Innovate VA 2019: Building an Efficient Product Strategy

by | Apr 8, 2019

Let’s make you a product manager.

We recently forged new product managers at the Innovate Virginia conference, by Agile Richmond, during our workshop “Product Strategy, Development, and Analytics” by creating a strategy, executing that strategy through design and development, and tracking key metrics for our product all within one hour.
Our goal was to demystify product management, to pull apart the pieces and have everyone live a life in the day of a product person.

So we did it with Duplos.

Let’s Define Our Goal

In our workshop, we conveyed a single goal: push the envelope. We tasked our attendees with building a product to push a physical envelope across their team’s table using Duplos (in case you’re wondering, yes, two childless adult men purchased buckets of Duplos for this workshop).

We also set guard rails for our teams to build their product:

  • Keep the envelope flat, intact, and upright
  • Your product must use as few pieces as possible
  • Your product must be a single object and must be tapped rapidly to cross the table

Defining a goal up front is essential for any successful product, and we often work with clients to uncover a goal that may have been buried in quarterly targets, KPIs, and sprint metrics; if you have trouble summing up a product’s goal in one sentence or you sum it up differently from your teammate, it may be time to take a step back and assess.

In keeping the envelope in a certain state (upright, flat, etc.), we’re putting restrictions on how data, design, and even messaging can be delivered; maybe your organization has a product steeped in legal restrictions on messaging, user data has to abide by GDPR, or maybe it’s an integration issue you face requiring your envelope or experience to be delivered in a very specific way.

For building with as few pieces as possible, we’re all chasing our MVP – minimum viable product – and want to take as few resources, as short of a time, and minimal tools to get our product to market while still accomplishing our goal. Similar to keeping the product as one object, we don’t want to overwhelm the user with too much to manage to accomplish the goal; releasing four products to solve one problem is always less ideal than 1. For tapping rapidly, while it would be great for users to be able to simply tap once and accomplish their goal, we need to build a product that is usable for users with different abilities.

Phase I: Let’s Build a Product

Next, we had the teams assemble their envelope pusher. They built, tested, refined, and landed on a product they felt good about.

Wrench in the Plan

Once our groups felt good about their product, we placed cups throughout their path that they had to slalom and avoid.

These cups could represent challenges around marketing and product misalignment, issues with user acquisition, bad product market fit, or any other number of issues product shop’s can face, but we often still push through with the release.

Release the Product

Now that our challenges were known and our products ready to deploy, we borrowed a team member from adjacent tables to come use their product without being given any direction, best practices, or onboarding. This is often the most painful part of a product release: seeing users fail, get lost, or abandon your product altogether.

Phase II: Develop Your Strategy

Now that we’ve had our first release, we gave teams forms to help them determine 3 bits of info:

  • Their product differentiator
  • Any ideas they wanted to steal from the competition
  • A map of their challenges (their cups)

Each team ended with very different differentiators for their products: teams focused on being the cheapest (blocks are money), safest, most easy-to-use, and even best design. These can often be overlooked in a product’s lifecycle: we’re so obsessed with accomplishing our goal that we don’t stop to think about what makes our product different.
In this same way, we can create a differentiator by influence from our competitors; there could be a feature to modify, a process to adapt, or even a design to refine. Finally, by mapping the challenges out, you can adjust your roadmap, delivery cycle, or even positioning to compensate.

Phase III: Measure Your Product

After another product delivery from Phase II where teams couldn’t talk their users, we handed them a sheet with a blank short text field and a long text field and had teams define two questions to ask/metrics to track that would help them iterate on their product.
Teams focused on ease-of-use created a survey for users to rate their experience whereas the safety conscious asked users to try a few approaches to track the safest route for the product and positioning for the user. With these metrics in mind and their strategy at the forefront, product teams planned their Phase IV improvements.

Phase IV: What’s Next?

Although our product teams were revving their engines for Phase IV, that’s where our workshop ended; with our strategy codified, product iterated upon, and metrics gathered.
We asked the teams “If you had all three (strategy, delivery, and metrics) well in hand before Phase I and knew your challenges, would it have gone smoother?”
The answer was an emphatic “yes”.

This is Product Management

Product, combined with agile development, is key for many organizations. Building software that is focused on a specific goal but is able to iterate, adjust, and evolve is essential. Too often product management can be seen as a faraway skill that is only attainable through expensive training and education, but the core of what product management involves is what we focused on in our workshop and how that is attainable and possible with forethought and attention.

Let us help you understand how to find your goals, understand your users, and set up product management in your organization. We may or may not bring the Duplos.

Cameron Hall

Cameron Hall

Cameron uses his experience in app and analytics strategy for healthcare, finance, government, and logistics apps with a focus on emerging technologies to deliver on customer-centric product development. When not devouring research on the latest and greatest, you can find Cameron hiking, playing soccer, reading a book, or continuing his education.