The Product Development Process Behind the New ICANN.org

by Anil Podduturi on May 2, 2014

The new ICANN.org will be releasing soon, and we thought it would be valuable to reflect on the process and methodology we employed to build the new digital presence for ICANN. Consider it a bookend to the post we wrote at the beginning of the project last July, when we laid out our general approach to product innovation.

In that last post, we proposed concepts inspired by “lean startup” and “agile software development” methodologies: cross-functional teams as an organizational principle; hypothesis-driven product development; “minimum viable products” (MVPs); development based on feedback loops with actual users; and validating ideas before over-engineering them. There’s a lot packed in there, so it’s worth perusing the original post to understand our underlying beliefs coming into the project.

As we reflect on the last 10 months — a journey that started with field research and customer development at ICANN 47 in Durban, South Africa, segued to our open innovation program ICANN Labs, and then transitioned to the development of the new ICANN.org — we have stayed as close to our ideals as possible.

We have spoken to hundreds of members of the ICANN community and ICANN staff; previewed wireframes, designs, and prototypes; and iterated on those artifacts based on feedback. We launched a public beta of the site at ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires, and have been continuously improving the site ever since. Now, we are excited to roll out a revamped ICANN.org.

The new site features improved navigation and site search, easier onboarding for new users, an integrated myICANN, user profiles pages, a new mechanism for submitting public comments, and more. Under the hood, we started a major change to the technology architecture that powers ICANN.org — a change that should enable ICANN to address the needs of the community in a more agile and responsive manner moving forward.

We’re proud of the progress we have made, and we are excited to see how ICANN’s digital presence evolves over the coming months. Throughout this project, we have partnered as closely as possible with ICANN, amidst the organization’s many other priorities. This collaboration included weekly working sessions, working groups with various departments within ICANN, and a community advisory group.

As we move forward, we are increasingly optimistic as we train ICANN on agile development and “lean startup” principles to create a sustainable model for future product development. It’s all part of an effort to provide ICANN with the skills and processes it needs to provide digital solutions that meet the needs of the community. This kind of organizational impact isn’t always easy, and in truth, we haven’t always been able to work exactly the way we would have liked.

Like any project, the team had to adapt to real-world constraints. We believe in lean and agile processes because they increase the odds of successful product outcomes, but it’s always important to remember that projects rarely begin with a complete greenfield. There are always obstacles and boundaries. Agile and lean processes can help teams circumvent these impediments, but teams have to adapt as well. They have to be pragmatic, not purist, as my colleague Jeff Gothelf articulated so well last year.

On this project, we needed to balance finite time and resources for experimentation and production. There were inconclusive experiments. There were distributed teams spread across offices and time zones. There were short-term technical constraints tied to our transition from a more passive, content-driven user experience powered by Drupal to a more interactive, application-driven user experience powered by Ruby on Rails.

These hurdles undoubtedly complicated our workflow, but we needed to overcome them to create the foundation for an improved ICANN.org. There’s more work to do, but we believe the future is bright for ICANN as it continues to invest in digital solutions on behalf of the community.

If you have feedback on the new ICANN.org, or the overall product development process, we’d love to hear from you in comments or by submitting feedback directly.


Anil Podduturi is a Principal at Neo, a software design and development firm with global offices in New York, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Montevideo, Singapore, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

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