How to take the manual process away from your product team
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When I was 18, I took my first job in admin at a software company. When I was asked if I wanted to work in another area of the business I expressed an interest in project/product management and vividly remember the response:
“You don’t want to do that, they are only glorified administrators”
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that!
I headed off down that route regardless (I loved tinkering with computers, hanging out with the dev team and we shared the same taste in music…good enough reasons right?) but that comment really stuck with me. It’s only many years down the line that I’ve come to realize there was truth in it - administration of a business is a super tough job that’s evolved and become increasingly smart & automated but product teams have really lagged behind the curve.
In my last software business, it came to light just how much of a product team’s job involved a manual process; we lived in a world of spreadsheets, disparate feature request data, emails and manual processes for updating release logs and roadmaps. Because of this, product decisions were difficult to make, near impossible to align with the company strategy and easily influenced by The Cushion Effect or dreaded HiPPO.
Here’s some ways we’ve changed all of that when we started Receptive - making the process and software work for us so we can use our talents where they really count.
Demand data from customers, team & the market is gathered centrally
Software companies are full of great feedback, product ideas and feature requests but getting actionable insights can be incredibly painful. A lot of this valuable data is lost in CRMs, support tools & development systems or sat in spreadsheets so massive it takes hours to unpick.
It doesn’t help when customer demand can quickly become out-of-date and skewed by customer forums and voting systems. When you don’t understand the full picture, important product decisions are made on gut feelings and the loudest voice in the room.
In the midst of competing voices all pulling product in different directions, the proper gathering and understanding of data is critical. Getting it wrong and building features that don’t count are an insanely huge opportunity cost on a business - just think what could be achieved if you knew that every feature was really going to count.
We gather all prioritized demand data in one place which gives us a system of record which we can completely trust. Demand data which informs your product roadmap & strategy comes from 3 main sources:
- Internal teams
- The market
Demand can be any number of things; it’s any information which helps show what users need from your product. Examples include feature requests, feedback, ideas, insights and competitive intelligence.
If you leave this data set scattered across your organization the quality quickly decays and your product team will be spending hours & hours finding and unpicking it. Basically, you’re missing out BIG TIME.
Communication is automated (where appropriate)
It’s incredibly easy to lose track of which requests are important to customers, team members or prospects; product teams can spend a hideous amount of time looking back through spreadsheets and emails trying to find the folks who a new release really matters to.
I’ve previously touched on this subject in relation to customer feedback. Software businesses are often good at gathering requests (especially from the customer base) but without consistent updates, half of the dialogue is missing:
“A dangerous view of the customer voice can also be created. You believe that by gathering feedback & feature requests that you are listening and taking the customer seriously but that’s often not the case since half of the dialogue is missing. It’s all too easy to gather feedback but very hard to communicate updates back out.”
Communication is absolutely key and automating certain aspects of the flow of information is incredibly beneficial. Here at Receptive, we automatically notify every person that cared about a request as it changes status:
The benefits have been huge:
- Saying “no” to requests is easy
- Massive efficiencies have been made
- The “right” customers are kept in
- Prospects wake up as features are released
Read more about the benefits in detail here: The Black Hole of Customer Feedback
Note: this is not a replacement for picking up the phone to customers & building relationships. It’s automating a task for the product management team which is usually done manually and it’s a great win for our Customer Success department too.
Product Managers don’t prioritize on behalf of others
Product teams can spend a great deal of time manually prioritizing requests, feedback, ideas etc.. from the customer base, teams and prospects. This wastes a lot of time and gives a sub-optimal outcome because:
- Prioritization is being done by the few & not the majority
- A Product Manager is not “every stakeholder”
- The data being used is often stale and incomplete
- People’s priorities change frequently
You can read about this in detail here: Product Managers Shouldn’t Prioritize Feature Requests And here’s a short extract:
“Capturing priorities of stakeholders ongoing allows our product team to focus on prioritization where it really counts by:
- Defining and agreeing product strategy with the leadership team within the understanding & framework of the company objectives; and
- Prioritizing what goes on our product roadmap using the data collected. The product and company strategy is the key reference point.
In summary, Product Managers now work a whole level above the capture and prioritization of feature requests from stakeholders. They are freed up to make strategic and data-driven product decisions instead of spending hours on laborious manual tasks which only ever resulted in imperfect information. No more playing with spreadsheets, counting feature votes and desperately trying to get that call with a strategic prospect ahead of a prioritization session”.
We’ve automated updates to our Release Log & Roadmap
Another HUGE time saver for us is having our Release Log and high-level Product Roadmap update automatically.
As pieces of work are complete, the Release Log updates automatically and this is helped further with our 2-way JIRA integration.
Another massive advantage to this is the communication aspect - the product team don’t have to worry about updating customers or keeping people up to speed internally because the information is readily available as & when people need it.
We have a high-level Product Roadmap which shows what we have “In Development” & what is “Planned”. This is brilliant for transparency, keeps everyone aligned and we choose to share this with our customers too. It isn’t appropriate for all software companies to share a roadmap with their customers base, but it can work incredible well:
“Not having any idea of where a company is heading forces customers out the door, while transparency keeps the right customers in. If a customer is considering leaving, but you have some important features on your roadmap, that may change their mind.” Emeric Ernoult, CEO, Agorapulse
For the product team, knowing that the Release Log & Product Roadmap are always up-to-date gives great comfort. It’s also particularly beneficial for the sales team; they don’t have to keep asking product where a request is up to, what development to expect in the future or what the short term development plan looks like.
You can read more about lessons we’ve learned about roadmaps here: Roadmaps - A Product Teams’ Friend or Foe?
Software is an incredibly fast-paced & innovative industry so it’s odd that product teams are left with so many manual and laborious tasks on their plate.
Always look at what they are doing and where you can automate tasks to benefit the whole organization…your product team will thank you for it too.