Practically anything can be a product. A whole website? Sure. A mobile app? Absolutely. That idea you had that one time about a cake-and-pie delivery service that used your phone GPS to find you wherever you were and bring you cake…or pie…or both? Oh one hundred percent yes. (I would invest heavily in that service, BTW.)
Whatever form your product or products take, chances are, at one time or another, they’re going to need a little (or maybe a lot, no judgment here) product direction to make them a reality or help improve upon what you have.
I used to think I was relatively new to the world of product direction until a colleague at Hearst pointed out that everything we’d been working on up to that point could be considered product and therefore, we’d actually been acting as product directors for years without realizing it. It’s not entirely untrue.
As the Managing Editor of the Hearst Digital Brands, I was the main product director for the proprietary CMS. This largely involved documenting and detailing the system and satellite systems to better understand how they all worked together. I canvassed the editorial teams to get their feedback on workflows, functionality, pain points, etc. Interpreting creative/editorial needs and translating them into requirements that the back end development team could understand was something of a challenge, but one that I relished tackling. In the end, I helped the entire team update the systems so that they worked more efficiently and smoothly together, while acting as the “tech whisperer” for all of my editorial colleagues.
I was hired as the mobile product director for HGTV in 2012, primarily to coordinate and manage their initial mobile offerings for video, but I quickly determined that the brand needed a solution for their site content that wasn’t getting optimized for mobile. Through researching the existing platforms, data, assets and onsite development resources, I came up with a product recommendation that made use of the new Adobe Digital Publishing System and a local vendor who offered a cost reduction in exchange for the chance to learn this new platform. HGTV Shelf was born. The product direction in this case involved systems analysis, staffing capabilities, workflow examination as well as asset management. I also managed the ongoing issue planning and release schedule. It was more like program management, actually, and it was loads of fun.
Product Direction here at Scripps varies from category to category. Within the Home Category, which consists of HGTV, DIY, Front Door, and Gardens, our “product direction” is more all-encompassing. As product directors, we tend to manage everything from soup to nuts. We interview the brand/business side to get their needs document, then work with our technical and design teams to conceive of actionable solutions. We also coordinate resources and delivery schedules, bringing projects to closure, large or small, with a minimum of drama.
For the past two years, I’ve been acting as the Product Director for the HGTV Photo Experiences. This was a huge undertaking, starting from scratch on a product we’d never entertained before — at least not to this extent. My mandate was to develop an in-depth photo database product that enabled editors to add massive amounts of metadata to existing images in our storage as well as new images coming in from external sources. I was also required to research and determine the data requirements for these images, making sure to adhere to industry standards while including brand-specific needs. And then there was the user-facing portion of this product — the HGTV Photo Library. The brand needed a competitive photo product that allowed users to filter, find, save and share photos from the HGTV archives, shows and designers. And it all had to work together seamlessly and be manageable by a team of five people.
Not a tall order at all.
A tall order that we filled on November 4, 2014 when we launched the entirely new HGTV.com site and Photo Library.
Within two months of that launch, we were already iterating upon what we launched, running usability testing to garner user feedback, tweaking functionality and display in two-week sprints that allowed us to increase our numbers exponentially in a very short period of time.
While that product is off and running, I’m managing the photo processes and products for our other sites, including DIY Network and GAC, which will be launching in the next few weeks.