Iterating a new product culture – Lucie McLean, Children’s BBC
Lucie McLean refers to Socrates when discussing product culture, quoting “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
One of the major challenges as Head of Product for Children’s at the BBC has been creating a new culture in the broader organisation.
“Change can be scary” says Lucie, “but the fact is that there has always been change. Look at the history of televison, back from the early days of black and white to the HD, 3D products that we have now.”
Addressing the Melbourne 2016 Leading the Product audience, Lucie delivered an address detailing her experience across the BBC digital channels of Sport and Children, sharing how she met the challenges that come with the constant need for product evolution.
How to lead change
Lucie asks product professionals to consider three questions: What can you change, What wouldn’t you change … and most importantly, What CAN you change?
No matter what your answers are, without buy-in from those above, your efforts will be a struggle. Often, gaining this buy-in requires clear and simple explanation. Share what you do and why you do it, without using jargon. Justify and demonstrate the results that you get so that you can get the backing of those above you and so that they can in turn share a clear vision with the people above them.
Lucie points out that sometimes it can help to bring in an external expert, someone who can validate and justify the claims that you are making to people who don’t understand what you do.
Once you have that buy-in, Lucie refers back to Socrates, saying that the goal is to lead the thinking.
Case Study: BBC Children’s’ App Update
At one stage, the BBC had seven children’s apps. Some of them had to go. To gain approval for a new vision, Lucie and her team made it clear to management what’s involved in maintaining and updating an app. They shared declining user numbers and laid out the criteria for keeping each app, including the cost, the technical risk and how the app was in keeping with the brand.
The result was that five of the seven apps were taken out of the app store – a win for a team that was ready to focus on new, better ways of doing things.
The perils of a hard launch
In 2012, the BBC relaunched their antiquated sports website. And… the users hated it. Their feedback was downright mean, even though the revised site was slicker and more modern.
In response to this, the next roll out of the sport platform was delivered over two years. Gradual changes and features were introduced with each major sporting event, including the Olympics, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Each feature was able to be extended and reused for future competitions.
A mobile site was launched as part of the responsive strategy. Then came responsive article pages. Before the final rollout of the new sports homepage, the BBC invites users to give feedback on the beta page. 125,000 responses came back, helping to refine features and keep some key elements that the design team had previously thought were redundant.
The result of this extended, calculated project was minimal negative feedback from users – a win!
Building trust in data
The challenge with data is that it defies the long-held idea that the people in charge can and should make decisions based on their beliefs and knowledge.
When leading change, Lucie’s advice is to start with easy, friendly data that is positive and easy to share.
An example she shares is the decision of whether to publicly test a new CBeebies app, something that had never been done before. “We were able to demonstrate that it was more of a risk not to do it” says Lucie, “Once we had three to four thousand userse we gathered data and were able to share information that people could really get behind.”
Business cases are broken
The BBC has a unique model where they have to present a ten year ‘vision’ to the government. In product years, this is practically a century!
Lucie’s approach has been to forget business cases with ready-made solutions. This doesn’t work when you’re not even sure what the problems are yet. However, she and her team have still had to present something in order to get the funding to continue.
Without even wireframes of products, Lucie instead presented user journeys, detailing the future experiences of the BBC Children’s audience. These journeys showed how children would be inspired by the BBC to learn across devices and programs and also to connect meaningfully with the world around them.
Lucie and her team aren’t clear on the exact apps they’re going to be delivering over the next ten years, however they know that each app will require game functionality, social tools and moderation. Creating the plan to establish these building blocks (similar to a pick ‘n mix for apps) will allow for flexibility in the direction that they choose to go down the track. “Each app framework will have components that stem from the core functionalities, enabling us to spend less time on startup and more on experiences.”
About Lucie McLean
She has worked for the BBC for 19 years – nine years in journalism and ten years in product management. Most of her product career has been in mobile products and she led the teams which developed the mobile website and award-winning BBC app for the London 2012 Olympics and the hugely successful BBC Sport app. She now leads the teams developing the BBC’s websites and apps for Children.
She is passionate about increasing diversity in digital organisations and helping those new to the digital world embrace the opportunities it offers. She is also her final year at Manchester Metropolitan University, completing an Executive MBA.