How switching to product-based work changed our corporate culture (for the better)

Richard Loa
Jun 14, 2017 · 8 min read
Change for the Canadian (Photo By: Richard Loa)

The Department Mission

In DigiOps, our mission is to digitally distribute content produced by the CBC — news stories and podcasts and television programs — in ways that are both relevant and timely to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. This is my elevator pitch for the department:

Project-Based Work (aka Waterfall)

Waterfalls make it hard to go back a step or two (Photo By: Richard Loa)
  1. A project team is assembled from pools of people that perform functional roles: Project Manager, Designer, Developer, Quality Controller.
  2. The team talks to the stakeholder at the beginning of the project and gathers the needs and requirements for the product.
  3. The project teams builds the product. After months of work, the project team thinks they have satisfied all the needs and requirements of the internal stakeholder.
  4. The project team reveals what they’ve built to the internal stakeholder. The internal stakeholder reacts: “But that’s not what I wanted!”
  5. The project team repeats steps 3–5 until the stakeholder is satisfied.
  6. When the project is “completed,” it goes live and is shared with the audience.
  7. The project team disbands and goes to work on a completely new project with different team members.

Product-Based Work (aka Agile)

  1. Cross-functional product teams are assembled, made up of a Product Owner, Designer(s), Developers, Quality Controller and an Agile Team Lead. Each team collaboratively fulfills a mission.
  2. The mission is centred around continuous improvement — it doesn’t have a beginning or an end. An example of a team mission could be: We build the best website experience for Canadians who visit
  3. A product team builds and releases something slightly embarrassing to the public. This is known as the minimum viable product.
  4. A product team tests a hypothesis about the next improvement by measuring and learning from Canadians’ behaviours on each iteration. Over time, the product gets better and better.

Today we are Agile! Now go!

In early 2013, I was having a really hard time adapting to this change.

Be okay with confusion while in a state of transition. (Photo By: Richard Loa)

It’s not about being “Agile” — it’s about helping people get results.

More specifically, the missions were bringing new meaning and usefulness to the product teams because we were asking ourselves one question:

What is the next thing we change to make our digital product offering better for Canadians?

Though we had come a long way, there was still a lot of work to do. Defining a mission for each product team was not enough.

Fail, learn and iterate

The next major struggle I faced in early 2014 came up around accountability and our willingness to fail.

In a team you are all accountable. (Photo By: Richard Loa)

In year two, we are going to learn and experiment because we know we are not going get it right at our first crack.

I was blown away by that statement, and I thought it was awesome! Hearing somebody in upper management set the stage up for product teams to fail, learn and iterate was just the thing I needed to get on board with a team mission and to take on the accountability that came with it.

Making Data-Driven Decisions

The idea of making decisions based on data seems logical. When I make a decision I like to be informed and have rationale behind the decision.

In the end we all move faster using data to make decisions. (Photo By: Richard Loa)
  1. Define a test and goals
  2. Build a new feature
  3. Collect data to inform the test
  4. Analyze and learn
  5. Repeat steps 1–5

Learnings From The Journey

Create the environment to push through the noise. (Photo By: Richard Loa)
  1. Ownership and accountability come from creating a safe environment to build, measure and learn.
  2. In order to learn, we need to measure what we build. That meant we needed to change how we were making decisions around building products for Canadians.
  • The opportunity to build products for Canadians in a mandate-oriented institution.
  • I have a lot of fun at work!

CBC Digital Labs

Telling stories about who we are, what we are doing, what we are learning, and how we are making decisions as we work to create the best possible experiences for Canadians in digital spaces.

Richard Loa

Written by

Analytics and Search Product Owner, Digital Operations, CBC

CBC Digital Labs

Telling stories about who we are, what we are doing, what we are learning, and how we are making decisions as we work to create the best possible experiences for Canadians in digital spaces.