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Real-World stories: Best practices on delivering innovation + Product Excellence in your team

Real-World stories: Best practices on delivering innovation + Product Excellence in your team

Umbrage, a custom software development shop in Houston, designs and builds end-to-end internal products for clients. In addition, Umbrage adds value for clients by setting them up with product tools and strategies for implementing best practices when it comes to product management.

At the 2021 Product Excellence Summit, Layla Selick, Director of Professional Services at Productboard, led a Q&A session with Umbrage’s Will Carey, Product Management Lead, and Ronak Patel, Co-Founder and Studio Director, to hear their real-world stories and experiences helping clients build a culture of product excellence and continuous innovation. 

The following is an excerpt of their conversation – if you like what you read, consider joining us on October 4, 2022 for this year’s Product Excellence Summit in person in San Francisco, or online! 

Coming from a consulting background, how have the innovations and workshops differed from that previous life in consulting to the work that you’re doing today with AWS, Apple, and Productboard?  

WC: I think the main difference was back then — it was 2017 in the enterprise space — design thinking was kind of new. It was maybe old in Silicon Valley and in design studios, but it was really this buzzword that we were hearing a lot. 

A success in 2017 was: we put a lot of stickies on the wall, we had a nice output, in-person workshops, and that was our win. Maybe it led to a PLC, where we got to actually build a digital product that worked as a web app, and that was like, “hurray, we did it!”

What we realize now in 2021 is that the market is asking for scalable products that actually work for the business. So before, we might have been building 12 PLCs for 12 problems with 12 different budgets. Now the challenge is that you still have to use design thinking, you still have to use product excellence and product strategy, but now you’ve got to make that budget work to build a scalable product to solve a variety of problems within a variety of ecosystems. 

An example of that is one of our clients, Cold Bore Technology in the oil and gas space. They basically came into the market at a time where a lot of companies were using different systems that didn’t talk to each other. They took advantage of that and built one product that can communicate to all systems and bring all data in one place at the edge. So it’s a cool time to be building newer products for clients, and there’s a lot of innovation going around. 

RP: I think a lot of corporations today are demanding more. Again, five or six years ago, you’d see 30 or 40 POCs floating around a corporation and they deemed it a success. Particularly in one of the large oil majors that we worked at, we started to see that they had like 12 POCs that did a lot of the same things, but nobody really talked and tied those strategies together. 

Now what we’re doing is we’re building one or two products that do all these and build this ecosystem around them, because corporations today think in singular functions and they don’t really talk very well across those functions. So we have to break down some of those barriers to build good products for them, because if we don’t, then we end up with these siloed POCs that never really scale.

How did you find Productboard? And how are you using it in the course of your business? 

RP: We knew we needed to perfect a few things and Product was one of them, so we were doing a lot of research and understanding what are the different tools out there. We did product strategy, but it was a bunch of Excel sheets that then funneled into JIRA that funneled into something else, and there were a bunch of tools that we were using to get everything done. 

When we did the research, we found Productboad and we were intrigued by the design of it. We were like, hey, this seems very intuitive. We kind of got used to using it, because when we got our first client, which was Cold Bore back in 2019, they were using Aha, which was another tool that kind of does what Productboard does. But nobody was really using it, it was kind of shelved, like, “yeah, that’s where we just go store a bunch of stuff that goes to die.”

And I was like, well, that can’t be right. None of this really makes sense. And when we started interviewing some of the senior executives, the sales folks, some of the support staff, they were like, “oh, that tool is really too complex to use.”

So what we did is we then introduced them to Productboard. This was our first time actually getting into it. We helped them set it all the way up through their entire organization and we showed them the Insights feature, and it was a very easy way for them to put their feedback and communicate to us. 

Something as simple as that went a long way for them. I think that took them from sitting at three well pads to like 18 well pads today, and they’re in the heart of it, using Productboard and getting their strategy right. And I think that’s really how we got started using it.

One of the other things that we use it for internally is to help our product managers, and I think Will can talk about how our product management team has matured over time on how to use the tool.

WC: A lot of times, we’re a product team as a service. We’ll be working with a client who wants to be their own product company, who wants to build their own product organization, but they want to get started building now. So we’ll be coming on, we’ll be building with them and teaching them as we go. 

When we used to show up on the studio side, we would deliver our beautiful designs, beautiful architecture, and then we would be delivering our backlog in an Excel spreadsheet. So taking Productboard was a way to, at the end of this “define, design” six or eight weeks, say: “here’s your backlog, let’s start building together and we can actualize this plan and give you [Productboard] so that as you bring your product team on, you’re there, you’re part of the journey, you see how the decisions were made, it’s all in one place.” 

We bring on a lot of folks who are switching into product management, who are learning the ropes. And really, Productboard became a great tool for them to be able to run and do their rolling and get past just pushing papers and writing tickets and actually get into product strategy and the product work that needs to be done that the clients are paying for and asking us to do. 

It also added value to our engineering team and our design team. Engineers go into Productboard — both clients and our own team. They understand the big picture. Everyone’s always asking: “Hey, I’m working on this ticket. But what does it have to do with everything else that we’re doing?” And everybody has that visibility of what this is doing, how it’s the driving strategy and where we’re headed. 

RP: In the business that we’re in, we’re working across multiple projects. Our engineers today could be on one product working for one client and [tomorrow] be on another product working for another client. They need to be able to jump in and understand the value features that we’re building, where that product is at. So they do appreciate having a board that they can go to like Productboard, and they can actually see where we’re at and jump in and actually start helping. 

One other thing to highlight is that I personally at times have overseen 10 or 20 of these projects. When you jump in, you jump into JIRA and all you see is just a mess. One of the biggest things that we’re seeing today is that JIRA and Azure DevOps have been cleaned up on our projects more and more, because a lot of this stuff is getting back funneled into the Insights feature into Productboard; building the features, having product managers effectively communicate what features are valuable, rather than logging every single ticket and every single half-baked idea into JIRA and it gets lost. So one of the things I appreciate the most, especially going into these projects with very little information, is seeing our JIRA boards a little cleaned up.

If you enjoyed this, don’t forget to register to join us for this year’s summit!

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