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Iris Education

How ProdPad Helped Support Growth in a Mature Company

ProdPad brings consistency to Iris Education

After buying lots of businesses in the last few years, the education division of Iris Software found it had a problem: a raft of products that weren’t easy to integrate and product teams that had different ways of working. It turned to ProdPad to bring these disparate aspects together and deliver transparency, simplicity and a consistent approach to product development.

Having all our products together to use in ProdPad has definitely helped us to work together, and to feel, culturally and psychologically, that we’re all the same team.

From its beginnings 40 years ago as an accounting software supplier, Iris Software today is owned by private equity firm HG Capital and fields about 120 products spanning three divisions: accounting, HR and payroll, and education.

Its education business has arisen from about half a dozen acquisitions in as many years – all the products that now make up Iris Education come from acquired businesses. Iris Education is in turn split into three divisions. Product Director Tim Cropper Williams, who came to Iris as part of one of its earliest acquisitions, heads up the engagement portfolio, dealing with parent and school engagement products.

Iris Education employs about 60 people across Product and Engineering, and about 500 people in total. It has products in about 17k of the over 22k schools in England and Wales. “That was the motivation behind the acquisition strategy,” says Tim, “Iris Accountancy could see education technology was a huge market. There were a lot of strong players in ed tech, and a lot of smaller businesses that were 30-80 people strong. It made sense to buy rather than build.” 

No consistent approach

But the acquisitions meant there was a mixed bag of tools and capabilities and lots of different ways of working within Iris Education. “Some of the acquisitions didn’t have product people – in fact most of them didn’t have a product person – and some had a delivery manager who worked alongside the dev team,” says Tim. 

He explains the next steps: “The first thing we did was formalize the product organization. Now in the engagement portfolio, I’ve got four product owners, two product managers, two content designers, and four dev teams with about six to eight people in each one.”

Next Tim looked at standardizing the tools used. The teams were using all sorts – spreadsheets, Word docs, Trello, Aha, you name it – to manage their products. “Building and publishing a roadmap for one product is easy,” Tim says, “but building manual roadmaps for multiple products, taken with the demands of working for a larger organization, is a nightmare. Managing the communication out to the wider business was a complete time sink for me. Then there was the cross-team aspect: there was a huge opportunity to integrate all the great products we’d bought but it was very difficult to realize that opportunity because of all the different product work streams.”

Choosing ProdPad

Tim first came across ProdPad at a product conference: “I went with one of our product owners to MTP Engage in Manchester in 2019, and we met some of the ProdPad team there. Then I went to a Product event at the HG Capital offices and listened to a talk from ProdPad’s Chief Commercial Officer, Liz Love. It piqued my interest. I thought it was what we needed across our product teams.” 

He looked at a couple of other possible platforms but settled on ProdPad because it particularly suits the engagement portfolio’s Agile way of working. Says Tim: “We build and release all the time, so we don’t put dates on our roadmaps. It’s not the way we communicate.” Tim and his team have had to put in some work to teach the rest of business about this. “We showed them the ‘now, next, later’ approach and educated them on what that means,” he says.

Integration is easier

Three years on and Tim is delighted with his choice of ProdPad. The platform saves his team time and money. Integration between products is much easier: “We all work in one ProdPad space and everyone can see what everyone else is doing. It’s easier to build links between products.” 

He loves the management visibility and the easy publication of roadmaps that ProdPad delivers. In fact the roadmap sharing feature is probably Tim’s favorite feature. It saves him a lot of time, and, he says, the roadmap now lives somewhere visible and is transparent to everyone. “Now I can just go to my sales and marketing updates and add the link to my roadmap. I just say ‘remember it’s live, this is what now means, this is what next means… any questions give me a shout’. Before ProdPad I would have to update a PowerPoint presentation and talk people through it.” 

The engagement portfolio is also just starting to use ProdPad to measure success. All roadmap cards are now linked to at least one of Iris Education’s strategic objectives, and will be reviewed quarterly. 

Impact/effort analysis is now also done in ProdPad. Tim and his team use Mural for prioritization – they’ll typically go through several rounds of prioritization, validate with customers and internal stakeholders, and then put output from that into ProdPad’s impact/effort scoring. Tim previously produced a graph for this manually, “and it was just laborious”.

Coming together as a team

Tim and his team aren’t finished yet. They want to use ProdPad’s JIRA integration for ideas so they can push ideas over as tickets but are still moving all the dev teams over to JIRA, another impact of multiple teams coming from different companies. 

ProdPad is now well embedded in the engagement portfolio – it’s where most of the product activity takes place. More significantly, it has brought the people in the portfolio together as a team. They’re more self-sufficient and autonomous than they were before. Says Tim: “Seven years ago we were all direct competitors. Then we were acquired into one larger corporate machine. Having all our products together to use in ProdPad has definitely helped us to work together, and to feel, culturally and psychologically, that we’re all the same team.”

Tim Cropper Williams

Tim Cropper Williams

Product Director