At L’ArcoBaleno, a curated marketplace for historical and contemporary design, we used Agile and Scrum development methodologies to produce magazine-style content and to release unique objects onto the site.
As Production Manager, my responsibilities were to oversee the creation and publication of online content, in line with brand standards, as well as to schedule the daily release of objects into the marketplace. Alongside Sales and Marketing, the Production Team handled:
- Objects for the marketplace
- Magazine-style editorial content
- Designer, gallery, and museum profiles
- Landing pages for Google AdWord campaigns
- Banner campaigns
- Social media content
The site content needed to be long-lasting as we had the vision of being the online resource for contemporary and historically important design.
Source: L’ArcoBaleno’s Design Guide Overview
L’ArcoBaleno sourced objects internationally, with only a small percentage selected to be curated on the website. Many of the objects were unique and some were of museum quality. Naturally, these exclusive objects had large price tags that reflected their rarity and collectability.
Selling such unique pieces online is no easy task. Each object needed glossy photography, detailed descriptions, as well as being linked to a designer profile and/or gallery profile. All photography was edited to match the visual language of the site, and every text had to be written, edited, fact-checked, and then proofread.
Source: Set of Six Maple Chairs by L’ArcoBaleno
It was important to control how objects and content were released on the site. As a curated platform we needed:
- A spectrum of high and low priced objects.
- A mix of contemporary and historically important objects and profiles.
- Content had to be linked as part of our SEO concept.
- To ensure that not all objects were from one designer or category.
- Products that made sense seasonally, e.g. no outdoor furniture in winter.
- For special events, such as Valentines day, marketing materials and collections needed to be assembled in advance.
After stepping into the Production role from a Product Management background, I discovered that many of the same issues that Dev Teams face could also slow down content production.
- Instead of a Kanban-style production line where an object or text move its way through a pipeline, each had different components that needed to be worked on simultaneously by different people.
- We had two offices, one in Berlin and one in New York, with a six hour time difference.
- Freelancers worked to their own schedule, often through the night while full-time staff kept fairly standard daytime working hours.
- Sales was often on the road and also the main source of information regarding galleries, designers, and objects.
- Cloud-based spreadsheets to track workflow was getting out of hand due to the volume of work.
- People were struggling with mountains of emaills, with critical information trapped in individual inboxes.
The Ticketing System
To assign tasks it was obvious that we needed a ticketing system. The Dev Team were already using Jira (which is specifically for code-based projects), we had enough licences for the team, and I had used it previously at other companies. After some research I concluded that software used for content production was often pricey and not web-based. It was by no means ideal but we trailed Jira for content production and it worked well.
- Workflows could be easily mapped to Jira’s different ticket types.
- Tickets can only be assigned to one person at a time, reducing double-ups of work being created.
- Dashboards gave an overview of where we were at: an improvement over spreadsheets.
- Email push notifications were useful reminders of tasks outstanding.
- Tickets could be assigned with comments to give context.
- Tickets were searchable.
- Different versions of a text could uploaded to a ticket, showing its evolution.
- It acted as a database of all the content we had worked on.
- The priority flag feature on tickets to push objects through the production pipeline quicker.
- Linking tickets showed relationships between objects, designers, and galleries. This helped our writers to get maximum millage out of their texts as parts of texts could be reused.
The Daily Standup
While ticketing was useful to manage who-was-working-on-what, we needed a daily routine to keep everyone in the loop. We were all motivated, and as specialists left to our own devices, we would drift in different directions, too focused to notice the affect this had on other team members. We needed to ensure that we all pulled in the same direction.
Every morning after the Dev Team’s 15min standup meeting, we would run a similar meeting for the Production Team with each team member giving a short update about what they were working on and any problems that were slowing them down. Anyone in the company could join if they wished. The benefits of the standup were:
- Everyone had an equal opportunity to share their view
- People were accountable for their output
- Issues were uncovered quickly, before becoming major problems
- It created an environment where quieter team members felt confident to speak.
- The Head of Product attended and gave updates, humanly answering people’s tech questions, whilst shielding the Dev Team from requests.
- You could get a feel for upcoming feature requests, gauge a feature’s importance, suggest new features, and capture the team’s concerns.
- We could plan for holidays and absences vocally and quickly.
- The amount of email sent was reduced.
- We could make a checklist of topics to discuss with the New York office
- People who were on the road often knew that there was a meeting at the same time everyday and could plan their schedules around it.
The standup meetings were a major ingredient of our social glue. They helped to bind the team together, promoted collaboration, and instigated group problem solving. It was the one time of the day where we weren’t heads down, focused our screens.
The Production Board
Physical production boards are tactile and bring gamification into the mix. Adding a ‘done’ ticket to a task became a satisfying office ritual.
We started with every possible production step, creating a lengthy checklist. Over time, we refined and reduced the steps as a team, streamlining the whole operation.
It was not uncommon for magazine articles to be shuffled around in the schedule. With a board we could visually see how other impacted content in the pipeline. When objects became stuck in the pipeline they were moved into a separate backlog.
It was not an overhead to synchronise the physical board with the digital one because everyone was responsible for their own tickets and eager to close them or assign them to the next person.
Additionally, the board made our KPIs and output transparent, and highlighted where resources were lacking and the bottlenecks that caused.