Program & Project Management

Program & Project Management
In an environment where there’s no shortage of fire drills, how do you determine which initiatives to prioritize and get everyone aligned?

Top Answer : Well, the first point is prioritization is never done. You prioritize, and when your plan is locked in, plan for some change. You need to have an agile and business minded team, where you can map the work you're doing to the company initiatives and objectives and quantify how your workforce distribution is allocated to each of them. There's easy ways you can help people define their  priorities, using their own business language, or create simple to remember models such P0, P1, or P2. A P0's a critical must have, a P1 is important, and P2 is nice to have. Then you can go crazy in the ROI and cost benefit analysis stuff. I don't think that works. I think part of it for me was also to help educate the lines of business that it's not because I spent $x million for you last year that next year you get $x million from me again. You might get less or more, because I'm going to go focus on these company priorities.

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How do you deal with feature creep and avoid shipping a feature set that is too narrow in its application, is not in high demand, and doesn’t generate enough customer base.

Top Answer : I'm really proud of the way our product management team has gone about this. We're really lucky at QuickBase, and most SaaS platforms are, because not only do you have all the input from customer success and from your customer advisory council and from salespeople and from market analysts and so on and so forth, you actually can look at how people are using the platform. You can see it because the data is all instrumented, which is awesome. The challenge is however, you have a ton of data to sift through and you've got to ultimately prioritize it.  The team has done a very effective job. They've built a QuickBase application that basically starts taking all that input and then what they do is, based on these problems, they try to delineate. Let's say it comes to 20 problems we aspire to solve. Then you have to stack rank, what are the 20 problems that you want to solve most acutely? And how do you do that? If you think of those as the rows in our table and our QuickBase tab, then the columns are really a view on what we think are the biggest priorities in the next year or two. We think about things like if expanding in the middle-market and above is a bigger opportunity for us, or are we really focused more on small business, or would we rather think about accelerating our growth in this segment. And we do this regularly, we ask ourselves, okay, are these still the right criteria based on the business strategy that myself and the rest of the senior leadership team have come about. Based on those criteria that we define, we then have a sense of, okay, these are the factors. And then we go through a robust discussion of how you weigh those factors, followed by a robust sort of evaluation criteria type discussion where we'll take this specific requirement and score it across these five factors that we've defined. And then let's debate. When that weighted average score comes out, let's really debate. Do we feel right about it?  You get to a place where you have a stack rank and then the line comes into place. The line is basically the cut line of, we have resources to reasonably commit to the stuff above, and we aren't going to be able to do this stuff below. You have to decide what's going to make the most sense and you have to be pretty ruthless about it because otherwise you really end up in a world where you're peanut buttering and you're dabbling, and you're not really sort of creating the breakthrough of innovation that customers care about because you are halfway on a bunch of stuff. You ultimately have to make decisions that serve the best interest of everybody in an impactful way. And that's going to mean some other thing that is also really important, we're just not going to get to it. We'd rather do one thing well than two things poorly. At an annual user conference, one of our customers pulled me aside and she said, “I heard about these announcements, and I'm really disappointed. You chose to do this.” The feature set was in the area of making end users' experience with QuickBase more visually delightful, easier to use all that kind of stuff. I was able to explain that we thought long and hard about it. The tradeoff was between getting a feature that makes your experience as a builder better, or making an experience where you can deliver something that your user is more delighted with. On the margin, it's a tough call, but I'd rather have a builder be in a position where they may not have what they want for your job right now, but where your users love what you deliver even more. And she was, she was like, that makes total sense. I totally buy into that. I'm really happy you made that choice in that way. It just reinforces the importance of always talking to customers and explaining what you're doing and why. Product management is a really hard job. You're making really hard decisions, prioritization, trade offs all the time. And you know, nobody's going to be happy all the time. I've found that the best way to address that is to try and build as many relationships as you can to just get feedback and tell people why you're making those decisions. Because by and large, they're going to give you a really good insight as to, “okay. I understand the tradeoff and I do it the same way,” or they'll tell you, “no, you totally missed the boat,” in which case that's a different problem.

Tell me a time when you were pretty confident this product or feature was going to fail, but because consensus was ship it, it shifted anyway. And it ended up being a big winner where you were like, "Oh, well, I guess I was wrong."

Top Answer : I've got to tip my cap to the head of product management that works for me. QuickBase had this login screen for our users when you're coming to use our platform. It was a super elegant fully white screen with the dialogue box and a login or canceled type of thing. We have 10,000+ hours per week that eyeballs are looking at that screen. Somebody on the team had the bright idea treating that like ad space. Shouldn't we announce that we have a user conference coming up? Shouldn't we announce that there's a big release coming up of a new feature set? Shouldn't we give pointers to resources? We have a very robust co-op program at QuickBase where we work with universities to bring in CS students to be part of our dev teams. Over the course of a month, they basically rebuilt the homepage so that the sign-in page now has information and other resources. It's been immensely helpful in terms of driving more usage of other capabilities and features. That to me was a really good example of something that was really obvious and just all upside for us. A more nuanced example comes from two years ago. We were building and delivering a new workflow automation capability inside of the QuickBase app. We were all kind of like, okay, this is really important. We're really glad to be bringing this, but it was really only seen as a step on the roadmap for us. And the reality is we launched that and very, very quickly the usage and the adoption of that capability just completely outstripped any thoughts we had had of demand for that capability. A third of our customers within just a couple of months were using that capability. It got so acute actually that we looked at it and said, we're going to need a bigger boat. So that actually was one of the core elements that drove an acquisition we made last summer of a company called cloud pipes, which is now kind of the foundation of our integration and workflow platform.We’ve got a lot of Zapier-like capabilities to connect to third party systems and a very, very robust, highly scalable workflow automation capability. That's going to be a very strategic platform. And it was all unlocked by the building and shipping of automations, which we knew was going to be important. We had no idea how important it was going to be.