described by the BBC being
    What Is Betsie?

    Betsie stands for BBC Education Text to Speech Internet Enhancer, and is a simple Perl script which is intended to alleviate some of the problems experienced by people using text to speech systems for web browsing. For an explanation of that in plain English, see the About Betsie page. For the complete technical details of Betsie, visit the Betsie Technology page. { quoted from]

    You will note broken links on the Betsie page because it now says it works on and tries to link to improved pages where it does not work. The link from pages and messageboards that allow it to be used have also been quietly removed as I have mentioned a couple of times

    And a recent update about BBC product development, this one from a user of iPlayer is a must read for anyone who has encountered problems with use of iPlayer Desktop, it is rather more informative than the BBC comments and it includes information about the newest beta revision 8 [beta iPD v3.0.8]. the insightful close:
    "In short, I do not believe the BBC representatives (the speaking ones) actually know what is going on with the software, because I do not believe they are being reliably informed by the development team. I am not alleging deception; it is highly likely the developers do not understand the fundamental weaknesses in their design or the problems we are experiencing and reporting. And I am just referring to technical function here, not the more subjective design issues.

    Now you see why I was too angry to post yesterday.

    Karin [ :-( ]"

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for the reassurances Laura. I knew the BBC already mothballed some old sites, but Eric's talk of "ultimate decommissioning" sounded like a change in strategy.

    It's great to see newer URLs being designed with future-proofing in mind (e.g. /programmes, /music and the Wildlife Finder), hopefully we'll see more of this in future and less mothballing.

  • Comment number 11.

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


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