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The software behind the scenes at Food Network and HGTV

Matthew Heusser | Dec. 23, 2015
A cable television network requires round-the-clock programming, an agile development team, some impressive software and a whole bunch of project management. CIO.com’s Matthew Heusser sat down with Tara Nicholson at Scripps Networks Interactive to find out how this complicated operation works.

CIO.com: How many teams do you manage – and what do the teams do? I imagine they run keep the websites up, but are there are technology tasks we wouldn't expect?

Depending on the scope of a project, between five and 15 teams could be contributing to its launch. Most of those teams are internal, but can also include vendors.

We have two primary audiences we serve, the greater public of home-, food- and travel-loving individuals who browse and enjoy the live sites, and the internal content management system (CMS) for the editorial team to create and maintain pages. We have built the system to be open and flexible to give our creative teams the largest opportunity to present their images and articles in an intriguing way while maintaining an attractive, cohesive look. We also manage it to remove obstacles or inefficiencies so that their only challenge is coming up with good content, and not be delayed getting it onto the live site.

CIOcom: What does agile mean to you?

One of my favorite characteristics of this environment, particularly around an agile development implementation, is the types of deliverables we support, such as publication dates, large-scale technology changes, small-scale products or enhancements, maintenance updates and vendor integrations. Projects that support a publication date, such as HGTV Smart Home or Food Network Star, require scope and resources to be adjusted to accommodate an absolute date. Large-scale changes like moving the sites to cloud infrastructure involve many teams working in orchestra over a large amount of time. Each of these types of deliverables are bundled up into each of the programs. We choose a project management solution that is also variable.

We keep focused on the bigger picture by handling maintenance work, break-fixes, by prioritizing it within our roadmap. Bug-free and pixel-perfect software is a myth.  We focus our resources on break-fixes that have meaningful impact and are worth spending time away from progress on new products or user interactions.

The Home Program is organized as one-team, which means from those resources, project teams or “pods” can spin up and wind down as the goals warrant. This lets engineers dedicate themselves to one project at a time, lowering the impacts of multi-tasking, and it gives us the ability to shift priorities quickly. The “pod” is multi-functional. We all still have our unique identity and skillsets, but we created habits that enable a good bit of cross-over.

CIO.com: Tell me a specific story about a project – how you estimated the scope, negotiated for resources, planned the work and coordinated the last few sprints?

We were recently launch partners with Apple News, a new app in the iOS 9 operating system. This is an example of a publication date-driven project in which date of completion was fixed, but scope and resources needed to be variable. The time frame from inception to completion was very short. The project “pod” was organized in less than a day by assessing priority of work in progress. The team was able to isolate itself from distractions while the tech lead, product lead and I ran reconnaissance.

 

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