The Product Role in a Start-up: 5 Key Lessons

3 March 2020
4 min read
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It’s been a few months since I started my new role at Novorésumé, a fast-growing start-up in the career services sector with more than 3 million users worldwide. As a product owner, I focus on business impact and growth, and I manage the backlog for most projects. 

I went through an intensive period of learning, getting familiar with the setup and with all the tasks required to help the company grow, increase the user base, and go-live in a timely manner without putting pressure on the development team. 

Now, as a start-up, all the lessons I read about on Product Management Today or Mind the Product sound good, but they are way harder to implement when we have a development team with less than five people. 

With that in mind, here are five lessons I think are worth sharing:

1. Product is Hard

User stories, poker planning, epics, T-shirt sizes are concepts we all heard of from the SCRUM courses, but in practice, prioritizing and deciding what the focus for the next month should be is not easy. 

In product development, one should have a holistic approach, and understand how each update will impact the users, bring value to the business and create an effective process moving forward.

Technical debt and debugs will be topics of discussion more often than you think, and you will become the arbitrator at the crossroad of all departments/squads when deciding what is next. Get ready! 

2. Find the Right Tool for Project Management

Project management is a crucial part (I) of product development. When you are part of a start-up, and roles are cross-departmental, you need to understand the value of transparency.

That being said, the projects and tasks happening now, tomorrow or next month should be updated and shared openly. 

There’s no ‘one-design-fits-all’, but I was satisfied by the ‘Next-Gen’ version of Jira. The next-gen version’s design is minimalistic, has Kanban, SCRUM, and can be used by all members of the team for cross-departmental projects.

For a small team working in squads, the tool fits us well.

3. Learn to Navigate the Product Backlog

Tackling the organizational structure is the other crucial part (II) of working in product.

The next update needs to make sense business-wise, but should also be a feature prioritized in the backlog and ready to be tackled during the next sprint by the development team.

A key learning for me has been focusing on user feedback while still being smart about our use of resources.

Yes, it is not easy. In the last months, I understood yet again that communication is vital, and no significant feature is too big if we spend the necessary time to write the user stories needed to put it in the backlog. 

4. Adopt a Growth mindset: Use experimentation

While focusing on the product updates we plan to finish within each quarter, we also need to see what other ideas we can test so we can innovate. For this reason, we build an experimentation framework focused on the key areas we want to examine. 

What is an experimentation framework?

The answer: a structured approach to using experiments to validate business ideas. It is as easy as that. Well, not ‘as easy’ when you implement experiments, but there is no secret ingredient either.

Logic and planning will dictate the framework and push the goals that make the most sense for the business.

5. Structure Your Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) 

A framework shared in the 80’ to ‘define and track objectives and their outcomes’. And made famous by Google, when the company shared it helped them ‘grow 10x times, many times over’.

Setting up the stage with objectives and key results quarterly is challenging, but keep in mind that not everything needs to be a key result, the objectives should still be part of the strategic focus. At the same time, OKRs are a framework for the deployment of that strategy. 

OKRs are a way to align your strategy, rather than cascade.

Focus not on the top-down view but on the key results that can be measurable on a team level and can impact the plan overall, by showing at the end of a specific timeline that X was achieved, or Y couldn’t be achieved due to a, b, c reasons. 

The key lessons I shared are a small part of everyday life in a start-up. We interact, discuss, and create opportunities for development every week.

We aim to create an excellent experience for our 3+ million users. Join us on this exciting journey! 

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