Are the HIPPO’s days numbered?

At November’s PPA Independent Publisher Conference, Laura Jenner, product director at Immediate Media, advocated a product management approach to publishing.

By James Evelegh

Are the HIPPO’s days numbered?
Laura Jenner speaking at November’s PPA Independent Publisher Conference.

In many publishing companies, things are decided by the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion).

At November’s PPA Independent Publisher Conference, Laura Jenner, product director at Immediate Media, suggested a better approach, based on the tenets of product management.

Now, not all publishers, least of all independent publishers, can afford to have dedicated product managers on their books, but the principles outlined by Laura are applicable to all.

It’s hard to argue that the following is not the right approach: keeping the customer at the heart of the decision making process, working collaboratively across teams to solve problems, focusing on measurable outcomes, taking an objective approach informed by data, testing / learning / iterating – and occasionally failing – at speed.

Even the most long-in-the-tooth hippo can see that that makes a lot of sense.

After all, what’s the alternative? Output-led thinking, where someone – usually the hippo – decides on a solution without having stopped to properly work out what the problem was. “Build me a paywall!” This might be the right answer, but such back-to-front thinking means there’s a fair chance it’s not.

Asking questions is at the heart of a product-led approach. Why are we doing this? What is the problem we’re trying to solve? You have to start with questions not solutions.

And to have any chance of answering those questions correctly, you need to be continuously talking to your customers, researching their needs, qualitatively and quantitively. Customer research should not be an occasional exercise, because that quickly leads to outdated thinking.

Time, surely, for the hippo to be put out to pasture.

Laura had one other bit of good advice. Don’t leave your development team in a silo. They are very creative people and your organisation would benefit from listening to them more often.