What the hell is a sprint?

First some context. The media landscape is constantly changing. Metro has to adapt faster than it’s competitors.

The good news: Metro has so many ideas about how to grow!

The bad news: the law of competition states that most new ideas will flop 😦

A true story. In 2011, Metro’s Head of Digital has us work solidly for a year on four new ideas: TV listings, better reader comments, user registration, and custom competitions.

They all had ZERO impact. We wasted an entire year. (It was the year Buzzfeed overtook us).

The answer? 3 things…

1. What does success look like?

Do you have success criteria? It matters because your idea is your baby and you think it’s beautiful. You will fight for your baby unless there is a unequivocal way to tell, “actually your baby is a zombie and it’s going to eat all of us if you don’t abandon it”.

How not to do it.

When we made Metro Nutshell we had no clear success criteria. We spent a year (on and off) working on it – the page, the navigation, keeping the content fresh, videos, analysing the clicks, a newsletter.

The result? It was a drop in the ocean: 0.1% of Metro’s page views. We wasted a year, again.

2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

This is the corollary of having a success criteria.

I actually think that the core Nutshell idea was good, but not as a standalone page (or video).

We should have planned it as an experiment. What was our hypothesis? How could we test it?

What if we put Nutshell in the homepage sidebar? What if we A/B tested it?

The good news: the simpler you make it, the easier it is to test a hypothesis.

How not to do it. Take a long time to create something with lots of bells and whistles… find that you can’t learn from it because there are too many factors to account for.

3. Deep collaboration

Forget meetings and documents. Have daily conversations between writers, video desk, designers, whoever. It’s how Apple make there products so integrated.

Follow those 3 rules and you have a sprint – a quick way to learn what users want and what they don’t.

To find out more read this.

The profit paradox

At Metro, it’s been suggested that we “monetize everything”.

The dev team happens to be very commercially minded. Most of the developers have started their own commercial venture. Plus, i have a degree in economics.

Clearly we need to monetize our product, but we shouldn’t monetize everything. Here’s why.

1. The most valuable company in the world is Apple. Their biggest commercial successes came from Steve Jobs, who put great products before profit…

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation

2. The Obliquity paradox is explained by top economist John Kay in his book of the same name – “the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented”

“At one time Boeing’s leaders would ‘eat, breathe, and sleep the world of aeronautics’.  The company created the 747 and its fortunes soared.  When in 1998 it shifted focus to shareholder return and return on investment the company, well, took a dive.”

3. Metro exists to publish great content, and this requires revenue.

If Metro exists to make profit… why did we choose news? Why didn’t we choose to be an IT recruiter or a property developer?

4. It’s about finding the right balance

Conclusion: the question is “what should we monetize”, not “how do we monetize everything”.

Apple’s design secrets

I’m reading the Steve Job biography at the moment. It’s so gripping!

Here are some highlights about design. First Jony Ive,

Much of the design process is a conversation… There are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, we can make the decisions fluid. Since we iterate every day and never have dumb-ass presentations, we don’t run into major disagreements

Jobs’ biographer writes,

Because he [Jobs] believed that Apple’s great advantage was its integration of the whole widget—from design to hardware to software to content—he wanted all departments at the company to work together in parallel. The phrases he used were “deep collaboration” and “concurrent engineering.”

Instead of a development process in which a product would be passed sequentially from engineering to design to manufacturing to marketing and distribution, these various departments collaborated simultaneously. “Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.

This approach also applied to key hires. He would have candidates meet the top leaders—Cook, Tevanian, Schiller, Rubinstein, Ive—rather than just the managers of the department where they wanted to work. “Then we all get together without the person and talk about whether they’ll fit in,” Jobs said… You need to have a collaborative hiring process.

My favorite quotes from the book are

  • “Less but better”, Dieter Rams
  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Leonardo da Vinci

One last extract from Ive,

Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.

For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential

The problem isn’t fake news or Facebook

There’s been a lot of noise recently about fake news being promoted by Facebook.

I believe the bigger problem is real news. It’s a more subtle problem, but also more dangerous because we consume far more real news than fake news.

I believe that this is a big opportunity for the people bold enough to tackle it.

Here are four big problems with news. (1) People look to news to make sense of the world but…

News makes it harder to understand the world, not easier

News lacks perspective.

For example, 9/11 was huge news. The news made people fear terrorism despite the fact that terrorism is actually a very minor risk.

In the UK, bees and wasps kill more people than terrorism.

In the US, there are 600,000 deaths a year from heart disease compared to 30 a year from terrorism.

2. News makes people miserable

News is negatively skewed. The Metro.co.uk homepage currently has twice as many negative stories as positive stories. Other news sites are worse.

This is despite the fact that the world is more peaceful, people are healthier, and people are materially better off than ever before in human history.

3. Information overload

We spend over 8 hours a day consuming media!

MailOnline publishes 900 articles a day!

4. News misses most of the interesting stuff

Most of the interesting content on the web is NOT news.

Most of the best stuff on YouTube, Reddit and Instagram is NOT news.

TED.com, Netflix, Time Out and Meetup.com are NOT news.

A quick recap

News misleads people, makes people miserable, overloads people and misses most of the interesting stuff out there.

The opportunity

What if there was…

  • A brand that was more interesting
  • A brand that makes you happier
  • A brand that freed up more of your time
  • A brand that makes the world clearer, rather than distorting it

There is a parallel with the fast food industry – the likes of McDonalds are being replaced by Subway and Pret. Consumers have become more savvy and now expect their food to be not just fast and tasty but healthier too.

I believe the same thing will happen to news. The first brand to figure out how will win big.

What do you think… is it time to re-invent news?

Related links

Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Snippet from “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by UX guru Steve Krug.

“…the kind of testing i’m recommending you do… definitely qualititive. The purpose isn’t to prove anything; it’s to get insights that enable you to improve what you’re building.

As a result, do-it-yourself tests can be much more informal and, well, unscientific. This means that you can test fewer users…

There’s no data gathering involved. Instead, members of the development team, stakeholders, and any other interested parties observe the session from another room…

The funny thing is, it just works”



Why we love the 80/20 rule

At Metro, we love the 80/20 rule. We do the 20% of the work that gets 80% of the results.

The 80/20 rule is 4 times more productive than the “100% rule”!

Just in case it’s not clear why, the table below illustrates.

Work done Output using 100% rule Output using 80/20 rule
20% Thing 1: Output 20 Thing 1: output 80
40% Thing 1: Output 20 Thing 2: output 80
60% Thing 1: Output 20 Thing 3: output 80
80% Thing 1: Output 20 Thing 4: output 80
100% Thing 1: Output 20 Thing 5: output 80
TOTAL Output 100 Output 80 x 5 = 400


Sprint by Jake Knapp

Awesome book, buy it. Here’s a taster…

It’s a freezing December day, overcast and blustery. Two cofounders lean close to each other and exchange a few words. One week ago, their last prototype failed, but they think they know why. They’ve made a few fixes, and this morning, both men feel confident. After more then three years of building and testing, their crazy long-term goal might be within reach.

A cutting twenty-mile-per-hour wind curls fine spray off the sand. Most people would say the weather sucks, but the two men hardly seem to notice. If their prototype fails, they’ll still learn something, and they know that only five people will see it happen. They make the final preparations and check in with the observers. It’s time to begin.

And it works. For twelve glorious seconds, everything goes right. Their second test is another success, and the third. Hours after beginning, they run the fourth and final test of the day, and boom! Four-for-four. In the last test, the prototype works for a full fifty-nine seconds, and the cofounders are elated.

It’s 1903, and Orville and Wilbur Wright have just become the first humas to fly a powered aircraft…

The Wright brothers started with an ambitious, practically crazy goal. At first, they didn’t know how to get there. So they figured out which big questions they needed to answer…

For the next few years, they made progress by staying in a prototype mindset. One step at a time, they isolated challenges and broke through obstacles. Could they get enough lift? Would a person be able to keep the aircraft steady? Could they add an engine? Along the way they crashed. A lot. But each time, they used a new prototype purpose-built to answer one specific question. They remained fixed on the long-term goal, and they kept going…

Forming a question, building an experiment, and running a test became a way of life… Sprints [focuses] can create those habits in your company.