03/02/2011

By Gavin Littlejohn, CEO, The One Place Capital

I have learned about Product Management the hard way. Not fully understanding market requirements, failure to focus on the customer, secrecy in development, feature creep, poor listening skills, no version control and not taking action on feedback were all things I would associate with my own earliest forays into the world of technology entrepreneurship.

In Money Dashboard, we were lucky enough to find a Managing Director - George Hall - with formal training in the Product Management discipline in big IT companies. I had put myself on a private Product Management course, paid up some hard cash, stayed behind with my apple like the teacher's pet and managed to convince the teacher to invest in our business and take the reins. Happy days.
The first part to understand is that Product Management is a marketing discipline, not a development discipline. It is the marketing function that ultimately does the research, understands the user needs, figures out what pain the customer is experiencing, defines the market requirements of the solution, explores the competitive landscape, designs the prototypes and does the focus groups.

In Money Dashboard we really wanted to help consumers - who are not necessarily financially sophisticated - to manage their money. These potential users will be from different backgrounds, will have wide ranging levels of financial literacy and are at different stages in life's financial journey. For example, a recent ex-student might be struggling with debt as they try to establish their career. Fast forward ten or fifteen years and they will likely have a job, perhaps a family, a mortgage and may be contemplating investments. A product that is entirely investment orientated would have a rather narrow audience, and one that is quite well served by professional advice.

The Product Management evaluation process led us to chop up the product roadmap, scale back the ambitions of the launch feature list and initially provide a service that helps people with their household budgets, which appeals to a wider audience. From that platform of wider appeal, we can build out to provide more segment specific tools and services, but build it with our user, rather than in isolation.

We built initial prototypes to take out to focus groups and conducted a conversation with sections of our intended market. The early prototype went through specialised external focus groups that also provided eye tracking and structured feedback. Following extensive 3rd party security and penetration testing, the ‘Alpha' version of the product went out to a closed ‘invite only' audience, bringing in groups of 20 per week. The product had its basic layout endorsed, but was flaky and had some technical glitches to iron out. We introduced a ‘closed Beta' a few weeks later to get the next version to a wider audience.

At TechCrunch in May 2010, we announced the ‘Open Beta,' and let the public play with the Money Dashboard application. We received a mixed reception for the execution. Some Beta users were unfamiliar with the type of Rich Internet Application design we had chosen to allow the use of dynamic graphs and charts, commenting that they preferring the traditional static website they were more familiar with. Other users raved about the design and direction of travel, but were still pointing out where we could improve our quality and consistency. The key point - all were keen to see a working product in the market. If the feedback says "This idea sucks" or "I don't need a product that does this because I already use..." you are in trouble. But when you get feedback saying "I wish it was more like..." or "I wish it could also do..." you know you are winning, provided you have the Product Management processes to really listen, not pay lip service, and to make changes on the feedback.

At the bottom of the application we put our feedback form, asking our Users to make comments. This was, and remains, the most valuable part of the application from the Company's perspective.

Yesterday we launched www.moneydashboard.com - What is the difference now that we are out of Beta? Well, it is finally a launch quality product that has addressed the feedback from the Beta. Is it perfect? No - but it is a very useful product that addresses the initial budgeting needs of a wide market of up to 25m UK internet bank users. We have had feedback from thousands of current Users who want to see it succeed, who are grateful that we really listen and change accordingly. We are increasingly satisfying them with our attention to detail. We know this because the tone of the feedback is increasingly complimentary rather than critical and the interaction on our forum is positive. Users are now advocating that their friends use Money Dashboard.

But that's why Product Management is King. Commitment to the process removes the guess work and provides the little insights; the little bits of attention to detail that will really delight the market rather than merely doing the bare minimum.


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