How we transformed the BBC iPlayer team into an innovation machine

iPlayer is one of BBC’s largest and most advanced team. However, UX and Product had a difficult time working together. This story is about how we brought changes and experimented with new tools such as Triple Track Agile and the Opportunity Tree, to enable both teams to collaborate efficiently and deliver value for the users and the business.

Leo Marti
Leo Marti
Apr 19, 2019 · 10 min read
Some of the innovation machine!

My role

As part of the 20+ Designer strong BBC iPlayer UX team, my role as a Senior UX Designer was to lead the UX team working on the responsive web playback experience. As BBC’s video streaming platform, iPlayer is at the forefront of BBC’s strategy to create the future of television. It is one of the most visited online service in the UK, with over 9 millions requests a day across TV, Web and mobile.

Skills

🦁 Leadership
🔮 Strategy
💡 Innovation Management
➰ Agile and Lean methodologies

The challenge

When I joined iPlayer, the team was in a crisis; no proper product discovery process was established. UX was working in silo, lacked transparency and was often in conflict with Product and Engineering. This led to a lot of inefficiencies, divergent UX and Product strategies and a low motivation level. UX would for example, work for several weeks to create high fidelity mockups of an improved playback page. However, this was not a priority for Product. Those designs were never built and the time was wasted.

Given my track record of working with difficult stakeholders and transforming teams, I was given the task to turn the team around and make it an efficient discovery machine!

The approach

Building trust with Product and Engineering

As I joined the team, I had to improve our relationship with Product and Engineering. I started by using the “Hopes & Fears” technique with the Product Manager and Lead Engineer to understand how we hoped to collaborate and learn about their fears working with UX. This exercice highlighted we had similar hopes — working collaboratively in a positive atmosphere –, and helped me reassure their fears — lack of transparency, misaligned strategy, and too much time spent polishing prototypes. As the lack of transparency was a key issue, one of the first action I took, was to ask the UX team to enter their tasks in Jira and go through them during standup. I also opened up our design process and invited every members of the team to participate in ideation sessions and research activities. Addressing their hopes and fears resulted in more trust and created productive relationships.

Introducing Triple Track Agile

Having improved some of our processes and gained people’s trust, I wanted to tackle the problem of strategy misalignment between Product and UX. Product was good at using their tools to understand the market, identify opportunities and create a strategy. UX however, was’t involved. It was only called in later, to find and validate solutions to a given opportunity. Frustrated, the UX team started identify and work on their own opportunities in isolation. They would spend time creating and testing prototypes, and trying to influence the Product people to build their new features. This led to a lot of inefficiencies and frustration.

Triple track agile: DesignOps Handbook

Being very keen on reducing waste, I wanted a unified strategy. However, I had to make sure UX would take part in shaping it. Inspired by Dave Malouf, I introduce the idea of using Triple Track Agile. In addition of the usual Discovery and Delivery tracks, it adds a third track: Understanding. This track is used by Product and UX to understand together what opportunities to solve next. Making this a formal and collaborative part of the Agile process helps make sure the strategy has the right balance between business goals and user needs. This in turn, makes it less likely for the UX team to feel frustrated and work on their own priorities. In addition, it helps identify a broader range of opportunities, as the skills and tools of both disciplines are used.

As the Product Manager was very keen to have UX and Product to focus on the same opportunities, he agreed to try. Having build trust and make the design process more collaborative really helped too.

Find a strategic opportunity

While part of the UX team was busy discovering solution to our latest opportunity, and assisting the Engineers delivering our latest feature, we now had some time dedicated to focus on uncovering strategic opportunities. As Designers, we wanted to bring the users at the centre of this process. So, in addition of the usual work the Product Manager did, we decided to use this time to run some generative user research sessions. We interviewed and observed how people use iPlayer and some of our competitors, to identify new opportunities for our users. After a period of trial, we decided to run those sessions every two weeks. Having a consistent flow of user insights was great to help us find emerging user needs and access very early ideas.

Continuous research session

During one of those session, we decided to prob users around watching “full series” — Marketing and Editorial had a keen interest on pushing more of it. The results were very interesting. Majority of the users didn’t think of iPlayer to watch full series. Some didn’t even know iPlayer had them. They all talked about watching them on competitor products such as Netflix. When showed full series in iPlayer they found it difficult to navigate between seasons and episodes.

Full series are hard to discover and navigate

We added the newly collected insights to our Experience Map, containing all the insights collected during each previous session. Our continuous flow of research insights quickly became hard to manage. Having a physical map on the wall helped us make all the insights easier to digest and browse.

Experience Map

The map however, didn’t give us any sense of priority. It was difficult to assess if one of the insight — e.g. difficulty to discover and navigate full series — was more important than another opportunity — e.g. improve our autoplay. To help with this, we decided to use the Opportunity Tree from Teresa Torres. We laid all the opportunities on the wall and grouped them by business goals and behaviour change required. After adding an insight on the Experience Map, we would transform it into a “HMW” opportunity and add it to the right group in the Opportunity Tree. This helps us identify strong opportunities where business goals and user needs meet.

In our case, the new insight was converted to the opportunity: “HMW help user discover and navigate full series?”. The opportunity was then mapped as in the figure below. One of iPlayer’s key metrics was consumption. One of the way to increase consumption is to increase retention. In iPlayer, retention was quite low. People saw iPlayer as a catch up service; they used it to watch one episode they missed on TV and left. They might not have come back to iPlayer until a few weeks later when they missed another show. To increase retention, we therefore had to change users’ mindset from “catch up” to “discovery”. In this scenario, users would come to iPlayer as a primary destination to discover new content and watch their favourite shows — therefore coming more frequently. One of our hypothesis was that presenting users with more “full series" would change this behaviour. Research showed our target audience has a big appetite for them and turned to competitor services to watch them. In addition, once users start to watch a serrie on iPlayer, we believed they would come back to watch more episodes, starting to form a habit.

Opportunity Tree

The opportunity “HMW help user discover and navigate full series?” was selected as the highest priority because we believed it would have the biggest impact on both:

  1. Our business goal: Shifting perception toward “discovery’ was key to increase our substandard retention
  2. Our user need: People were often unaware iPlayer had full series and found them hard to navigate. As a result, they were turning to other services.

The Opportunity Tree was a great tool to help us identify where business goal and user needs meet, creating the most impact.

iPlayer’s retention suffered a lot from the “catch up” perception. Our target users valued full series, but found them difficult to discover and browse on iPlayer. For both those reasons, we believed the opportunity “HMW help user discover and navigate full series?” to be the most impactful to solve, for both the business and the users.

Outcome: working together toward the same goals

The overlap between a key business goal and user need made our opportunity a strong candidate for where the team should focus next. Both Product and UX felt comfortable with it, as we all worked together to identify it. To help the whole team — Product, Engineering and UX — focus and commit on the same objectives each quarters, we used Objectives and Key Results (OKR). OKR is a collaborative way of setting goals that allow alignment within the organisation. It is used by Google, Amazon, Spotify… Here is one OKR we created that quarter:

Showcase full series and make them easy to watch, to keep users coming back

  • Document a one year cross platform vision by 1 Aug
  • Get green light from all platforms to proceed based on the vision proposal by 10th Aug
  • Have 10 prioritised epics for the three platforms for next quarter by 18th Jun
  • Increase time spent by 5% on web (as measured by A/B tests) by 23rd Jun

Using OKRs also fitted nicely with the Triple Track Agile process. Each quarter we would set an OKR for each tracks — Understanding, Discovery and Delivery. This would ensure that the whole team was working toward the same goals and strategy.

Cross-platform solution

In the next article, I will share how we used our OKR — “Showcasing full series and making them easy to watch, to keep users coming back” — to bring together 30+ people from diverse disciplines to create a shared vision across platforms and implement the first A/B test to validate our hypothesis.

Conclusions

When I joined the team, Product, Engineering and UX were very separated and often in conflict. This led to many inefficiencies and misalignment between UX and Product strategy. Through becoming a more transparent and collaborative UX team, we built trust and diffuse most of the tension. This allowed me to work closely with the Product Manager to change some of our processes. We started to use Triple Track Agile to allow UX and Product to work together toward a unified strategy. Using continuous user research was a great way to bring some “user-centricity” to the strategy. We then used an Experience Map to make the large flow of user insights we collected easy to digest. In order to prioritise those insights against all the other opportunities, we used an Opportunity Tree. This helped us identify high potential opportunities combining business goals with user needs. Lastly, to make sure the whole team would focus on the same objectives and strategy, we used quarterly OKRs. Having all worked together to identify the opportunities and shape the OKRs made everyone feel part of the strategy. This allowed us to be efficient, aligned and work in a pleasant and positive atmosphere.

Working with iPlayer was a great experience. It gave me the opportunity to experiment with cutting edge UX and Product tools and work with impressively smart people.


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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are my own and don’t reflect the views of the BBC.

Portfolio - Leo Marti

Sample of my UX & Design work at the BBC and others.

Leo Marti

Written by

Leo Marti

Swiss Design Leader, ex-BBC, I love to bring people together to turn complex problems into simple and delightful solutions.

Portfolio -  Leo Marti

Sample of my UX & Design work at the BBC and others.

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