Transforming communications in the newsroom (part 3 of 3)

This is part three of three.

“MVP” Challenges

We worked on Pinboard with varying degrees of intensity (at its peak it was supported by OKR by three developers, sometimes it was just me, using 10% of the time, hack days and other cheeky opportunities to squeeze it in between other OKR work to use) … that may be one of the reasons why it took more than two years from conception to rollout to the entire organization.

Probably the bigger reason, though, is the challenging situation we found ourselves in when trying to settle on an MVP for a project like Pinboard. Something like Pinboard lives or dies based on what we called a “critical mass” of users. Message Board doesn’t provide much value if there are only a few people using it, because the conversations won’t be as useful… and they’ll probably just quit… and our efforts will be wasted and potential opportunities squandered. So we were acutely aware of this idea of ​​’critical mass’ and it was at the forefront all the time. To make sure users wanted to use it, we added many of the features and functionality up front that on other projects you would expect to be added many iterations after the MVP. It ended up very feature rich and polished to the point of the main rollout.

This is something we thought about during a mega-retro we conducted a few months ago, a while after the rollout across the organization, where we invited all the developers involved in the process and the various technical managers of the team from the time we worked on Pinboard. The point was made about how it suddenly became a complicated chat application when we could have just done something simple in the tooling to make it a bit easier to pull up images etc, which is a good point to make bring, but in preparation for this post I’ve found one of the first OKRs that articulates the “possibility” associated with expanding scope beyond a simple way of representing images. I think “opportunities” is a nice way to think about it and reassure ourselves that we did the right thing.


Throughout this period we have remained highly engaged with editorial colleagues, some from our early shadows, but also other more experienced colleagues, demonstrating prototypes and designs and receiving feedback. Lots of meetings and demos.

As we approached an ‘MVP’ (albeit a long-developed, feature-rich version), we started running tests with real users in production. Because pinboard only loads when the user has permission, with the help of our central production team, we can easily sign up users to start a trial and then sign them out.

First we did some tests with live blogs, we chose live blogs because they are relatively short in duration (typically no longer than 24 hours), so we could gather feedback and make observations in a fairly short time. Overall this was successful, users could see the benefit and we collected a lot of feedback to refine the product.

We then had to test the value of having these conversations take place alongside the piece over an extended period of time, with people carrying out handoffs over many days. So we managed to secure a trial from the Global Development Desk and, crucially, from all the people involved in the process in various roles (writers, sub-editors, photo agency, etc.). Once again this was successful, users could see the benefit and we collected a lot of feedback to further refine the product.

Given the positive and close relationships with the newsletters team, they wanted Pinboard early on, so we simply gave them permission and observed them immediately using Pinboard more or less exactly as we expected and hoped users would (share photos and discuss, discuss wording, hand over etc.) even if it ruined the plot of a major episode of Succession for one of our developers Ara.

In the meantime, Ara had developed a wonderful idea of ​​hers: an ‘interactive tour’ that can guide users through all the functions step by step. Users can even practice sending messages, mentioning, editing, and deleting. When you use Pinboard for the first time, it will start automatically, but it can also be started manually at any time…

So with the successful testing combined with the interactive tour functionality, we got the green light to release to all journalists. We wrote a tweak to the permission mechanism to derive pinboard permission from anyone who had Composer or Grid access and… on May 15 it was live for all users 🎉. No production issues, no rollbacks, slow but steady adoption (which we observed on our metrics dashboard), and good feedback via the dedicated feedback form linked from the tool. The launch was a success, I put together a slightly terrifying ‘decorate yourself’ cake to celebrate the launch.

What we’ve seen since launch:

  • We have some highly engaged editorial users (including seniors) who believe in Pinboard and encourage others to use it.

  • We continue to hold very productive meetings with different teams, with more and more team groups being mentioned, with more to come, such as our public team and lawyers.

We have seen a significant increase in usage after…

  • A promotional video (similar to the one at the top of this post) that plays regularly on many office TV screens.

  • I also shared the promotional video during the company-wide morning conference (a suggestion from one of our committed senior users).

  • Featured in the internal organization-wide newsletter via an ‘Explain it to me’ section, including a link to the video.

What’s next for Pinboard?

While this hasn’t been a focus of OKR since launch, we still managed to find time to make some nice improvements to the integration in Workflow, which were in direct response to user feedback from a number of users.

As a side project in sessions with someone I mentor, we started an ‘important messages’ feature. This aims to address one of the scariest uses of our existing tooling, which is that users use ‘noting’ in composers’ body copy to leave important messages for each other. These run the risk of being published and causing embarrassment at best and legal problems at worst. We want to move these types of posts from the body to Pinboard (where they can’t be published), but still display them with the same prominence as notes at the top of a piece.

Another side project is to make it easy for users to request cropping, retouching, etc. of images from the Imaging team directly in Pinboard. There’s a nice printing process where users can right-click on an image for the paper in InDesign and create an ‘Imaging Order’, which will appear directly in the queue in Photoshop of the imaging team members where they can pick up the work and share the edited image back. The flow of doing the same for digital (rather than print) is terrible in comparison and involves emailing and attachments. This problem has been described as “Unsolved for ten years”…so I’m looking forward to the day when we can announce that it’s a few clicks in Pinboard for the requesting users and the same familiar and friendly queuing experience for the people on the image team.

This is part three of three.


Notice board was built by Tom Richards, Jenny Graham Jones, Thalia Silver, Andreas Nowak, Philip Barron & Ara Cho with additional developer contributions from Fred O’Brien & Samantha Gottlieb. Product design from Ana Pradas and Product direction of Calvin Dickson. Meanwhile, supported by the rest of the Content Production team in the Product & Engineering department. Not to mention the input/time/effort of countless Guardian journalists who helped shape Pinboard.

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