The Boston Globe | Responsive Web Design

You know, there’s—and I think the two of you may at some point or another heard me do this before—but a lot of times I really love the show, The West Wing.

Not so much for the reason that’s it’s about the West Wing or American government politics, so much as there’s a lot of scenes in which they apply to life for the way that a business functions and stuff like that.

And so, I kind of think it might be fun to use this allegory.

The story is kind of an allegory of the way things… the culture shift that happened. Harkening back to my reference to “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” the culture of the Globe was that a stakeholder would make a request and file a request via our ticketing system if it was actionable, or would ask to have a meeting to talk about some kind of product request that they wanted to make. And because the editors didn’t really understand how the business decisions were made and how the product team worked, more often than not the requests that they made were just kind of fall flat, which makes me think of this episode in The West Wing.

I think it was like the fourth season in which Mrs. Bartlett, the First Lady, Abbey Bartlett, she learns that if she wanted to have an agenda and if she wanted her agenda taken seriously, she was going to have to begin to understand how the business decisions got made. In the beginning of the episode, there’s this scene in which Josh Lyman, who is one of the core advisors to the President, is sitting in a budgeting meeting with the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, which happens to be her cousin. They’re talking about what the budget’s mission was and how everybody was happy with how much money it was. And the nephew, his name was Max, says, “Mrs. Bartlett was promised like 12 million dollars for immunization education funds at the CDC and you’ve got the full $139 million for vaccines in here. Shouldn’t they be earmarked separately?” And Josh says, “No, no, no, we gave away those $12 million.” And Max, the cousin, or the Chief of Staff is like, “You’re kidding me.” And Josh says, “No, no, no I’m really not.” And Max is like, “But the First Lady, the First Lady, the boss, she asked for this. No one notified me that this was no longer even on the table or even negotiable.” And Josh says, “Well you get a memo daily.” And Max says, “I get 35 of them. You know I can’t really get through all of them.” And Josh says, “Oh well, that’s your problem not mine.” And kind of walks away. And so later on, a little bit later in the episode, the First Lady comes to visit Josh and she says, “You outwitted my Chancellor. You bested my swordsman.” And Josh says, “I haven’t mentioned this in a while ma’am, but I think that you and the President are a perfect couple.” And Abbey’s like, “I really wanted that $12 million.” And then Josh says, “Me too, but at the end of the prize fight you look around at the guy who’s dancing around and that’s the person who won.” And Abbey says, “But why can’t my agenda get anywhere in these negotiations?” And Josh says, “Well why do you think that is?” And Abbey, the First Lady, she says, “Because you’re a political snob who doesn’t think that the First Lady belongs on the starboard side of the building.” And Josh just says, “Wrong.” And First Lady Abbey, she says, “Why am I wrong?” And Josh says, “The President and Leo make their decisions by listening to and participating in vigorous debate. This isn’t school. I work with people who can play.” And Abbey says, “Are you comfortable being this condescending to me?” And Josh says, “Yes, of course I am.” And not understanding why, Josh says, “Because I won. I always won and you came here to ask for my advice. And Max, your nephew, he’s an idiot. And he doesn’t understand the budgeting process, he doesn’t understand the committee structure, and he thinks decisions are made in meetings.”

And I love that scene because that is exactly how business decisions get made at major media companies. People who think that they file a request and that’s the way they get things done, don’t understand how business decisions get made. Implementing a responsive design, and any kind of content strategy for that matter, is a business decision. Every single time you hear the term strategy, it’s a business decision. And the thing that editors and people on the newsroom side don’t really understand is that element of things. And on the business side, they oftentimes don’t include the editors enough in this process.

So one of the things that was interesting about my reporting structure, when I was at the Boston Globe, is I not only managed a team of editorial designers but I also managed a team of product designers, which meant I sat at the intersection of both the newsroom and the product side of things. I reported the VP of product development and I reported to a managing editor in the newsroom, which meant I was constantly this mechanism for these two sides to talk to each other. It was kind of stressful and it was kind of hard, but it was one of the reasons why we were, everybody started to understand how this was going be changing, what were doing and how we were going at things. And as I started to understand how business decisions got made, because I didn’t know this, I started to figure out a way to get myself in the meeting before the meeting, and to get myself in as being one of the advisors to how we were going to approach things strategically. So if I wanted—or the managing editor wanted—to campaign for some certain kind of approach that should allow something for them to have on the editorial side, I could start to socialize that and talk about it very early on so that the first time this idea was introduced was not in the meeting in front of everybody including the publisher. That we had started socializing this idea for awhile prior to that meeting and it made things go a lot smoother, there was no surprises. You don’t really want to be in a position in which we’re arguing about things in front of the publisher, in front of the executive editor. You want to have everybody on the same page prior to that meeting. This was a fascinating process for me to learn. I definitely think that it had big implications for how… when you’re approaching a project that’s going to be as big and have as many implications as a responsive website for your business, this is one of those things that has to happen.

One of the hardest parts is when you get hired externally to come in and figure out how to design it. You’re hired by a media company to come up with these prototypes and to come up with some designs for the company to adopt. If you don’t have somebody internally who really understands what you’re trying to do and can begin to socialize some of those ideas, then when you come and present it to people, you’re just presenting hoping that you are doing a good sell. But any time you’re trying to try something new and try something a little innovative or really pushing a company to try something that in the long run is most likely going to be best for them, if you’re just doing it in a series of meetings in which you lob something over the fence and hope that they bite on it, I mean, that’s fishing. That’s not really selling something and helping them help themselves. Does that answer your question, Karen?

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