Journalism Product Development: Five Startup Tools To Untangle Business Complexity

When creating new digital tools and systems for journalists, there are usually two main challenges: The first is to design and develop new functions and interfaces. The second is to understand and act on the business issues associated with the emerging product. This post is about the second challenge – which sometimes seems more difficult to tackle. Or even tends to be overlooked.

Thanks to the euBusinessGraph project, we had the chance to do some in depth exploring of the topic. Right at the beginning, the consortium decided to use a selection of Lean Startup oriented business methods and tools that have since supported us with understanding the complex process of developing new products and services (in our case, a new tool for business journalists): Sketching a vision, generating the business model, defining the value proposition, outlining a product roadmap, identifying key user testing priorities, describing the market environment, and matching the competition.

So far we really like this approach. And of course, we're happy to share the methods and tools–along with a short set of instructions.

Sketch a first vision with the Product Vision Board

Product vision board

Generate the business model with the Lean Business Model Canvas

Lean canvas

To come up with the actual business model, we used the Lean Business Model Canvas by Leanstack (which is based on the Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer). We defined problems, outlined solutions, stated our unique proposition–and listed our potential targets and users. Furthermore, we thought about how to measure success (key metrics), what we can offer that competitors are lacking (unfair advantage), and which channels we plan to use to reach our customers. Finally, we detailed the cost structure and key revenue streams. All this information is now contained in one canvas.

Define the value proposition with the Value Proposition Canvas

Value proposition canvas

Another Strategyzer tool is the Value Proposition Canvas. This allowed us to have a deeper understanding of our customers’ problems, difficulties and needs. And, of course, how we would solve them with our journalism tool and euBusinessGraph. The Value Proposition Canvas is part of the larger Strategyzer strategy framework (which includes the Business Model Canvas and a range of other business support methods). Describe how the product will grow with the Go Product Roadmap

Product roadmap canvas

Once our initial vision, business model and value proposition were in place, we needed a plan on how to move on. Or more precisely: How to develop our product over time, based on iterative Lean Startup stages (you've certainly heard about the MVP, the minimum viable product). The tool we used is the Go Product Roadmap (also by Roman Pichler), a goal-oriented product planning tool. Once again using just a single canvas, we were able to describe how our journalism tool is likely to grow. The roadmap holds space for four important releases along with their associated goals, features and metrics.

Work with Test Cards and Learning Cards

Test cards

We now had the strategic models and a roadmap. However, in order to develop and scale our product we also needed to evaluate the main assumptions we've made and do some tests with customers (=journalists). For this, we relied on Test Cards and Learning Cards–yet another set of tools by Strategyzer. While Test Cards are about summarizing assumptions, approaches to testing and key metrics, Learning Cards are designed to register observations, learnings, and resulting actions. Working with Test Cards and Learning Cards is a repetitive process. In the early stages of our project we focused on the most important assumptions we needed to test. As the project is moving on, we're trying to figure out the details.

More methods and approaches

The wider strategy framework and books created by Strategyzer contain more in-depth methods and approaches to support product development. For example, we described the business environment for our tool–and then compared our value proposition with two broadly similar products. We selected key value aspects from our Value Proposition Canvas and checked them against those of related data tools. We explored the digital media environment for our journalism tool. We looked at key trends as well as industry, market and macroeconomic forces that are likely to have an impact.

Other schools of innovation and development include Design Thinking and Agile (which won't be introduced and discussed right now, but need to be mentioned nevertheless). Naturally, there is a fair amount of overlap between all these approaches. Each team has to find the best mix for a given project.

The benefits in a nutshell

First and foremost, the tools outlined here helped us to quickly understand the key business aspects of our project, including pitfalls and challenges. Business processes and product/solution development tend to be very complex–but there are ways to untangle this complexity. One of the most important benefits of our startup kit was that it helped us to quickly share information. In a very comprehensible format, we were able to discuss the initial vision, business model or value proposition with other team members and stakeholders. Hopefully, the clear canvases and cards–now neatly arranged in our offices–will continue to guide us throughout the creation process.

Have you tried them yet?

Photo by J Brew (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Birgit Gray