Do you have a product in mind, but aren’t sure which method or process to dive into? We’ve got you covered! We interviewed Valery Semiletau, Softvoya’s CEO and expert in scrum tactics and strategic product launches.
How does Softvoya develop a product strategy and what approaches do you use to improve it?
Valery: If we are talking about product development, then everything is simple: we take analysts, develop “Vision and Scope” and proceed to its implementation. If we talk about product development & launch strategy, then this includes a whole range of measures that must be interconnected: financial, development and marketing plans. Product owners in the industry often make the classic mistake of copying corporate practices for their product strategy and launch, but if we launch something brand new or want to test an idea, corporate methods are too expensive for startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. We recommend a simple strategy that can fit on a “napkin.” At the beginning stages of product launch, most customers have limited data on market research and hypothesis testing, so without this important data it’s impossible to build an accurate financial plan and ROI to match big corporate budgets.
The most important aspect in a napkin size product strategy is the market you play in. At Softvoya, this analysis helps us better understand the other players competing in your industry, the total market capacity, the target audience for the product and an analysis of competing web, social, and foot traffic. Based on this information, we can calculate the investment needed for marketing to attract your target audience, but these numbers only answer one simple question: “is there a potential for profitability with this product?”
We recommend conservative strategies for our customers and plan for the scenario if something goes wrong. Of course, we always leave room for the positive. Believe in the best, but plan for reality.
When product owners begin planning their strategy, oftentimes they think the only cost after launch will be marketing expenses. This is a common misconception, because in order to make an MLP (most-loveable product) we need to receive feedback from users after we enter the market. This is an imperative step in the product launch process. When we develop a product strategy, we must constantly analyze it from the point of how it is executed, what new facts are revealed: about the market, consumers, the product we planned to develop. These facts should always influence the strategy: it shouldn’t be a static document, it should always be revised and adaptable.
Are there any features of developing a product strategy during a crisis?
Our concept is the following: when launching a product, you are already in crisis-mode regardless of the market situation. This is where the napkin strategy comes into play. Put the minimum amount forward, then should the product be unsuccessful, only the minimum was put forward. On the other hand, if the project is successful, you reap the rewards as intended or sometimes exceed the expected.. When launching a product as a startup, we recommend the Lean Startup model start small, spend as little as possible, move in short steps, take into account the changes and adjust the plan according to your users.. Never abandon the plan, change and adapt.
Crisis is always a market reboot, an inevitable stage of development.
When working with an audience, always get down to the level of the consumer and understand how they changed their approach and habits: this way you will understand where the market is headed. A reboot means that some industries are gradually leaving and new ones coming in. Apply a crisis strategy: go in the direction in which the market is being redistributed at the moment. For example, during a pandemic: for some it was a crisis, but for some it was a success. Those who made video calls before the pandemic ended up going where the market was redistributed, and the pandemic was only a catalyst for this redistribution. Now, we can talk about a post-covid period, where everything gradually returns to its normal life. How far has the world rolled back to its starting point? A majority of the tools we used to survive and maintain a semblance of normality are now a habit for us. Video conferencing format has not completely changed: of course, there will be a recession period where people prefer and seek face to face communication and steer away from “Zoom fatigue”, but it will not roll back to the starting point as it was pre-pandemic If your business thinks through the idea and concept correctly and continually adapt and move towards your users, growth will happen regardless.
Why did you choose Agile, Kanban and Scrum as your development methodology?
Valery: When we operate in limited predictability, where the result depends on each individual talent and their expertise and you need a certain flexibility, the ability to quickly switch and reschedule. This is exactly what Agile accomplishes: it is not the absence of a plan, it is a flexible approach to planning, management and work.
In Agile, a large role is assigned to performers, so we focus on self-organization and self-management. This methodology empowers teams to work efficiently: Kanban, like Scrum and Agile, allows you to work and manage all processes based on facts. Having made a short iteration or task, we get the result, control it and move to the next.
The most important thing in making managerial decisions is the information that you receive.
We make decisions based on analytics, specific data.he quality of analytics directly affects the effectiveness of the decisions you make and the people in charge of making them.Agile allows us to make short iterations and show the result, then receive feedback and iterate, this improves the quality of the decisions… One way or another, we work for the customer: they can be the end user or a group of stakeholders who are engaged in acceptance and analysis, it can be a Product Owner to allow for incremental improvements.
If you want the product to bring monetization as the end result, you initially need to look at the product not as an app development, but as a launch of a business project. With this vision, we need to plan and quickly respond to find success.
Many product companies have a Product Manager. Is this position needed in the Scrum team and how is it transformed in this framework? What is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager, what are their goals and responsibilities?
Valery: The difference between a Product Manager and Product Owner is in one word and one methodology: Product Owner is Scrum, Product Manager is PMBOK. This is the same role in different approaches: PMBOK says that the Product Manager manages the product, its development strategy. Their responsibility is to bring the product to market. The Product Owner may have assistants such as a Project Manager who accompanies the development process. A Product Owner is a definition from Scrum. If we compare their basic functions and responsibilities, then they generally coincide: this is the same person, but from different methodologies. Of course, they differ in some nuances and details, but this is because the methodologies themselves differ from each other. PMBOK initially describes the functionality, requirements and approaches in more detail, when Scrum is less detailed. But there is only one conclusion: Product Manager and Product Owner is the person who is responsible for the implementation of the product’s goals and its value.
Does the investor often agree to the role of the Product Owner, does he want to take it on himself?
Valery: There are always two models: if your customer is a large company, then the investor himself wouldn’t be the Product Owner, it will be one of the company’s employees who works in this direction and knows the domain and processes well. If we are referring to small projects, most likely the company will not have the resources to hire an individual employee. They will want to save money, so they will allocate someone from the company’s leaders, for example, the head of the department or the original idea owner.
What are the requirements for a Product Owner?
- First, understand how the methodology works.
- Second, understand the market in which the product is launched to prioritize requirements in order to maximize product value.
- Third, understand the finances and metrics to measure the team’s performance and the efficiency of product implementation.
Large corporations often ask the contractor to hire a Product Owner, but this creates a problem: the customer’s monitoring tool will be constricted, and the involvement will be lower. I try to keep the Product Owner on the customer’s side: they should be as involved as possible in the product creation process. The customer knows the domain area and understands the market’s needs.
If a customer brings the product owner with the competency and skill, yet they don’t understand Scrum. You’ll need to dedicate time onboarding, building relationships and learning. Once the training period has successfully passed, then you can get a team that will launch mind blowing products for the target customer. This approach is more effective, because the customer’s involvement will trigger creative ideas and unique solutions from the technical side, essentially creating product development synergy.
Let’s talk about pivoting in the product development process. How do you know when it’s time to pivot?
A product reversal is a change in direction and often needed when more information about the consumer or market is needed. Then we continuously create product elements and show them to consumers on the market (or to a limited circle of consumers) to gather feedback. After that, we receive new information, paying attention to market signals and changing situations , and we make a decision to turn in one direction. Agile is based on the principles that pivoting is a continuous practice, it is tied to retrospectives and the analysis of the result obtained: you can go to a conference and get inspired, get new insights, product analytics and decide on a reversal.
Sometimes by this definition we mean something large-scale, but in fact, decisions are made at the team level. This is a question of the product scale: the smaller it is, the fewer the number of people who make decisions based on the new data. In addition to external factors, such as changes in the market, there are also internal ones, when you are inspired by something and want to slightly change your format. The third factor is consumers: they provide feedback on the basis of which conclusions and decisions need to be made. Can you conceptually change a product’s business model quickly? This, again, depends on the scale of the product. In any case, if you move in development with small iterations, then with the same small iterations you do a pivot. Agile is a continuous work with incoming data from consumers, external market factors and the team.
What is a Product Roadmap based on? What should I pay attention to when drawing a roadmap?
Valery: A roadmap is part of a large product strategy. If we create a product and collect ideas from analogs, then let’s be honest: we have no core idea and start collecting “features”, eventually assembling something similar to the car from the “Mad Max” movie. To avoid this, a core idea is needed. Of course, we get inspired from the markets we study, whether it be from books, articles, or competitive analysis, etc.The core idea allows us to look critically at the incoming information through its prism, understand how to use it and filter out anything unnecessary. If there is no core idea, then the product is just a glorified wishlist. This is why you need a Product Owner, they form the core idea a study the market frustrations. A product idea is a solution to a consumer’s problem. The Product Owner finds an idea, formulates it and looks for a way to implement it. Using the Agile methodology, the idea builds the roadmap to create a product and rethink it based on new information. By looking at the product life cycle with this lens, we solve the consumer’s problem, while limiting the cost of investment and being profitable. For this to work, you must always understand the latest in trends, and at the same time, understand your users.
How do we avoid developing unnecessary functionality? Why, when developing a product, the main focus shouldn’t be on new features and current trends, but on solving problems and achieving goals?
Valery: Not everything that is trending is effective, because we can rarely evaluate the results and it lacks the ability to run through the prism of the core idea.You must have a global goal that is decomposed into subgoals and tasks. If you start with features and don’t have a goal, then you are experimenting. Of course, external sources of information are important: how the market lives, what products are launched, but everything needs to be passed through the core idea and the consumer – perhaps your audience isn’t even affected by the latest trends.
How to form an employee engagement?
- First: the ability to influence the final result. Agile calls for this: through feedback and retrospectives, we empower people to influence the final result of the product.
- Second: the ability to influence the approaches and practices that you use when working together. If, through feedback and retrospectives, people influence the product, they should be able to influence the organization to operate the same.
- Third: build processes within the organization and show in practice that no matter what your position and status in the hierarchical structure of the company – everyone obeys the processes in the same way. This way we can increase team engagement and achieve better results.
– Valery, thank you very much for such a detailed and informative interview! It was very nice to talk to you.
– Valery: Thank you! 😊
Dear readers, stay in touch! Every month we will publish useful and interesting articles about product development from our leading experts in the blog. See you soon 😊 !