changing communication across the newsroom (part 3 of 3)

This is part three of three.

‘MVP’ Challenges

We worked on Pinboard at different levels of intensity (at a peak there is OKR support with three developers, sometimes it’s just me, using 10% sometimes, hockey days and any other cheeky opportunities to crowbar it among other work OKR) … maybe that’s one of the reasons why it took more than two years from conception to phase into the whole organization.

Probably, though the main reason is the challenging situation we faced when trying to settle on an MVP for a project like Pinboard. Something like Pinboard lives or dies based on a “critical mass” of users. A pinboard doesn’t provide much value if only a few people are using it, because the conversations won’t be that useful … and they will probably stop using it … and our efforts will be wasted and opportunities will be wasted. So we were very familiar with this notion of “critical mass” and it was at the forefront of everything. To make sure users wanted to use it, we added a lot of features and functionality up front that you’d expect many iterations after the MVP for other projects. It finished very rich and polished at the main roll-out point.

This is what we considered in a mega-retro we did a few months back, a little while after the rollout across the org, where we invited all the devs involved in the process and the different engineering managers of the team from all the time we. ‘ worked on Pinboard. The point was raised about how it suddenly became a complex chat application, when we could do something simple in the tooling to make it a bit easier to surface images etc, which is fair to raise, but in preparation for this post I found one of the early OKRs that expresses the ‘opportunity’ of expanding the scope beyond some simple way of recommending pictures. I think “opportunity” is a nice way to think about it and reassure them that we did the right thing.


During this time, we stayed very connected with editorial colleagues, with some of the people from our early shadowing, but also with more senior colleagues, showing prototypes & designs and getting feedback. Lots of meetings and lots of demonstrations.

As we neared an “MVP” (albeit one that has been in development for a long time and is feature-rich), we started testing with real users in production. Since pinboard only loads if the user has permission, with the help of our Central Production Team we could easily pull users in to start a trial and then pull them back.

First we ran a few tests with live blogs, we chose live blogs because they are relatively short (usually no longer than 24 hours) so we could gather feedback and make comments within a short period of time. Overall this was a success, users could see the benefit and we collected a lot of feedback to refine the product.

Then we had to test the value of having these conversations live with the piece over a longer period, where people make transitions over many days. So we managed to experiment with the global development desk and crucially with all the people involved in the process across different functions (writers, sub-editors, picture desk etc). Again, this was successful, users could see the benefit and we collected a lot of feedback to further improve the product.

Because of some positive and solid relationships with the newsletter team, they wanted Pinboard early, so we gave them permission and immediately saw them using Pinboard more/less exactly as we expected and expected of users (sharing and discussing pictures, discussing wording, handing over etc.) even if it spoiled the story of a huge Succession event for one of our Ara devs.

Meanwhile, Ara was developing a great idea from her: an “interactive tour” that can guide users through all the features step by step. It even allows users to practice sending, citing, editing and deleting messages. When using Pinboard for the first time it will start automatically, but it can also be started manually at any time…

So, with the successful trials combined with the functionality of the interactive tours, we were given the green light to release to all journalists. We wrote a tweak to the permissions mechanism to remove pinboard permission from anyone who had Composer or Grid access and… it was live for all users on May 15th 🎉. No production issues, no rollbacks, slow but steady adoption (which we noticed from our metrics dashboard) and some good feedback via the dedicated feedback form linked within the tool. The launch was a huge success, I put together an awesome ‘decorate yourself’ cake to celebrate the launch.

What we’ve seen since launch:

  • We’ve got some real users in editorial (including seniors) who believe in Pinboard and are encouraging others to use it.

  • We’re continuing to have really productive meetings with different teams, leading to more and more teams being put together, and more to come as our team of audiences and lawyers.

We saw a good increase in usage after…

  • A promotional video (like the one at the top of this post) is often played on many of the TV screens in the office.

  • I also commented on the promotional video at this morning’s company-wide conference (suggested by one of our senior employee users).

  • Featured in the internal newsletter throughout the org via an “explain it to me” section, including a link to the video.

What is Pinboard to do?

Although it hasn’t been an OKR focus since launch, we still managed to find time to implement some nice improvements to the Workflow integration, which were in direct response to feedback from various users.

As a side project to sessions with someone I mentor, we’ve started an ‘important messages’ feature. This seeks to tackle one of the most alarming uses of our current tool, which is users using a ‘note’ in composer copy to leave important messages to each other, with the risk of these being published and at best it would cause embarrassment and at least there would be legal issues. We want to move these messages out of the body copy and into Pinboard (where they can’t be published), but display them with the same prominence as notes at the top of a piece.

Another initiative, is to make it easy for users to cut out, retouches etc. Request images from the Imaging team directly on Pinboard. There’s a lovely process for printing where InDesign users can right-click on an image for the paper and ‘Order Imaging’, which appears in a queue directly in Photoshop of imaging staff, where they can pick up the work and to share. the edited image back. Doing the same for digital (rather than print) is terrible and involves email and attachments. This problem has been described as “unsolved for 10 years”…so I’m really looking forward to the day when we can announce that it’s a few clicks in Pinboard for the application users and the same familiar and friendly queue experience of the people of the imaging team.

This is part three of three.


Pinboard was built at Tom Richards, Jenny Graham-Jones, Thalia Silver, Andrew Nowak, Phillip Barron & Ara Cho with additional contributions from developers from Fred O’Brien & Samantha Gottlieb. Product Design from Anna Pradas and Direction product from Calvin Dickson. Throughout supported by the rest of the Content Production team in the Product & Engineering Department. Not forgetting the input/time/effort from a number of Guardian journalists, who helped shape Pinboard.

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