How Product Ops Creates a Thriving Product Org
with Dashlane's CPO
Guilds by FirstMark / 01.12.22
Guilds by FirstMark / 01.12.22
Derek Snyder serves as Chief Product Officer at Dashlane. With over 15 years of experience at companies such as Microsoft, Skype, Getty Images, and TrackMaven – Derek has led teams of all shapes and sizes across B2B and B2C, with a variety of business models including e-commerce, SaaS, and direct-to-consumer apps. At Dashlane, Derek’s goal is to solve problems for customers by recruiting, developing, and empowering great people who learn by shipping and are committed to getting things done.
When building Product at an early-stage company, it’s extremely easy to make “gut-driven” decisions based on spur-of-the-moment sales calls or in reaction to competitors. However, as a company scales, it becomes difficult to rally entire teams around these types of decisions.
A mature Product organization makes decisions based on data, customer insights, and the company’s overall vision––information that is clear and resonates with your team. Derek created the Product Operations function at Dashlane to help bring the vision of a mature, data-driven Product organization to life.
Before creating the Product Operations function, there wasn’t a single source of truth for the roadmap, so the team relied on top-down instructions for guidance. Product managers weren’t equipped with the data or strategic knowledge to make their own decisions. This dynamic created a culture of delivery-first, where product managers were focused more on completing tasks, than helping the company grow.
The Product Operations team helped rally everyone in the Product organization around frameworks and processes that oriented the team on outcomes, rather than output, posing questions like “How do we actually move the needle on things that impact the business and our customers?”
The goal of the Product Operations team was to help create a thriving culture that relied on five vectors:
Data and Insights: Understanding Customers
In an immature Product Organization, decisions are made through intuition. There aren’t systematic avenues for collecting customer feedback and data. Or maybe, the organization does collect feature requests, but they’re only taken at face value because there’s no method to analyze feedback.
In a thriving Product culture, teams are constantly learning and seeking to understand customers. The Product organization captures user feedback from all possible sources, uncovering needs and opportunities. The team performs continuous product discovery, working closely with data and analytics. By working closely with data and analytics, you eventually not only uncover what the feedback is, but why it matters and how to use it. There doesn’t need to be a major research or data analytics effort to ship something because the research and data is embedded into the organization. And perhaps most importantly, the whole company knows where and how to access customer insights and data to see how it has informed Product decisions. By making it easy for the company to access data, Product analysts are freed from the responsibility of answering “what” questions, like “How many people use the VPN?” Instead, anyone can find that information, and analysts are empowered to answer longer-term strategic questions.
To tactically move the needle on data and analytics, the Product Operations team implemented Productboard, which is the customer-facing portal Dashlane now uses to collect customer feedback. Productboard also integrates with Zendesk and Jira so you can triage and pull together feedback from multiple sources. The Product Operations team also formed an Insights specific cross-functional team focused on analytics, research, and customer support in order to speed up the cycle between generating questions and answers.
Strategy and Prioritization: Aligning On a North Star
Aligning your entire Product organization around a North Star is a daunting task, but well worth the effort. Consumer businesses, in particular, often get stuck in short-term thinking, such as focusing on the next campaign that will drive incremental demand, instead of prioritizing the product direction and strategy.
When you are aligned around a North Star, you are able to position your team to think long-term. It was the Product Operations team’s task to help the overall organization develop its North Star, as well as tie the high-level product strategy to specific objectives and business outcomes.
The process of developing a North Star took about three months. The team focused on answering the following questions posed by the Production Operations team:
These questions seem basic, but that analysis had never happened on the company level because teams were often so focused on their own piece of the product.
Next, the team spent time translating their North Star into tangible team priorities. Clearly outline what teams will and will not prioritize, so that teams can always point initiatives to a priority or dismiss an initiative because it points to something the team agreed to not focus on.
Planning and Roadmapping: Becoming Outcome-led
There are five stages of a roadmap maturity:
The ultimate goal of your product roadmap is to create a single source of truth that everyone has access to in order to align the company around goals that clearly impact the business. At Dashlane, the Product Operations function set up a roadmapping tool in Productboard that made it very easy to list initiatives underneath high-level objectives and create understanding around each team’s work. Creating this single source of truth breaks down ownership silos because it enables you to share plans across teams. Dashlane has paired programming where product managers can share learnings and feedback with each other, aligned by the context of the roadmap.
Collaboration and Autonomy: Empowering Product Teams
There a few key characteristics to have in order to have effective product teams:
When a Product team’s OKRs aren’t clear, leaders often have to step in to make decisions. Product teams then become much more focused on delivery and output, rather than strategy.
The Product Organization function at Dashlane instituted regularly scheduled portfolio reviews to align product leaders and managers. The organization has a shared calendar where everyone can see when the meetings are scheduled. Portfolio reviews helped teams understand what problems the organization needs to solve, how those problems are tied to the overall business strategy, how teams should think about cross-functional collaboration, and who is responsible for accomplishing which goals. By taking the time to hold portfolio reviews and create forums for discussion, Product teams had more autonomy to make their own decisions. When Product teams are given autonomy and accountability to designated goals, they’re much more proactive. Otherwise, they don’t have the context and tools they need to seek opportunities.
Tools and Processes: Create the Playbook
A simple, but powerful way to improve how teams work together is by implementing clear frameworks and tools for members to follow. Before instituting the Product Operations function, it was difficult to onboard new members of the Dashlane Product organization. It wasn’t clear where documents lived, how tools were used, or how members interfaced with each other. Creating documentation and consistency around tools and processes created mobility within the organization and made it easier for teams to collaborate with each other because they were all using the same operating principles. Now, whenever a new team member joins, they are fully trained on what tools the team uses for roadmapping, prototyping, documentation, etc.