Interview

ProSiebenSat.1: Product-Minded Engineers Are An Essential Part Of Our Digital Transformation

Stefan Atanassov, Chief Product Officer at ProSiebenSat.1
Stefan Atanassov, Chief Product Officer at ProSiebenSat.1 © Stefan Atanassov

What does having a research and development center in Bulgaria means for a German media giant with over €4b in revenue for 2018?  How does such a company think about product development and digital transformation? A few days before the fifth edition of js.talks where ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE officially announced the opening of an R&D division in Sofia, we had the opportunity to hear the perspective of Andrey Bachvarov, general manager, BICA Services, that helped bringing the DACH media group to Southeastern Europe. So, this time all the questions were for the representatives of ProSiebenSat.1 – Stefan Atanassov, chief product officer, and Markus Kleinhenz, engineering manager consumer experience domain.

Trending Topics: What are your roles and where would this R&D division fit in ProsiebenSat.1’s organizational structure? 

Stefan Atanassov: Well, our team is developing the product strategy for digital entertainment, and everything related to building our own products and applications. We have the product management and technology engineering as one unit within ProSiebenSat.1. The R&D center here in Sofia is guided by this unit.

Can you elaborate on your main goals and KPIs for the team in Sofia? 

S.A.: The main goal, of course, is to build great products our users love. That’s our mission. We want to build great entertainment experiences and there are different ways you can measure this. First of all, the product has to be relevant so it’s the number of users. Then, these users need to interact with it, so we have different kinds of engagement metrics. For the team, the main objective is to come up with new creative ideas to drive our strategy.

The whole point about interactivity is super important. Because today there is so much content. You have content on YouTube, on Netflix, on Amazon, on our own platforms. So, you have to offer something special and differentiate, we really believe in creating entertainment experiences that include interaction. Platforms like Netflix do provide excellent curated content, but they are not interactive. Social networks like Instagram, provide an interactive and engaging experience but there you can find mostly user-generated content. We want to deliver both the quality and the interactivity. 

As a media company, the core of our business is to have great content. We work with many creators who produce lots of entertaining content with a high-quality level. So, now, the role of the team in Sofia is to take entertainment and build the interaction infrastructure around it.

Can you tell us more about what’s like to work at ProSiebenSat.1? Have you noticed any differences between Bulgarian and German organizational culture?

S.A.: At ProsiebenSat.1, we aim to have autonomous teams who collaborate, who are proactive, who are able to come up with new ideas. While one might say that Germans and Bulgarians are somewhat different, I think that when it comes to working in the digital space, the two nations are quite alike. 

Markus Kleinhenz: I can also add that we usually employ product-minded engineers. Engineers who understand the business, who care about user needs so that they can support the product guys in building the right product. We are collaborating to develop something of value, it’s not like the product managers tell engineers to do this or that.

But this is a new mindset for the ProSieben media group as well, isn’t it? You are still going through your digital transformation process, so how did you go about evolving people’s old habits? What challenges do you face?

S.A.:I think it’s very interesting when you have a company that’s been working on traditional broadcasting like TV for many years and then you start transitioning to digital business. These are two very different spaces and first of all, you need to find common ground for the different groups in your organization. A common language. The essence of who we are at ProSiebenSat.1 is really about creating great entertainment experiences, making audiences excited, generating positive emotions. Before anything else, everyone in the organization has to agree on this, no matter whether we are talking about TV or digital. So, the question then becomes how you take those emotions and use technology to bring them to the consumer.

The main challenge is to excite people about what you do. Especially, when it’s about something unfamiliar and different. People are afraid of change, it’s uncomfortable, it’s annoying, it requires lots of effort. But when your people have a common set of beliefs, it becomes much easier. So, we spend a lot of time in the company exciting people about what we do.

Can you tell us more about the product development process you follow in ProSiebenSat.1? Do you use frameworks like design thinking, customer journey mapping, Kano’s model of user needs?

S.A.:Yes, all of them. But we are not sticking that much to the textbook. At the core, we want to transform ourselves into an agile company. And, for me, agile is the mindset. Not the tools. It’s not whether you use scrum or kanban or design thinking. That’s all fine and it’s important but the mindset makes the difference. 

We try to iterate very quickly. When we are developing a new product, we always talk to consumers, consumer-centricity is extremely important. We have dedicated teams that build and test prototypes before we write a single line of code. Sure, we use design thinking and things like the ‘jobs-to-be-done’ framework but those are just tools to help us reach our ultimate goals.

M.K.: We also tend to bring a tech lead, someone to represent the software engineering team, very early in the product discovery phase, so that they are close to the product development, and then they know about all the things that are coming around. This is very helpful in two respects – on the one hand, they would know first-hand about all the important things we should build, on the other they can do feasibility checks early on and give product managers immediate feedback whether it’s possible at all to build a certain feature or not. We should not be wasting time going in the wrong direction. So, whenever the product team and the experience team sit together, the tech lead is joining them. 

What are your current top priorities for the R&D Center In Sofia?

S.A.: We are looking to hire more people because we want to bring more products and more product development to the R&D Center here. We want to build product teams – we don’t want to have five engineers in Sofia and the rest in Germany. So, we are looking for all sorts of talent – software engineers, scrum masters, product owners, experience designers, QAs. We truly believe that you need to have a team together in the same location if you want them to collaborate. 

We are looking for people who want to create something new, and who want to look beyond their box of being a developer or being a product owner. We want people who are open-minded and are willing to create a great consumer experience with us.

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