The lean media playbook

By | November 25, 2015

The lean media playbook emphasizes the following elements:

  • Small teams. Individual producers or small teams with complementary skills drive the project forward. Keeping the team small lets members move more quickly.
  • Restricted budgets Eliminating waste. Producers work with the tools at hand, and avoid complex or time-wasting processes. Creating a satisfying media experience for early audiences is more important than obsessive attention to detail or “professional” quality content.
  • Audience feedback. Teams monitor audience reaction to early versions of the product to gather measurable data (metrics) as well as qualitative feedback (commentary). The audiences don’t have to be big (at least not at first) but producers must get early versions of the song, show, website, or whatever in front of real people. This information can inform future product development, and also serves as a warning that a product may not work in the larger marketplace.
  • Iterative development cycles. The team improves a product based on metrics, audience feedback, and their own sensibilities and instincts. Importantly, significant changes must be made after the product is publicly released.

Conceptually, the lean media framework looks like this:

Lean Media framework

The model borrows heavily from the software industry, which uses a numerical versioning system to identify minor releases (for instance, a release that introduces a single feature or fixes a known bug) as well as beta products and major releases. However, the primary milestones consist of prototype stages as well as soft and hard launches.

Soft launch

What is a soft launch? You may have heard the term before—it’s common in both the software industry as well as with the launch of certain types of physical products. Firms conducting soft launches quietly release their products to a small group of customers in order to gauge interest or tweak features and/or marketing messages before the main event. In the lean media context, a soft launch is the initial public appearance of the product, or elements of the product such as the design, important creative elements, etc.

Depending on how audiences react, the media product in question may only need some minor tweaks—or it could require a major overhaul. Unlike with physical products or software soft launches, which typically try to avoid drawing attention, a media soft launch may be relentlessly promoted (and indeed may call it the “official launch”). But no matter how much production or marketing effort is involved, the team has to accept that the media product will have to change in response to audience feedback. It may even evolve significantly beyond what the creators originally had in mind.

Hard launch

The hard launch is the point at which the product is stable in terms of creative vision, production, presentation, features, and messaging. It may not be necessary or even possible to make significant changes after this point, although motivated teams will constantly be looking for ways to further improve their creations. For purposes of comparison, hard launch in the lean media model corresponds to launch in the fat media chapter.

Because changes are unlikely to take place after the hard launch, it is vital that audience feedback is gathered before the hard launch. At the very least, this needs to happen after the soft launch, allowing the team to use the data and commentary from audiences it to inform the final stages of development.

In an ideal world, however, audiences will share feedback with the team at earlier stages of development, starting with the idea itself. Of course, no product or prototype will be ready the day after your brilliant plan is hatched, but for certain formats it’s still possible to talk with audiences about the concept, or show simple outlines or wireframes. Use those comments to inform development of the working prototype.

Once a working prototype is available, don’t keep it under wraps—let your test audiences try it out! Then, use the audience feedback to shape the polished prototype. Finally, show off the polished prototype to audiences, with the goal of getting even more actionable feedback and metrics for the soft launch. The production team’s job is not over yet—it’s crucial to understand how people are reacting to the soft launch product in order to perfect the presentation, features, and other aspects of the product for the hard launch.

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