How can we reach product excellence: is it by building new features or by getting the basics perfect?
Race to feature: from euphoria to disappointment.
Convelio’s vision is to provide the leading art ecosystem to ship valuable goods worldwide. At its core, our vision relies on technology, and consequently the product team to drive it. To do so, we have been building a fluid and modular digital service experience, from quoting, booking and tracking shipments of artworks. Obviously, it was a lot. Our roadmaps bursting at the seams, we had endless lists of customer needs, but fuelled by a palpable enthusiasm on the large range of products to grow… At this moment, we were in a race to feature and were pushing hard to deliver new features, regardless of the cost. With hindsight this was a mistake, and a good way to consider the pitfalls and learnings is through the metaphor of the Formula 1 racing world. To start out, we saw ourselves as a Formula 1 racing team dealing with better than optimal conditions: 1- A full season of sun and a dry road, bringing with it a confidence that each race will be finished without any stop - the flag will be green, the track will be clear. 2- A bunch of sexy fast cars available, with unbeatable engines and strong adhesive tyres. 3- A dedicated and unlimited crew to help build and improve each car so as to win as many points as possible
Pictured here, the vision of Convelio as the Redbull team pumped and ready to go.
In fact, the reality was a bit different. If we consider the F1 car to be the product and the pilot to be the user, then here are my top findings when trying to compare it with my daily routine as a Product Manager (to preface, yes, I spent a few hours binge watching F1 races, and have been hugely influenced by both seasons of Netflix series “Drive to Survive.” I thoroughly recommend it.):
The weather was fickle, making the road slippy and pieces of debris would get lodged in the car. At this point, the yellow flag is waved, the safety car steps in and every driver must slow down with overtaking prohibited.
Technical debt to fight, hidden impacts, cross-product interdependencies… Focusing exclusively on releasing new features usually means introducing uncertainty and/or complexity. Although the result is user delight, which is cool, but does this bring real, long term value? Every new feature is a new race and there is no insurance you will get points at the end — which means no insurance to deliver instant value to the user.
The car remains the same but it is constantly being adapted (regulations say only 3 engines for the full season meaning that you have to work on them, and 3 ranges of tyres that play a significant role in the performance of the car — hard, medium, soft — depending on the weather’s conditions).
Does the data show that your wheel is blistering and so it is negatively impacting your performance? Box, switch, adapt. Working on the existing core features before adding new ones will be more impactful for the customer, who was probably aware of what was wrong. At Convelio, our experience shows that adding new features can permanently harm the product, as this strategy centralises quantity at the expense of quality. The lifecycle of a feature starts in conception (with ideation, business and tech scoping, identification and implementation of tagging events that will drive and justify further adjustments) and it ends in post-production with analytics and user feedback.
The undercut strategy can be applied to Product too, where you need to balance risk and research.
The pit crew is not extensible (you only have up to 20 mechanics) so on race day everyone must be super reactive, as every second matters when pitting for a pilot.
CPOs/CTOs have a dream: to build independent squads for each product of the ecosystem with dedicated resources in UX research, Design, Product and Tech. The problem is that in most cases, we have to make the most out of limited resources. The primary resource is the team and we have to figure out how to maximize everyone’s time/capacities to deliver instant value for the company (and the users). Putting the pilot in the best conditions is all about strategy. And strategy starts with prioritization.
Here is what happened at Convelio.
Under the dome
When Q3 2020 came to an end, it was time to draw harsh conclusions: too many initiatives had been started, but not so many closed. It appeared that we had grown too far from our users, and had been giving less interest to interviews and collecting feedback. The so-called “feature factory” mentality took over while we already had a performant backbone of core features to keep alive.
So we took a u-turn
The next OKR session saw the team being aligned on 2–3 main objectives per product with 1–2 big features to ship and a few candidates if we were faster than expected. Better launch a few important ones than nothing! That’s how we entered Q4 2020, also by taking advantage of a newcomer within the Product Team. We directly had him perform a full UX/UI audit of our customer platform: quoting, booking and billing steps, saved quotes and order lists, and document management… Every single section has been combed through his fresh eye! From this audit, we identified quick wins and more impactful changes to implement.
Full audit of our quoting platform with 1st prioritisations.
Meanwhile, we made a new structure to drive change: 1- Implementation of weekly Design Reviews to better identify and prioritize features, as well as quick wins 2- Set-up of a Productboard as our insight collection tool, so as not to lose any user feedback, whatever the product 3- At least 3 user interviews a week to make sure we stay on track, and stick to our clients needs 4- Development of a data-layer that will give us accurate and insightful data to help us drive product decisions That’s how we realized that a huge part of user questions were linked to existing features and could be easily tackled with quick improvements to eliminate confusion & reduce friction. Sometimes, developing a quick fix can be done in a single day… For example, by reducing the number of basic questions posed to our Operations team with valuable fixes/wins, we can save them a lot of time so they can process more order requests, which in turn generates more revenue, so contributes to support the company’s vision (scroll up if you forgot the Convelio one). And that is an example of one isolated quick win.
Sometimes, sexy doesn’t mean worthy. Think about it
Cocorico, the What’s New section is full of valuable fixes!
2020 has been a pretty challenging year: the company’s growth forced us to reduce our ambition, and rethink our organization. Within the Product team, our objective is to bring 50% of clients online by the end of 2021. Although this is still ambitious, we are moving forward with a renewed strategy and I have the feeling that we’ve never driven better before.