Welcome to our Age of Product Excellence series — a deep exploration of the Product Excellence Methodology, the product leaders who practice it, and the excellent products that result. Join us as we shine light on the strategies and thought processes behind an excellent product that customers use and love.
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Not too long ago, Strava shifted its mission to focus on motivating athletes to find their personal best. Where they once appealed to an athlete’s sense of competition, they now help athletes track and improve their personal performance and network with others for support and encouragement.
“Staying motivated is probably one of the biggest problems to solve. If we can provide that motivation for you to go outdoors or to just get out there and be active, then we win.” That’s Chris Gallello, a growth product manager at Strava. As a part of Strava’s growth team, Chris is focused on onboarding new athletes to better set them up for success on Strava.
“People who sign up for Strava are often trying to commit to becoming a better version of themselves. So it’s great to be part of a team that helps deliver on that”
Chris talked to us about how he and his team deliver a product experience that inspires athletes and make the sports they love even more fun.
Balancing user research and data
Chris focuses much of his time on the onboarding experience to make sure new users get the most value out of the product as quickly as possible. To do this, he strikes a balance between user research and data.
“At previous companies where I’ve worked, we either did a lot of user research or we heavily invested in data analytics, but never both. At Strava, we invest in both.” To ensure that athletes are getting the most value out of Strava’s features, Chris and his team look to the data to inform what research they should do. When they do that research, they can return to the data to help validate the insights resulting from the research.
This balance is particularly crucial in onboarding, where overemphasizing either user research or data can take you down misleading paths due to biased information. One thing Chris learned was that having the fewest amount of steps in the onboarding process didn’t necessarily produce a better result.
“A common assumption is that you always try to cut down the number of screens a user sees, but we’ve found that doesn’t always have much impact. At the end of the day, as long as the user understands why that screen is in there and that it provides value to them, it’s OK because they’re trying something new.”
When Chris and his team do focus on metrics, they take time to pick the ones that best align with user behavior. For example, raw conversions, while a popular metric, can lead to dark patterns that may not provide a ton of insight into whether the user sees actual value. That’s why he focuses on whether athletes upload their first activity in the first seven days, as an example. Guiding people towards these events helps ensure that they’re getting the most value out of Strava.
Communicating a structured strategy
Strava’s teams operate around a 6-month vision. They plan out high-level objectives for the next 6 months across the company. Each team creates their own goals that roll up into the company objectives, and plan out their work activities broken down by months or weeks. Each planned activity is ideally based on goals that correlate with positive user experiences.
At any point in time, Chris believes PM’s should be able to articulate product strategy over that 6-month horizon. “It’s important to make sure that your team and everybody else understands what’s coming.”
At Strava, he and his PM colleagues can explain, in detail, what they’re delivering during the coming week. At a slightly higher-level, they communicate which features and clear goals they’re working on for the coming month. For the following 3-month period, they know which user needs they will focus on. And for the full 6-month horizon, they can communicate which business needs they plan on solving at a high level.
In general, product roadmaps at Strava also tend to reflect this level of granularity. These roadmaps not only align everyone at the company, but they also help coordinate activities across each team, so everyone across the company knows when they’ll focus on which activities.
As a PM at Strava, Chris splits his time between working on major features and running a variety of small tests. For him, it’s just as important to recognize the many things you learn along the way, even when they may not directly or immediately impact users.
That’s why he focuses on running A/B tests to measure every aspect of the product experience.
“It’s fascinating that you can ship something that seems like a cleaner design, but it doesn’t perform as well as you expect. While possibly disappointing, those are what push your team’s understanding of what users really want, which makes you smarter and ultimately speeds up development in the long run.”
While there are so many best practices around signup flows and trial conversions, Chris doesn’t take any assumptions for granted. That’s why he continues to test every idea and challenge any preconceived notions he may have about the best way to onboard new users. While this testing has confirmed some assumptions, he’s been surprised by how some tests have challenged some instances of generally established best practices. “When you’re testing, you end up with all these results, and sometimes I think, ‘that’s so strange.’” He sees this as a great sign that he’s onto something.
The culture of learning is now so entrenched in his team that they’re now able to conceive of a test and ship it out to users within a day. “Don’t just be proud of what you shipped, be proud of what you learned.”
“Don’t just be proud of what you shipped, be proud of what you learned.”
Building an enriching experience
For Chris, a great product is one that enriches someone’s life. To know how to create that experience, you have to be able to empathize with your users. But empathy isn’t just a thing you turn off and on and reserve for one group of people. What Chris enjoys about product management is working closely and empathizing with his coworkers.
“For every one that I work with, I put myself in a different mode. So I’ll regularly bounce between the engineering version of myself and the design version of myself, to make sure I can see things from their perspective.”
Extending this empathy to everyone helps Chris focus on the needs of his users and helps ensure that Strava continues to help athletes become the best version of themselves. We’re excited to see where Chris takes Strava next!
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Chris Gallello is a Senior Growth PM at Strava. He’s worked in the technology industry for 8 years across collaboration tools and community-driven social products. His passion for product management stems from a deep love for both design and engineering – so he’s an avid fan of working on side projects to continue building those skills. You can follow him at @cgallello where he tweets about Product, Design, and VR.
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We hope you enjoyed this installment of our Age of Product Excellence Series. Hungry for more? Read our kickoff post on the defining characteristics of products considered truly excellent by their users and our interviews with Postmark App, Certify Inc./Chrome River, You Need a Budget, Zillow, and FYI.