How to develop products that build customer satisfaction and loyalty--Brivo SystemsDelivering products that customers love presents the same challenges, no matter if the product is a durable consumer good sold in stores or Software as a Service (SaaS) product like Brivo OnAir. The industry in question doesn’t necessarily matter, David Kunz, SaaS Product Manager at Brivo, tells me. “What matters is understanding what problem I am solving and who I am solving it for.”

 

“There are differences in physical value, of course, but not so much with the actual approach. As product managers, we’re always asking, ‘What do customers need or want? What does the market need? And, how does the solution we provide solve their problem and/or meet demand?’ With SaaS products, our ideas start with a whiteboard and end up being code and a UI.”

If answering those questions were the only job responsibility of product managers, they’d be kept extremely busy. “I’m constantly receiving emails and phone calls from customers, which is great,” says David. “I like having that direct contact with customers. It helps me keep the pulse on our solution.”

But that isn’t the entire scope of what a product manager does or is. In many ways, they serve as the hubs of the company. Product managers keep information flowing between different stakeholders and audiences, all with the goal of building a product that meets customer expectations and aligns with the brand’s product roadmap. “Stakeholders are external and internal. Internally, I speak with the marketing team, business development, support, sales and product development.

“I’m also in constant contact with our senior management team. They care about the details and will gladly dig into them, but what they really need is the high-level information that shows alignment. So I take care of the details and report to them what they need to know. In some ways, I’m the CEO of the product.

“External refers to existing customers. But it also includes that imaginary, potential group of customers. I’m always talking with both parties whenever possible and reviewing market research data.”

Basically, product managers have to know their products, be it a physical object or piece of software, inside and out. David nods when I say this. He replies, “Exactly. I have to be able to talk with developers and end users. They’re different audiences and want different information. It’s a challenge, but I love it.”

When it comes to building future versions of the product, such as Brivo OnAir, David says it’s important to guide the conversation. “I can’t just go into a room and ask ‘What do you want?’ It’s too open-ended. I usually enter with a specific question.

“For example, I might ask, ‘What bugs you most about the current version?’ Other times I ask, ‘What’s the one thing you’re still doing manually that you’d like to see Brivo OnAir do?’ Most of the time, customers have answers to those questions—and a lot of the time, they follow up with me later: ‘I have something I’d like to add to my list of requests.’

“It’s a perfect feedback loop, actually. I have this nonstop flow of information. The challenge is combining requests with market analysis and then prioritizing features. I have over a thousand items in my backlog right now. I have to look at them and decide where we should spend time first.”

Prioritization occurs through clear strategy and product roadmap. “You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there,” says David. “Once we create that vision, it’s time to start implementing that vision. Most companies use either an agile or waterfall approach.

“With waterfall, you write out the plan—it can be at least 100 pages and be something like a dissertation—hand it off to the development team, and they’ll execute. Sometimes over months or even a year.

“It’s an approach more often found with companies that have been around for a long time or just have that ‘traditional corporate’ feel. The issue is that today’s market changes so quickly that a waterfall approach can have a hard time keeping up with changing requirements.

“With agile, you’re reviewing the strategy and roadmap every quarter. At Brivo, we do things in two-week increments. I ask the development team to work on a small iteration that builds toward the larger strategy and product plan.

“At the end of the two weeks, I come back, and we talk about the work. ‘Does this iteration accomplish what it’s supposed to?’ Sometimes it does, and we move into the next stage of iteration. Other times, we pause. I have new information to share, either from customer feedback or competitive market analysis.

“That data can mean scrapping the current iteration or pivoting, to borrow a word from Steve, it into something else. It’s a big task, and the hurdles are many. It isn’t easy to manage time or to keep communication channels open and flowing smoothly, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Product management in an agile environment is just the best way I’ve found to meet company objectives and deliver great products to customers.”

Thank you for your time, David! We enjoyed the conversation.

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