I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. – Kobe Bryant
NewsCred recently embarked on modifying its prioritization process for our quarterly product releases. The goal was to implement a process that balanced our current customer’s challenges with the dynamic market we play in, gave us flexibility, provided transparency into our product decisions, and set realistic expectations for what we could accomplish in a three month period.
By no means did we get this right on our first attempt. In fact, we are currently retrospecting on ways to improve for the next quarter. That being said, we’ve learned a lot and can share some of the lessons from the process.
Throughout this document, you’ll notice that I refer to books, blog posts, and videos that capture the essence of our process. That’s because we know that great product people have come before us, and there’s a lot we can learn and perhaps steal from them. We used these resources to architect our unique version of a prioritization process.
Phase One – Empathize
During the first phase of our prioritization process, we wanted to lead with a design-centric focus on building product. From our perspective, this doesn’t mean focusing on the user-interface of our software, but truly understanding and empathizing with content marketers and using this to guide our priorities. We spent several months engaging with each of our customers, prospects, and partners and took very detailed notes on our conversations. From these notes, we abstracted 700+ informative comments to drive our understanding of the customer challenges and solutions.
Phase Two – What Jobs Are We Solving?
As we analyzed the commentary, we identified four particular jobs our customers are trying to accomplish via our software. We then changed our product architecture to match these jobs. We now recognize that there are four jobs a content marketer is looking for a piece of software to solve – content management, project management, analytics, and integrations.
Phase Three – Transparency And Measurement
We broke down each of the 700+ comments and bucketed them into the four jobs and created thematic categories. The product managers now had a pile of comments to take home and absorb in each of their products.
Additionally, we combined our key product metrics with qualitative feedback from our account management team on each client to analyze what jobs those clients hired NewsCred to solve. This process was valuable for the categorization as well as the transparency injected into product management. Every team at NewsCred contributed and participated in the client exercise. We designated a conference room to be the product “war room” where every member of the NewsCred team contributed feedback to the visual display of our clients.
Phase Four – Preparing For The Auction
After collecting this information the product, design, and engineering teams developed a list of experiences that we thought were the top priorities for addressing our clients’ challenges. An example experience was: know where your audience is coming from and how they are engaging with your content. The design and engineering teams broke this experience down into smaller tasks to come up with a high-level estimate of effort using t-shirt sizes (small, medium, large).
We looked at historical data to determine how many small, medium, and large tasks our engineering and design team could complete in a 3-month period. We created wireframes, selected success metrics for the experiences, and assigned prices to each experience based on the level of effort.
The level of effort exercise directly impacted the price of the experience. The price is significant because we wanted to implement the auction process that Pandora used to prioritize product development.
We then distributed these experiences to the entire company to have managers force rank the experiences with their teams. This gave our sales, marketing, client services, support, and strategy teams a voice in the priorities.
Phase 5 – The Auction
The auction process was extremely successful in helping us prioritize across the competing interests of our stakeholders. The market dynamics forced every member of our voting committee to consider exactly what they were spending their limited money on and persuade others to invest in their top choices.
The market reinforced the constraints of the limited supply of resources (engineering and design time) while focusing those resources on solving the most important challenges facing our clients and prospects. This made it impossible for the loudest voice to persuade the room and helped us optimize our decision making.
The total supply of money in the market was $200. It was distributed to the product council members in varying amounts based on their contact with clients and prospects. Those people with the most exposure to clients and prospects received the most money. This was one of several slight alterations to we made to the process that Pandora used.
In order to build an experience, the product council had to commit enough money to clear its price. Initially, we performed a blind auction to see what the results would be. Not surprisingly, when the product council (a compilation of people with competing interests answerable to different stakeholders) bid on experiences, their money was spread across many experiences with only 4 of them clearing their hurdle price.
Silent Auction Results
The next day, we met in a conference room and started the conversation with a brief introduction from each product manager. We then began the auction processes with a review of the blind results. The room was very surprised to realize that their competing interests were not aligned with one another. This was exactly the point the product team wanted to prove to our key managers – their competing interests were making it difficult to satisfy everyone. After three hours of bidding, debates, and persuasion, the product council came to a consensus on 12 experiences to be worked on in the following quarter.
We went from no agreement, to consensus in just under three hours. Everyone felt very confident that an optimized decision was made.
Phase 6 – Release Planning
After the auction, our product, engineering, and design teams started planning for the Summer Release while finishing up their work on the Spring Release. They met with customers, created wireframes, wrote user stories, and prioritized their experiences. By the time the Summer Release started, we were ready to get started on the priorities purchased in the auction process.
We are agile, and we will adapt as we learn more from our customers and prospects as we iterate on these experiences. There are certainly some important things that we will change for the Fall Release planning, which has just started, but overall, we achieved consensus, enforced constraints, and optimized our decisions to hit our objectives for the quarter and for the year.
This article originally appeared here.
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