Product planning Q&A with Amanda Pardy

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So you’re responsible for planning Sensibill’s product! Can you tell me a little about your process for product planning? Are there any specific methods you use or philosophies that you follow?

For me, product planning comes down to understanding the customer problems and the data. First, I want to get to know my customer through customer empathy sessions and user testing to identify  their pain points and challenges. It’s not just about our productunderstanding how they use other products, and their motivations for using them, is just as important.

Then it’s about looking into the data. I look at product adoption metrics, user behaviour, and our user stickiness. Doing a deep analysis of data to gain insights is a critical component of my product roadmap planning.

When defining the roadmap, I like to identify themes and base my roadmap on them. For example, Sensibill is expanding quickly, so “Driving Growth for Complex Clients” is one of our themes that we’re working on throughout 2018 and 2019.

For prioritization, I like to prioritize features by either using a prioritization matrix, where you use weighted amounts for each feature, or the Kano model.

Sorry, the what model?

Essentially with a Kano model, you look to figure out what is a “just do” versus what is a “value add” and what is a “wow factor”. So, I intertwine these when prioritizing features.

A main part of the process is making sure that everyone within the organization understands the direction and they’re able to give feedback and collaborate with the product management team. For me, going back to who I am and why I’m working for Sensibill, I like to ensure that everyone has a voice. Yes, a product manager is the owner of a particular feature function, but anyone at Sensibill can come to the team and say, “Have you thought of this?”

You touched on this a little, but a big focus for Sensibill is our expansion into markets around the world. How does that play into our product roadmap? What things do you take into account?

Expanding to other countries is actually not as easy as you may think. People tend to underestimate the amount of effort and sophistication required when expanding to other geographies. I’ve made the mistake–and I’m happy to admit this–that I thought it was just about language translations. For example, when I was a junior product manager, I was planning an expansion into Mexico and was operating under the assumption that I could just put out a request for translation, plop them into the platform, and it would be business as usual. Of course, that was not the case.

As you look at different geographies, you need to consider differences in values and motivations. Right now, we’re expanding into Europe, which has 50 countries, 23 official languages, and over 60 regional dialects. It’s complex. If you say it’s going to take you a month, then multiply that by ten because you will run into problems along the way. At Sensibill, we’re lucky that we have people on the ground in the UK and around Europe so we can identify these differences and collect information first-hand. Ensuring that they’re communicating their findings with the product team is important. No amount of information is insignificant.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had in your role at Sensibill?

Like with any startup, the biggest challenge is that you have grand plans but you can’t execute fast enough. It isn’t about how talented your team is, it’s that you always need more manpower. So, my main challenge right now–especially in the hot market that we have in Toronto–is hiring these top tier, high caliber product managers who can own the roadmaps I off-load to them.

I’m glad you mentioned that because, while we work with some big clients, we’re still a relatively small team that’s growing. What advice do you have for other startups looking to scale?

One word: focus. It’s not uncommon to have five grand challenges, but spreading yourself thin is dangerous. What you have to do is take a step back and assess each challenge carefully. Ask yourself: Will addressing this make us successful or will it just distract the team?

It’s something I try to do, but struggle with from time to time. I want to take on all challenges! Fascinating opportunities crop up all the time, but acting on them could take you in a completely different direction. I’m not saying don’t do it. My advice is to take a breath, evaluate it, and see if it lines up with your mission and vision as a company. And if it doesn’t, but you still think it’s too great an opportunity to pass up, then it might be time to revisit your vision.

I think a lot of times startups run as fast as we can and we don’t take that time to evaluate how decisions align with our objectives. So, if there’s one piece of advice I have for every product leader, it’s to take that breath.

And if your leadership team is saying you don’t have time, then explain to them why this will help their ROI in the end.

This has been super insightful. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

We are hiring on the product team at Sensibill! There’s so much room for growth and we’re tackling some big and bold problems. Please check us out!

Header image created using Creative Common assets from Pablo Stanley.