How we manage products can differ from company to company & we always like to hear how other firms do things. With that in mind, Product Anonymous last week got together to talk about how things are the same but different for product managers – even at the same company- as well as different workplaces.
Our panelists from Redbubble, Envato & Zendesk shared their backgrounds, personal experiences and how each of their companies are figuring out the best product management approach for them.
How do you manage products?
Nick Cust, Product Director and Vicki Stirling, Physical Product Director from Redbubble shared their areas of contention that arise working on product types that have a different life cycle.
Vicki and Nick have alot of overlapping similarities in their approaches – the customer always comes first, need to fit with business strategy & build their product strategy from there, metrics to target & to build a financial plan, product launch and learning from each delivery. All sounding good so far!
Some of the differences that stand out between the two are:
- Speed to market
- Physical – must put more time into planning, development, sampling, because the product must work for 13M artworks
- Digital – Instant feedback is a key difference and advantage here. To be able to use AB tests, or quick and dirty versions.
- Validation of opportunity
- Physical – Based heavily on external market, trends and insights (Macro)
- Digital – Analytics, effect on user behaviours (Micro)
- Physical – Sales & Profit
- Digital – Numerous KPIs, different ways to cut data can be paralyzing
Aaron Cottrell, Product Manager (Customer Engagement) talked us through the spaghetti problem at Zendesk :-).
At Zendesk, product development occurs in 5 different countries across 4 continents with 17 product managers & 22 scrum teams. Some of the areas that make it difficult to keep product humming is how quickly the engineering teams are growing, getting the right priority alignment across teams and getting access to limited resources like infrastructure.
Collaboration can be tough considering the team’s geographical challenges & sometimes in-person sessions are the easier way to find synergy. Aaron shared with us some of the ways the company helps to overcome that including using Yammer as a tool for sharing and collaborating.
Sometimes it’s not just the differences in work practice that make it challenging to get product management done effectively. Zendesk has a wide range of customer needs – from SMBs to large enterprise customers. The very different needs of these opposite ends of the spectrum challenge the PM teams all the time – and even more so when the customer who was previously SMB gets to enterprise scale (i.e. Uber) as they experience growth. Adjusting the product approach as the customer market changes is an area Zendesk works on to continue to support all their customers yet stick to their beautifully simple philosophy.
A summary of some of challenges facing a PM at Zendesk:
- Communicating internally – educate/excite (globally – sales and support as well as product and engineering), building key relationships, staying in touch
- Maintaining ‘beautifully simple’ product philosophy – growing product footprint, need to carefully consider feature additions and lifecycle (from birth to end of life)
- Serving SMB & Enterprise – Zendesk grew from SMB’s and now also has to meet the needs of Enterprise customers
- Passionate, vocal customers – Understand their needs, engage with the community and take them on the produce development journey with you
Luke Meehan, Product Manager and Stewart Boon, Product Director talked us through the experience at Envato.
At Envato (as was true for all the PM’s talking tonight) product managers speak directly with the community. The advantages of this approach were clear, but Luke did share with us some of the difficulties with such an engaged community. If changes to the product are not shared early and with detail this can make it a lot harder to deliver updates as the community does not feel engaged. While this might seem obvious, it certainly keeps the team on their toes to remember that everything they are working on is of interest to their customers, not just the big ticket items.
Stewart explained that the company had gone through really rapid growth and thus had gone from not having or really needing governance and process. Areas of responsibility were unclear and they were lacking analytics functions to make good sense of their data. A good organisational understanding of “Product function” was distinctly missing and there was not an agreed way in which to interact and engage with community.
So how have they fixed it? Having all the necessary functions embedded in the same stream (i.e. Prod Mgr and UX), clarity about the role and value of product, and improved engagement and relationships within the Community through research, testing and the use of the forums. Luke believes the Envato values helped here. Any decision or call is linked back to community success which will lead to Envato success. This company value keeps the debate neutral not personal. Another Envato value is to tell it like it is – or as Luke put it – to be clear and honest about what is needed which helps get the work done.
sorry this is the only pic I have pic.twitter.com/uNkNCISm7p
— Lisa Overton (@notrevol) April 19, 2015
Great sketchnote from Lisa!
Some of the similarities we heard from each of the teams:
- ood communication is required! Your colleagues or customers or both could be global – this emphasises the need for good communication
- High engagement with your customers/communities helps build beautiful products for them, increases the importance of keeping the community informed vs. taking on every request as a new item on the backlog
- Growth was a key theme for everyone and certainly forces the conversation about how to do product management (and dev, agile, marketing etc,). Everyone was obviously still on a journey of improvement, but it was great to get some insight into the things that were working well so far
- Lastly, all three companies still have their founders very much involved in the day to day but all talked very positively about the position the product team has in the company to drive direction but ensure they are matched to the leaders’s vision.
Thanks once again to Redbubble for being such fabulous hosts – and to providing a great little door prize which was well received by Gemma Sherwood on the night.