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Delivering Impactful Product Changes

Product
Roadmap

10 May, 2021

Bob Kruger
Bob Kruger

Sr Director of Software Engineering at OPSWAT

Bob Kruger, SVP Engineering at SunView Software, shares his story about product management and the tradeoffs between requested incremental features and meaningful enhancements that move the needle.

Problem

Sometimes as product people, we tend to overcomplicate things. We over-think ways to evaluate feature importance, struggle to justify decisions, and sometimes get too mired in incremental improvements which in the end aid customer satisfaction, but do almost nothing to drive revenue. Smart product people know how to make these tradeoffs, when to involve customers for validation, and understand the competitive landscape. The challenge is knowing when to focus on impact vs. when to focus on the “small,” incremental things that users may need to move forward with their deployments.

When we consider the need for “small,” incremental features we need to ask ourselves, is this change really going to make a difference? Does this mean that a customer gets greater use of the product or eliminates a major pain point? Every user has their wish list, but often (though not always) these are very customer-specific. We like to think that the customer is always right, yet is that really the case? Steve Jobs of Apple used to say that customers don’t know what they want until we show them. When a customer exclaims “Whoa, I gotta have this.” you know you have something of impact. This “demonstration” can be done through prototype code, slide-ware, use of design tools to create mockups, and more.

Finally, we need to understand that impactful features are not necessarily created in a single product cycle. Sometimes, they have to be done as a phased approach. On the plus side, once users are hooked, they want more of it.

Actions taken

When I first joined SunView, I was shown a collection of features for the company’s next big release. There was a desired release timeframe, but nothing significant hinging on that date.

I spoke to the Engineering leadership team (we didn’t have a Product Manager at the time) and proposed we re-evaluate the collection, sort them into meaningful buckets, and discuss each item’s impact (and relationship to other items on the list). Together, we discussed the impact of each feature of the product changes that we would implement. Our list included t-shirt sizes to indicate level of effort (this technique is often used by agile scrum teams), but we otherwise didn’t build out a complex workbook with weightings and formulas. Between us, we had enough customer insights, product smarts, and project awareness to quickly evaluate our findings and make decisions.

The decisions and actions were subsequently broken into measurable design mini-projects using other Engineering team members. The design work did not need to flow in a specific order; whatever worked best for the team is the nature of being agile.

None of us forgot the main business objective of the project. We established a few high-levelprod goals and frequently evaluated if the items and designs we proposed would meet those objectives. Connecting the dots between the desired business outcomes and the design might seem overwhelming, yet doing so made a big difference in rallying the team and ensuring resulting work would meet customer needs.

Lessons learned

  • Taking risks to achieve goals requires courage. Putting yourself out there can make a big difference regardless of the outcome; either way, you grow through the process and learn to become more resilient and confident.
  • Don’t overthink or over-complicate product roadmaps. Execution velocity is important. If we thought of something impressive, so might have our competition.
  • Don’t automatically dismiss little details. It’s tempting to ignore these items; however, it’s sometimes surprising how customers pay attention to these things. Consider the real meaning of “impact.”

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