Commitments to stakeholders fell through. Projects failed to get completed on time — and in some cases, ever. Trust between product managers and leadership began fading.
“We should have had four or five PMs at the time running distinct areas of our product,” said Kira Davis, a product manager at BombBomb. “We were grabbing at straws and working on projects as they came. We couldn’t get work done.”
This was in 2018 when Davis and another product manager oversaw BombBomb’s entire video email marketing platform, which includes integrations, mobile apps and a web app. Both PMs led teams of several developers and designers on a one-track product model, where the entire product and engineering team addressed one product or iteration at a time.
The one-track product approach worked well during BombBomb’s early startup days in 2016, VP of Product Michael Park said, but as the company, customers and product scaled, it was no longer effective. Instead of looking ahead to how BombBomb’s product could evolve, PMs were stuck reacting to a growing backlog of bugs and fixes.
That’s since all changed, Davis said.
In 2019, BombBomb scaled from one product track to seven and added a dedicated team and product manager to each to address process and product maturity constraints.
“We went from a team of general practitioners to specialists,” Park said. “It’s now a much better way for us to work.”
Davis, Park and their colleague Zack Faith, a product manager who joined BombBomb in mid-2019 as part of the restructuring, reflect on how they took a product function from one track to seven and how it’s paid off.
Defining the tracks
In early 2019, with Park at the helm, leadership first looked across the entire business to prioritize what areas justified its own track and began assigning projects, or what BombBomb refers to as “topics,” to each track.
The seven tracks they moved forward with include: team experience, browser experience, integration partners, mobile, video, web app, and money and growth. “These were established based on the business’s best interest at the time,” Park said, adding that these are subject to change as the company’s needs evolve.
Once BombBomb had its product tracks and relative topics established, Park and co. grew the product team from two to seven PMs and paired each track with a PM, UX designer and lead engineer, or what the team calls a “triad.”
While hiring for PMs, Park said they looked at candidates who could bring with them processes from larger organizations. For instance, Faith joined BombBomb from Chase, where he regularly used data to measure the efficacy of a product.
BombBomb also tried to align PMs with the track that best aligned with their experience.
“Zack worked at a bank, and now he’s the money and growth PM,” said Davis, who oversees the team experience track. “We did our best to match them with areas where they’d succeed.”
With the implementation of the new track approach, workloads became more evenly distributed amongst seven PMs. But the handoff to more PMs was one of the biggest challenges throughout the entire transition, Davis said.
While Davis and fellow PM Amanda Obringer did their best to meet with Faith and the other PMs as often as they could, much of the learning had to take place on the fly. Because so many projects called for such different knowledge bases, Davis said PMs had to make sure to over-communicate with tech leads and designers.
Faith said this actually played as a benefit to his team.
“Kira and Amanda put forth a concerted effort to give us enough information to be dangerous while leaving space for us to form our own opinions and best practices within our triads,” Faith said.
BombBomb’s seven triads follow the same two-week sprint cadence, quality standards — including standard testing processes and best practices — and leadership structure, but within the triads, Faith said they adopt their own working practices.
“Accounting works like this,” Faith said. “If you have someone specializing in taxes and compare that to someone in valuations, they have a completely different work style. The same thing applies to our PM who leads our mobile track versus what I do.”
As the seven triads began settling into their team workflows and product topics, Park said he intentionally kept them working separately for about six months. “There had to be a little bit of self-mastery before we could talk about what we could accomplish together,” Park said.
Once the triads started operating succinctly and confidently, Park established “product council” where the seven PMs could determine what is worth building and conduct an “audit of thinking” together.
Keeping all PMs apprised of product priorities has helped distribute work evenly across the seven triads, even if the work overlaps triads, Park said.
“A triad that has two topics back to back could work on it concurrently, but it would take so much longer,” Park said. “Now we can pull in another triad to help support that topic if the business demand outweighs what they are currently working on.”
Another benefit, Davis said, is BombBomb’s product team’s ability to slow down to run tests and measurements that inform future iterations — or, in other words, be more proactive than reactive.
“It’s a whole different world from where we were operating before,” Davis said. “A year ago, we didn’t have the time to sit down and conduct customer interviews. Now we do.”