The Story Behind the Stories
Editors at Expedia Group Technology blog reveal all!
Expedia Group™ Technology publishes two fresh blog posts each week for all the world to read. While the authors of those posts celebrate and share their work, there is also a group of blog editors behind the scenes making sure everything goes smoothly. Those editors shepherd blog posts along the publishing process as well as continuously improve the blog.
Blog editors meet on Tuesdays in two shifts. Editors from Australia and EMEA meet first, then five hours later a different EMEA group meets with their North American counterparts. These are `working meetings` where the primary goal is to publish a post (or two).
During the meetings, participants `walk the board` from right to left. Each blog post is a card on the board. The board in question models the publishing process with the following columns (in right to left order):
- Publicity Complete
- Referred to IR/Security/Corp Comms
- Developmental Editing
- Request Draft
- In Progress
- Next Up
Publicity Complete is the blog’s version of Done. Cards in this column mirror the blog posts publicly visible except when a post has after-publishing tasks remaining.
Posts that are configured to automatically publish at a certain date and time are placed in the Scheduled/Published column. The primary goal of editor meetings is to put cards into this column. Since publishing is automated, there isn’t a distinction between scheduled and published. However, there is further work for editors after a post goes live. Editors confirm that the post renders nicely on social (primarily Twitter), update links to related posts (or source code repositories) and encourage the author to share their work.
Approved is where editors put posts that are fully ready to publish but have not been scheduled.
Arguably, not publishing some posts is an editor’s most important job. That applies to posts that include internal links/data, reveal a feature that hasn’t shipped yet, use an unlicensed image, or espouse poor programming practices. There are many more reasons not to publish a post. Each editor has studied a small mountain of guidance from several departments. Sometimes editors aren’t 100% confident about a post; the Referred to IR/Security/Corp Comms column is for posts that require an extra review.
Editors spend the bulk of their time in the Review column. Each card in this column represents a draft submitted to the publication. Starting with imminent posts, editors update the group on their assigned post(s) and flag any issues or delays. If needed, editors change publish dates to maintain the planned cadence. As authors submit new posts, editors pick them up and select a potential publish date. Switching to a calendar view of posts reveals how many weeks of content are in the pipeline. Editing involves reviewing the substance, grammar, and style of the post. Editors typically make many small changes to a post by themselves, but to propose larger changes they leave comments for the author.
Occasionally, a post requires a lot of changes. Cards for those go to the Developmental Editing column.
These days blog posts are more likely to be submitted directly by an author. However, editors still monitor internal blog posts to cherry-pick those that cover popular topics or are especially juicy. The Request Draft column contains cards for them.
Up to this point in the meeting, editors have been strictly concerned with progressing posts towards publication. The In Progress column is completely different. It holds tasks above and beyond the raison d’être of the blog (publishing quality posts). This is where continuous improvement happens. Typical tasks in this column include preparing surveys, updating OKRs, reaching out to new authors, and documenting the processes behind the blog as a blog post 🤭.
To limit WIP for editors, there is a Next Up column containing all the good ideas that are not in progress. Editors are volunteers with full `day jobs` so it is super important to `stop starting and start finishing`.
The Someday/Reference column contains card templates, documentation, as well as exceptionally excellent ideas that the editors hope to get to one day.
Outside of weekly meetings, editors collaborate in a lively slack channel and provide abundant wiki documentation to support potential authors.
As a reward(?) for making it this far, here is a (bad) joke:
A Scrum Master and a Tech Blog Editor discreetly walk into a coffee bar. After ordering espresso-based drinks, they sink into a far corner where no one can hear their conversation. The Scrum Master turns to the Tech Blog Editor and in a quiet but enthusiastic voice says, “Have I got some story points for you!” The Tech Blog editor replies sadly, “oh no, I’m on a Kanban diet.”
Agile doesn’t make sense everywhere, but applying a few concepts made a big difference for this group. The biggest is visualizing workflow. Encoding the reviewing/publishing process as a series of columns makes the next steps and status abundantly clear. Moreover, viewing upcoming posts on an always up to date calendar communicates what must be done by when.
Visualizing workflow also helps bring new editors up to speed. The fastest way is to bring new editors into one of the Tuesday meetings and add their name to a card in the Review column. Watching cards progress towards publishing over a few weeks gives them a bird’s eye view over the whole process. Watching their card creep up the calendar encourages them to get editing. Also having a Publicity Complete column reminds them that their post isn’t `Done` when it’s published.
Starting with the cards closest to `Done` reinforces the primary purpose of the group. The emphasis on publishing posts is perhaps analogous to `deliver working software frequently`. This approach also assures there is always time to make a recovery plan when something goes wrong. If the whole meeting was only focused on getting the next post out, then it was an effective meeting (assuming it does go out)!
Speaking of getting a post out, let’s bring this one to a close.
As always, we value the folks behind the blog more than the process. No matter how excellent the process could be, it wouldn’t do much without the editors.
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