How to maintain focus when managing a product

3 key ideas for product management focus

GoSquared on Focus in Product Management

Building an app or a service that people want is really tough.

Often, building a truly great product means saying no a thousands times more than you say yes. Building something great means listening to a lot of feedback, weighing it up with your own vision and cold hard data, and turning that all into something actionable. Building something great means aligning everyone on your team with the same vision and plans.

Back in May of this year I spoke at ProductTank in London to outline how we align the team here at GoSquared to our roadmap, how we handle feature requests and build them into our plans, and how we communicate more effectively as a team to ensure we maximise our productivity and focus on the tasks at hand.

Don’t feel like reading? Scroll down for the video and slides.

Align your team with your roadmap

OKRs – Objectives and Key Results

We use a framework called OKRs to align our team with our company and product roadmap. We set OKRs on a quarterly basis, with an initial overarching Objective and set of Key Results for the company as a whole, and then everyone on the team submits their individual OKRs that fit in with the umbrella goals.

If you haven’t come across OKRs before, they aren’t as scary as they sound. Here’s an example of an OKR:

Objective: Get better at product management
Key results: 90% of features ship on time. Product update X shipped on time. 100% of team didn’t quit.

GoSquared is by no means the first company to use OKRs to run smoothly. Thousands of companies use OKRs to help align their team, from startups like Pusher (also based here in London), to slightly large companies like Google.

Budget time for projects rather than estimating time

David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp wrote a fantastic piece recently about a different way of estimating the time a feature or project is going to take to build. David suggests that rather than estimating time, we should budget time for a feature, and that we should budget based on how significant that feature is to the company and customers. This way of thinking will then lead to different choices being made around the technology used and depth of the feature being built.

Be transparent with the metrics that matter

Many companies share a lot of metrics with their teams. If anything, there is a proliferation of data and not enough people know what to do with it. What we see as important is that everyone knows the metrics that matter to their project, and that everyone understands which metrics and numbers will be affected if the project succeeds or fails. Without a solid understanding of the metrics, it’s very hard to categorically measure whether a project or feature has achieved its original purpose.

Don’t share the metrics that are easy to share. Share the metrics that matter the most.

Communicate better – spend less time in meetings

Find the right amount of process for your team

Joel Gascoigne of Buffer put it very well: too much process can damage you just as much as too little process, it just depends on how many people are on your team and how developed you are a business.

At GoSquared, we are always trying to push forward as fast as possible with the minimum viable process needed. Here’s a brief summary of what a week at GoSquared looks like:

  • Monday morning planning meetings at Pret – we plan out the week and ensure everyone has a clear idea of what their aims are. Everyone agrees their own well defined tasks that are due to be completed by the end of the week.
  • Daily catchups – everyone individually updates the rest of the team in a quick 15 minute standup, stating their progress and if there’s anything that is blocking them.
  • Friday roundup over a beer – the team demos what they’ve been working on and summarises what they managed to crack through in the week. Fridays are a chance for everyone to evaluate whether they were overly ambitious with what they expected to accomplish in the week.

Invest heavily in your internal tools

We have developed our internal tooling considerably over the years. Initially we spent far too little time on internal tooling thinking it wasn’t important – customers never see your internal tools so why spend time on them? It turns out internal tools are just as important as your core product. Without great internal tools, the whole team are handicapped in their abilities to understand and delight our customers.

We now have a set of internal tools we’re pretty thrilled with. We use Slack for team communication. We use GitHub to manage our entire codebase and issues and bugs our customers have. We use Trello to ensure everyone can see the current sprint of work and what everyone is currently working on. We also have a lot of tools we’ve built in-house to understand customers.

Obviously, we also use GoSquared to give us more insight into what our users and customers are up to, and to see how our app and site are performing in real-time. It’s rather helpful.

Have a process for deciding what to build next

Handling feature requests

We use Trello to keep tabs on what our customers are asking for. Every time a customer asks for something we don’t already have in the GoSquared product, we note it down in a card in Trello along with their email address and any additional information.

When we’re mapping out our roadmap we review Trello to see what’s been heavily requested. When we have released a new and highly requested feature we can then email everyone who asked for it and let them know it’s ready. It’s incredible how customers love this treatment – it really shows you’re listening to their feedback when they see you reaching out personally to let them know you’ve built something they asked for.

The guys over at Groove have a great process for handling feature requests and I highly recommend you take a look at how they do it.

Write the press release first

We learnt this one from Amazon originally – when working on a substantially new service, app, or product, write the press release first.

I’m not saying you should have the pricing and exact name defined beyond doubt to start with, but having a draft of the blog post you intend to publish when your product is ready for launch is a great way to align everyone on the team with what you want the end product to do. It’s a great way of telling when the product is good to ship.

Ready to focus?

I hope this has been a helpful summary of some of the methods we employ at GoSquared to maintain focus when managing and developing products. Watch the talk below for more insight on managing focus when developing your product, and also click through the slides if you want to learn more about the tools we use.

Watch the talk at ProductTank London

I took the stage at ProductTank London back in May of 2014 to talk about focus in product management. Here’s the video (with me wearing a Justin Bieber microphone).

James Gill – Getting and staying focused – how to build great B2B products with a small team from MindTheProduct on Vimeo.

Here are the slides

View the presentation on SlideShare to follow along with our talk on maintaining focus in product management.