For a content product, how do you let the content team and product team collaborate better? e.g., which team decides what shows on/what's the algorithm for frontpage?

Short answer: Focus on getting product and content "tightly aligned and loosely coupled." Then have the product team make homepage design decisions independently.

Dear Ijac:

Thank you for your question. It lets me illustrate the concept of tightly aligned and loosely coupled.

Collaboration requires that team members understand each others’ roles, strategies, and metrics. In this case, the product team’s job is to design and build the homepage while the content team acquires the content. Both teams align by understanding each others’ high-level strategies and metrics but rarely meddle in other function’s decisions.

Netflix 2005

I started at Netflix in 2005. In my first week, the head of content pulled me aside to show me his Netflix homepage. He asked, “Why is Sideways on my homepage? It’s an expensive new release.”

I asked him, “Do you think you’ll like it?” He answered, “Yes!” I reminded him that my job was to balance customer delight against the cost of delivering that delight, and for him, we thought the cost of Sideways was worth it. I also reminded him that the site was highly personalized, so not everyone had the film on their homepage-- we merchandised it for him because we understood his unique movie tastes.

At Netflix, I ran a quarterly product strategy meeting that included the CEO and twenty design, tech, data science, and product leaders. The content team wanted to attend the meeting but Reed Hastings, the CEO, was against it. “The goal is tight alignment and loose coupling. If the content team engages in product decisions, it will slow decision-making. Likewise, we don’t want the product team to weigh in on content investment.” The product meetings continued without the content team.

The concept of tightly aligned and loosely coupled means that each function (finance, marketing, product, content) is aligned via broadly communicated strategies and metrics, plus a clear definition of each function’s role. At Netflix, we achieved this alignment through company quarterly business reviews, where each team broadly communicated its high-level strategies and metrics across the entire organization.

Netflix homepage design today

I left many years ago, but my guess is the product team owns the homepage design, while the content team focuses on content acquisition. Both teams focus on retention but have very different proxy metrics. Below, I make guesses about each function’s proxy metrics:

  • The product team’s proxy metric is the percentage of Netflix members who watch at least 40 hours/month. (My guess: 60%.) The more hours members watch, the longer they stay with the service, which increases lifetime value.

  • The content team’s proxy metric is likely content cost per member hour of streaming. (My guess: up to 50 cents/hour for potential blockbuster content.) To put this in perspective, about 50 million members watched Sandra Bullock’s Birdbox, so the content team likely invested ~$35 million.

The product team makes homepage design decisions. In the context of an A/B test, the winning design increases the percentage of members who watch at least forty hours/month.

The key to content and product collaboration?  Each team’s role is clear. And the two organizations ensure tight alignment by sharing their high-level strategy and metrics. Both organizations work hard to create both member and shareholder value but focus on different proxy metrics to achieve this. From time to time, they check in to communicate key changes in their strategies or decisions that might have a broad impact across the organization— that’s the loose coupling.

Sandra Bullock in Birdbox

The goal: Tightly aligned, loosely coupled

So, make sure your product and content teams spend lots of time upfront outlining their high-level strategies and proxy metrics so, together, they can build both customer and shareholder value without slowing decision-making through meddlesome coupling.

I hope this was helpful.



Gibson Biddle

PS. Click here to give feedback on this essay. (It only takes one minute.)

PPS. Click here to ask and upvote questions.