Building and refining a product with a small team involves a lot of balancing – what new features are going to be most valuable to our customers? How could the existing features be improved to make them more user-friendly? How much infrastructure should we put in place for growth and when?
Sometimes it can be obvious what to prioritise by looking ahead to our vision and long-term company strategy. But more often there are multiple paths we could take, different features we could work on that all hold the potential to help us meet our goals. To provide a framework for making those decisions, we use a process we’ve adapted from project management tool company Basecamp’s book Shape Up.
How does it work?
We break down our time into eight week periods, made up of a six week “Cycle” and a two week “Cooldown”. As Yarno’s Product Manager, I spend each cycle scoping out new potential tasks for the following cycle. I gather feedback from the Yarno team, our customers and learners on what they need from Yarno, any ideas for new features, and any difficulties they’ve been having with our product. I then research and “shape” what we could do to address this feedback – and write up each of those ideas into “Pitches”.During the 2 week cooldown, I meet with a group of key Yarno stakeholders for a meeting called the Betting Table, where we review all the Pitches that have been written, and together decide which of those we should work on during the next cycle.
Simultaneously, Yarno’s dev team spends the cycle working on the Pitches that were decided on at the previous betting table. They figure out the best way to deliver the the Pitch, do the work required, test and deploy the new features or product changes. During the 2 week cooldown, the dev team ties up any loose ends, works on bug fixes or any non-cycle related projects, as well as being involved with Pitch review and the Betting Table for the following cycle. Is this how all software is built? No! Of course all software goes through a planning, prioritisation and deployment process, but what that process looks like differs quite a lot between companies. Some of the most commonly known frameworks are:
- Scrum, which features consecutive short (usually two week) “sprints” to achieve defined goals, with set meeting points throughout to plan, check-in, and review the work.
- Waterfall, which involves a lot of upfront planning and design, mapping out exactly what the end product will look like and all the steps to get there – and then carrying the steps out as planned.
Why does Yarno use this process?
A whole bunch of reasons! The Yarno product is a perpetual work-in-progress. One of our core values is 'Ever Forward', which means that we're constantly seeking improvement through iteration. Progress over perfection, always. We don't pick a process and stick to it come-what-may, but rather, we're constantly iterating and improving every aspect of our product and processes in the pursuit of improvement. In other words, we use this process because it is (currently) the best formula we have to continuously improve our product. More specifically, our current process:
- Allows us to iterate on ideas and progressively improve our product – but with slightly bigger projects than fit into a standard two week sprint
- Gives us time to review ideas and shape them into well defined ‘Pitches’, and engages stakeholders in the process for reviewing and prioritising what we work on
- And, being a small team with a variety of miscellaneous stuff coming our way, the cooldown period gives some time to recharge and get other things ticked off before we get back into major projects
We’re always tinkering with our process to try to make it work as best as it can for our team, so things will inevitably change! We find this process a really effective way for our team to work together – and ship features to help our customers achieve their goals. As product manager, its my job to push the product forward. And that's what the process does: it pushes the Yarno product ever forward, one product improvement at a time.