Jeb Mease is a Business Process Consultant with Dominion Energy, although his 18-year career at the company has gone through several permutations. As a business lead in the Emergency Preparedness Center, he was tapped to oversee Dominion Energy’s first consumer-facing app project with Shockoe, focused on the experience of reporting and checking the status of a power outage. With no previous experience leading a digital product team, Jeb quickly learned the ins and outs of becoming a true Product Owner. The VA/NC – Dominion Energy app was launched in the Fall of 2019, and the next major iteration, which will include billpay and account services spanning across Dominion Energy’s service territories, is slated to launch this Fall.
Rebecca Thompson, Shockoe’s Engagement Manager for the Dominion Energy app, and Mason Brown, a Strategist with Shockoe, sat down (via Teams) to chat with Jeb about his digital product evolution, and share any lessons learned along the way.
What was your role before the Outage app?
I was a business lead in our Emergency Preparedness Center, so that’s a Subject Matter Expert of our Outage Management System, reliability protocols, and having to deal with any external communications with the customer– whether it be through our outage map, our pilot texting program, or IVR callbacks. Every touchpoint along the way, I would be involved. We would also have to do forensic analysis on any customer complaints that would rise up through the ranks.
How were you chosen to be the Product Owner on the Outage app?
In my previous role, I was with the Reliability group, which had a proactive customer focus on the customer reliability experience. We looked into the outage history of individual customers and would determine what solution(s) could mitigate future outages. When I joined the Emergency Preparedness Center, it was more reactionary, an “on the fly, what’s happening right now” type of focus—when the lights go out at this moment, the immediate response by the regional operations centers is to manage the grid and restore electric service after an event. So, being a Product Owner of the Outage app kind of married those two together– the customer experience focus and then the reactivity of the current state of the network. I felt like that made me a good person to take this on because I understood the implications on the back end for the customer, and the flow of the reporting and information that gets out to the customers. I went from examining the little bits of ash where the fire was, to literally my pants being on fire.
And just out of curiosity, what’s your background in?
It’s electrical engineering technology. I like to say I’m forced to be an extrovert. I have that inherently in me because at work I’m very focused on numbers and I like to get in the background– I do data query and I’m a problem solver, so the app project really was checking that box for me — I get to figure out what these flows are and what this should do and what that little toggle should do. But in my personal life, I’m also artistic because I play drums in a band, so it’s really like working on the app was a nice marriage between those two– left brain / right brain.
Were there any moments where you thought “why did I sign up for this??”
I remember at the kickoff meeting, you asked, “what is your mobile strategy” and everyone was like “…what?” Our goal was to provide an outage reporting app, but Shockoe challenged us to view this more broadly. For us, it’s shifting from web and IVR (Interactive Voice Response)– kind of like that 90s view– to a mobile-first perspective. That’s been the most challenging thing, but I feel like we really laid the groundwork on the Outage app project, that now the next iteration has really taken it to the next level. More executives are focused on it, it’s a larger initiative, it’s going across the company, and it’s coming at a good time for us too. One of our core values is “One Dominion Energy”– so getting everybody on this new company-wide project is awesome.
Can you pinpoint a time where it just “clicked?”
Once we had the approval team set up and the larger milestone sprint demos. At first it was difficult to get momentum going, and those first few steps were the hardest ones. But once we built momentum and set up the infrastructure to support the approvals, changes, verbiage, flow, etc, then we started moving and you could see people’s eyes starting to light up like, “oh okay, this is good.”
So, I would say it was at least two or three sprints in. The way in which the project was run in terms of Shockoe’s hybrid agile approach was a little bit different for Dominion Energy. We’re a traditional waterfall company, so not only were we introducing an app which had a limited focus, we also hadn’t clarified the individuals who were responsible for it. So, then we’re thrown in a new foreign way of going back and forth and giving feedback through sprints– it was a lot
At this point though, when we get a new release we’re like, “all right, let’s take this thing for a test drive.” Sometimes people are inherently resistant to change, so if it’s something new then yeah, taking the first step is sometimes the hardest thing. But once you get in there, just start noodling around, I tend to just jump in and I’m like, “well, if I’m gonna break it. I’m gonna break it in QA.” [laughs] There’s no shame for me anymore.
What are some of the most critical pieces to developing a successful product?
I would say the most critical piece to this entire thing is testing, because that is our opportunity to work out the kinks before the app gets out to customers. If you’re really good at testing, and very thorough with documentation, then the product will be better. Testing is definitely key to not having anything slip through the cracks. Also making sure that you have the right people to test it– making sure you have all the different perspectives. On the Outage app project, people in the local offices or in the regional operation centers might encounter situations that a typical user doesn’t come into contact with and we wanted to ensure all those experiences were included in testing.
Another big one is communication. You want to make sure people understand what the vision is for the app and what value it’s going to bring, because a lot of times if people can’t really see what the end goal is or what the value is or how it benefits their group, you might not get as much support than if you took the time to sit down and explain “hey look we’re putting this app out there for customers– this can help drive down call volume because we’re serving the information up and if we get this right, this is going to help reduce the call volume that we see during storms.”
Do you enjoy being a product leader?
I think the main thing is to be proud of the product you put out. You might have challenges along the way, you might get frustrated or stressed out, you might have differences of opinion with other teams, and you can’t win every single disagreement. But at the end of the day when you look at the app, it’s cool– like taking several different products that we have, and just pulling them all together into one package. And that’s the thing that’s really stuck out to me. You’re holding it in the palm of your hand — it’s very personal, just serving up what the customer needs at that moment in time. And we’ll have additional iterations where we’ll offer additional functionality within the app– it’s going to continue to get better.
With the Outage app being our first endeavor into a customer-facing mobile application that’s widely available within the major app stores, the company is very focused on the feedback we’re getting there. Very early on we heard the feedback that customers wanted to be able to pay their bills and see their usage. So, where the Outage app may have kept those features separate, this next initiative has done a really good job of making everything consistent and pulling everything together, so the experience with Dominion Energy as a whole is consistent across all of the states we do business.
Technology is changing at a ridiculous pace right now and I think that within the past few years there’s been a big change in the company, especially in terms of innovation. We’re much more knowledgeable about emerging technologies that could impact our business as a whole. So, listening to customer feedback helps us to understand what the customer may need next that they don’t even know that they need. And the app just fits with that vision.
Dominion Energy asked a dozen mobile service and design companies to submit big ideas for their first customer mobile app with a simple brief: “What If?” Shockoe turned the brief on its head, asking “What’s Next?”