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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.

Our product people are highly influential on the scope of projects, so that we can get new features like Apple News into the marketplace and see how they perform. This is where the concept of “minimum viable product” shines. Let’s see what our users like and build on that. Scope is determined by asking, “What do we really need to investigate an idea?”  The challenge is to identify something that is useful and inspiring, but isn’t so complex that it’s months before trying it out in the marketplace.

Short, direct projects like Apple News use a modified Kanban approach. Higher-complexity, longer-duration projects with a significant number of dependencies lend themselves to sprints and variable delivery dates. Regardless of project characteristics, validation is in line with development. We are always in a deployable state and manage the overhead of the deployment pipeline so that we can deploy frequently.

CIO.com: What does the planning process look like? How do you plan the next release? How do you coordinate teams?

Whether or not we have a business need to deliver new code to production at a high-frequency daily basis, building a method of delivery that is consistent and lightweight enough to do so means we have optimized our resources, clearly understood our delivery infrastructure and appropriately accounted for risks. Let the repetitive tasks of delivery be low cost and low impact.

CIO.com: I realize that there are no typical days, but still, what is a "typical" day in the life of a program manager? Are there any weekly, monthly or other key meetings you attend?

My focus is working together with the engineering team, product team and brand team, determining the right things to spend our time and resources on.

This is also a planning and communication role. Identifying roles on a project – creating the right distribution list has an enormous impact on getting the right information into the right hands to avoid surprises. It seems like such a menial task, but it has real human impact. Over-communication causes important information to be ignored or responsibilities dropped. And, no one likes the surprises that result from lack of information.  I try to be creative and concise with information sharing so that it cuts through the clutter.

One of my favorite meetings we call “Team Crushing It.” This is a collaboration meeting where individuals of Product, Engineering, Program and Editorial (but also an open-invite) take the user interaction numbers, and look at what’s performing well or poorly. This could be content or features of the site. We walk out of the session with ideas to test. Some ideas can require engineering, some ideas can be tried right away with the existing tools.

 

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