Building Award-Winning Products
By popular demand, we hosted a very special webinar with some of the 2020 Product Awards winners. It was a great chance to hear from product leaders who build award-winning products. We were joined by Heap Director of Product Management, Vijay Umapathy; Draftbit Co-Founder & CTO Peter Piekarczyk; and UserTesting Director of Product, Brian Tran.
The panel of Product Awards winners discussed building great products, what makes a great product manager and leading teams and products.
Heap Director of Product Management, Vijay Umapathy; Draftbit Co-Founder & CTO Peter Piekarczyk; and UserTesting Director of Product, Brian Tran all discussed building award-winning products and answered questions from our attendees. We recommend watching the entire video above. Otherwise, some of the highlights are detailed below.
On what makes award-winning products
“I think it’s very important that products, especially ones that are that we consider award-winning, truly feel like they’re complete. And they feel like they have taken a customer problem that they’re trying to solve, and they’ve understood it end to end. Understood all the different details, those details really matter. It’s important to realize that if you look at a snapshot of a product and any given point in time, it’s not a binary question of is it complete? Or is it incomplete? What really matters is the company’s processes for how they actually ensure completeness over time.” – Heap Director of Product Management, Vijay Umapathy (VU)
“I think companies in the early stages need to focus on their customers. I think a lot of times folks get caught up in building everything, right? They get sort of stuck with this world of nobody’s using our products. Let’s keep building on features, hoping that we’ll catch something. You keep casting a bigger net, but in reality, the holes of that net get too big, and the fish that you want to catch kind of swim right through. So, for me, that’s focus. Find the niche, find the problem that you’re trying to go after, and then build a community. Find an audience and then it’s really easy to support your customers.” – Draftbit Co-Founder & CTO Peter Piekarczyk (PP)
“There’s a three-circle Venn diagram of the three dimensions that make a great product. The first is desirability. So, does it actually solve a customer problem and solve it really well, that customers actually care about, or people actually care about? That’s where I think a lot of folks focus on, especially if you’re a PM and you care about your customers.
The second one is viability. Does it actually make business sense? Can you actually sell it in some kind of way and succeed? So ,I’ve built products before in the past where it was amazing, people loved it but didn’t really have a good business model and it kind of failed. Having learned from that lesson, and ensuring that you’re also learning continuously in that domain as well, continually validating that what you’re building actually makes business sense. So that you can ultimately succeed.
And then lastly is feasibility. So, can you actually build it and build it in a timeframe that actually makes sense for you to succeed? I think that’s something that most folks also think about and try to validate. It can get more complicated when you’re starting to use more machine learning, AI types of things where feasibility becomes more of a question.” – UserTesting Director of Product, Brian Tran (BT)
On what makes a great product manager
“I think of myself as a problem solver. But I think what’s actually true about that Product Managers is that their responsibility is not to solve problems, their responsibility is to frame problems. And so if there’s like one thing that I would say is like the most important skill of a product manager, it is the ability to clearly frame a problem across a diverse set of stakeholders, whether that’s engineers, designers, other product managers, and leadership in your company, and especially the customer. It’s really important that everyone has a shared understanding of what the problem is that you’re trying to solve.” – VU
“One that just completely understands the value of deep customer empathy. It’s not just that. It’s being able to take that and that deep understanding of your customer and turn it into an actual opportunity or business opportunity. So, how do you take what you know as being super painful and change that into a product that actually makes sense? One that you can actually sell and from that actually execute on it.” – BT
On building a team culture
Award-winning products come from PMs who don’t just know how to build great products but also build great product teams.
“We do that through check-ins or just conversations or coffee walks. Those are some things that we do just to keep a pulse on how the team’s feeling. What do you think about this feature? Are you interested in it? If you’re not interested in building this, is there something else that you would like? What’s your argument for why we should do that?” – PP
“A good sign of having a good culture is engagement. I actually separate it into these different measures within that measure of engagement ultimately. So, the first is mission. Ensuring that your team understands the mission and that are bought in once they do that, having clarity as far as what their role is in achieving that mission. Once they’re clear on what the goal is empowering them so that they can actually go and do it.
Empower them and let them know that they own that and that they’re the leaders at their decision ultimately that that leads to the success of what they lead. Okay, so then they know they’ve got ownership of it, actually showing progress. So, whatever progress looks like as far as the metric and continually increasing or delivering, knowing that they are making progress towards something. And then to wrap it all up, it’s just the social inclusion part of it all, where you got to have that network of folks that you can rely on and that’s actually kind of hard.” – BT
On working towards being a product-first organization
With this kind of product-first focus, it’s no wonder these companies are building award-winning products.
“One of the things that we’ve actually instituted at Heap is a process that we call ‘Waves’ where actually our entire leadership team will identify a set of customers that we want to learn about more in a strategic way. We will create a slide deck that is essentially a representation of the blueprint of our entire product strategy. So it includes, how do we brand ourselves? What’s the problem we’re solving? How would we describe the capabilities of our product today? What is our roadmap? And things like a conceptual slide where of things that we’re thinking of building a year out. And how we would price and package our product so that the entire company is encapsulated in like one presentation.
We take a section of the market that we want to understand more, and we take the entire leadership and fly out and go see those customers. So, what’s really neat is that process builds alignment across our leadership team. So you don’t have a situation where your leaders have different realities of what the customer problems are. They literally learn them together from a set of customers with clear assumptions going in about who those customers are. They learn them in real-time.” – VU
“One thing that we do is we have a Slack channel called #Partner Insiders. We invite a stream of our users into that Slack and get to communicate with them on a daily basis. We are so grateful that there are folks that are willing to go out of their way to help us. So, we’ve got a variety of folks that pop in every couple of days and just help us accomplish our goals. Help us figure out what the roadmap should be, help us find bugs that we totally missed. If there’s anything that has energized the team and that has helped us sort of stay on track. it’s that Partner Insiders channel.” – PP
On their best lesson learned in product
“I actually think one of the things that people don’t talk about enough is the importance of relationships. Like trust relationships, I would say, especially with your engineering counterparts and with leadership are really important. It’s important to actually take the time to nurture those. Nurture them in the context of projects. So, if you find yourself in situations where you’re butting heads with someone, take the time to diagnose why. Take the time to really understand their perspective and empathize with it and understand what the root of any differences of opinion are. Because if you don’t, it’s going to fester. And if you do, it’s going to make you that much more effective as a team.” – VU