Cogent Conversations: Episode 3 - Cogent

Cogent Conversations: Episode 3

Gin Atkins from The Conversation

Episode 3: The Conversation (Part 2)

This is the second of two episodes we recorded with The Conversation. If you missed Episode 1, check it out first.

In this episode, we go deeper into how the ethos of this organisation translates into how they go about building their digital products.

The Conversation describes itself as an “independent source of news, analysis and expert opinion, written by academics and researchers, and delivered direct to the public”.

Central to the way they deliver news, The Conversation requires that every author reveal their area of expertise, how they get their funding and any conflicts of interest they hold.

With over 10 million monthly visitors and a reach of over 37 million people through replication, this not-for-profit news organisation that started in Melbourne now has staff based in over 10 different sites around the world.

We visited their Melbourne office and spoke with Gin Atkins, who was Head of Product at the time of the interview, about topics like their team rituals, working across different time zones, and communicating product direction with internal stakeholders.

If you are interested in hearing more about The Conversation, check-out the first episode of this podcast where we talk with Lisa Watts, CEO and Executive Director; and Misha Ketchell, Editor.

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Adam Murry

Meet the host: Adam Murray

Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).

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Full Episode Transcript

Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations podcast, made by the people at Cogent. Cogent Conversations is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best. We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer, so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at Cogent.co.

Gin Atkins: It’s easy to sometimes go, you know are we a journalism organisation or are we be a technology company. Well it’s 2018, most companies are technology companies, so how do we really embrace that and how do we bring that to the forefront of our decision making, in the way that we think about what we’re doing.

Adam Murray: Hello it’s Adam Murray here and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. In this episode we are talking with The Conversation again, in the second of two interviews I’ve had with them, and I speak with Gin Atkins, who is the Head of Product. The Conversation is one of my regular stopping points for getting a lot more depth in current events, and I appreciate the transparency they apply to their authors. It was great to talk with Gin about the way they go about creating product and building a culture that is congruent with their mission. Let’s get into it.

Adam Murray: It’s great to be chatting with you at The Conversation in the boardroom, or it’s kind of shared between Melbourne University Publishing as well.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, Melbourne Uni Publishing. Yup we share the space. We’re really lucky to be able to use this space, it’s perfect for us. You’re in a really good access to all the universities in Carlton, out there is beautiful so, yeah it’s lovely.

Adam Murray: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. It seems like a great place to work, around here, lots of parks and a great vibe as well.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I think one of the best things is being just next to the city, but not in the city.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: It’s really nice be out, around where there’s a bit more trees and greenery, but not in all the hubbub of the everyday CBD.

Adam Murray: Yeah, I mean Melbourne is great for those little pockets around, I guess, Richmond and Cremorne are a bit of a, people say it’s the Silicon Valley of Melbourne, around there.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: You’re going there tonight to talk to Car Sales.

Gin Atkins: I am. I’ll be there later this evening.

Adam Murray: Yeah. And of course, like the other inner-city suburbs, which may be less tech oriented, but I guess there’s a bit of design orientation around Fitzroy and Collingwood and that kind of thing, too.

Gin Atkins: Yeah and certainly this area is being developed into a bit of an innovation space. So, there’s some work within Innovation Hub coming up. There’s a big building and some infrastructure going into that, and even just being… we’re not a medical organisation, but there’s all of the medical kind of innovation precinct that is just down the road. So it’s a pretty dynamic space, there’s a lot of thinking and thought leadership in this area, which is a great place to be.

Adam Murray: Yeah. Do you get a lot of that come into your day to day working life in some capacity, as well?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I feel like it does. I think that’s again just a function of being, you know I used to work in the CBD, right in the business area, where there’s lots of suits walking around, and I think it’s nice to be a little bit separated from that, and feel like you’re in a bit more of a dynamic space and there’s more sort of diversity of voices and people maybe up this end of town. So I’m pretty happy here.

Adam Murray: Yeah, and now your role here at The Conversation is Head of Product?

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: Is that right?

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: And how long have you been in that role?

Gin Atkins: Since March.

Adam Murray: Yeah, so fairly new.

Gin Atkins: Pretty new, yeah.

Adam Murray: Yeah, can you tell us a bit about how you’re going about building products, or what product actually means at The Conversation?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, that’s a big question. So, The Conversation’s been going for seven years. We started in Melbourne as a start-up. I wouldn’t call us a start-up now, we’re sort of evolving into our next phase of maturity, but I’m the first product person really, and the team has, in the past, been entirely almost engineers, a few designers in there at times. And they’ve done an incredible job. They’ve built a product, and a suite of products inhouse that the editorial team really love. They say it’s some of the best products that they’ve worked with.

Adam Murray: Wow.

Gin Atkins: CMS is amazing, so huge credit to the team that has been here for that seven years. I think, starting in products now, it’s pretty exciting. You’ve got The Conversation, who’s built a product and found a niche, where they may be a bit of a first mover in that space, but they’ve certainly carved out a real name for themselves in trusted journalism, particularly in Australia. Being able to link the academic and research community with journalists and editors, who can make that content engaging and palatable, and not so technical for the public, is something that obviously there was a need for. People have really responded well to, and that’s something we’ve been able to scale overseas. We’ve got eight newsrooms around the world, across Europe, Asia-Pac, in Africa, Northern Americas and here. So from a product perspectives it’s kind of a dream. You’re coming into a product that’s not a sinking ship.

Gin Atkins: There’s a need. People want it. Since The Conversation started, there’s even more of a need. That idea of trust in the media is really being interrogated in the last year or so. The products that have been built, people already really love. Everyone’s not screaming and the place is burning down.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So it’s, building product is, it’s a pretty exciting opportunity starting here in March. A lot of what I’m aiming to do is take the organisation on a bit of a journey, to be a bit product oriented. So, thinking rather than, thinking maybe of the technology platform as just a means to an end, you know, this is just a way that we build and distribute our content, it’s really an integral part of what we’re doing. It’s easy to sometimes go, you know are we a journalism organisation or are we a technology company. Well it’s 2018, most companies are technology companies, so how do we really embrace that, and how do we bring that to the forefront of our decision making, in the way that we think about what we’re doing?

Gin Atkins: So, part of that is about capability building. A lot of people, very rightly so, when I first meet them in the organisation, they’re like, “I have no idea what you do.” And I really struggled to understand that. I think that’s a completely fair question for someone who acts in product management. So it’s just, the way that I talk about that is, our engineers they take care of the build and the technology, and the actual development of what we’re making. When we’ve had designers in, we’re going to be hiring a designer soon as well, they really take care of the human need in what we’re building, and from a product perspective, I’m trying to take care of the commercial and strategic need.

Gin Atkins: So, some of that bigger picture thinking, and that’s a bit of a shift, because historically, in the absence of that, we’ve worked in a more kind of tactical, organic way, I would say. Our sort of product suite has grown quite organically. So, it’s a bit of a shift to think, maybe bigger picture or longer-term time horizons.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: Shifting from that tactical to the more sort of strategic way of thinking, which also means looking outside of our own four walls, and going, “What’s happening in the market? What are the opportunities? What’s the audience we’re trying to reach? How do we know if we’re reaching them or not?” So, it’s asking a whole bunch of new questions, and sort of trying to bring everyone on the journey.

Adam Murray: Yeah, awesome. I mean that sounds like you’ve done a lot in about six months. How did you start on that journey of getting your head around what this was, and then starting to map out that longer-term vision?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I think anytime I would start a new organisation, my first thing, I’m always going to spend a lot of time doing, is just listening, understanding what is the current state. You know, it’s very easy to come in and make a whole bunch of assumptions, but I haven’t been here to understand why things have turned out the way they are. So definitely spent the first few months really just trying to understand how we got to where we are. What were the decisions that were made? How people currently think about product and tech. What’s the kind of mental model that exists at the moment? Certainly with that sense of, if we are going to be evolving that, to try and understand what’s the baseline. One of the main things that became really clear is a big area that I could make an impact on pretty quickly, was just communication.

Gin Atkins: In the absence of having a product person, the team historically has had to be the stakeholder management team for an entire global network. In, you know we’re publishing in four languages now. We’ve got time zone madness, as you can imagine.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: And they’ve had to do everything from build the features, scope the pieces of work, talk to the users and the stakeholders, try and understand their needs, let alone trying to communicate back what we’ve actually been working on. Things around if there have been issues with security, if there’s been issues with needing to all of a sudden pivot and prioritise one piece of work over another. The communication burden is pretty high, and previously the dev team have had to do that, and again they’ve done an amazing job, but I think they were pretty relieved when I came in and was able to take a bit of that off their plate. So, setting up communication channels was a really big first step, and again, part of that was about capability building, or just helping people understand and get a bit of insight into what have we actually got here. We’ve built these products, what does that look like? How do I talk about that? Why does the dev team push back on certain things? Why do they ask me these questions? And just help people understand a bit more about how the team works.

Gin Atkins: That was a bit of sort of high impact, low hanging fruit, and it helped me a lot as well, because it sparked a whole new set of conversations, that again I was able to understand and learn and listen and get more depth. As I was explaining something people would be asking questions and that would help me understand, okay there’s also this gap in knowledge, or we also need to pay more attention, because people really want to understand what’s happening with maintenance and support. And maybe we didn’t know that before. So…

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, that was the main first piece of work. And then subsequent to that, it’s been a bit about getting processes in place. So how can we, and other people, have a better understanding of how we work, how can we set processes in place that mean they can clearly work with us, and they understand how to work with us. We can maybe manage our communication channels a bit better. Streamline that, so that people have a clear place to go, and they know this is the path that I need to take if I want to try and request a product, or a development of the team. So, setting up a whole bunch of processes and structure there. And from there, the big things that we’re looking at, we’re just getting to that point where we can now look at some of those bigger picture strategic things. So we’re in a better place to have those conversations. We’ve got the better communication channels. There’s a general sense that people were having a better understanding of how we work and what we do. So that’s really helping, and we spent a bit of time at a global summit.

Gin Atkins: I went over, and all the leadership from around the network got together, and as part of that I worked on what is our shared mental model of what we’re building. So now we have a framework that we can all kind of get around the table, and use to prioritise decisions. So, we’ve got now a good baseline from which we can put our heads up and go, “Okay, we’ve kind of got the fundamentals starting to fall into place. Now what does the future look like, and what are we doing in that bigger picture sense?”

Adam Murray: Yeah, that sounds fascinating, how, what you’re talking about there, in creating that shared mental model. Can you talk a little about the process of that, because I imagine it was quite a bit involved, there was quite a bit of craft involved in getting that shared model, consensus around that shared model?

Gin Atkins: Yeah. It was a workshop. It had to be an interactive sort of workshop. It was actually not as complex as I think it could’ve been, because a lot of the ways of working are really established and pretty consistent around the network, and because we are a not-for-profit the reason that we exist is pretty clear in people’s minds. So being able to marry up this is what we need to deliver, this is the way we’re working, with this is how we should think about, how we should prioritise, it was actually, it wasn’t as hard as it could’ve been. I think in other places for maybe some of those things, weren’t so clear. The main thing I started with, was helping people think about our technology platform as something that needs to outcome driven. Historically one of the things I heard coming in was, people would talk a lot about, I want to make this small tactical change, but wouldn’t really have much of a conversation around the outcome they’re expecting to see as a result of that.

Gin Atkins: So, getting the mental model was partly about, okay how do we all think about this, and using it as a bit of a Trojan horse to try reorient people to go, “How do we think about it, in terms of outcomes as well?” So the process was what do we want to achieve with our products and tech? It’s engagement really, it’s engagement with our content. And then we started thinking about who are the stakeholders that we’re trying to engage, and there was a list of about 15 stakeholder groups, which was just too many. So, we sort of culled that down, and we got to a list of – I think it’s about six stakeholder groups that we’re trying to engage with our product and tech, and we probably do need to refine that further down so we can focus more.

Gin Atkins: But you sort of end up with almost like a grid structure of a mental model, of going these are the different levels of engagement that we’re trying to drive across these different stakeholder groups. And it means we can start talking about how authors are an important stakeholder group; what does engagement look like at the point of acquisition? What does engagement look like at the point of retention, or what does engagement look like at the point of cultivation? So, we can start, you know when someone requests something, we can go okay well what is the outcome that you are expecting as a part of that request? Is that about author attention? Is that about reacquisition? Is that about donor cultivation? And we can start to, now that we’ve got a shared language, we can start to prioritise those decisions, because the other thing that’s kind of tricky, is navigating one team and one product suite across the eight different newsrooms around the world, who have, to some extent, different priorities. They’ve got really different markets. They’ve got really different audiences. They’ve got different context in which they operate. So even things like access to data, that looks really different in Africa than it does in the US.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So, what does that mean in terms of how you develop your multimedia rich content?

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: Feature suite.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So, it’s definitely an ongoing thing, and we’ll keep refining that and coming back to it. And I think if we bring that mentality to it, that it is always an iterative process, and we keep the dialogue going. That’s the kind of, I think, a healthy place to be.

Adam Murray: Yeah. It sounds like there is quite a bit of complexity there around how you’re determining, or what your key metrics are and what they actually mean perhaps, in the different geographies that you work in. How do you, what are you using as your guide, maybe in terms of metrics or goal for the product, how are you getting those inputs into creating that as well?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, that’s an interesting question as well. I mean the sort of really simple, crude numbers that we would be looking at, is readership, really, or measures of engagement. If we talked about that’s the mental model, this is the function of the product suite, is to drive engagement. How do we measure engagement? So there are just, there are things, that are pretty basic things like unique visits, number of reads, shares on social media, all those kinds of things. They’re not massively unique. We are a content site. I think one of the things that we’re going to start doing though, in each of the different newsrooms, there’s an audience development manager and they’ve got a specific skill set and specific knowledge about their local market. And we’ve got now, this sort of shared mental model of how we think about what we’re trying to achieve, but the metrics might look different in different newsrooms. So success, you know 2000 reads of an article in one newsroom might be success, and it might not be success in another newsroom.

Gin Atkins: So, we’re starting to work more closely with audience development, and figure out what are the actual markets we should be looking at, that are appropriate to your market, now that we have a shared common language? So that’s something that we’re going to be doing over the next couple of months, we’re reviewing our reporting process and all of the numbers that we are reporting on as well. So, we historically have a graph that shows the number of reads per month for each of the TCs since their inception date, and seven years on, we’ve got, as I said, eight newsrooms and this graph with eight different lines on it. And we’re starting to go, we’re asking the questions now, of what’s the value of that, because there’s not really a lot value of comparing Australia’s reads to Canada’s reads. So just really, again, of building a bit of capability around how we think about data.

Gin Atkins: Is it data for data’s sake? What’s the insight there? Is that actually driving us to make a better decision, or is it distracting, or is it a vanity metric and actually, it’s not actually helping us. So we’re on a bit of a journey there, I would say.

Adam Murray: Mm-hmm.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: Yeah, cool. It’d be good to start looking forward, but before we do, I got another question about how you do things at the moment. And that’s just simply around what rituals do you use, what cadence are you operating on? How are some of those communication flows built into the way you do things?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, um so something that we’ve introduced relatively recently is an eight-week product cycle. So, we’ve got sort of two eight-week cycles that are a bit dislocated, and basically one of them is around getting the request from the network, about what people are seeing that we need to build, and then I think it’s two or three weeks, it’s two weeks, sorry. Two weeks dislocated from that first cycle. So two weeks in front is the development cycle. So basically, how that works is we’ve got eight weeks to collect input from the region, all the different regions around the network, about… against the priorities. What they think we need to be building. We’ve got a prioritisation process that we can use because we’ve got this shared mental model. We’ve agreed our priorities. We all know that we really care about for example, reader attention. So, we can pretty quickly prioritise anything that comes in around that space, and then we’ve got a two-week break before the development team need to actually pick up and start working on that scope of work.

Gin Atkins: So that two weeks is really used to flesh out the detail of that, and understand, okay you know you said we might need to expand our support for Google Amp features, for example. We can go back to that personnel. We’ve prioritised and go, okay what does that really mean? Flesh it out a little bit more, and then that is a period of two weeks, and then the development team have an eight-week cycle. So, it’s sort of a way that we’re trying to manage a kind of a constant influx of requests from around the network, because if they’re coming internally from our teams around the newsrooms, but they’re also coming from users and readers who are sending in requests. I got one this morning asking about our print functionality. So, if we could improve how we actually enable people to print in hard copy, and you’re always going to get one of those, you know that’s probably not something we’re going to prioritise possibly, but it’s sufficient to say that there is a lot of noise coming in.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So, we try and dislocate the dev team from having to deal with that too much. They’re also managing support requests. So they’ve got quite a lot of constant noise as well, coming in from other sources. So those two cycles work pretty well in terms of just splitting that process out a little bit, and to some extent shielding the dev team from that constant noise, but what we’re also doing is we’ve got an individual in each of the newsrooms, who I’ve set up a relationship with. Kind of informally calling them a product liaison, and their role is to be a voice, and the kind of person that all of the input into product is channelled through for that newsroom. So, we’ve got an individual in Canada for example, that I’ll work with and talk to, and talk to her (Lisa) about all of their requests, that are coming through that they’re needing from Canada, and that just is a way of sort of triaging, again, the volume and the noise.

Gin Atkins: And again, they’ve got unique knowledge of that being much more familiar and much more close to their audience base. So, with a combination of one person, that is streamlining and funnelling the product input from each of the networks, each of the newsrooms around the network, and then this sort of eight-week dislocated cycle, we can start to manage some of the volume of input. We’ve now got a way of prioritising it, because we’ve got that shared mental model. We’ve got it, then we’ve got the two-week break which we can really go and understand the scope of the things that have been requested, and then that kicks off an eight-week cycle for the dev team to actually start building some of that stuff. And those eight-week cycles start with a chat about what is the size and shape of all of this sort of stuff? So there’s a bit of an iteration in there as well. So, we’re making sure that we’re not committing to too much work, but that process is only kicked in in the last few… we’re only in our second cycle.

Gin Atkins: So, you know sizing is not a science.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: We’re still getting better at sizing the work as teams. You know you take a few cycles to settle in to that kind of thing, and it’s also the other end of things, what does that look like in terms of communicating back to the network, when those changes have been made? So, I’m writing up scopes of work to send out to the network. To let them know this is what we’re working on. This is the progress on some of those other things. Also continually trying to communicate on. We’ve had an issue for example recently that has been a problem with our CMS, the actual editing function, which is pretty critical. So, making sure throughout that process we’re also communicating on the kind of more urgent things as they come up.

Adam Murray: Yeah, interesting that you’re going to those, I guess, longer cycles than maybe a lot of digital organisations have been used to in recent times. I’m consulting at a company called EstimateOne at the moment, which will probably be an upcoming episode on this too, and we’ve recently switched to a seven-week cycle, without the dislocation that you’re talking about there, as well. But I guess it’s probably less of a complexity in terms of geographies and that kind of thing.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: But yeah, it’s sort of like, six weeks of build and then actually like a bit of a week, sabbatical week.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: In a way of having a break, and a bit of tech dev, or a bit of bug fixing, or just tidying up, a bit of retros and that kind of thing. So yeah, interesting that you’re going into those longer cycles as well.

Gin Atkins: I took some inspiration from base camp, on the eight-week cycle. The last two week of each eight-week cycle, we try and keep pretty free for things like tech dev. Just to give us as a bit of a buffer. So we’ve tried to sort of bake that in. We don’t necessarily shout that out too loud, that we’ve got a, we’re really sort of scoping for six weeks when we say we’re scoping for eight.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: It’s kind of an expectations management decision, I guess.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: And you know, we’ve needed all of those spare moments, as you can imagine. So it’s working out, and I think just giving people a clarity of structure, even if it’s not perfect yet, is a really good start.

Adam Murray: Yeah. Before we started recording, you started to think, or you were talking about the talk you’re doing at Car Sales tonight, and some of the things that you’re looking to bring into the organisation, now that some of those other things are a bit more bedded down. Can you talk about what some of those things are? What’s in your vision about what you’d like to see the team doing more of?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. So, the talk’s with Products Anonymous – it’ just a meet-up at Car Sales. What I’m talking about is, the title of it, it’s a pretty terrible title for a talk, but it’s about bringing human experiences into our work. What I’m getting at there is, my sort of background before working in tech, involved working in the social sector in frontline service delivery. So I was a youth worker and I worked in mental health and education, and moving into the tech space, one of the things I noticed, we know that everything we’re doing is about people. We’re trying to solve people problems, but the ability or our confidence to talk about people and the nuances with which we can do that maybe isn’t quite as sophisticated as I think it could be, and particularly coming off working, you know having this sort of ten years working in the social sector, where you were talking about people and their wellbeing, and their emotional state, and their energy, you’re just talking about that kind of thing all the time.

Gin Atkins: So, I suppose I’m kind of interested in that idea of how can we introduce that more into what we’re doing, so that we can get to that next level of detail in understanding the human nature of our problems, that we’re trying to solve. So, a really interesting one at The Conversation at the moment is this idea of trust. In the last few years there’s been a real interrogation of how… can we trust the media? Who can we trust? How do we know we can trust them? At The Conversation, we really pride ourselves on that being one of our value propositions. We are drawing our content from the academic and research communities. So everything that you see, that is published under our logo, is backed by evidence, like academic level, research level, sort of evidence. So, we’re really proud of the fact that can trust our content and that there is an evidence base that backs up everything that is said.

Gin Atkins: So how do we communicate that to people? How do we make that part of something that people know about who we are? I don’t think people actually always know that about us when they come to read our content. It’s increasingly something that people care about. It’s something that governments are starting to invest in, big tech companies are starting to invest in. The veracity of the claims that are made. What are the standards that, are there any standards that we can kind of stamp a publication and go, “Yeah, you know, they tell the truth”?

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: That’s a really kind of complex problem at the moment. We are soon to be hiring a product designer, and that’s one of the things that I’m really excited to tackle with them. Is to sort of get that, you know we’ve got this brand that, in Australia our brand recognition’s pretty good, but in our newsrooms globally the market’s really different, as you can imagine. For example, in America the news media landscape is saturated, so how do we cut through? We’ve got this value proposition, that is established, and it’s a niche we’ve really carved out. We’ve got better relationships into the academic and research communities and most other publications out there.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So, we’re really well placed to capitalise on that value prop, but how do we do it? So yeah, I don’t necessarily have the answer yet. I think it’s going to be things that relate to some, almost like, virtue signalling, really. There’ll be things around the language that we use. There’ll be some just explicit messaging that we need to tie in there, but how do we also make sure that that doesn’t crowd out the content? You know the content’s got to be the thing that sings. We don’t want to make it too heavy, with “Oh look at us. This is who we are, and we’re this virtuous organisation.” We’re not, we don’t want to be too loud on that front, but we are proud of what we do. So yeah, that’s probably a long answer but that’s one of the big interesting things, I think, that we need to tackle, because I think that’ll make a really big difference in terms of how much we can cut through and compete.

Adam Murray: Yeah. Great. That’s exciting coming up for you.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: Um, I got a couple of questions as we start to finish up. One’s about, just in your experience, is there anything interesting that you’re noticing emerging around the product community of Melbourne? Maybe through some of your interactions at Product Anonymous or anything, and what do you notice about our ecosystem that we’re part of here?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I think something that is interesting is, alongside the product community, there’s, in the last few years there’s been a real emergence of the services in our community in Melbourne. Which is, I think, really great, and in part it’s great, because it think it’s, there’s a lot of cross pollination between those two communities, and there’s a lot of great value that they can learn from each other. So coming from the social sector, working in more of a services context, for me there’s a lot of things that I look at when I think of product and go actually product, we can learn a lot from in terms of services, but also vice versa. So, an example of that would be, I think something that service designers do really well is think about time, and the impact of time on the way that someone engages with a service or a product, because a service by its nature is not static, sort of once-off thing. It’s a series of touchpoints.

Gin Atkins: So, you’ve got this discipline that inherently thinks about time pretty well, and I think sometimes in product we don’t think about that so well. We go, ah here’s a screen, it’s a static thing. We might not think about think about the context with which that person comes to their computer or to their phone, or to their tablet or whatever.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: They’re not thinking so much about the timeframe. Conversely, I think in the services space, there’s an interesting question there in how do you measure the impact of what you’re doing? So, in product, we’ve… particularly in digital, where we’re lucky that we have a lot of pretty low hanging fruit, with ways of measuring impact. You know we can use Google analytics and put in a whole bunch of ways to measure and get data and pull data back. And it’s often not a massive burden to do that, and I think the services community could learn a bit about how to think about data, and how to think about measuring impact. So there’s sort of two examples of how I think we can really gain a lot of benefit from those communities, sort of rising up and working together, and cross pollinating, and I think that’s something that I’m seeing product people going to service events, and service people coming to product events.

Gin Atkins: And certainly, that whole conversation of when is a product not a service, when is a service not a product. You know I think that’s a great conversation to have as well.

Adam Murray: Yeah, yeah, interesting.

Gin Atkins: And it means you’re getting different skill sets in the room. Services often have more anthropologists in there, for example. Which is really an interesting thing to throw into your product context. Which isn’t always there, and vice versa. You know, you put it at, maybe you develop for an engineer or someone who’s got that really amazing skill around evaluation for example, and putting them into a service environment, and getting them to really poke holes in things. That’s really healthy, so I think that’s something that’s pretty exciting that’s happening, and particularly as those two sort of worlds evolve. They can really help mature and gain a lot of sophistication from each other and from that cross pollination.

Adam Murray: Yeah, I guess it’s going to be really interesting what happens when diverse teams like that are put together, with such different backgrounds or skillsets or frames of mind.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I think increasingly that’s the way. I mean for me I really believe that’s the way of the future. I think having people with different disciplines, being able to work together, is so valuable. Different perspective, different ways to think about a problem. Different language to put to the problem. Different ways of evaluating success. Different ways of understanding a problem frame in the first place. So certainly, both product and service design environments are pretty inherently cross functional and multidisciplinary anyway, but I think we’re only getting better at that, and appreciating that diversity more, is something that’s going to be a win for everyone, I think.

Adam Murray: Some of the great service, design focused organisations in Melbourne, I think maybe there’s Huddle, is one of them. There’s Nous, do they get involved in that kind of thing?

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I mean services are certainly something that Management Consulting is taking a slice of. Hopi Giants is another really great one.

Adam Murray: Okay, yeah. Yeah, cool. My last question for you is perhaps a little bit more light-hearted, but anyway we’ll see where it goes.

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: But it’s about something that you’ve tried maybe here, or maybe somewhere else, like an idea or an experiment that you’ve tried. It might be a process thing, or a product idea that hasn’t quite turned out…

Gin Atkins: Yeah.

Adam Murray: …as you’d expected.

Gin Atkins: Oh, that’s an interesting one. I don’t know. It’s a funny one, because I think there’s a mentality… I just want to reject the premise a little bit, because I think the approach that I bring to most things is, I like to throw something out there as a start, and if it’s wrong that’s fine. It’s something that, even in being wrong, will generate conversation that’s something to kick off and move forward from.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: So, I’d say there’s heaps of things that I’ve thrown out, that haven’t worked out as expected, but I’ve probably never really minded. That kind of wasn’t the point, that it was going to be perfect and work out really well first time. It was more that it was like let’s get something out there…

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: …so that we can tear it apart, so that we can have something to interrogate and reflect on, and that will help us get closer to whatever the answer is, or whatever is going to work better. So there’s definitely heaps of things, but I’m sort of struggling to pick out a single thing, because I feel like that’s almost a way of working.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: Does that make sense? I think I’m also, because I’m very collaborative and very consultative as well. So, I… things almost never look the same at the end as at the start. Sort of throw something out and chat to 20 people and it looks entirely different, and then that’s the first day. The second day, it looks different again.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a very good answer.

Adam Murray: Well that was kind of like rejecting the premise of the question, was exactly the type of answer I should’ve expected from a product manager working at The Conversation.

Gin Atkins: There you go. Yes, good. True to type.

Adam Murray: Yeah, but it does seem, just on that, it seems like there is a culture within The Conversation that does encourage or support that kind of approach, as well.

Gin Atkins: Yeah, oh definitely. The nature of the organisation is, you’ve got a whole lot of really engaged thinkers, effectively. So it’s one of the things that’s great about working here. You’ve got a whole lot of really high calibre people that are willing to sit down and have a really constructive debate about ideas, and they might be relevant to what you’re doing that day or not. We do The Quiz every day at 3 o’clock, and I have never… I can’t even think really of a question that someone hasn’t been able to answer. Like they’re level of just curiosity and…

Adam Murray: What’s The Quiz?

Gin Atkins: We do The Quiz, the paper quiz from the newspaper.

Adam Murray: Okay, yeah.

Gin Atkins: I think it’s the Age. We’ve got an environment, I suppose, that attracts those kind of people, and that’s certainly, I think, something that we all really value. Is being able to interrogate and pull things apart, and draw on the fact that you sit next to someone who has a huge amount of depth and knowledge about an area that’s so different to you.

Adam Murray: Yeah.

Gin Atkins: That’s something that I think we all really enjoy.

Adam Murray: Gin, it’s been excellent to chat with you. Thanks for taking the time and all the best with the talk tonight as well.

Gin Atkins: Thanks so much.

Adam Murray: Thank you very much for listening. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what Cogent is up to, including when new episodes of this podcast come out, you can do that by subscribing to our blog updates at Cogent.co/blog, and of course, to help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite podcast platform. And finally, if you want to tell us about how your business is thriving or you know of another digital business that is thriving, that you think we should hear about, the best way to do that is through emailing us at info@cogent.co. I am Adam Murray, and I do look forward to hearing about how your business is thriving.