To empower your team, as a product manager or executive, you need to set clear goals and outcomes. However, this can be difficult when each individual communicates and documents in different ways that make sense to them. How do you establish the North Star while staying hyper-focused on customers? Hinge CPO Michelle Parsons shares her methods for creating and mapping organizational goals that will scale product.

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On Being Hyper-Focused on Customers

Throughout her career, Michelle has maintained very customer-focused (Patrick also called it being customer-obsessed). Michelle shares her thoughts on how to focus goals on the customer experience and shared customer insights.

“Being hyper customer-focused and obsessed really boils down to one key thing: It is having deep empathy with your users, really pulling your own perspectives, your biases out of the way, and ensuring that you are trying to understand the goals that your users are coming to you for. You can do that in a variety of ways. You can leverage customer insights by talking directly to your readers. You can leverage data insights by understanding how are your users using your app today. Then really try to ensure that all of the people on your teams really understand that. 

So, what does it mean to come to Hinge, for example? Well, our users are coming to us looking for a relationship or looking for a meaningful connection. What are the mindsets that they might have when they’re coming to our product for the first time, for the second time for the hundredth time? How are they approaching this? Ultimately our goal as a company and the job to be done and the thing we promise our users is that we will help connect them with other people in our ecosystem so they can get off of the app and ultimately into a relationship. But we have to be mindful of all the obstacles that may be encountered along the way. Maybe I’m feeling deflated and came back from a bad relationship, or maybe I’m anxious because … I’m not really sure how this works, or maybe I’ve sent out a bunch of likes but I haven’t really had those translate to anything, or maybe I’m getting a lot of attention and I’m just overwhelmed. 

What we’re really trying to do is identify and then document in these different mind states that will allow for us to then create a general understanding of our users. Some people call these personas, you may or may not have them explicitly written, but what we’re trying to do is if our outcome is why, how are our users perceiving and leveraging our system today, and then how can we get them closer to that outcome by defining different moments in this user journey where they’re either having success or encountering obstacles? Then you can really organize and orient a team around those different key moments, those transition moments that really will allow for everybody to be working on the same outcome, the same goal, but still be hyper-focused on a specific opportunity or pain point or problem that your users are encountering throughout the entirety of your user lifecycle.

On Keeping Autonomy While Adding Visibility With Common Language

Michelle points out that in order to communicate these goals effectively, teams need to have a common language when these goals are mapped out. This helps the whole team not only understand the direction it should be going but also include autonomy within the work.

“You have really big themes or bold strategy pillars. Maybe for Netflix, it was we want to figure out how to win more moments of truth on mobile, or we want to figure out how to increase member joy, and that might be with discovery or something that nature. But really, there are broad themes that you could basically figure out how to ladder yourself up to. One of the things that is really important then is how do you keep autonomy, but how do you also get visibility into the whats and the whys behind decisions that are being made. 

What I found to be really helpful in these moments is being able to leverage the same systems are tools that will allow for everyone ultimately to have the same common language. What I mean by this is, I’ve been in organizations where you can kind of really think through communicating your roadmap however you would like to, you can document in whatever fashion makes sense to you. That adds a little bit extra overhead because when you get a bunch of people together who are communicating and documenting in different ways, it’s really hard for them to understand really quickly or translate to one another, what they mean what their thought process was to get to that end endpoint. 

What we employ here at the hinge is just a very simple spec template, where everything starts with the context of the background, the whats in the whys behind this work that’s going to be discussed later on in this in this spec, very simple hypothesis variables that you’re wanting to test, and then a very clear decision-making framework, with your metrics, as well. The decision-making framework is something that I found to be so helpful because it aligns teams upfront on how you’re going to think about the success of the individual feature or project so that by the time that you actually have the results and the outcomes, you aren’t kind of looking at them from different angles and saying, Well, I think this is a success because I personally want this to be a success. You’ve already aligned on it up front, if it moves X or Y, we will productize. If it doesn’t, we will not productize and reassess. 

It also forces you to ensure that you have your metrics documented really early. … It prevents you from doing a bunch of back work but it also gives everybody a common language through which to communicate and then comprehend. For me as a leader, it makes it really simple for me to go pick up a spec or pick up a roadmap and say, All right, I got the key points, here’s a little feedback. …I develop that trust with my team that they’re able to carry on their work in an autonomous way, because everyone wants autonomy, but you have to have trust built into the system in order to facilitate that in a meaningful and scalable and longevity of that.

On Getting Customer Buy-In With Your Goals

The goals circle back to being customer-focused, as Patrick asks Michelle to explain how to get buy-in from customers while making the space for new members to come into a rapidly growing product.

“It really comes back to articulating your North Star, and then ensuring that everybody understands what the goals of the business are and what the biggest pain points that we currently are seeing as either blockers to even more growth or blockers to hyper-growth. What I want to ensure always happens is that I’m just really clear on what do I think is really important from a business perspective and what information insights do I have that we’re seeing more broadly out there in the industry in this space that I can then articulate in a way to my team that inspires them to ask me more questions. … I don’t have all the answers, I only have one perspective, I only have one set of experiences. I encourage and really want to empower every single person on my team, from new to those who have been there for many, many years with a ton of historical context, to be able to dream up something net new. 

We really leverage opportunity solution trees, It ensures that we are able to as a team and each individual workstream are able to take their outcomes or OKRs, their goal, or what are they trying to accomplish. Then my PMs work with their entire team to come up with a roadmap, not just themselves, not just PMs sitting in a room together saying, ‘what are we going to build?’ They take that system where we are really thinking about what are the biggest opportunities we have to move some metric. It’s not about solutions, it’s not about features, it’s not about test. It’s the big bold opportunity areas. 

From that, the team digs in even deeper to really identify and articulate features and tests and different ways into saying this actually is impactful or no, it’s not. They create that roadmap at the top of every quarter. They have all of the ideas that were basically solicited and thought up from every person across the team, from engineers to designers to research and data scientists to our customer support leads. They’re all in the room together. Ultimately, by starting from the product team itself and having that system in place where everybody’s ideas are encouraged, are valued, and are put onto a roadmap in a way that shows transparency into why something is or isn’t getting pursued, that at the foundation is the way that we’ve organized every layer of our company.”

About the speaker
MICHELLE PARSONS Hinge, Chief Product Officer Member

Product leader with 10+ years of experience leading product teams at high growth consumer tech companies across a variety of industries. I currently lead product at Hinge focused on ensuring we create the best experience in order to help our users find meaningful relationships.

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