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Treating our Customer Team as a Product

August 19, 2019

Andrea Says Product Leadership

The ProdPad team has grown at an amazing rate since I started four years ago. We went from being three people (two of them sharing a desk) to 23 people and counting. We now have 1000s of customers around the world. 

As the customer facing team grew, it became obvious that we needed to make sure we implemented a structure that made sense. We found ourselves focusing on the wrong stuff, and working on separate tasks without a single objective to keep us working as a team. Our Co-founder, Janna Bastow, reflects on this period and calls it the Year of Faffing About.

Team members were working on things because it kept us busy, rather than trying to reach a goal or a specific outcome. We knew we were working on things, but we weren’t quite sure why. We knew sales have to sell, we knew marketing had to market, and we knew we wanted to make our customers successful. But, we had no cohesive strategy behind it.

So, we decided to try something new. Why not treat ourselves like a product that we were all responsible for? With a strategy and objectives in place, wouldn’t it be easier to ensure we’re all moving in the right direction? So we decided to give this a go, using our own product to manage the process.

Phase 1: Implementing company objectives 

2018 was a huge year for us. We went from being a small startup to crossing the 1000 customer mark. We’re market leaders in our space and with growth comes a bit more structure – but not the boring kind.

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a great way of keeping teams focused, so we started the process of implementing them internally. If the term OKR is new to you, you can learn more about it here.

Finding our North Star objective

To start with, we needed to find a North Star objective, something we could measure that we knew would show us that we were doing the right things. 

We also wanted to avoid metrics that siloed our teams. These are usually vanity metrics that team leads use to compete against each other rather than strive for the same common goal. For example, if a marketing team is given a metric like ‘increase leads’, you can be sure they’ll find a bunch of leads. However, there’s no incentive to find good leads. You know, the type who have a problem we can solve and are likely to stick around. 

We started measuring revenue from customers who had been with us longer than 12 months. This would show us if our revenue was coming from customers who were happy with the product in real-world usage, and with the service they receive. Customers who were finding value by using ProdPad and who were less likely to churn. The whole company could contribute to this objective; whether they were building a better product, telling the market about how it solves their problems, closing new business, supporting customers or encouraging upgrades. It all contributes towards the same goal.

From there on, it was easy for each team to define their objectives, whether they were related to ProdPad functionality (DevOps) or the way that we work with our current and potential customers (BizOps).

Phase 2: Figuring out our OKRs 

Once our company objectives were set, we set out to write down our team objectives. These are measurable goals we can keep track of as we reach our Northern Star. These were initially created as individual ones, but we quickly realized these were turning into individual tasks as opposed to us working as a team.

We then changed to objectives we all work on as a team. For example, one of our objectives is to increase trial conversions. So, how can we all contribute towards that?

Lesson on this: There is a thin line between measurable objectives you work on as a team and just a task of things to do. It’s ok to make this mistake, it happened to us. It’s less about what a single individual team members is doing, and more about how you’re working as a team (think we instead of I.) 

Phase 3: Implementing objectives with our strategic roadmap

Once our objectives ready, we set out to map out our strategy. This involved looking at our backlog and creating initiatives tied to our objectives (lead generation, new business acquisition, and growth – to name a few). 

Each of these initiatives are high level projects, or rather, problems that need to be solved. These projects tie to one or multiple objectives, and then break down into specific tasks. These tasks may involve several team members. But, the important thing here is that while we have tasks, we’re all working towars specific goals

Once we have our initiatives laid out, we order them within our Now, Next, Later columns. These allows us to focus on items within respective time horizons. More or less ‘now’ would be the current quarter, but we’re not tying ourselves down to specific dates. This is more about understanding our strategy, not reaching a goal by a specific date.

Here’s an example:

Here is an example of an initiative

This particular initiative revolves around retention and onboarding. There is a team lead assigned to the card – but tasks involve team members from marketing and account management.

At any given point we will have a small number of initiatives in our ‘now’ column. 

The most important thing here is making sure that we are all working on initiatives that revolve around similar goals. We all want to be focusing on Retention and Onboarding within our respective initiatives at the same time. And then move on to other initiatives with similar goals as work is completed. This way we don’t have teams working on goals while another team is looking at objectives. It’s all about doing things cohesively and as a well-oiled machine.

Takeaways

  • OKRs are cool and definitely helpful, but can get confusing and can easily turn into tasks of things to do, which is how they fail. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s not about individual tasks, it’s about how you are working together as a team.
  • Having a roadmap for business operations helped us look at our overall strategy and make sure we didn’t fall into that task trap. We had a chance to look at our strategy and understand what and why we’re working on stuff.
  • Managing business operations is a lot like managing a product. You have objectives to achieve, problems to solve, hypotheses on how to solve them, and experiments to run. It’s also much more likely to be successful if you approach things as a collaborative team, all focused on achieving the same outcomes.

Andrea is a Product Support and Management expert, technical writer, and social network monkey. An undercover geek with a passion for music, animals, and avid unicorn rights activist, she's always up for a challenge.

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