How we shipped a magazine feature within a two-week sprint

Noortje Habets
Jul 2 · 7 min read

At Blendle we’re aiming to shape the future of quality journalism by curating and aggregating articles from magazines and newspapers in the Netherlands.

On June 4th this year Blendle announced we’re planning on phasing out our paying per article product called ‘Micropayments’ and thereby fully focus on our subscription model called Blendle Premium. In order to be able to serve our users with the best possible subscription to journalism we’ve worked towards enriching Blendle Premium with another new feature: providing access to unlimited magazines.

You might have seen the new Magazine feature in Blendle Premium already. Either because you’re using Blendle Premium or through the recent announcement about some great new features we’ve added to be able to fully focus on our Premium product.

As a Product Manager of the Blendle apps, I’d like to share the process of how we got to building and shipping this new feature in a short period of time. I’ll specifically go into how we tackled this project with our Product Team as well as the Scrum Team developing this feature, and share what we’ve learned.

How it all started

Our main Premium offer used to be a daily selection of 20 articles from newspapers and magazines, both personalised and selected by the editorial team. The articles selected by the editorial team are also available in audio.

Our users requested to have more freedom in choosing what they would read, complementary to what Blendle selects for them. For this reason we recently shipped our new Discover feature. The discover feature opens up a full archive of 3 million articles and showcases smart topic collections of the best content of our archive.

As a next step to provide our users with even more freedom in choosing what they read, we wanted to look into how we could add unlimited access to publications to the Discover feature. Besides, showing the publisher brands via these publications would show instant value to a user. This would add up to the user experience and also be very helpful in terms of marketing opportunities.

After a lot of consideration, a plan was made to add unlimited access to magazines to Blendle Premium. Newspapers were out of scope, as this would be a challenge in terms of competition between Newspaper publishers. The starting point was to add unlimited access to magazine archives to Discover. Publishers have the freedom to decide themselves whether they would want their content to be presented in this magazine feature as well as if they would want their full content library to be available or a to them defined set of archival content only.

As soon as the decision was made that this feature would be a prerequisite for the announcement of Blendle phasing out Micropayments, we knew we had a maximum of four weeks to ship this feature. We usually work in two week sprints, so this would mean we had two full sprints to ship this feature.

Defining the MVP

For the MVP of the magazine feature we stated the following user story: As a user I want to be able to read full magazines, so I can decide for myself what I want to read.

This would allow the user to see the covers of different publishers, have the freedom to flick through all the content of a magazine of their liking and thereby decide for themselves which articles they would want to read. All within their Premium subscription. The feature would be added as part of the Discover page on both Android and iOS, building it for phone only first.

Our designer came up with a concept to add the feed of magazines to the discover page. With a kick-off session with all disciplines involved (mobile clients, backend developers, software architect and design) we discussed how we wanted to tackle this project, based on the documentation I wrote about the feature and what it should entail.

Left: Feed of magazine issues (‘Tijdschriften’) in the Discover tab // Right: feed of articles within one magazine (Design of the feature by Bram Schulting)

Working towards the start of the sprint

Before the multi-disciplinary team of backend developers, mobile developers and the designer started refining the MVP I presented them with an encouragement towards the sprint goal: How can we make sure we ship within our first sprint?

During the planning session we went over the list of tasks the team prepared based on the user story I wrote. With the above question in mind–knowing the timeframe in which the feature needed to be shipped–a great discussion arose.

What we could be left out of the design? What could we technically do to make it even easier/the best shippable iteration? All disciplines were involved in the discussion; it’s one of the best planning sessions I’ve seen at Blendle.

We came to the conclusion the mobile clients would be able to build the feed of magazines and an overview of their content within one sprint. On the backend we would build a static feed of the magazines, which would have to be updated manually. As we are working with mostly monthly magazines, a weekly manual update would be enough for the MVP. That’s how we started our sprint.

Lessons learned and what to apply in future

Did it work? Yes! It’s amazing to see what the focus on a feature like this does to the team. It was one of the most successful sprints I’ve ever been involved in: we had one clear goal, one user story all disciplines were working on for a full sprint, and above all: we made it.

We were able to allow the user to flick through and read all articles of their favourite magazine, whether that would be fashion, business or science. We surveyed our users who used the Magazine feature via Usabilla and it was rated 3.8 out of 5!

It must be said though that sprints like this are not business as usual. It does not happen every sprint that we are able to fully focus on one sprint goal with all disciplines involved. I really see a difference in the focus of the team when everyone is working on the same feature: each team member knows what the others are working on, a stand-up is fully focussed around one specific topic and there is a lot of interaction between all team members. It causes a proactive team vibe, where all team members feel they are working towards one common goal and their contribution is needed in order to reach that goal.

In the ‘real world’ often a cadence is needed of design preparing a feature, then backend developing the data which is needed, from which the clients start building the feature. In this case–as we kept backend work as minimal as possible as well as working with mock-data in the beginning–we were able to work with all disciplines simultaneously on the same feature. Mainly during refinement and planning it’s crucial to see if you can reach this way of working.

In short:

  • Write clear documentation on the feature you want to build: describe ‘why’ you’re doing this project, ‘how’ it is supposed to work and ‘what’ the actual flow and requirements should be
  • Have a kick-off session with all disciplines of the team involved to discuss all questions and fire up the first technical discussions
  • Write a clear user story so the team can refine exactly what is needed
  • Encourage debate during your planning session to see if you can minimise effort and thereby be the most sure you could be on shipping by the end of the sprint
  • Have a clear sprint goal describing what came out of the above. Check in on this sprint goal during your stand-ups
  • Do it!
  • Celebrate 🎉

So what did you end up doing in that second sprint?

As we were able to ship the MVP of the feature within one sprint already, we were able to tweak and add more features around the magazine feature in our second sprint. Based on a brainstorm we did we created a value/effort matrix to decide what to build first.

  • We added a cover on top of the issue feed with a nice animation to provide the user with more context on what they are reading
  • We added the possibility to search and find issues of a publisher
  • We added the division in ‘The best according to Blendle’ and ‘all articles’ when a user sees the feed of articles of a magazine, allowing the user to instantly see which articles were rated as great quality journalism by Blendle.
  • We’ve added a tutorial showcasing the Magazine feature as well as other Premium features a new user would appreciate to see

Do you have any feedback on the Magazine feature you would like to share, or would you like to have a chat on shipping features? Let’s talk.

Noortje Habets

Written by

Product Manager at Blendle