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How the Product Team Turns Your Ideas into Features


By Terri Harel

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Every project begins with an idea—a small gesture to mobilize the world for good. When Classy held its first pub crawl to raise money for the American Cancer Society, it was a small gesture. Ten years later, we’ve become a robust technology platform. It’s more than a stone’s throw from a few friends at a bar, but our product development reflects the same ethos. Here are a few things our product and design teams consider as they build out new features or products.

Tangible Stories

Every feature update begins with an idea, which we call a story. Each story represents a small improvement to the platform and, eventually, many stories together evolve into brand new features or major upgrades.

Consistent user feedback, customer support analytics, and cross-team ideation helps product managers determine web development priorities.

Here’s an example of a story we might write as we consider a new feature:

When I am fundraising and reach my goal, I want to be able to increase my goal, so that I can raise more funds for the cause I am supporting.

Writing these stories makes user requests and team ideas tangible because they set the stage for the what, how, and why of feature development. Once a feature is in development, regularly returning to the story helps teams assess whether the feature is correctly addressing the initial problem.

Priorities and Empathy

One of the biggest challenges as a product manager is prioritizing feature development. In an ideal world, we’d do everything. You’re probably familiar with your own lists of to-dos and wish-we-coulds. Doing everything isn’t realistic. The key to building a solid product is setting priorities, with features becoming more robust in stages. This moves the platform forward as a whole for a wide-range of organizations.

API Product Manager William Harris says of determining project priorities, “This is why we use many methods to listen to customers and learn from them. The UserVoice platform lets our customers recommend new features and we watch metrics to understand how org supporters interact with our public-facing products. Our Customer Support and Account Management teams record customer feedback and the challenges they face in the day-to-day of running an organization. All this information is funneled to product development in an effort to push the entire platform in the right direction.”

While we’d like to bring everything to fruition immediately, product development boils down to caring about customer needs and listening intently to build the highest-impact features first.

William adds, “I stay driven and motivated because I care a whole lot.”

That kind of empathy and drive to understand users is a characteristic we found across all our product managers. Jennipher Wilson, another product manager at Classy, describes good product management as a constant discovery process where the manager has deep customer empathy. She says, “First I try to learn, ‘What do our clients care about? What do they need to meet their goals and solve their biggest pain points?’”

What do our clients care about? What do they need to meet their goals and solve their biggest pain points?

Once the problem is clearly understood, the product and design teams work together to come up with a solution and validate if that solution can truly solve the challenge at hand.

Design + Product

Design plays a big role in product development. Like the product team, the design team is user-centric and heavily focused on aptly delivering features to users. If product builds the car that’s needed to get from point A to point B, design makes it a pleasure to get there.

While a lot goes into the design of product and features, Classy VP of Design, Joe Callahan, says that good product design is invisible to the user.

Good design is invisible…It removes complexities and simplifies the lives of our user.

“We design interfaces so our users can perform what they need to do in the simplest way. Design should not get in the way, rather, it removes complexities and simplifies the lives of our user,” he says.

Although products get officially released to the public, they face constant testing, feedback loops, and improvements over time. The product and design teams review and brainstorm feature concepts together, so that each team can provide their own unique expertise to a user story.

“There is no final product,” Joe adds, “we are constantly gathering user feedback, meeting, and iterating to improve the product to fit our user needs.”

This year will be particularly exciting at Classy, as we work towards many major upgrades and new features. We can’t wait to share these developments with you and, most importantly, hear your feedback, ideas, and see what creative use cases your organization comes up with.

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