400+ product managers & leaders weigh in on remote collaboration in 2021.
As one of the original direct to consumer companies, 1-800 Contacts has innovated for 25 years to make vision care simple and affordable, often using technology to improve customer experience. With ambitious goals to continue disrupting the industry, 1-800 Contacts hired a Head of Product, Noah Singer, to drive the product roadmap. When Singer joined the team, the pandemic was already in full swing, and most of the company’s 1,200 employees were working remotely.
Singer’s challenge was to quickly get a big-picture view of what each of his Product Managers was working on and ensure that their cumulative efforts were in line with the company’s data and results-driven approach that has guided the brand through two and a half decades.
Making his task more daunting was the fact that 1-800 Contacts had 15 product managers reporting to independent departments throughout the organization. While that reporting structure allowed each department to have a direct relationship with a highly specialized product manager, it also required extra effort from the Head of Product to build a cohesive product team with consistent frameworks.
Singer knew that there were two specific changes that he wanted to make to accomplish his goals. First, he wanted to introduce a crisp, clear approach to roadmapping that was more easily digestible than Jira. Second, he wanted to help his team take a more strategic approach to prioritization.
Singer solicited his team’s input on how to tackle those changes. When one of his PMs found Productboard, it clicked. They implemented the tool with a ground-up approach and haven’t looked back.
Singer knew that perfecting product roadmaps would be the key to understanding what the team is doing, why they’re doing it, and contributes to the greater company vision. He also knew that the platforms they were previously working with fell short, which is why he was so excited to implement Productboard.
“We don't want a technical, dev-driven tool to communicate what we're going to work on. That's great for the devs, but it's not good for showing a clear roadmap.”
Productboard, by comparison, not only helps the team determine what to work on, but it also uses inputs to automatically generate exactly the type of roadmap that Singer was seeking.
“If done correctly, the roadmap is a free by-product. The ability to digest it is really simple and that goes a long way throughout the organization.”
Through Productboard’s roadmaps, it became easy to see what each team was doing. That, in turn, provided the opportunity to go one step further to evaluate the sum of the individual parts. When you looked at all of the teams’ roadmaps in tandem, were they working together to advance the company’s big picture strategy?
During this deeper evaluation, Productboard’s objectives feature came into play. With effective roadmaps up and running after spending some time using Productboard, Singer and his PMs could experiment with the best ways to establish clear, strategic, and attainable objectives that applied to all teams.
“It became clear what each team is doing, but to themselves. The next step was, okay, if we combine all these pieces, what’s the sum of all these parts? And are we building something bigger than these individual components?’ And we weren’t necessarily. So we brought it all together. We got to say, “Okay, a lot of these things are just random, they’re neat, but they’re random. So I see why you thought it was valuable on its own, but once you look at it in the bigger picture, it’s not quite contributing to what we could be doing in this ecosystem.’ So that’s when the roadmap came in with objectives,” Singer said.
Initially, they were inclined to work toward broad objectives such as “surprise and delight” or “reduce tech debt.” Over time, Productboard helped them realize that these were less effective at driving results, either because they were immeasurable or didn’t have a clearly defined endpoint. The process also helped them consider and subsequently weed out objectives that only applied to a few of their teams, such as “increase second order rate.”
Eventually, Singer embraced using key performance indicators that are measurable, time-based, and applicable to every team. Today, they revisit their KPIs every quarter and make sure that they’re continuing to prioritize the right features.
With their strategic objectives in mind, it’s easy for the team to use Productboard as a tool in the team’s “grooming sessions.” Anyone can suggest an idea that gets pulled up on the shared Productboard screen. They can then discuss where the idea fits into the big picture strategy and whether it offers enough business value that it’s worth prioritizing.
At 1-800 Contacts, 12 out of 15 departments use Jira, and the remaining 3 use Azure DevOps, so the fact that Productboard integrates with both platforms was critical. It means that each product manager can easily use Productboard and sync with their dev team’s preferred platform.
“The right integrations matter. I want the teams to use the tool that is best for them, but for the product team, I want a single tool. Jira and Azure DevOps live here, and that’s really for the devs. For your product team, you have the tool that lives right in front of that, and that's Productboard.”
When Singer started, the marketing team used to run weekly meetings with the company’s executive team to update them on the product team’s progress. To prepare for the meeting, each of the 15 PMs would send in a PowerPoint slide for their roadmap, and the meeting lead would compile them together.
“This was hours every week of PMs preparing their slides. I don’t want my team spending that much time every week developing PowerPoints for executives. I want them to spend their time building amazing products for our customers, period.”
Productboard enabled Singer and his team to cut that preparation time down to zero. Simply by using Productboard, they always have a roadmap ready to go.
“Now that we have this roadmap that's always up to date, we use that, and I lead the meeting. I turn on screen share, and I made a view specific to the meeting, so it only includes the respective teams for that meeting. I just scroll down, and the Product Manager only speaks to what has changed since last week. That's it.”
Additionally, executives know that they no longer have to wait for the meeting to learn what’s going on; they and any other employees can simply go to Productboard. “You have a link to it, go to it whenever you want and you can see what we’re working on. You don’t have to wait for Monday,” he said.
While Singer has prioritized roadmapping, he also shared several other Productboard features that he is eager to use soon. For example, he believes that the software’s Insights board, which gathers customer feedback from multiple channels into a single source of truth, could help incorporate customers’ ideas into the company’s decision-making process.
He is also looking forward to exploring the Portal product, which would allow the product team to post promising ideas and collect feedback from potential users before rolling them out. The feature could be especially useful for product teams building for internal customers, like the People team, Call Center or the Distribution Center team.
Both of these features could help the team develop targeted new features and help them spread the word about what they’re working on, and build support for their initiatives.
Productboard is the type of software that allows users to continue to scale and delve deeper to find even more use cases. The team at Productboard is excited about the progress that 1-800 Contacts has already made. Productboard looks forward to hearing about 1-800 Contacts’ additional success stories in the future.
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