Where does product management sit in a company?

After reading the article “product marketing and product management“, about the differences between product management and product marketing management, it may seem that the best place to put product management in a company is in the marketing department. However, in fact, it’s not that simple. The answer to the question that is the title of this article is “it depends”! It mainly depends on your main activity.

Companies that develop and sell digital products

For this type of company, until the late 1990s, the software product management function was in marketing. Some legacy software companies still place product management within this area, and among these, some do not even separate the roles of product manager and product marketing manager, described in the article “product marketing and product management“.

However, this is not the most appropriate model. The most pertinent model for companies that develop and sell software requires, first of all, the separation of the product marketing and product management roles as already explained. Next, it is important for the digital product manager to stay in a non-marketing area so that there is really no confusion between roles and not give the marketing manager the false perception that it would be possible to put the two together in a single person.

A very common area for the product management function is technology, linked to the company’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer). It makes a lot of sense because, as the product manager works closely with the software development team, it is only natural that they are within the same area of ​​the company.

On the other hand, most modern tech companies have chosen to create a third area, the product management area, independent from marketing and technology, creating the CPO (Chief Product Officer) role, as a product director. The idea of ​​this separation is to give the three areas equality, so that each one can push the topic to its area of expertise and the final product will benefit from this balance.

Usually, the UX area also reports to the CPO, staying with the product managers. Following this line of isonomy between functions, there are still some companies that have a fourth independent area, the UX area, creating the figure of CDO (Chief Design Officer) or design director.

Startups

For software startups, usually one of the founders has the role of product manager, as she is the one who has the vision of where she wants to go with that software. When the startup grows and the founder who has the role of product manager begins to be pulled into other tasks, it is common to bring someone to be the product manager.

In some cases, someone is brought in from outside; in others, it is common to choose someone from the software development team to be a product manager. This person will have constant contact with the founder of the company and will need to have a lot of skills to earn their trust.

In the first weeks and even months, it is very likely that the product manager who starts working at a startup is just a mere executor of the founder’s ideas. Gradually, the product manager should gain the trust of the founder for more strategic issues, and eventually, these decisions will mostly be taken jointly by the product manager and the founder of the startup.

I was hired at Locaweb to be a product manager in 2005, when the company, founded in 1998, had around 100 employees. During the first year, my work was focused on the process of developing new products, without major interactions on strategic issues. Gradually I gained the trust of Gilberto Mautner, Locaweb’s founder who was more focused on product and technology, for more strategic conversations. From these conversations came Locaweb’s SaaS (Software as a Service) product line, such as Email Marketing, Virtual PBX, Virtual Store, and SMTP, which by 2015 accounted for over 20% of the company’s revenue.

At Conta Azul, I was hired as a CPO after the role was performed by all the founders of the company. At Gympass I was hired after Vinicius Ferriani, Gympass co-founder decided to leave the daily operations of the company.

How does a product manager gain more autonomy?

Every product manager, unless she is the founder, or she’s starting a product from scratch, will join a team that already has a product. The first thing this PM has to do is to understand where the product she’ll manage came from. She should talk to the founders and understand what vision they have for this product. What strategic objectives do they want to achieve with this product? What problem does this product solve? For whom?

In the unavailability of the founders, there will certainly be some person, probably a manager, director, VP, or CEO, who is the sponsor of this product, that is, the person who inherited from the founders the vision of this product.

You, as a PM, have been invited to manage that person’s product to help realize the person’s vision for the product. You probably should have discussed this vision during your interview, even before you were invited to manage the product. Be aware that if you have been invited to manage a product that does not have a clearly defined vision, your work will be very difficult or even impossible as long as this vision does not exist and be clear to everyone involved inside and outside the company. In this scenario, helping to create this product’s vision is your first and highest priority.

By creating this vision alignment with the founders or the people who are the product sponsors in your company, the next step is to ensure that this vision is aligned and clear to everyone involved, both inside (employees, directors, board members) and outside your company (customers and suppliers).

Once this alignment of vision is created, now is the time to work together with this person to create a bond of trust. Then enter the normal product management discovery work with all the techniques already known. Discoveries often lead to important decisions in your product. Start making these decisions together with the founder or sponsor of the product, always bringing your decision suggestion based on your discovery. Validate these decision suggestions with others involved internally and externally.

  1. Discovery plus your decision suggestion.
  2. Joint decision making with product founder/sponsor.
  3. Decision alignment with everyone involved.

You should repeat this cycle until it becomes increasingly clear to the founders or the sponsor of the product and to everyone involved that you are making the right decisions. By doing this you will gain the confidence you need to make future decisions with the desired autonomy.

But remember what Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibilities!”

Companies that don’t have software development as their core business

For companies that don’t have software development as their core business, like the ones I mentioned in the article What type of company needs a product manager?, The decision on where to put product management is a little different. It makes little sense to have an independent product management area. The software is an adjunct to the main activity.

For example, in a bank, the software serves to facilitate customer relationships; so, it may make sense for product management to be linked to the CS. A school that wants to implement an e-learning system to complement its students’ face-to-face education may consider having a digital product manager in the education department. Airlines with their loyalty programs have these programs aimed at increasing customer loyalty. This is closely linked to both CS and marketing, so it may make sense to have the digital product manager in one of these two areas. In a brick-and-mortar store with e-commerce it makes sense for the product manager, who takes care of the development of the online store, to be in marketing or sales.

That is, it depends a lot on the theme of the software and how much it is linked to the company’s core business. However, one should always seek to place product management as close as possible to the area dealing with the software theme and the company’s core business.

With the increase of relevance of digital products, some companies are starting to create separate departments to deal with their digital products. They call this area Digital, or Lab, or Innovation. I recently joined Lopes Consultoria de Imóveis, one of the biggest real estate companies in Brazil who has more than 80 years of history and wants to use technology to improve their customers’ experience. At Lopes we have a dedicated team, called Lopes Labs, focused on all digital product initiatives. This set up works well as long as the product management constantly aligns with the core business areas of the company.

Companies that develop software on demand

For companies that develop software on demand, such as those cited in the article What type of company needs a product manager?, as they begin to adopt the practice of digital product management, the most common thing is to leave this role with software developers. As this product management practice becomes important within the enterprise, it may make sense to create an independent area for this function, which may, in addition to being part of the on-demand software development service, also be an independent consultancy service, specifically focused on empowering companies in the software product management function.

Digital Product Management Books

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What type of company needs a product manager?

When we think about the product management function, we always imagine it being exercised in a company whose core business is software offered via the internet, also known as Software as a Service, or SaaS. However, in my opinion, this is not the only type of company that benefits from having one or more product managers to help with the software development process. There are 3 other types of companies that can, and should, benefit from the work of a product manager.

Companies Developing Non-Online Software

There is still a lot of non-online software that needs to be installed on a computer to run locally, or access data from a server (client-server software). Even with the strong growth of SaaS applications of various types – such as ERP, CRM, BI, Supply Chain Management, among others – there is still a lot of software from these and other categories that are not online, that is, that run on the computer, local, or networked on the client-server model, known as on-premises software, as opposed to online software.

This type of software will not cease to exist anytime soon, either due to technical needs or due to use policy issues. It is not uncommon to find companies that could use online software but that, per company policy on information security and privacy, want to keep these data and the software that manages it within the company premises.

In the future, it is very likely that business use policies and fears will soften to the point that no more companies want to have software installed in their own premises for security reasons, just as today it is quite rare to find companies or people who manage their own energy supply. However, there will always be those who choose to have software installed in their own premises for some specific reason, despite the cost this practice may incur.

On the other hand, technical issues may make it impossible to use online software. Just imagine situations where you can’t be online, such as on a plane or a boat without connectivity. Here you can also imagine a future where connectivity will be good and universal, but there may still be situations where running the software locally makes the most sense.

That is, even if there is this movement towards online software, there will still be on-premises software for a long time to come. This, like online software, is software that has to meet the needs of its owner, while meeting the needs of its users.

For this reason, companies that develop non-online software should also have software product managers on their development team.

Companies that don’t have software development as their core business

Many companies do not have software as their main business. See some examples in the following figure:

Companies that don’t have software as their core business

However, most probably all of them use software. They have computers and internal systems to support and enhance the various processes of the company. Due to the familiarity and usefulness of computers and systems to these companies, it is common to see them starting to think about having one or more digital products to help them interact with their customers.

In the examples in the picture, New York Times has a digital edition, McDonald’s has an app so their customers can order food, Toyota has its Entune App which allows you to access smartphone applications via the in-vehicle touchscreen display, Coca-Cola has an app to manage their reward program, and Bank of America has app so their customers can manage their accounts.

Even though this software is not their core business, they are part of their strategy. For this reason, they should be managed by someone who has knowledge of software product management to ensure that they meet both their owner’s and their users’ goals.

Companies that develop software on demand

The best companies that develop software on demand are always on the cutting edge when it comes to software development. They use new technologies, new programming languages, databases, and architectures; and propose new ways of making software like the agile methodologies, Scrum, Kanban, Lean.

Incidentally, the term Product Owner comes from agile methodologies. This role is responsible for building the backlog, prioritizing the work to be done according to customer demands. That is, companies that develop software on demand know the importance of having a product manager in the team that develops software. So much so that they use this function both on their products and on demand software.

Companies that develop software on-demand

However, usually, companies that make software on-demand assume that their client knows how to manage software. For this reason, these companies only work to meet their customers’ demands and requirements. They hold meetings with their customers asking what they want and expect from the software, collect the requirements, prioritize them according to what the customer demands, and start developing the software. A good company that develops software on demand will try to make frequent deliveries so that it cannot only see progress but validate what is being delivered.

The problem is that this customer doesn’t know how to manage software! If this is her first software, it will be even worse! She can run her own business, and may even know how to acquire off-the-shelf software; however, she will not have a clue about what is needed to own a software, and that the software is very flexible and must adapt to meet the goals of the company and its users. This is all news to her.

For this reason, companies that develop software on demand have an obligation to include in their development package some training or advice to prepare their clients to manage it. Only in this way can these companies increase the chances that the software being developed on demand will meet the goals of their customers and their customers’ users.

Concluding

In my opinion, any company that owns software, or develops software for themselves or other companies, should have one or more software product managers on its team. This will greatly increase the chances of success, that is, meeting the goals of both the software owner and its users.

Also, in my opinion, companies that develop software on demand have an additional obligation in this software development cycle: to teach their customers about software product management, the importance of this function in their success, and what it takes to make good digital product management.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Organizing for focus and diversification

When a company opts for diversification, team organization tends to be simpler. For each product, there will be a single team of engineers (2-8 people, which can be back-end or front-end or full-stack, depending on your product needs), plus a SysAdmin (system administrator), or up to 9 people in engineering. In addition, it will have 1-2 UX people, one of whom will focus more on visual design, and ultimately a product manager. This is the core team of the product we commented in the article What is digital product management?.

Organization of a multifunctional product team

It can often happen that some people on the team are shared with other products. Top candidates to share are the visual designer, product manager, SysAdmin, and front-end engineer. Back-end engineers should not be shared.

Organization of two cross-functional teams for two distinct products, sharing PM and UX

It is important to remember that by sharing a person between two products, her attention will be shared, which has both strengths and weaknesses. The obvious downside is that she will pay less attention to each of the products she cares for. On the other hand, the fact that she lives two realities, that is, taking care of two products, can make her bring good practices from one team to the other (and vice versa).

However, even if there is this positive point, there are other ways to exchange good practices without sacrificing a shared person’s time and attention. Therefore, the best thing to do is not to share people between two products. Of course, if you have financial constraints, this division between products is acceptable, but try to consider this a temporary situation.

Attention

Sharing people between more than two products is extremely inadvisable. The maximum acceptable share is two, and this will already have a considerable impact on attention, productivity, and quality.

Another important point of this type of structure is the importance of maintaining functional cohesion. This can be done through functional leadership, or functional self-organization.

Functional cohesion is important to ensure that there is consistency between team work, and that each one learns from the other’s good practices. Otherwise, each team will make a product that will look, not only from a different team, but from a different company!

At Locaweb, we choose to maintain cohesion through functional leadership. We have leaders in UX, product management and engineering. This guarantees us a good consistency between different products. For example, we created interaction patterns, Locaweb Style, so all Locaweb products have an equal interaction pattern. An Email Marketing product customer knows that when using the Backup product, he will not have to learn the interaction all over again. Locaweb Style is available as open source.

How to organize big teams?

When your product grows – whether in a single-product company or one with a diverse portfolio – the questions begin about how to get organized. This usually takes longer in companies with a diversified product portfolio, because whenever a particular team grows a little, there is a desire to get some people from it to focus on a new product.

In a single product-focused company, the need to organize large teams happens very quickly. It is not difficult to imagine more than 8 engineers available to work on a product and, as we saw earlier, each product team must have a maximum of 6 to 8 engineers. How to organize with larger teams?

The product should be broken into subsystems. These will certainly have some kind of integration and interdependence, but their architectures should be such that interdependence is minimal to make the integration layer as simple as possible. Each of these teams will need back-end and front-end engineers, UX, SysAdmin, and product manager. Because they are subsystems of the same product, these teams may eventually share the same product manager, the same UX, and the same SysAdmin. Here, sharing is a bit more acceptable and sharing may exist in up to 2 subsystems.

However, you must be careful that these people shared between more than one subsystem do not see bottlenecks. The ideal is to have people 100% dedicated to each one. In this ideal scenario, where each member of the teams taking care of each subsystem is 100% dedicated, it is very important for someone to have an overview to help coordinate work between teams. As mentioned, it is important to minimize the interdependence of these subsystems, but some dependency will always exist, and this will need to be coordinated. Eventually, a product manager may be needed to help with this coordination. Ideally, we should have a product manager, an engineering manager who tracks the work of all engineering teams, and a UX manager to help coordinate the work of each subsystem’s UX designers.

Organizing multiple multifunctional teams for a single product, with Product Manager, UX and Engineering Manager

For example, the Website Hosting product is divided into 7 developer teams that focus on different product subsystems. One team works on the development of the hosting control panel; and another works on the provisioning subsystem, which is responsible for installing, suspending, and uninstalling the components that make up Locaweb Website Hosting, that is, the hosting itself – which may be Linux or Windows, the database, and the email.

So, another team takes care of the e-mail control panel and webmail, and finally 4 more teams take care of the subsystems connected directly to the infrastructure, which are the Linux, Windows, database, email and database infrastructure teams. We have two product managers for all of these teams: one focused on website hosting subsystems, the other focused on email subsystems. We also have two UX designers, with the same focus separation, plus a product manager, one UX designer, and one engineering team.

Another good example on a considerably larger scale is Spotify, a music streaming application created in Sweden in 2008, which has over 75 million users according to June 2015 data. The company has over 1,500 employees, all dedicated to one product, and most of them are part of the product development team.

They posted two videos telling a little about their culture and how they organize themselves. It’s worth watching them! They can be found at https://vimeo.com/85490944 and https://vimeo.com/94950270.

Spotify Engineering Culture – part 1 from Spotify Training & Development on Vimeo.

Spotify Engineering Culture – part 2 from Spotify Training & Development on Vimeo.

About QA (and Front-End and BA)

When this chapter was published on my blog, I received some comments about the lack of QA (Quality Assurance) role in team organization. Therefore, I decided to include some considerations on the subject here.

However, before considering, I would like to quote a very nice phrase I once heard that should be remembered whenever conversations about different points of view take place: the fact that we disagree does not necessarily mean that one of the two is wrong.

What’s the point?

In my view, processes, methodologies and ways of organizing a team are not the goal itself, but the means, the tools to achieve a goal. In the case of software, the goal is usually to meet the strategic goals of the software owner while solving problems and needs of users of that software.

QA (and Front-End and BA) at Locaweb

Until the middle of the second half of 2015, we had product engineering teams at Locaweb, one team for each or two products. We also had two separate functional teams from these product engineering teams, the front-end and QA teams. At the end of 2015, we decided not to have a front-end team or QA anymore.

About the Front-End Team

  • The team had 5 developers, while Locaweb had 12 product and system development teams. Since back-end developers didn’t mess with the front-end, the front-end team ended up becoming a bottleneck.
  • The team had developed, along with UX, Locaweb Style, a front-end behavior and style framework that we use in our products and made available for anyone to use in their projects. Locaweb Style aims to facilitate front-end programming of our product interfaces. Locaweb Style makes it easier for back-end developers to front-end, thereby reducing the bottleneck.
  • As a result, we decided to no longer have the front-end team and front-end developers went to product teams where front-end is most relevant. Front-end developers also started to work on back-end, just as back-end developers started to work on front-end. Always respecting Locaweb Style.
  • The front-end functional team coordinator became a product engineering team coordinator. This gave him and the front-end team members (who are now developers assigned to a product team) a greater sense of purpose as they deliver a complete product and not just interface programming.

About the QA Team

  • When QA function is separate from software development function, it is common to hear phrases such as “feature is ready, now in QA”. This denotes a waterfall culture, which can greatly increase development time and negatively impact software quality.
  • When there is a separate QA function from the software development function, it is also common to hear phrases like “Why didn’t QA catch this bug?” This denotes a culprit-seeking culture that can be very detrimental to the team’s climate and consequently negatively impact software quality.
  • Quality should not be the concern of one person or team, it should be the concern of all the people working on the software.
  • Quality is a non-functional requirement, that is, a requirement that specifies a criterion for judging the operation of software, which is different from a functional requirement, which specifies software behavior. Performance, scalability, “operability”, “monitorability” are some examples of non-functional software requirements that are as important as quality. Even so, there are no roles of * performance assurance *, * scalability assurance *, * operability assurance * and * monitorability assurance *. Why is quality the only non-functional requirement that has a specific function in place to ensure it?
  • QA focuses on ensuring the quality of the software development process. If a separate role is required to ensure this quality, why there is no need for a separate role to ensure the quality of the product management process, the UX design process, the product marketing process, the sales process, and the financial process?
  • At Locaweb, we had around 12 QAs, some more developer profiled and some more SysAdmin profiled. As we proposed the extinction of the role of QA, some of the QAs became devs of a product while others took on the role of SysAdmin.
  • There was concern among devs that if the dev itself will now have to test, deliveries will take longer to get ready. This concern existed as devs considered their work to end when they passed the story for QA to test. However, this ready-made view of dev is incorrect, as it only passed the story to the next phase, the test. From the software user’s point of view, the story is only ready when the user can use the new feature. And what happens when the story goes through QA, is rejected and needs to go back to development?

When I joined Conta Azul in August 2016, I learned that they had also extinguished their role as QA earlier that year. The motivation was a series of visits they made to Silicon Valley companies and realized that they did not use QAs and that everyone on the team was responsible for the quality of the software developed. At Conta Azul, QAs made the career change to BAs.

About BA

Another question I received when I published the text of the previous chapter was about the absence of BA (Business Analyst). I did not explicitly state BA, as BA and PO are similar roles in software development. The differences were explained in the BA, PO and PM article. However, both have the same goal: to help the team make software that meets the software owner’s goals while solving their users’ problems and needs.

In some organizations, it may happen that BA is focused exclusively on business, that is, understanding only what the business objectives are, leaving aside the problems and needs of users. In this case, it is important for BA to also take into account the problems and needs of software users, balancing them with business objectives.

Concluding

In this article, I showed you how to organize your product development team depending on whether your strategy is to diversify your product portfolio or focus on a single product. I even explained the absence of QA and BA in my recommendations on organizing product and system development teams.

Remember that processes, methodologies, and ways of organizing a team are not the goal in itself, but the means, the tools to achieve a goal. In the case of software, the goal is usually to meet the strategic goals of the software owner while solving problems and needs of the users of that software.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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QA or no QA? That’s NOT the right question…

Back in 2016, I wrote an article about the reasons that motivated us at Locaweb to extinguish the QA function in our product development team. At Locaweb we had 12 QAs, some with a developer profile and others with a SysAdmin profile. In proposing the extinction of the role of QA, some of the QAs became devs while others have taken on the role of sysadmins. The reasons that motivated us to extinguish the QA function at Locaweb are:

  • When there is a QA function separate from the software development function, it is common to hear phrases like “the feature is ready, now it is in the QA phase”, which denotes a waterfall culture. This culture can considerably increase development time and negatively affect the quality of the software.
  • When there is a QA function separate from the software development function, it is also common to hear phrases like “why didn’t QA catch this bug?”, Which denotes a culture of finding the culprits. This culture can be very harmful to the team’s engagement and motivation and, consequently, negatively impact the quality of the software.
  • Quality should not be the concern of one person or one team, it should be the concern of everyone who is working on creating the software.
  • Quality is a non-functional requirement, that is, a requirement that specifies a criterion to assess the operation of a software product, which is different from the functional requirement, which specifies a behavior of the software. Performance, scalability, operability, monitorability are some examples of non-functional software requirements that are just as important as quality. Even so, there are no defined functions for performance assurance, scalability assurance, operability assurance, and monitorability assurance. Why is quality the only non-functional requirement that has a specific dedicated function to ensure it?
  • QA focuses on ensuring the quality of the software development process. If a separate role is needed to ensure this quality, why is there no need for a separate role to ensure the quality of the product management process, the UX design process, the product marketing process, the sales process, the financial process of a company?
  • There was a concern among devs that, if the dev herself will now have to test, deliveries will take longer to get ready. This concern existed because the devs considered that their work was finished – and the delivery was ready – when they passed the story to the QA to test. However, this dev’s readiness concept is incorrect, as she just passed the story on to the next phase, the testing. From the user’s perspective, the story is only ready when the user can use the new feature. So the time the delivery stays in QA is still dev time, even not being in the dev’s hand anymore. And this time gets even bigger when the story goes through QA but is rejected and has to go back to development.

When I joined Conta Azul, they had also just extinguished the QA role, and the former QAs became business analysts, mainly helping product managers.

I’ve seen other companies also discussing the need for QAs and in some cases a heated debate emerges around this topic. However, having or not having QAs should not be the center of the discussion. Having or not having this role is a solution to a problem, normally stated as “how can we improve the quality of our product?”, and this problem should be the center of the discussion.

How can we improve the quality of our product?

A simple Google search about software quality will yield tons of definitions normally around meeting functional and non-functional requirements. When software does not meet a functional or non-functional requirement, it has a defect, a bug. So, to improve the quality of a software product, we need to work on two things:

  • reducing its existing bugs;
  • not generating new bugs.

A good way to control this is having a weekly measurement of your bug inventory and new bugs per week and discuss this every week with the team. We did this at Gympass. We defined at the beginning of every quarter what’s the target for bug inventory and average new bugs per week.

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The image above shows the evolution of our bug inventory for Q2 of 2019. We started the quarter with 215 bugs in our inventory and we aimed at a target of less than 166 by the end of the quarter, a decrease of almost 23%. We were able to end the quarter with an inventory of 136 bugs, a 36% decrease. We did this by focusing not only on resolving bugs in our inventory, but also controlling the number of new bugs per week.

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In Q1 2019 we had an average of 26.2 bugs created per week. During Q2 we reduced this average to 17.4 new bugs per week, to a total of 226 new bugs during the quarter. That’s a 33% decrease in the number of new bugs per week.

This looks like a very good improvement, right? But there’s plenty of room for improvement there. Let me explain the math of bug management:

If we were able to reduce our bug inventory from 215 to 136, this means we solved at least 79 bugs. However, we created 226 new bugs (17.4 new bugs per week x 13 weeks) during the quarter. So we solved 79 + 226 = 305 bugs during the quarter, that’s a lot of bug correction work. If we had generated 90 new bugs during the quarter, an average of 6.9 new bugs per week, instead of the 226 new bugs, we could have zeroed the bug inventory.

An additional aspect of the bug resolution to be measured is the resolution SLA, i.e., how many days the team took to solve a bug from the day the bug was first identified. To do this, we classified the bugs by its severity, which is the impact it causes to the users and to the business. Highest severity bugs are the ones that we need to solve in the same day. High severity bugs in 7 days and medium severity in 14 days. The chart below shows how we were at Gympass in Q4 2019.

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This is not the ideal visualization because it only shows a picture of the moment, and not an evolution. In order to understand the evolution of any metric, you need to see how it performed in different points in time.

Why quality is so important?

Any user prefers to use a product with good quality, i.e., that behaves as expected. This is front and center to provide a good user experience.

Besides the user experience, there’s also another important aspect to consider when we talk about quality and bugs.

Whenever someone needs to work on solving a bug that was found in a software product, this person needs to stop working on whatever she is currently working to be able to work on the bug. This is an interruption in the workflow. If this person were able to deliver the software without that bug, she could continue to work on new things without interruptions, which will make her more productive.

Summary

  • Questioning if a product development should or should not have a dedicated QA team is not the right question.
  • The underlying problem you are trying to solve is how to improve the quality of your product.
  • A good proxy metric for quality is bugs. Bug inventory, new bugs per week and bug resolution SLA.
  • A product development team should have all of its members following these metrics and acting on how to improve them
  • Quality is front and center to provide a good user experience. But it is also key to increase the speed of your product development team. The fewer bugs a team has to fix, the more time it will have to focus on new things.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Focus or diversification?

Okay, I convinced you that those who do not diversify can get into a difficult situation, because a single product company ends up dying sooner or later. I also explained strategies for portfolio diversification and showed how to manage a product portfolio.

On the other hand, there are several examples of companies that have opted for focus. A very interesting story of focus strategy is 37signals. They were a website development company. To help them follow their website development projects, they developed software that allowed for greater visibility into project progress for everyone involved, including the client.

Customers enjoyed interacting with this software and asked 37signals to use this software on other projects at their companies. At that time, 37signals decided to turn this software into a product, and they named it Basecamp. After some time, they stopped developing on-demand software projects and focused all their attention on the Basecamp product.

Later, following the portfolio diversification strategy I described in the previous articles, they launched more products: Highrise, a contact management system; Backpack, internal communication system; and Campfire, the corporate chat system.

In early 2014, 37signals decided to adopt a new strategy. They decided that from that time on they would focus 100% on Basecamp. The other products would no longer accept new customers. And the “icing on the cake” of this strategy was the change of company name, which would no longer be called 37signals to become Basecamp. These changes turned out to be the subject of a Harvard Business Review article titled “Basecamp’s Strategy Offers a Useful Reminder: Less Is More” 2014 Basecamp Strategy offers a useful reminder: less is more – in which the author says:

“It’s a natural tendency for humans to want to do more. Most of us have difficulty moving away from tempting opportunities, whether at the dinner table or at work. That’s why we end up with indigestion at home, or overworked at work. That’s why it takes a lot of discipline, and even courage, to lose weight both physically and strategically.” – Ron Ashkenas

Focus is not such a rare strategy. Some other examples from the software world:

  • Facebook: Despite having a people profile, group page and company page, as well as an ad system (which could be considered as products), these systems are nonetheless different views of a single product. Yes, they have diversified their product portfolio, but always through acquisitions like Instagram and WhatsApp. These acquisitions continue to function as independent companies, each one is also 100% focused on their respective products.
  • Twitter: Another company that is a sizable company that remains 100% focused on its single product. It also focuses on a second group of customers, the advertisers, but always focusing on their one product.
  • LinkedIn: Another company that is of considerable size and still 100% focused on its unique product. They have also focused on a second group of customers, the advertisers, but always focusing on their unique product.
  • Spotify: Example of a company 100% focused on its only product, music streaming.
  • MailChimp: Email marketing software company. This company usually makes acquisitions, but all of their acquisitions are within the same theme, email marketing and email sending.
  • DigitalOcean: VPS (Virtual Private Servers) company which is also a good example of a company 100% focused on its single product.
  • Airbnb: intermediation company between people who want to rent real estate or rooms for short periods, and people who are looking for accommodation. It is a platform 100% focused on your only product.

On the other hand, we already talked about Google with its 177 products and its more than 70 discontinued products. This vast portfolio eventually led them to revise their brand strategy, and to create a “parent company” called Alphabet, of which Google would be just one company, and several companies of Google’s other products would become independent. This is a strategy of increasing focus, but nonetheless, Google remains a multi-product company (Search, Adwords, Gmail, Google Apps, App Engine, Youtube, Android, etc.).

Another extreme example of portfolio diversification is 3M, which has over 55,000 products in its portfolio. That’s right, you read that right, over 55,000 products in its portfolio. Just imagine 3M’s BCG matrix. 😛

So what is the best strategy?

With the examples given, the question remains: what is the best strategy, diversification or focus?

As I was preparing a presentation on this topic, I was struck by the spelling of the two words. Focus is a very short 5 letters word, while diversification has 15 letters. I found it curious that the complexity of the spelling of words is all about their meaning, at least in this case.

To understand which strategy is best, we must first understand the negative aspects of each strategy.

Focus

When a company is focused on a single product, it loses the opportunity to solve its customers’ other problems, which can be bad for two reasons. The first (and quite obvious) is the fact that you miss an opportunity to earn new revenue. The second (not so obvious) reason is the risk of losing the customer, because when she looks for who can solve this other problem, she may find someone who not only solves this other problem, but also the initial problem that your product already solves, and this customer may decide to move all her needs to this new supplier.

Also, as we saw in the article Are you thinking about your new product? No? So you are already late, a single product company may eventually die, either because its product has not crossed the chasm or because the product has reached maturity.

Diversification

On the other hand, diversification also has its disadvantages. The first is that more investment is required to take care of more than one product. You will need a development team for each of your products, and this can be costly.

Another disadvantage is the waste inherent in the structure of different groups working on similar things. For example, at Locaweb we have several products designed to allow customers to send emails; the email product itself, website hosting, reseller hosting, email marketing and SMTP. Because there are different teams that take care of each of these products, their architecture does not necessarily leverage the learning and infrastructure of each other.

How to choose?

To be able to choose between these two strategies, one has to look at both internal and external factors.

The internal factor to be looked at and understood is the company culture. If your company has a culture that values ​​entrepreneurship highly, it is very likely that diversification is most appropriate. On the other hand, if the company’s culture values ​​excellence very much, it is most appropriate to adopt a single product focus strategy. In Locaweb’s case, we have always had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit from the founders. While excellence is important to Locaweb, entrepreneurship is more. On the other hand, Conta Azul culture was always focused on excellence, which is clear in the focus on one product.

However, looking at the internal factors alone is not enough. You also need to look and understand the factors external to your company, i.e., the market. If you are in a small, low growth, or very competitive market, diversification is most appropriate. If you are in a poorly served market, focus is the best option.

In Locaweb’s case, we face competition across all our product lines. Recently, we have started to have international competition operating in Brazil in all our main lines of business. Therefore, diversification is the most appropriate strategy for us. On Conta Azul’s case, even though there’s competition, there’s a lot of room to grow. We have more 14.5MM micro and small enterprises in Brazil, enough market for more than one competitor. And Brazil’s bureaucracy creates an entry barrier against international competitors.

So a single product company will…

As I explained at the end of the article Are you thinking about your new product? No? So you are already late, a single product company will eventually die, because either its product will not cross the chasm or, if it does, it will eventually reach the end of its life.

However, as we have seen, there are several companies that choose to focus on single product rather than portfolio diversification. Does this mean that these companies are bound to die? Yes, but the fact that they know this makes them think better about the future, and what happens is that they not only prepare for the end of life, but also plan the end of life and new versions of their product that will come next.

That’s what I explained in the article Lifecycle of a software product, where I told how the TV market matured some 30 years after the TV was invented and that its manufacturers are always inventing it all the time. Something new to make us buy a new TV: first they were in black and white until they hit SmartTV. All of this so that they could continue to earn new revenue from their customers after the end of the previous product’s life.

Therefore, both focus and diversification are valid strategies. The important thing is to understand the pros and cons of each one well, and to understand in which context each one is most appropriate.

Feature lifecycle

If you decide to focus on one product, or even with a diversification strategy when you end up with one or more products that are big, with many features you think about applying the 4 phases lifecycle not only to a whole product, but also to its major features.

To give you an example, let’s imagine our whole product being Linkedin. Let’s say that we decide to develop a new feature for Linkedin, for instance, the article publishing feature I use to publish my articles on Linkedin. During the feature innovation phase, we’ll have to find the product-market fit. In this case it will be feature-market fit, and the market is the entire user base of Linkedin.

If we are able to find the feature-market fit, then it’s time to grow the feature usage, i.e., implement additional features to the publishing feature we’ve just launched so it can be a complete feature to be used by the maximum number of users possible.

After the growth of the publishing feature adoption in Linkedin user base, comes the feature maturity. In this stage, the publishing feature is complete in terms of its possibilities and since it’s used by the majority of the user base, its growth slows down.

Then, after growth comes the end of life stage for the publishing feature. It can happen if Linkedin as a whole enters this phase, or if the feature is replaced or discontinued for any reason.
Next time you decide to develop and launch a major feature for your product, you can apply the product lifecycle view to help you manage the lifecycle of this new major feature.

Concluding

In this article, we saw that not only from portfolio diversification lives a software product company. It is possible to survive by maintaining 100% focus on a single product. Incidentally, several companies have chosen this path successfully.

At Locaweb, we opted for the diversification strategy, both due to internal motivators and entrepreneurial culture, as well as external motivators, such as the constant increase of competition in all our business lines.

Often, I used to receive inquiries from employees, customers, and partners about our product portfolio of over 25 products. They ask us if this really is the right strategy for us. We believe we have adopted the most appropriate strategy, not only for the reasons already explained (entrepreneurial culture + competitive market), but mainly because of the growth numbers. If Locaweb had not diversified its product portfolio and had focused only on website hosting, today Locaweb would only have 38% of its current size.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Saiu a 3ª edição do livro Gestão de Produtos

Ficou pronta hoje a 3ª edição do meu livro “Gestão de Produtos, Como aumentar as chances de sucesso do seu software“. E como presente de lançamento, aqui vai um cupom de 10% de desconto (JocaCDC10).

Changelog

A primeira edição em português deste livro é de 2015. Escrevi uma versão atualizada em 2017. Apenas três anos se passaram desde a sua versão mais recente. No entanto, o aprendizado é um esforço contínuo. Continuo aprendendo com minhas experiências diárias e publiquei o que aprendi no LinkedIn. Agora, decidi não apenas traduzir meu livro para o inglês, mas também atualizar o conteúdo de 2017 com meus aprendizados desde então.

Neste Changelog, registro o que mudou desde a edição de 2017:

  • Estou usando software, produto e produto digital de forma intercambiável. Para o contexto deste livro, esses termos são equivalentes.
  • Atualizei as estatísticas ao longo do livro, para manter os dados relevantes, com comentários sobre a evolução dos dados.
  • Paulo Caroli teve a gentileza de escrever o prefácio desta terceira edição! (=
  • Mais exemplos, não apenas da Locaweb e Conta Azul, mas também do Gympass, um marketplace de três lados que conecta parceiros de fitness a empresas e seus funcionários. No Gympass, liderei uma equipe de desenvolvimento de produtos, juntamente com Rodrigo Rodrigues e Claudio Franco. Temos o desafio de criar um produto global usado por parceiros, empresas e usuários de fitness em todo o mundo. Como somos líderes nesta categoria, temos o desafio adicional de ser os primeiros a enfrentar certos problemas, o que é bastante empolgante.
  • No capítulo “O que é um produto digital?”, descrevo a diferença entre empresas digitais e tradicionais e apresento o conceito de empresas tradicionais que já nasceram digitais. É muito importante para um gerente de produto entender com que tipo de empresa e produto ele está lidando, para saber como desempenhar melhor seu trabalho.
  • Também no capítulo “O que é um produto digital?”, descrevo uma maneira diferente de categorizar plataformas. Além de toda categorização que já apresentei na 2ª edição, podemos categorizar plataformas como plataformas de transação ou de inovação.
  • Em “Dicas de liderança para gerentes de produto”, adicionei mais informações sobre porque é tão importante definir o contexto, e alguns exemplos de obstáculos que um gerente de produto pode remover para sua equipe.
  • Adicionei um novo capítulo intitulado “Dois hacks para promover e fortalecer sua cultura de produto digital” onde conto um pouco de minha experiência em gerir produtos em uma empresa que não tinha cultura de produto digital e o que fiz para ajudar a promover e fortalecer essa cultura.
  • Adicionei a seção “Foco no problema vs foco na solução” ao capítulo “Inovação: foco no problema” com alguns exemplos práticos de soluções simples encontradas quando se foca em entender bem o problema.
  • No capítulo “Crescimento: o que é um roadmap?”, adicionei uma seção inteira descrevendo uma ferramenta que utilizo com sucesso na Conta Azul e Gympass, o rolling roadmap de 12 meses.
  • Também no capítulo “Crescimento: o que é um roadmap?”, adicionei uma seção inteira sobre quando usar OKRs e quando usar roadmaps.
  • No capítulo “Crescimento: como priorizar o roadmap?”, adicionei mais informações sobre como lidar com solicitações especiais, especialmente se você gerencia um produto digital B2B com grandes clientes.
  • Adicionei uma seção de exemplo em “O que é e como criar a visão e a estratégia do produto?” para ilustrar diferentes tipos de visões de produtos digitais, incluindo uma visão hipotética do produto digital do banco, e três visões reais do produto: visão de produto da Locaweb E-mail, visão de produto da Conta Azul e visão de produto da Gympass.
  • Na seção SWOT de “O que é e como criar a visão e a estratégia do produto?”, adicionei mais técnicas para ajudar você a preencher um SWOT mais útil para dar suporte ao design da sua estratégia de produto.
  • Adicionei um novo capítulo intitulado “Crescimento: reunindo tudo – visão, estratégia, roadmaps e OKRs”, onde explico como usar juntas as diferentes ferramentas que devem ser usadas durante a fase de crescimento de um ciclo de vida de produto digital – visão, estratégia, roadmap e OKRs.
  • Adicionei um capítulo intitulado “Projetos vs problemas”, onde explico o que acontece nos ciclos de planejamento, principalmente nos ciclos anuais, quando acabamos nos focando em fazer uma lista de projetos e nos esquecemos de que problemas queremos resolver com aqueles projetos.
  • Adicionei um capítulo intitulado “Crescimento: como gerenciar produtos durante crises”, onde conto qual é o papel de um gestor de produtos em uma crise.
  • Adicionei uma nova seção sobre as diferentes opções para expandir um mercado no capítulo “Como diversificar seu portfólio de produtos?”.
  • No capítulo “Foco ou diversificação?”, adicionei uma seção explicando quando e como usar o ciclo de vida de quatro fases para os recursos individuais do seu produto.
  • Adicionei duas novas seções ao capítulo “O problema da TI”. Uma sobre a ThoughtWorks, uma empresa de consultoria de desenvolvimento de software conhecida por estar sempre um passo à frente na indústria de software, sugerindo que apliquemos o gerenciamento de produtos a plataformas internas. E a outra sobre a “falácia do cliente interno”, onde questiono o conceito normalmente utilizado em algumas organizações de cliente interno ou usuário interno ao discutir o trabalho realizado entre as áreas.
  • No capítulo “Onde está o gerenciamento de produtos de software em uma empresa?”, adicionei uma seção explicando como um gerente de produto pode ganhar mais autonomia.
  • Na “Conclusão”, adicionei uma seção para explicar como fazer uma mudança de carreira para gerenciamento de produtos.

Boa leitura! \o/

Stakeholder relationships

A product manager’s life is all about relationships. Any product manager has to interact with many people inside and outside her organization that have an interest in the product she manages. In the corporate jargon, these people are called stakeholders:

In the last decades of the 20th century, the word “stakeholder” became more commonly used to mean a person or organization that has a legitimate interest in a project or entity. In discussing the decision-making process for institutions—including large business corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations—the concept has been broadened to include everyone with an interest (or “stake”) in what the entity does.

Source: Wikipedia

I wrote a series of articles about the relationship between the product manager and engineeringUXproduct marketingproject management, and all other areas of the company – Operations, Customer Support, Legal, Sales, Finance, HR, Administrative. I also suggested the use of a tool called RASCI to help define roles and responsibilities.

I also wrote about the main characteristic any product manager needs to be successful, empathy. This is the ability someone has to walk on someone else’s shoes in order to understand her aspirations, motivations, needs, and problems.

There’s another interesting tool that can be helpful to help product managers understand how to interact with many different stakeholders of her product.

Power-Interest Grid

The Power-Interest Grid is a concept first developed in the 90’s by Aubrey L. Mendelow, and later explained in the book, “Making Strategy: Mapping Out Strategic Success”, by Fran Ackermann and Colin Eden.

Based on the power and the interest that a person or a team has in your product, you can classify them in 4 main categories.

Players are the ones with high power and interest in your product. You definitely need to collaborate frequently with them. Your product’s users and customers are definitely players, you need to collaborate with them in order to build the best product that solves their problems and addresses their needs. In some companies, probably the founder closest to the product is also a player. You should invite these people to any meeting and dynamic where strategic decisions will be made. Schedule one-on-ones to present the decisions and ask for their feedback and input.

Subjects are the ones with low power but high interest in your product. They don’t have the power to veto or change decisions, but they have a deep interest in your product. In some companies, we can think about customer support, sales, and marketing as examples of areas that play the role of subjects. They have high interest, but they don’t have the power to change your product. You can communicate with them through weekly status email, product demos. It’s important to gather their input, but remember that they don’t have the power to change your decisions.

Context setters are the ones with power to change your product but low interest in your product. Examples of areas that can play a role as context setter are HR and Legal. If HR doesn’t help you staff the team, you won’t have a team to build your product. If Legal is not aware and aligned with the legal aspects of your product, they have the power to block or delay your launch. A CFO and a controller are also two roles that have the power to change decisions that affect your product. It’s important to keep context setters well informed about your product decisions. Consult them prior to making major decisions. Keep them informed on a weekly basis.

Crowd are the ones with low power and low interest. Even though they have little power and interest, it’s important to keep them informed. Normally a monthly update on the progress of the product is enough. Can be through email or in a monthly all-hands meeting with product demos. Normally this are the people from HR, Legal, Administrative, and Finance areas who don’t are in the context setter group.

It’s important to note that each company has its own dynamic, so an area or a person that is a specific role in the power-interest grid in a company may be another role in a different company.

Summary

  • Power-interest grid, together with RASCI, is a great tool to help you better understand and interact with your stakeholders.
  • But don’t forget, the main tool a product manager needs to better understand and, consequently, have improved and fruitful interactions with her stakeholders is empathy.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Diversifying – and digitalizing – a product portfolio, a case study

During the COVID-19 we did a diversification – and digitalization – of our product portfolio in record time. We went from one offline product, access to gyms and studios, to 4 products, 3 of them fully digital, in less than a month:

  • Access to gyms and studios: access to more than 50,000 gyms and studios in 14 countries;
  • Live classes: for those who like to train in groups or want to relive the feeling of class with colleagues at the gym;
  • Personal trainers: for those who prefer a more personalized approach and like to exercise in their own time;
  • Gympass Wellness: application package with more than 60 apps for those looking for options to improve physical and mental well-being (from nutrition to the therapy session).

In this article I’ll explain how we did it.

Product Vision

When I joined Gympass, in mid-2018, one of the first things I did was to build o product vision. We had a very compelling purpose, to defeat inactivity. However, in order to build a digital product, we need more than a purpose.

This vision guided the definition of Gympass’ product development organization. We built teams around each of the participants of the marketplace, plus a central team that worked on the payment flow collecting payment from companies and their employees, making all calculations and determining the payment for each gym partner.

When I was building this product vision and discussing it with different people in the organization, it was easy to see many opportunities to expand this marketplace. There is a lot of new categories supply we could add to our marketplace:

I’ve already explained the theory behind these ideais of marketplace expansion.

Given the above dynamic, we can expand a marketplace as follows:

However, we had a lot to do in our core product back then, so we didn’t have enough energy to focus on expanding our marketplace.

New venture

In October 2019 we got to a point where our product development team was well structured and working properly to address our challenges in our core product, so we decided to focus on expanding our marketplace.

We decided to work on an idea called “Gympass end-user partnership hub”. The plan was to partner with wellness apps and provide them our users.

This new idea had too main hypothesis we needed to test:

  • willingness to partner from app providers. App providers, like gyms, are used to the recurring monthly revenue model. Are they ok to be paid by the day of use?
  • willingness to pay from our user base. Is our user base interested in paying a monthly fee to have access the apps?

To test our first hypothesis we built a deck with the value proposition we were planning to deliver to the partners and talked to some potential partners. We presented the partnership opportunity to 8 potential partners, from which 6 showed interest and 4 decided to join our proof of concept. NEOU, a workout app, 8fit, a workout and nutrition app, Tecnonutri, a nutrition app and ZenApp a mindfulness app.

Ok, our first hypothesis was validated and we needed to validate the second hypothesis, the willingness to pay. Are our user willing to pay to have access to this apps through Gympass?

To test our second hypothesis, we built a simple form, where we describe the product and asked name, email, and company. After the user gave this information, he was directed to a Paypal subscription page, where he need to provide credit card information to subscribe to the service. The user received an email with the activation link for each app. There was no real product, just a form to test interest and email with the links to the apps. Check out the experience below:

We initially called it Gympass W, the W standing for wellness. We added a beta so everyone could understand that it was not a finished product. Later we renamed it to Gympass Wellness to make its value proposition more clear.

Our plan was to test this proof of concept with 5 corporate clients in the US and 5 in Brazil, which would provide us a combined user base of 15,000 employees. Our expectation was to have around 200 subscribers. We launched internally – eat your own dog food – on March 9th and we got 66 subscribers. Then came COVID-19.

COVID-19

As I already explained in a previous article, when a business is hit by a crisis, it needs to look into these two perspectives:

  • preserve cash;
  • identify and adapt to changes in customer problems and needs.

Even though product managers and product development teams have an important role in the former, their main role is in the latter.

Here at Gympass we have 3 different customers and all of them deeply impacted by COVID-19:

  • gyms in many cities were closed to help in physical distancing measures applied in many cities to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and consequently are losing recurring revenues from users who are not visiting the gym;
  • users, the employees of our clients, cannot go to gyms anymore and have to stay at home, but also have to somehow stay active, but their first reaction is to cancel or pause their Gympass membership since they won’t have access to gyms for a while;
  • corporate clients, whose employees are at home and don’t go anymore to gyms, while HRs are concerned about how to keep these employees engaged and productive.

Gympass Wellness, the first digital product

We were able to adapt our Gympass Wellness pilot in record time to be offered to our entire user base so they can not only remain active but also take care of their nutrition and their minds during these very challenging times. With Gympass Wellness we were able to address both users and our corporate clients’ changing problems and needs during the crisis.

We have a corporate value that I believe all marketplaces should have, Ecosystem Mindset. This means that we should always look to all participants in our marketplace and guarantee that all benefit from using it.

Live Classes, the second digital product

With Gympass Wellness, we were able to address the needs of our corporate clients and their employees. What about the gyms? By being closed, they were losing revenue. Their customers were not visiting them anymore so the regular gym users were prone to cancel their subscription while those who used to visit gyms using Gympass wouldn’t visit the gym during the crisis what would cause a loss of revenue for the gyms as well. To help our partner gyms we decided and implemented in record time 2 solutions:

  • Provide gyms a white label app they could offer to all their members so they can deliver value to their clients helping them stay active while at home;
  • Provide a platform for gyms to schedule and stream live classes to all Gympass users so they can keep their instructors employed while providing Gympass users with exclusive content. This platform is called Live Classes.

Personal Trainers, the third digital product

Live Classes provided a platform 1:N, meaning one instructor could provide physical activity guidance to N users. We soon realized we could create another product on top of Live Classes, 1:1 physical activity guidance, which could be made available in Gympass’ higher-tier plans. We then created our third digital product, Personal Trainers.

Summary

  • Even though we had the vision of expanding our supply offer beyond physical gyms and studios quite early in our journey, we needed to have our core product stable in order to invest in this expansion.
  • Back in November 2019, we started to create our first digital product, Gympass Wellness, in a regular pace, creating controlled tests to validate or invalidate hypotheses.
  • COVID-19 dramatically increased the need for speed in developing new digital products. We went from 1 offline product (access to physical gyms and studios) to 4 products adding Gympass Wellness, Live Classes, and Personal Trainer to our product portfolio in 2 months. Prior to the crisis, this diversification and digitalization would probably have taken 2 to 3 years.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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Guia da Startup agora é Gyaco / Guia da Startup now is Gyaco

Português

Guia da Startup foi um blog que criei em 2012 quando eu estava escrevendo o meu primeiro livro. Eu trouxe todo o conteúdo para esse novo site, onde centralizarei todo o meu conteúdo.

Se você quer ser notificado de novos artigos, basta assinar a newsletter:


Para quem quiser ver esse conteúdo em português, aqui está o link da tradução automática do Google Tradutor. Você também pode acessar os artigos escritos em português.

English

Guia da Startup was o blog I created back in 2012 when I was writing my first book. I brought all the content to this new site, which is where I will centralize all my writing.

If you want to get notified about new content, just subscribe to my newsletter:


For those who want to access the content in Portuguese, you can access Google Translate automatic translation. Also, there are many articles written in Portuguese.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my new bundle Digital Product Management with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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The top-down trap

In my last article, I’ve discussed the differences between problem solver teams and solution implementer teams, why these teams yield better results, and how to build them.

Top-down solutions

When discussing these types of teams, I normally hear things like “we want to be a problem solver team but in my company all solutions are top-down, and the only thing we can do is to implement them”.

These situations get aggravated when under pressure came. The most recent pressure many companies are under is the COVID-19 crisis. In the urge to solve the problems as fast as possible, managers ask teams to implement this or that solution fast, super fast.

The trap

Let me now tackle the elephant in the room, the top-down decision-making environment. This has a huge impact on any team since in this type of environment. Without being part of the decision about this solution, the people that implement the solution will eventually get demotivated.

Why am I calling it the top-down trap? Because many of the so perceived top-down decision-making environments are what I just wrote, a perception.

Let’s use the main characteristic that every product manager must have, empathy. The ability someone has to walk on someone else’s shoes in order to understand her aspirations, motivations, needs, and problems. People to whom I had the opportunity to talk about the essential characteristics of a product manager, know how important I consider empathy as a critical trait for successful PMs.

Here are 2 tips to help product team members empathize with the so-called top-down decision-makers and escape the top-down trap:

  • Understanding the situation: put yourself in the solution implementation requester shoes. People are problem solvers, it’s people’s nature. Whenever faced with a problem, people jump to solution mode and try to find and implement solutions as fast as possible. Under increased pressure, like the COVID-19 crisis we are facing now, the urge to find and implement solutions is exacerbated. In the majority of cases, people don’t want to be top-down decision-makers, they simply have an urge to solve the problem as fast as possible.
  • Changing the status quo: ask questions about the solution implementation request. What problem is it solving? For whom? Why is it important to solve this problem? Why now? Why do we need to deliver something fast, even jeopardizing quality? If you are asked why so many questions, explain that you are trying to better understand the problem to see if there are other cheaper and faster solutions.

These tips will help everyone in the product team to make the change to a more collaborative decision-making process.

More often than not, people understand the benefits of a collaborative decision-making process. Even under pressure, collaborative solutions will yield better results. Solutions devised in a collaborative process are normally cheaper and faster to implement because more people got a chance to discuss solution options and the team who will implement the selected solution will be truly committed to its success.

In order to build, maintain and improve problem solver teams, and avoid turning them into solution implementers teams, especially when under increased pressure, it is paramount to avoid the top-down trap.

Heads of product have the role and responsibility to foster these behavior changes to help build a more collaborative and, consequently, more effective decision-making process.

Summing up

  • The top-down trap is the perception of the decision-making process being done in a top-down manner.
  • This perception is exacerbated when a company faces increased pressure, such as the COVID-19 crisis we are in now.
  • People are solution-oriented and the bigger the pressure, the faster people want solutions to be implemented.
  • To help cope with this situation, use empathy to understand the solution implementation requester point of view and ask her why there’s a need to implement the requested solution.
  • Heads of product have the role and responsibility to foster these behavior changes to help build a more collaborative decision-making process.

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