Reflections on startup life: Week 73
Product Management Triangle.
10 weeks ago now (wow that went fast!) I wrote about how we tackle priority management. Something related to that which I’ve been asked a couple of times since is how do we tackle product management? How do we decide what features are in and out? More specifically, how do we balance our vision, feedback and other analytics?
I thought it would be worth trying to document how we go about it and what influences our decisions about what’s in and out. Of course there’s always a very classical approach — Strategy, Goals and Tactics (Strategically we want to blah, the goals we need to achieve this are x, y, z, so tactically we need to do a,b,c to achieve x) and there is a lot of this thinking in what we do, but a lot of the day to day tactics come down to balancing three forces:
Our underlying assumption is we are constrained for resource and trying to execute fast.
As a general rule — what keeps customers happy is seeing that you’re listening and responding to their requests and that the system is continually improving. The challenge — improving to what? Improvements that customers tangibly see aren’t always critical, while sometimes very significant architectural changes have no visible impact. Regardless, everyone is generally happier when we ship code — constant evolution is the name of the game.
These things are core and fundamental to what you’re doing. However (especially in a consumer facing web startup) they can be really hard to estimate. Typically here you’re pushing some envelope and trying to do something new. When you tackle vision items, you’re sinking time and effort, but the pay off is that you help move the product to a new level.
Everyones motivation and energy goes through cycles; where are we at as a team and what do we need to be doing. Have we come off the back of several wins and we’re seeking a big challenge, let’s tackle a vision piece. Or have we had a few near misses, things are dragging and energy is flat — maybe tackle some easy wins that deliver momentum. This can include customer energy — what’s the buzz about the site and are people continuing to talk us up and be interested, or are we dragging along too slowly?
You’ll notice that Customers don’t get a piece on their own, that’s quite deliberate:
- Customers should just be core to everything that you’re doing. As a consumer focussed internet startup, it’s always about more engaged and satisfied customers. Thinking about what your customers need is a given.
- What customers want is often very short-term and tactical. You shouldn’t ignore this, but if it’s all you listen to, you will struggle to get to their underlying needs.
What does this look like in practice?
In practice it’s a gradual oscillation between Vision and Momentum — delivering longer term, strategic items, then catching up with lots of smaller, tactical deliveries which helps balance the energy.
We are working hard on the new release at the moment, which is clearly a Vision piece. It’s dragged on now for several weeks (at least 6 now). Back in week 67, my goal for the next week was “launch the new search engine”, that gradually drifted to “get it into user testing” which has been the weekly goal for several weeks now! However there’s been another set back. Still, as Alex said “what was so depressing yesterday is turning out to be a great change to really learn something new and improve.”
What this means in practice however is we now have another week up our sleeves while we rebuild the index again — so what to do. We toyed briefly with starting a new vision piece, but actually the decision was easy. The right thing now is to pick up the energy of the team and the site, and that means tackling some short term deliverables which we can use to keep customers happy and lift the energy levels as we pick up some momentum again.
Then when we deploy the new search and site redesign (next week!), we’ll be full of beans, ready to tackle the next big Vision piece.
So there you go, it’s not a classical style to product management, but it’s about what I think the “soul” of product management should be, iterating and building the best site that you can, balancing between getting things done with more strategic items while keeping the energy and overall momentum of the site high too.
- New site polished and mostly ready to go when the new search is ready.
- Visas and administrivia sorted for trip to San Francisco.
- Broken the back of some big administrative stuff. Back to a product cycle again.
- A reminder, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It’s how you manage yourself in the tough times which matters most.
- We had issues with spammers start to occur and had to implement some management for this. Quality matters, so we wanted to crack down hard and quickly, but it’s hard doing work that you KNOW is only because of people abusing your site.
Goal this week
- Lots of smaller tactical items on the site, goal is to make some customer impact through delivery and closing out some of the smaller features that people have been asking for.
- Rebuild index and get ready to deliver the new search.