Alister Sneddon’s first move joining Invest at CMC Markets as Head of Product was to help the financial services company shift its product management approach. Rather than focus on solutions first — “build it and they will come” — he wanted strategy to center on customer value and outcomes.
His second step? Replace disconnected systems with one source of product truth — a real-time platform that would help teams identify customers’ core needs and solve them collaboratively.
With Productboard, Invest at CMC Markets:
Impressed by the Invest org’s ability to improve customer retention, develop efficient workflows, and evolve into a hub of rapid product innovation, leadership at CMC Markets decided: Productboard could benefit the entire company. Now, the company is rolling out the platform org-wide.
“We started with Productboard because we had a need to collate feedback and action on it, and what it turned out to be was a mechanism to transform the business — from a technical feature factory to a user-centric value driver. That was the big change.”
And, Alister’s not keeping the playbook a secret.
He shares Invest at CMC Markets’ early struggles as a “feature factory” and how it escaped to build a highly engaged customer base and standout cross-functional workflows, improving retention and efficiency (in an economy where both are essential).
One of the reasons Alister was so intent on helping CMC change course? He’s genuinely passionate about its mission: empowering every customer to achieve their financial wellness.
“At CMC Invest, we’re building something that’s self-directed, a platform that gives people access to all of the different kinds of investments they can make — ones that are retail-friendly, suitable for the everyday investor,” Alister explains. “We see it as our mission to help customers achieve their long-term financial goals by offering good financial guidance.”
Unfortunately, CMC’s success empowering the everyday investor was limited by its focus on outputs vs. outcomes; relying on disconnected tools also strained efficiency in a culture that prizes curiosity — teams asked “why this?” and Product struggled to justify decisions with data.
“As a company, we had been very technology-led. We had the engineering resources, so we would allocate them and build. The reason we became a feature factory was because we had no other metric of success than output. It was like the hotel star rating system. They’re not rated by how good they are, but instead by facility — having a pool and a gym to be 5-star. We had the must-haves to be a competitor, but we wanted to know: what really makes for an amazing product? What actually matters to our customers to solve their problems?”
Gathering feedback from multiple channels with no streamlined process or central place to aggregate findings, CMC struggled to prioritize initiatives that would benefit users and the business alike. Product released a wealth of features, but customers weren’t adopting as hoped.
“I felt it wasn’t their fault.” Alister admits. “They didn’t know they were there in a sea of features. We needed to find out what matters to them to solve their problems and concerns — not just keep up with the Joneses, adding new things.”
Here’s where Alister is quick to mention: product managers weren’t at fault so much as their frameworks. “It’s very hard [to be customer-centric] when you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, what are the measures and the outcomes. If you have no measures of delivering value, you’ll always be measured by velocity.”
On his quest to improve customer engagement and efficiency, Alister also felt certain: Jira and spreadsheets weren’t the right combination. Using these tools for roadmapping and technical delivery, Alister says CMC struggled to justify feature decisions with customer feedback, share adequate context for async collaboration, and provide real-time roadmap progress— limitations that would only grow worse as the company scaled without a comprehensive system.
“It’s so frustrating when you have customer feedback, features, and roadmaps and none of these items have seen each other,” Alister admits. “When ideas have gone into Miro or people have drawn notes on a calendar invite, no one is sure what anything is based on at a certain point, or how to share a change quickly.”
CMC’s challenges deciphering context and communicating change were just the beginning. Alister says one big problem with relying on Jira and spreadsheets was the inability to truly unite the business around product strategy — especially as the company grew to include team members who lacked expertise in finance.
“In my first month at CMC, we wrote out a list of 400 features, in essence saying: ‘deliver this!’ with just a one-line explanation in Excel. We pushed the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ to prioritization as Jira tickets. That worked fine as a small team with decision-makers who had background expertise in financial markets, but as our team grew, the knowledge was lost. Product was building, but other teams weren’t sure why or who for. That was impossible to scale as a sustainable knowledge business. Everyone has to see it and believe it and communicate it — and that’s hard to do with an Excel sheet of 400 lines.”
Overcommitting to new features without producing additional value for customers, Invest at CMC needed a platform that could help its teams shift to an outcome-focused strategy – one they could easily visualize.
With a purpose-built product management platform designed to help teams incorporate user feedback throughout the lifecycle and connect it to features and roadmaps, Alister felt confident CMC could “become the first name on customers’ minds to achieve their long-term financial goals. That would bring better business success, as we’d be more sticky.”
On a mission to rally the business around customers’ biggest needs, Alister knew teams at Invest needed two things: an integrated product management platform and the right partners to develop a strategy focused on outcomes, not outputs.
Searching for the right tool, Alister had many requirements in mind and an extensive list of software providers he took the time to vet.
In the realm of customer-centricity, Alister wanted the new platform to help teams aggregate and categorize feedback coming from different channels. From there, they would need the ability to easily attach feedback to features and score by value, effort, and impact for both customers and the business.
This way, Invest’s Product org could be certain that prioritized initiatives would drive value for customers while aligning with company objectives. Above all, teams could build what mattered most from the beginning.
The system would also have to be an intuitive platform Invest could use to unite the entire business around its product strategy — helping teams build confidence in the Product org while getting to market faster.
“We needed a strategic view for the business, to be able to say what is the strategy, where are we going, why are we doing this, how is my squad supporting it. We chose Productboard because it could not only solve all of these problems for CMC Invest, but also for the entire org.”
Even better, Alister says he was impressed early on by the quality of support he received from Productboard’s team. After Invest at CMC Markets signed the dotted line, Alister was keen to partner with Professional Services for onboarding support and the part of the plan he was most excited to pull off: shifting to a Jobs to be Done model.
“We sat down with Productboard and said, ‘look, we are product managers and don’t know what we don’t know, whereas you work with PMs every day in every sector,” Alister recalls. “We’d love your help on the best way to manage the platform.”
Alister is pleased to report: Pro Services delivered. “The best practice trainings helped us articulate a dream into a plan that we could deliver against,” Alister explains. And, there’s more.
“Productboard’s Professional Services team helped us stay focused and drive adoption, sharing all of the pros and cons of different approaches to product management that we could try. Now, we’ve moved to a Jobs to be Done model and can consistently ask: ‘is this a customer problem or a feature?’ After the trainings, we were able to hold meetings on our side and show clearly how to use Productboard. We even created our own user guide.”
Now, Invest at CMC Markets is driving retention and efficiency in powerful ways – escaping a solution-first mindset to build what its customers need most in record time. Alister shares how.
These days, Invest at CMC is seeing the kind of success product orgs dreams of — especially in a tough economy. Product has streamlined a customer-centric approach to prioritization and customers delight in sharing their feedback to help shape the future of the product. Cross-functional teams share a vision and deliver on it efficiently. And, in an exciting twist, the Invest division is earning company-wide recognition for transforming sprints to solve customer pain points in as little as one day.
Here’s a window into Invest’s biggest wins after adopting Productboard:
With Productboard, Invest teams now have a streamlined approach to collecting and categorizing feedback – linking every product decision to actual user needs. Alister says this feature-level data is winning over CMC’s highly inquisitive workforce, empowering everybody to think like a product manager.
“It’s common in our culture at CMC to ask others why they’re doing things, and now we can say, ‘here’s a problem state, a view of which customer segments are asking for a solution, and how it fits into business objectives.’ All of a sudden, everyone has visibility into prioritization since we centralized everything in Productboard. It gets them more involved in discovery, iteration, research — autonomous squads that uncover customer needs and deliver.”
Turning customers into advocates by bringing them into the product development process
After standardizing an outcome-oriented product management approach in Productboard, Invest’s Product and customer-facing teams are now off to the races.
They’re meeting with customers more and more to understand their pain points, seek their feedback on MVPs, and get their opinions on the roadmap, empowering them as genuine partners guiding the future of the product. When customers are tapped to co-create, their relationship to the product — and the people behind it — changes in a powerful way.
“For customers, it’s interesting for them, almost a novelty. They’re given a new feature, and they’ll have a look and say, ‘it’s quite cool’ or ‘I’d change this,’ and a few days later, we’ve changed it, and they say, ‘oh, wonderful! Brilliant.’ When we involve them, even after a cycle is finished, they continue to engage because they know someone is listening on the other side.”
The outreach is paying off, and helping CMC stand out from the competition.
“Everyone asks for feedback, says they’re customer-centric, but they don’t action it, so people stop giving it,” Alister explains. “But, when you make the experience positive for customers and close the feedback loop, they start becoming advocates.”
Alister is also pleased to report how shared access to real-time roadmaps has helped Product build confidence in its decision-making across the business.
“With Productboard, we have the answers everybody has been pushing for. It’s no longer, ‘don’t worry, guys, we have a spreadsheet and you’ll find what you need in row number 3 — just trust that it’s a good thing.’ Now, teams look at Productboard themselves and it puts people at ease because it gives the context for every problem. We show how everything fits together in the strategy and use roadmaps to not just communicate up-to-date information but influence stakeholders as well.”
Trusting the same source of Product truth, cross-functional teams save time hunting for information and instead consistently refine the way they get to market — identifying risks early and tightening delivery windows.
Alister was eager to share some exciting developments.
Once Alister onboarded Productboard and helped teams work together more efficiently with a single source of truth, he was excited to inspire the org to think more critically about delivery windows.
Coupling Productboard and Jira had certainly helped ease collaboration between Product and Engineering. But, Alister was eager to find out: would launching “Build in a Day” events help teams transform their thinking about delivery altogether? It seems so.
At that point, the one-day event winds down. But, the technical team gets back to work once enough responses come in from testers. From there, team members work to iterate and expand on the concept until it can be broadly released.
Alister makes clear: this type of exercise not only builds muscles for testing and discovery, but also encourages everybody in the org to think more deeply about technical debt and architecture.
“We’re pushing teams outside their comfort zone of perfection because it’s meant to be fast delivery. If they get it wrong, we turn off the feature flag. But, everything they do needs to be ready for a live environment. That changes mindsets — people build for flexibility in the future, a modular way that helps us architecturally. That’s how we can really scale and identify bottlenecks going forward. We’re not just deciding what to build, but also having iterative cycles of development by putting things into Productboard.”
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