Defining Your Early-Stage Product Development Process

Andy Jones is currently Head of Product at Passfort, (at the time of filming, he was Head of Product at Local Heroes). Andy started off as a licensed engineer working on industrial power tools, designing them from scratch, 3D machining the parts, and building the prototype.

What tips would you give to a product person building something from scratch?

It’s very challenging to build stuff, so make sure it’s something worth building. Setting up Local Heroes, we’ve spent a minimum of three or four weeks solid with at least 20 plus users with prototypes. This involves checking what problem we’re solving, who for, and what are the alternatives. From here you get a good view on what people are looking for. I start to build something quick, keeping it simple, and getting it on the market, what people say and what people do are completely different things, so having a live product is really helpful.

How do you use data?

Data is an interesting one, over the last few years everyone says, “are you data driven?” I think data is important to make informed decisions, but it should be enough data to make a decision, and not so much that you’re paralyzed. I remember discussions over the last year or so where, for example, if you’re in a house that’s on fire, you wouldn’t see any reason to take the temperature, all you need is enough data to make the right decision, and testing doesn’t come for free. So what I’ve always done A/B testing, multivariate testing, but I don’t feel the need to test everything.

If it’s a kind of simple change that’s likely to be positive, you don’t need to test it, however if it’s a novel or could be potentially a big plus or a big negative, then that’s worth instrumenting and testing. I believe it’s important that you don’t have to measure everything and just have enough data to make an informed decision.

How do you decide what to build or change when you have little to no users?

I think there are two or three parts to that, after we had a live product in market we did a few things. One was user testing, which seemed to never stop, every two weeks we would be testing with users saying, “here’s the next feature, what could we add, what could we remove?”

We also did screen capture, with it being a web-based service, we used mass flow, Lucky Orange. You can actually capture live sessions and you can see what people are doing, they go through a flow, some parts are simple. When you see a pattern, like people are stopping here or there, it gives you an idea about pain points or issues that need addressing.

Another one was in-app surveys, being able to pop on a few questions and say, “we’re thinking of doing this, thumbs up thumbs down, so you quickly get direction; love this, or hate that feeling different so that was a third mechanic for helping us decide what to do next.

How do you do user testing?

So our steady state testing now is once a month, for a whole day, we’ve got two sides for the app. Ones the homeowner ones the trader and we get six people in, a target demographic. We’ve got a room setup, we record the session and there’s always new topics its face to face the product guy for each part of the business does the user test and it’s quite hard work so really valuable but to actually come up with this stimulus the prototypes to come up with the questions and to write the notes afterwards it’s quite tough but that’s our format for user testing. You have to be cautious as well not to influence it so there’s a technique to use testing but I’m a big believer in the product person that owns product doing or at least being involved in asking the questions and interacting with the users.

What are the most important values in a product team?

I think for my teams you’ve got core skills or obsessions like “know the customer” whenever the team wants to know what the customer want or value most you should know because you have spent so much time with them. Know the competition because ultimately that’s you’re trying to beat. Empathy, when I meet product people it’s now empathy, what’s it like to get inside the end user, what are they thinking when they feeling so for example if you go for a cup of coffee thinking this is a cool place, independent coffee shop, it’s what makes it cool so firstly there is empathy and then it’s the 500 things, the height of the table, paper use for the cup, the music, etc.

There’s some important product skills and I think it tells of values it would be opinion, everyone’s going to have an opinion if you don’t have an opinion you don’t care and you’re doing the wrong thing, this is very different to decision, decisions is made by whoever has best placed the demand expect to make the decision based on listening, and I think finally may be respectful challenge is something I’ve been pushing whereby if I throw an opinion you should care and you should say it there’s a better way, but it’s important to do it in a respectful way just to retain influence and get your point across if it’s to a motive, it gets in the way of the thing you’re trying to communicate.

What do you look for in a Product Manager role?

In terms of looking at new roles there’s lots of opportunity in product, especially in London lots of start-ups lots of tech so the key questions for me are the external interview is quite tough and you shouldn’t turn up unless you’re prepped, so in terms of a new role for me it would be “is it a problem worth solving” when you look at something and think that is a worthwhile thing to be working on.

Next up it would be is it something I’m proud of. If you meet someone and they say what do you do, I need to be able to show them I do this, and even better, if you’ve heard about it because it’s the best in its space. The third thing is delightful people, because if you’re with likeminded people it’s a good buzz, it doesn’t feel like work and you just click. So to summarise, I believe the main components are a problem worth solving, something I can be proud of and working with a great bunch of people who have a similar mind-set.

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About Andy:

“I spent one year developing a tool that no one wanted, which was a bit heart-breaking. These were tools used on assembly lines for the production of vehicles, washing machines, gadget coffee machines, etc. However, it turned out the product guy hadn’t spoken to many users, failing to benchmark the competition and specified something that no one actually wanted.

This made me believe that if I stepped into that role I can talk to the users, benchmark the competition and write a spec for a product that people really want to buy. Beyond the power tools, I probably spent three years doing that, travelling the world doing industrial power tool specs, electronic pneumatic, and one thing I learned is that the principles for products are always the same, who’s the customer, what’s the problem and what are the alternatives.

I’ve always been into technology, owning a PC since I was about eight or nine years old. I loved coding and visual basic, so I went into desktop software for Vizio, however after being bought by tech giant Microsoft I knew it wasn’t for me, meaning it was time to turn on to the next thing. I found every two or three years that it’s not necessarily the category, such as green tech, software or consumer, but more a problem with solving that gets my attention and I really feel passionate about and want to work on.”

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