Since I stepped in the product role 4+ years ago, our customer base and head count have grown. The processes that were standing up how features were submitted and approved were just not working for our growing organization. So I partnered with my team to build a new product feature request process.
What steps did we take to find the process?
Once I had buy-in from the stakeholders – in my case CEO, Engineering, Customer Success, and Sales, I went to work designing a framework that would help my team suss out what really needed changing.
I created a Jamboard with some simple prompts for me and our Associate Product manager to work through together. I assigned a sticky note color to each one of us to add our thoughts.
Why will we fail?
Might as well get the big stuff out the way, right. This concept was completely yanked from Jonathan Courtney’s ideas on facilitation but I think it’s a really powerful place to start. From this question and our resulting answers, powerful themes emerged. This particular frame would be something we’d go back to over and over again to see if we were really solving problems or just doing what was comfortable.
What’s our process goal?
I seeded the board with a simple prompt, “The product process is [blank]. When I use it, I feel [blank].”
From there we each created our own stickies to fill in the prompt and lo and behold – more themes! This was a great point for me because it actually felt like we were onto something – we were both feeling the pain and wanted to make things better for us and our collaborators.
In the end, we agreed to the following process goal,
“The Product Process is transparent. When I use it, I feel included in important decisions.”Product Process Goal
Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?
No matter what career I am pursuing, this lesson from journalism school always seems to apply – when tackling something complex, break it down into W,W,W,W,W,H. This is where we went into “work product” mode. We started a spreadsheet that would end up being key to our future implementation and communication efforts. The spreadsheet maps out the stages, offers a view of this via Jira, and also has a glossary of terms used that anyone can reference.
Putting this together was key and took at least 8 hours of focused time, in and out of meetings. This is time well spent. It’s a reference for all process participants that tells the story helps you see places that can improve
I’ve seen a lot of processes/plans/initiatives launch and fail because they didn’t take the time to effectively communicate the changes to the people who would be most impacted – staff.
Our communications plan included a launch date, a company wide presentation deck, more specific meetings and presentations for Customer Success and Engineering, and a Confluence page that showed all work products so any curious party could follow the thread of understanding in a way that makes sense for them. We had to stick this landing – it matters.
In the Jamboard we also had a space to put things we thought would be improved when the process rolled out. Here’s a sample of our process hopes and dreams, “More manageable schedule,” “Better chance of catching errors earlier,” and “More inter-departmental inclusion.” Good stuff, right? Remembering the benefits can be helpful when you are making really tough decisions.
Our Jamboard also holds a frame that’s full of questions that don’t fit into any other category. This helps us focus while feeling heard. Shoutout again to my boy, Jonathan Courtney (whom I have never met but enjoy immensely).
Now that we had our process outlined, it was time to start thinking critically about how we would implement this monumental shift. Everything about the spreadsheet made perfect sense to me and my collaborator but that just wouldn’t hold day in, day out for a whole company.
I needed to make all this process easier to communicate at the level the participant needed to understand it. I knew that design could help. So I asked Cerkl’s Principal Product Designer to help me with the arduous task.
Through one of the most productive fits of 30 minute brainstorming ever, he and I invented Productopoly as our visual explainer of how the process would work.
We were able to map the component parts of the real-real estate game to the process.
- Stages of the process = Real Estate Groups
- Features = Houses
- Epics = Hotels
- Rejected Feature = Jail
- Story Points = Money
- Departments = Game Pieces
Through a beautiful and thoughtful design, he was able to take a rough idea and turn it into a blockbuster piece of visual process storytelling. This board surprised and delighted meeting attendees and provided enough context for many participants.
The board was backed up by a strong Confluence page with the following elements:
- The process spreadsheet
- The collaboration jamboard
- A text explainer
- A video walk through of Productopoly
- The slide deck I presented in meeting with speaker notes
What Now? More Work?
Now, if you’ve made it to this point of the story, you might be tired. I felt it too. It was a mountain of work. But, I couldn’t quit yet because here’s another place I see great ideas fall down – there’s no time to review the changes.
As part of any process changes I make, I set a review cadence and the dates for those reviews are always public. Generally I do 90 days, then 6 months, and then annual reviews. The hope here is that by the six month review, the process has been adopted and stabilized a bit, but your mileage may vary.
At the top of the page, we told people we would be reviewing this process on January 10, 2023. I gathered all questions and complaints into a FAQ at the bottom of the page. We are using this list as the basis of our current cycle of review.
How’s it going?
So far, the process has helped our work be more transparent and understood inside the organization and has led to many interesting and helpful collaborations that just weren’t happening in the old flow. We still have work to do to make it perfect but I couldn’t be more proud of my team for the work we did on this process.
10/10 – would process again.
Making a game of a new feature process
Getting organized for a Design Sprint
The Need for a Global ‘No Thanks’
Personas Help Solve Product Problems