Why we do “focuses”

At Metro.co.uk the dev team has tried a lot of different processes. Currently we do “focuses”.

What is a focus?

Each focus is two weeks. There is a theme such as “social”, “page speed” or “engagement”.

We start with a kick-off meeting. This includes people from all the disciplines (content, dev, design, commercial).  The general format is:

  • Give some context around what the challenge is
  • Give everyone a chance to suggest ideas
  • Give everyone a chance to vote on what they think will “turn the dial” the most. Developers use the results from this to help decide what to work on.

Twice a week we have a twenty minute “product standup” where we review progress. We’ve had varying degrees of success at measuring progress using rigorous experiments.

At the end of the two weeks we summarise how successful we were. For example, “this focus we increased clicks per page by 5%”.

Do focuses work?

The last eight weeks (= four focuses) increased clicks per page by a total of 20%.

Prior to this we spent 4 months redesigning the site. We have no idea what the impact of the redesign was. (Traffic actually decreased although it’s unlikely that the redesign was the cause).

Why do focuses?

1. Motivation is critical for a team. People are more motivated when they have a say in what to work on. Focuses promote this.

2. Innovation thrives when people on the frontline are empowered to make decisions. Focuses help people on the frontline understand the business drivers behind the product.

3. One thing we know from experience is this: we get the best results when people from different disciplines work together. Focuses help achieve this.

Without a focus, each discipline tends to work on disparate projects.

4. Steve Jobs said, “Innovation is saying no to 1000 things”. We have a roadmap of the next few focuses which makes it easy to say, “No, i won’t do this now, it can wait until focus X”.

Personally, this is the only time in several years that i haven’t felt swamped by dozens of requests all vying for my time.

5. Our editor Debs wisely says, “fail fast and move on”. Focuses embody this. We’re prepared to invest two weeks on one thing – if it doesn’t show potential in that time then we move on to something else.

Previously, we invested 9 months in a mobile app with no sign that it was delivering results!

6. One thing we know from experience is that when two developers work closely together good things happen. Focuses promote this – it’s geared around the product and the team, not individuals.

Previously, our Head of Development tended to dole out tasks to specific developers.

7. Focuses are robust. It feels like there are less bottlenecks than before.

What are the challenges?

1. If we want designs for the start of the focus then the design team need a week or two to prepare.

(Designers pairing with a developer to design “in browser” might be one way to mitigate this.)

2. Developing our APIs doesn’t fit very well with our focuses.

What challenges have i missed? Leave a comment below!

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