Product Manager Advice: Working with Designers

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In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Jonathan Berg, lead a conversation around “Working with Designers”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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In Product Management, soft skills lead to hard lessons

Guest Post by: Jince Kuruvilla (Mentee, Session 4, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Rishi Kumar]

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Regret, sorrow, disappointment – not all team check-ins and spec reviews end like this, but for a while, most of mine did. I mean, I was nearly a year into my first real Product Management position and I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing! Sure, I had spent the majority of my career as a UX Designer, and when I transitioned into a Product Manager role, I made sure to work tirelessly and develop “hard” PM skills like market analyzation, feature prioritization, a command of AGILE, etc. I knew how to build successful products and how to communicate & collaborate effectively, so why was I having such a hard time being a Product Manager?

Well, it took me a while (and a lot of long conversations with my mentor, Rishi Kumar) to realize that my brute force technique wasn’t working. In my quest to learn so many hard PM skills, I seemed to have missed the importance of learning the softer side of being a PM – building and maintaining close relationships with your team.

calculatedistance[1]It wasn’t like we actively distrusted each other – more so the fact that we rarely saw each other in person – we had a wee 4,225 mile gap between myself in Brooklyn, NY and my engineers in Poland. Don’t get me wrong, we communicated pretty frequently –  emails, Skype chats, and a few weekly video chats. Technically, we were in sync and producing great work but the problem was that the great work never aligned: I’d make great specs and document great features, but my engineers felt uncomfortable asking questions and being overly critical of the specs while I felt embarrassed to ask about technical issues, resulting in features being built that were far from the specifications.

My mentor, Rishi, took time to hear me out and help dissect my issue. If anyone could help, it was him; he also worked with a remote team in a different time zone—he could empathize and understand my situation. Rishi even went on to give a fantastic presentation about working remotely to the Product Group! In his talk, he discusses concepts like communication equality, the importance of making personal connections, and most importantly, building trust through transparency/visibility. Rishi helped me realize that in order to address these issues I was having, I needed to take a different approach to my work relationships. With his guidance (and the nuggets of wisdom that the other mentors in the program shared on the youtube presentations), I set out with a new approach to building greater trust and camaraderie within my team:

  1. I established a strict daily “standup” meeting.

    My Polish teammates and I  communicated through email and skype messages constantly, so initially, there never felt like a real need for a standup. A few weeks after starting a daily standup, however, I could see why they’re such a crucial element in Product teams – the daily standup allowed me to have face-time with my coworkers and have a chance to interact informally with each other. The daily standups, though redundant at times, helped us grow closer by formally creating space for conversations to occur and for viewpoints to be explained.

  1. I set out to share my raw, unfinished work with my teammates.

    I will admit that I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. I’m no stranger to sharing my works in progress with my fellow PM’s but sharing with developers and engineers meant being able to explain every little technical detail – I couldn’t “paint in broad strokes,” is what I had initially thought.

    Work_In_Progress[1]I experimented by having a few collaborative work-sessions with my developers over Skype – I showed them sketches and very rough concepts and ideas to help them understand my point-of-view but also to give them a chance to make suggestions and iterate together. At first, the conversations were laborious and slid very far onto the technical side of things, but we soon found our footing and were able to have both high-level “broad strokes” conversations alongside the technical/implementation questions.

    Through this process, I ended up becoming quite comfortable with the phrase “I don’t know. I’ll look into that.” I was initially afraid that showing this vulnerability would tarnish what respect they had for me, but soon found that they respected me even more for sharing my process and unfinished ideas. Not only did it give us a chance to brainstorm and ideate together, it allowed my team to see a side of our process that they hadn’t seen before.

    Soon after, my teammates would set up meetings with me to show me their own unfinished work: rough builds of features they were working on. Product demos were starting to happen nearly daily (instead of once or twice a week, previously) which led to greater transparency and greater shared ownership in our product development process..

  1. I set out to talk about anything but work .
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    As pedestrian as it may sound, this was probably the biggest takeaway for me. It’s easy for me to socialize with my co-workers in my Brooklyn office since we spend so much (physical) time with each other – but my teammates in Poland don’t really get to see that “social-Jince” since most of our communication was work-related.

    To counter this, I set out with a peculiar strategy – I set up calendar invites as reminders to myself to have non-work-related conversations with my Polish counterparts – conversations to check up on their families, their hobbies, etc. As embarrassing as it sounds, the calendar invites helped tremendously in making sure I had these conversations.

    I learned so much about my coworkers and what made each of them tick. It all eventually helped me understand how best to communicate with them at work. I knew that Piotr, with his design interest, could understand when i talked about functionality in broad, visual strokes, while Michal was less interested in the visual side and wanted to know what the user goals were and the rationale for every single UI element and product decision. These learnings led to more efficient work-related communication between all of us. 

I was skeptical at first, but focusing on building these soft skills of navigating and forming camaraderie with my remote co-workers has been, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in my Product Management career. The results speak for themselves: after about a month of implementing these new tactics, team morale increased tremendously and we hit our stride. Spec meetings and daily standups were no long foreboding events, but events that our team looked forward to.

I’m happy to share that our team’s friendship has evolved to become the foundation of our working relationship – our interpersonal connections have helped us successfully navigate tense product conversations and establish a wealth of empathy for each other’s’ roles and responsibilities.

The soft skills that the The Product Mentor program drove me to learn have lead to hard lessons; most of which come back to a simple idea: in order to build great products, you need to have a great team — in order to have a great team, you have to work on building trust, camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Only then will you and your team be able to produce the best possible work possible. Take it from me—I learned these soft skills the hard way!

 

About Jince Kuruvilla
JinceKuruvillaJince is a Product Manager with a background in User Experience and Design Strategy. He’s carved a career for himself working on products that inspire and empower people – everything from physical products to digital experiences. Ask him about spices, social entrepreneurship, and hip hop trivia — you’re sure to get an earful!

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Working Remotely in Product Management

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In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Rishi Kumar, lead a conversation around “Working Remotely”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Measuring from Product to Development

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In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Bennett Morrison, lead a conversation around “Measuring Product and Development”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

The Worst Nightmare of Any Product Manager

Guest Post by: Liel Aharon (Mentee, Session 4, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Felix Sargent]

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At the end of 2015 I was in the worst nightmare of any Product Manager.

I had a strong roadmap, clear goals and a vision for the product. The team had been working for almost a year and had a huge amount of code under their belts. We would regularly meet to discuss the features required, what the customers expected. We were making great progress. But just because it was a lot of code doesn’t mean it worked. In fact, our tests regularly failed. The relationship between QA and Engineering was bordering on food fights, and we’d only achieved half of our requirements. A production release was a distant vision.

As we were getting closer to the end of the year, my senior vice president called me in, to review our progress against our goals. He asked me to provide a status of where we stand, and wanted to make sure we are on track to deliver on time and get our bonus.

Oh crap, no way we could deliver on time I thought to myself.
How did I get here?

It wasn’t one thing. There were a variety of different problems, and symptoms. We’d made great code. We had good production standards. We were Agile, with daily standups, two week sprints and detailed estimations. We were testing our code. What did we lack?

Focus.

I thought if we’re already doing one thing we might as well also another, or just fix this thing as well. When we were working on creating the edit permissions group for apps, we also decided to work on the internal permissions that will be used by the team that supports the Appstore. Similar, right? Should be an easy fix. Wrong.

I’m not a technical Product Manager. I knew that I couldn’t look into the code to see that our engineers had built what I was looking for. I felt I had to wait until a feature built out before I could give my feedback.

We were doing Agile. We had a daily standup, sprints and estimations. But with nothing to ship, were we? Did it matter? Was it my fault?

My Senior Vice President needed an answer. More “Context and Direction”. We needed to deliver in three months. What could we salvage?

“From now on, only our most critical stories will be completed as part of V 1.0.0.”

If we were going to ship in three months, we had to figure out what we were shipping. Two sleepless nights, eight shots of espresso and one bottle of wine later, I worked with the team to have a plan. We were going to focus on making the most crucial api call to create apps work, the rest we decided to change through direct db access at first.

Once we were able to define what  V1.0.0 was it was easier to break down the issues into small stories. Prioritizing between stories got easier, because we know what they were.  The result of it were clearly scoped versions, that last about 2 weeks for development, testing, and validation.

When the team started working in shorter cycles, testing was simpler, and they could get my feedback quicker. I had the confidence to test new features to make sure we are building in the right direction, and engineers felt on track.

Finally I was able to breath.

After going from a long development process to a shorter cycle, we have managed to resolve our most glaring problems. We managed to decrease each dev-test-release cycle from being months to 2 weeks. Was the problem Agile? Or were we just not doing it right? It’s easy to confuse the rituals of Agile with actually getting things done.

If you are having similar problems with your development process I highly advise you to analyze the reasons to them, starting with an honest answer to the question – is your process actually solving your problems?

 

About Liel Aharon
LielAharonLiel (pronounced as Lee-L’) is a Product Manager at MediaMath, the marketing operating system, and is the Product Owner of the company’s Appstore. Before that she held multiple positions in Fin-Tech companies in Israel as Associate Product Manager, Project Manager and QA Engineer. Her Computer Science with a major in Entrepreneurship along with her past experience is giving her a unique point of view with a let’s get this done attitude. When not working Liel can be found adoring her Boston Terrier puppy, or working on another home cooked meal with a paired cocktail.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

How to Interview a Product Manager

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In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Felix Sargent, lead a conversation around “How to Interview a Product Manager”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

12 Rules for Building Your Product Management Playbook

Business strategy businessman holding a blackboard planning team strategy on a chalk drawing of a so

In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Ian Moulton, lead a conversation around “Building Your Product Management Playbook”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Reconciling Product Management and Product Leadership

Guest Post by: Lamia Benhaddou (Mentee, Session 4, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Amanda Ralph]

A Product manager tasked to lead and manage her team while still providing product management capabilities; that was my position when I was selected to be part of the product mentorship program and paired with Amanda Ralph, my new mentor. Amanda had 18 years of product management experience and was able to clearly foresee the obstacles I might encounter in my new role.

We started by defining the objectives I wanted to achieve over the course of my 6 months in the product mentor program, an important exercise at the beginning of any mentor partnership. I identified with my mentor Amanda, the areas that I needed to support in order to still deliver product management capabilities not only as a product manager but as a team; a team which I now lead.  

Indeed the role of a product leader is different to that of a product manager. A product leader not only has to manage products but also to guide and direct the overall product strategy and team, and ensure that products are delivered to market.

If you are stepping in a new role involving more responsibilities you will find in this article 3 essential points to consider for a smoother career transition.

Restructuring the Team

When thinking about my new role and what needs to be delivered, I establish that the team needs to be restructured in order to better align and deliver products to market and, to enable me to consolidate my new role as both product manager and people leader. In addition to restructuring the team I also need to focus on empowering and enabling my team to take greater ownership and accountability for managing and delivering the products.

Here are the key points to take into account when defining the new structure and capabilities of the team:

The 4 steps to empower the team

1/ Draw a mind map of all the product management capabilities that I am delivering as a product manager and identify the ones that can be transferred to the team.

2/ Assess the capabilities of the team by meeting every team member individually to understand both their capabilities and aspirations. In these meetings, I try to understand the current challenges each individual faces and how they can grow in this team.

3/ Do a matrix of skills to map team member skills and identify development opportunities. Identify both formal training opportunities and projects which give team members the chance to apply newly acquired skills in their day-to-day activities and develop their role.  

4/ Establish a training program for every team member or by team functions. This training set can be composed of workshops where I can transfer my product management knowledge (e.g. how to write user stories, stakeholder management, how to define value proposition). Allow for workshops where team members from other teams are invited to give a presentation (e.g., basics of project management by a project manager, etc.)

Facilitating better team collaboration

With less time on hand, it is important to develop procedures with the team that will fast track collaboration and delivery. Ensure that the communication between designers, developers and producers is optimal. The Scrum ceremonies (Sprint planning, Standups, etc.) and kick-off meetings of a new project are a good way to ensure that. Holding regular Agile retrospectives can be very useful in this regard and allow a safer communication to happen within the team.

At the end of the day, your job is to ship the right product to the users. I encourage then the team to have a greater understanding of the users. This can be done for example by involving the developers and product owners in the user research, the wireframes assessment and the usability testing sessions.  

Resource management

A new leadership role is also a good opportunity to assess and evaluate whether you have the right skill sets and resource capacity in your team.  It is impractical to continue to do your old role as well as lead the team. So you need to assess whether there are opportunities within the team for individuals to step up and take on more responsibility or whether you need to bring additional resources into the team.

Stakeholder engagement

By taking on more responsibilities, I need to demonstrate leadership and gain the confidence and trust of my stakeholders.

Engage effectively the stakeholders

The product manager is the link between the internal/external stakeholders and the team. Identify your stakeholders, analyse and engage with them effectively by using the power grid by Roman Pichler, which Amanda shared with me. This is a relative quick exercise and the matrix can be adjusted over time. With this matrix set, I can then for each product save time by inviting the right people to the discussion.

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Draft procedures to get commitment

To ensure ongoing and active collaboration with stakeholders, it is important that procedures are defined and created together. For this, I define with my team the areas that can be improved, for example, handling Business As Usual requests which can be a source of frustration if they are not handled properly.

We start by drafting the ideal process with the producers and then refine them with key stakeholders’ input. At the end, we map a process that everyone can agree on. We implement then this procedure and iterate on it if necessary.

Educate stakeholders

Product management can be quite a new thing for businesses, especially technical product management. Some colleagues can be confused on what to expect from a technical product manager.

“Brown Bag” lunches can be a useful tactic to engage stakeholders and the wider business. They provide an opportunity to share your knowledge on product management capabilities (product planning, product strategy, UX lean methodology, product roadmap, etc.). This provides more clarity to stakeholders about what product management is, and where and how their expertise will be needed in the product development lifecycle.

Organize a product meeting

To get buy-in, you need to create a circle of trust with your stakeholders. For this to occur they need to be brought into the product development process. Establishing regular product meetings with key stakeholders to discuss current product roadmap and priorities is a great way to keep the business engaged and informed. As Rian Van Der Merwe explains it in Making it Right, these meetings enable us (managers and stakeholders) to ensure we are still working on the most important things. If something more important comes up, we prioritize it higher in the roadmap, and something else has to shift down; if stakeholders agree with the direction, we do nothing. If a new opportunity arises we can ask ourselves, “Is this the most important feature we are working on right now? Or is this something we should work on next? If so, what moves down the priority list?”

Monitor your productivity

When taking on more responsibilities, it is also important to review your current productivity. You need to constantly assess your physical, emotional and mental energy to be able to deliver against requirements without reaching the burnout.

I start every week by listing what I need to achieve. Throughout the day I use the Pomodoro technique to keep myself focused. One tip from Amanda is to block your calendar for 2 hours every day, especially in the morning where you know that you can achieve important tasks and let stakeholders invite you to meetings in the afternoon. Meetings don’t need to be conducted all the time in a meeting room. A walking meeting can be a good way to engage with stakeholders and keep their attention on the subject.

Setting time aside for yourself remains a critical part of the process. To keep balance I try to always do at least one physical activity per week. We also gather with a few colleagues to practice 10 to 15 minutes of guided meditation after lunch. Mindfulness increases focus, improves our ability to reduce stress, enhances clarity of mind and leadership effectiveness. The Search Inside yourself book provides a great practical introduction to mindful leadership.

Hopefully this list of tips will help you to find your way to transition from a Product Manager to a Product Leader and manage the balance of ‘doing’ (developing and shipping products) and ‘leading’ (day to day people and product portfolio leadership).

 

About Lamia Benhaddou
Lamia BenhaddouStarting as a web developer, Lamia’s journey through the digital space has come full circle, from managing large scale websites to coaching teams to adopt a more efficient product development with Scrum, and now in the education space with a particular emphasis on lean product management.

Lamia has also worked in a variety of contexts such as global organisations, startups, NGOs and is now the head of digital product for higher education provider Laureate Australia, bringing a UX focus to all digital sides of the business.

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Not My Job

In a recent live stream from one of our mentors of The Product Mentor, Marc Wendell, lead a conversation around “Not My Job in the World of Product Management”.  We are always looking for more product mentors from all around the world.  Signup to be a Mentor Today!

View the live stream…

 

About The Product Mentor

The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Mentors and Mentees from around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A

Signup to be a Mentor Today!

Throughout the program, each mentor leads a conversation in an area of their expertise that is live streamed and available to both mentee and the broader product community.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

User Onboarding in Enterprise SaaS #prodmgmt

Guest Post by: Prakhar Agarwal (Mentee, Session 4, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Sara Varki]

saas[1]Introduction

Nowadays, we all consume applications and platforms (software) over the web. “Software installation” is quickly becoming an old concept, especially for end users. Be it documents, photos, marketing, sales, or product, it’s all moving away from installing software on an operating system to just creating an account for a web-based service. This is the world of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Growth of SaaS companies in recent years has been explosive. Like all companies, these SaaS companies face several challenges broadly defined by the following three questions (along with the associated function of the company):

  • How do I get more visitors to our service and get them to sign-up? (Marketing)

  • How do I get more users to return to our service? (Product)

  • How do I get returning users to become customers? (Sales)

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Churn, and LIfetime Value (LTV) are the KPIs used to check the health of a SaaS business. We track the funnel, calculate conversion rates, and search for repeatable patterns to make our revenue numbers. To be a successful company, the value proposition should be easy to understand, the product should be easy to use, and it should be easy to buy. If any of those three things falls short, the company fails. In my opinion, it can all be summed into Customer Experience. A blurb from Wikipedia [1]:

Hand writing Smiley on the Customer  - Customer Retention Customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer’s attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service.

In this article, we will briefly explore one part of these interactions, specifically between the user and product itself. An effectively designed product will solve one or many user problems. A key element in successful user adoption is User Onboarding. While it sounds simple, it is the most critical and often the most ignored part of the product development cycle. We will explore this subject in the context of Enterprise SaaS where a solution is expected to solve multiple pains and generally has a lot of moving parts and complex workflows. We will discuss why onboarding should be a priority and how to do it correctly.

Why User Onboarding

Everything is about people.

People use things, people pay for things.
People require services, people provide services.
People use products, people develop products.

In all of the grand things in life, people are the only constant ingredient. So, it’s imperative that the experiences people have are delightful and memorable. All the functions in an organization should focus on this metric.

Above statements are a true reflection of my way of thinking about businesses as is evident from my LinkedIn summary.

1480302922795[1]Providing a great experience on all user touchpoints should be part of the core of all functions in a company. Specifically, user onboarding for the products should not be a project or a feature that gets released but then is not looked at for months or years; rather, it should be an element that is always evolving.

The essence of user onboarding is how quickly a product can provide value to the user by helping them solve their problem and getting them to the “wow” moment. For users of Enterprise SaaS products, it is critical that they feel in control of achieving their goals. There are several reasons why User Onboarding is so important:

  1. Quick Adoption and Frequent Releases: Traditionally, users are accustomed to locally-installed enterprise software, also known as shipped software. This software is not updated frequently and thereby a user gets a lot of time to become comfortable with it. Ultimately, such software gets very sticky and the companies reap rewards for a long time. So, these users bring a lot of baggage with them when they are trying to adopt new SaaS products. Therefore, it is important that the initial transition to the new SaaS paradigm is smooth and quick. The Unique Selling Point (USP) of SaaS products is mobility for users and an abstraction of several moving components. Successfully delivering such an abstraction requires replacing existing workflows while eliminating barriers. Also, this delivery model provides an opportunity for companies to introduce improvements and features more frequently. Extra care should be taken in such shorter release cycles to avoid disruption to users’ current workflows.

  1. Competition: Since SaaS products are now becoming mainstream, users have a lot of options and the cost of switching to a new product is relatively low. For the companies, the cost of customer acquisition is increasing since there is more competition. So, products can’t really win purely on functionality; achieving desired stickiness with their users will require a lot more. The usability of a product and onboarding experience is quickly becoming the differentiating factor. Consumer products were the first ones to take advantage of these notions and with a strong user-base overlap between consumer products and SaaS products, it was only a matter of time when users felt that business software needs to match the experience of non-business software, also known as “Consumerization of IT”.

  1. Lifetime Value: The goal of a great user onboarding for a SaaS product is to allow a user to extract maximum value in shortest time possible so that they become repeat users and potentially paid customers. Often, a user would be willing to pay for a premium service if it offers great onboarding experience and either eliminates a steep learning curve or manages it well. Bad user onboarding is a sure way to alienate potential customers. A user will try a product, and if they can’t reach to the value quickly, they will leave and never come back. In an Enterprise SaaS company, the sales cycles are short and the payback period is long. And, there’s always a risk of churn. So, the company should invest in right onboarding to reduce their churn and thereby increase their customer lifetime value.

Now that we understand why user onboarding is so critical to SaaS world, let’s see how it can be done right and few mistakes to be avoided.

How To Do Enterprise SaaS User Onboarding

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAw9AAAAJDdmZmFjZjNmLTJkNDItNDliMi05ZDI2LWViYWEwNGQxMTk3NA[1]One quick search about “SaaS Onboarding” will show thousands of results for books and articles advocating various methods to improve the experience for a new user. All these methods and ideologies have one thing in common – “reduce and control friction in the product”. Even with all the advice, the products that we develop and use on a daily basis have great visual appeal but less thought out user journey. In the last ten years, the advancement in application frameworks has had a significant impact on the visual layer of Enterprise SaaS products. The development is so quick that there’s a new framework every six months or so.

On the other hand, there has been less emphasis on measuring user perception and behavior and improving the onboarding based on those insights:

  1. Why did this user not use the product after signing-up?

  2. How much time does it take for the users to reach the first milestone?

  3. What percentage of the expected first-interaction behavior is the user completing?

  4. Are there any dead ends in the workflow that prevent the users to get early wins?

All these are important questions for a product manager to be able to improve the product adoption with first-time users.

Here’s a short framework to kickstart the improvement of user onboarding (and entire product in general) for Enterprise SaaS:

  1. Start from the end goal and work backward: Understand the user and their specific problems, and then design the product and market the value proposition. This way of thinking is getting standardized via the disciplines of user experience design and lays the groundwork for designing user onboarding. Result: With the user research done properly, the user onboarding will cater to the acute problems that a user faces while solving their pains and this will lead to a simple and focused product.

  1. Convey the value proposition clearly: People’s attention span is getting shorter; providing a clear value proposition goes a long way to create excitement and motivate a user to try the product. Correct messaging is a critical first step of onboarding. Find the content that led current users to the “aha” moment. Work with the sales team to learn what potential customers perceive as the value proposition. Then work with the marketing team to make sure those nuggets are presented well to the visitors in all web and print material. Show the users the promised land. Result: Users will be motivated before trying the product.

  1. framework[1]Get them in the door: Once a user understands your value proposition, it’s important to keep that momentum going by getting them into the product as soon as possible. Design the sign-up process to be quick and let the user get an early win. For example, if the sign-up process requires collecting a lot of information, it’s better to collect the most critical items first and the remaining information as the user progresses in the product. Tie the collection of these nuggets with various product actions. Result: Users will not be overwhelmed and would give you more information as they use the product.

  1. Find conversion actions: Track all the user activity in your product to identify the actions that led a user to become a customer. Or, just watch the users use your product and see what they do to reach the main goal. If available, work with the sales team to participate in potential customers’ product evaluation process. There is a heavy component of product analytics in this part of user onboarding improvement and always reveals very interesting insights! For example, if one of the conversion milestones for a data analytics product is to enable an integration, find out how much time a user takes  to get to that step and the number of steps that lead to it. In other words, work with the product analytics team to understand the user journey. Result: This will help reduce CAC.

  1. Balance Friction: Using the insights above, improve the flow to let the users reach the conversion actions more quickly. Eliminate all the extraneous steps that are not strongly tied to the value of the product. Make the flow intuitive so that a user  This will reduce the time from first interaction to conversion actions. Provide relevant feedback to the user during their onboarding to establish the notions of security, reliability and fun, wherever applicable. It’s best for the users as they extract more value and feel more confident, and it’s great for the company as the product gets sticky with user’s each new win. Result: This will drive down the churn rate.

In summary:

  1. Create meaningful experiences that let users get to the value immediately and continually

  2. Include user onboarding in the foundation layer of product development and let the entire organization strive for improving the user experience.

  3. Anything we can do to make it easier for a customer to get started with the product, the better.

Great user onboarding facilitates problem solving and gets out of the way of a user!

More About The Product Mentor
TPM-Short3-Logo4The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
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  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy