guest blogger product management

Building an Effective Product Feedback Loop

Guest Post by: Marvin Mathew (Mentee, Session 11, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Jordan Bergtraum]

Ruthless prioritization translates to product teams spending time building the right thing at the right time. This discipline is the bread & butter for a winning product team, but building an effective product process takes a lot of trial and error. The objective is to receive feedback and prioritize it internally against (1) company objectives (2)customer pains/experience (3) Quarterly Product OKRs and ship out solutions. 

A feedback loop is: 

part of a system in which some portion (or all) of the system’s output is used as input for future operations. Each feedback loop has a minimum of four stages. During the first stage, input is created. During the second stage, input is captured and stored. During the third stage, input is analyzed and during the fourth stage, the insight gained from analysis is used to make decisions.

Feedback Loops are most easily understood through nature:

Now, we’re trying to mimic natural systems in our software creation processes. Our objective is to understand customer needs and adjusting. 

The feedback loop process is

  1. Plugging in: how to generate insights
  2. Analysis: how to prioritize and understand feedback 
  3. Communication: how to synthesize information 
  4. Test/Build/etc & then repeat 

It’s cyclical


Get Insights

  • System: What are the total support costs? And per customer? 
  • Product: What are the key metrics that we’re tracking? How do we track them? What experiments can we run against those? How do we measure success? 
  • Usage: Behavior insights 
  • Customer give you feedback via:
    • Usage data (use Google Analytics, Pendo, Mixpanel, etc) 
    • Public Forums & Social Media
    • Surveys, interviews, conferences
    • Public Tools 
      • 1Password- a Private Forum for customers (kb.1password.com)
      • Strikingly- Public Forum, Idea Forum, where customers request and vote on features
    • Public Roadmap (ie Slack, bitsian

Product management comes down to discipline and process. But instead of inheriting or installing a cookie cutter process (Read: Agile, SCRUM, Kanban, Waterfall) a better approach is to take a variety of solutions and unify them into one that works best for your organization. 

The goal of a feedback loop is

To increase confidence in the products and solutions a company is putting in front of customers 

Challenges You Might Encounter

Investment & Resources

Do we have the resources to staff and monitor customer forums? 

Are customers being engaged directly? 

Are people analyzing the forum content and actually using that feedback? 

Prioritization

Are things that we are learning finding their way into the roadmap? 

Will stakeholders be influenced by insights coming from the feedback loops–or will they just ignore it ?

Customer Satisfaction

Do customers feel like they are being heard? 

Is their feedback going to waste? 

Do they expect all their feedback to be added to the product? How do you manage their expectations? 

Communication

How do you internally communicate customer requests/feedback vs the roadmap?

Biases

  • How might you capture feedback in a way to ensure that customers or your data is not bias? What channels, methods or tools do you use to collect the raw data and (tools like getfeedback allow widgets in app/ on web to collect feedback but open the flood gates and user research groups can suffer multiple types of biases, and depending on the incentive can lead to subjective feedback.

Would like to get your thoughts around that in the article.

but its up to you, i’m not sure if its something you need to cover in this article but it might provide a more complete picture.

Clear Benefits: FBL’s provide higher confidence for large releases

FBLs help keep you close to your customer. Say you’ve done your customer research and sized up the market. Now you have a few features that you’ve unified into a single UX–you’re pumped. 

Your product hits the market. 

Half the features don’t get used. The other half don’t get used the way you want them too. 

Feedback Loops Can Help. An effective feedback loop can save time, energy and bring a higher degree of confidence to solutions. The FBL is plugging directly into customers and should give you intelligence on why the features haven’t been used, how people are using the features you have and your team should be able to make sense of strategy in response. 

Insights: Synthesizing Insights and Decision Making

Okay, now you’ve got the ‘front of the funnel’ where you are receiving feedback. Your next step is boiling that feedback into relatable buckets for the product and then deciding what to prioritize, what to not pay attention to and more generally: what to do. 

A decision making framework that I use is 

  • How will it impact the customer experience (1-3)
  • Level of effort for engineering and support (1-3)
  • Alignment to near-term/long term company objective (1-3)

This helps me triage the feedback and come up with a shorter list that I can sift through to understand more productively. Frequent requests for work that’s planned down the roadmap might warrant reprioritizing– pushing this work sooner up the backlog. 

Note: it’s important to raise a flag if something is planned for further on and keeps coming up. Anyone that’s customer facing should have a large and important voice in  the feedback loop. 

Navigating Conversations: Artifacts that can help you communicate 

Sometimes the most challenging task is convincing stakeholders that the FBL insights should affect your roadmap plans. Not everyone will simply buy into the FBL results. However, this tension can be productive. It forces me to articulate why the roadmap items exist on the roadmap. 

Note: Stakeholders are tight on time. Make things visual. 

I haven’t had much luck in showing my raw documents and notes to stakeholders–they can’t consume this. Using tools can help you communicate them more effectively. 

Here are some tools you might use: 

Customer Persona Map: helps to express who is the customer

Some organizations have spent so much time building the solution that they haven’t taken the time to understand who uses the product. In that case, you might get questions like Who is our customer? This customer persona map will help you. 

Competitor Map: what is the landscape you operate within? 

Don’t make decisions solely based on competitors, but know who your competitors are, their differentiating capabilities, their shortcomings, and how to shed light on their shortcomings without ever talking poorly about a competitor.. Knowing their differentiating capabilities can help you capture market share away from your competitors. 

Feature Benefit Map: clearly expresses the value prop of each feature

Have a good understanding of what problem we solving | who benefits from that solution | how do we express that (marketing messaging) 

I try to get this into my product reference document and have it passed around to marketing, comms and product before heading to engineering.

One pager or Amazon style memo

The 5 W’s and an argument for why this is worthwhile. If you want to go Amazon memo style, then you might want to include some possible future states and a bit of modeling. 

One pagers have given me nominal success, but I haven’t found an organization that is on board with trying the Amazon style memo just yet. That’s a cultural thing. 

Note: Images help–you can use Canva or PiktoChart. 

To borrow from my old manager, Anita Donnelly, Keep it simple stupid [kiss]

A Feedback Loop is most effective when everyone is onboard. That means you, Product Manager, are going to have to stretch your consensus and stakeholder muscles to ensure that everyone understands what you are doing establishing these ‘loops’, why it’s important and how it can benefit them. In my management consulting days I learned the best way for people to receive this information is as (1) time saved (2) money saved (3) money earned. I find this consistent in product.

A product feedback loop keeps software teams close to their customers. FBLs are very helpful in bringing PM’s closer to insights that will impact their most important KPIs: acquisition and retention. Ultimately, feedback loops increase the likelihood that your organization is working on the most valuable product development item (for the customer) at any given time. We should all aim to make decisions that make sense for the customer, business and goals.

About Marvin Mathew

Marvin Mathew is a New York based Product Manager with experiences across B2B & B2C–FinTech, SaaS and HealthTech. He is excited about experiment based product prioritization and building best-in-class products that customers fall in love with. He is a Product Manager at Mastercard. 


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