Product Prioritization Skills with Banjo’s Former PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Matt Bariletti, Product Manager at Banjo, to talk about Product Prioritization!

Meet Matt Bariletti

Matt Bariletti builds and designs products that focus on delightful user experience for clients and customers at scale. He always puts the user first when delivering features that will lead to a world-class experience. At Banjo, Matt was the end-to-end product owner for the platform used by media customers and top journalism universities. He also led a development team of 14 in an agile scrum environment.

matt-bariletti-product-school-managementHis experience lies in product management, feature development, prototype and interactive design, team leadership, consumer-facing mobile and web products, graphic design, product development processes, A/B testing, and more! Before joining the team at Banjo, he was a Product Manager at Declara and a Community Manager at Google.

The Product Management Career

What is your day to day like?

Really it changes based on the day and where the feature/product is at. I usually get in around 8 am (after CrossFit) which allows me to create a list of tasks for that day and time to write a PRD or work on mocks.

Scrums are at 10 am and then it’s working with the team to see where we are at with the current build, when can I test it, scheduling etc. I eat at my desk… I know, not the best.

Then in the afternoon, it’s meetings about new features or roadmap planning. I usually get an hour or two in the afternoon to work on mocks or creating prototyping. Then, begin planning the next day and tasks. Usually, leave around 8 pm. Aw the startup life!

What are your biggest challenges? What would you do differently in your previous role as Product Manager? What was your biggest failure and how did you handle it?

Well my biggest challenge now is getting another PM job! lol. But as a Product Manager, the biggest challenge for me was learning how to say no. You will not always be liked as the PM cause the buck stops with you. You need to be able to support why you did or didn’t do something to engineers, customers, the CEO – and that can be challenging.

The biggest failure I had was making an assumption about what a customer would want. I gave them some elaborate customization options for a visualization which they didn’t have the time to use. So I quickly made a solution by offering templates sooner in the process and pushing out ASAP. Wasn’t my proudest moment, but you learn fast and make an adjustment – that’s a huge lesson for a PM.

How are skills that a Product Manager requires different from that of a Program Manager?

There is a lot of overlap and oftentimes people don’t know the difference between the two. Prioritization and being able to speak to engineers, customer success, the CEO etc. about why creating feature X and Y were important and why feature Z will need to be done in two phases.

Overall communication (I know… lame) is a big one as this role will require you to talk to every component at your company, so being able to simplify the problem and how you’re going to solve it is key. Those are the first two that came to mind.

How many hours per week do you spend actually talking directly to potential users regarding their needs?

My unique case is a bit unusual, but the overall answer is not enough. If it were an ideal world, I would spend time each day either visiting with a customer, doing a video call, or sitting in on a call with the customer success team.

Do you think being on a PM position, you’ll always be under high pressure, chasing after people, etc? With more experience, will you reach a more “peaceful” period at the job?

Haha. With more experience comes more responsibility, which doesn’t always equate to being under less pressure. I think just the things you do and oversight you obtain with more experience kinda ups the bar at your job.

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Product Management Prioritization

How do you handle prioritization? Any tips or rule of thumbs?

I use a JIRA board and will create tickets and work with QA to put together a list of issues that are in the backlog to be fixed. The ways I handle it is the impact. I don’t have any patience for bugs, so if something comes up I will always put that before a new feature.

I am not afraid of a hotfix either. Not on a Friday however. I will work with the customer success team to make sure we are all in agreement about the prioritization of issues and have regular meetings with them to confirm that the list of issues is good or if it needs to be adjusted. This list always changes and sometimes new things come up that take priority over everything. So it really is keeping tabs on the list and treating it as a living breathing creature instead of a shopping list – if that makes sense.

Are there any methods you use for prioritization of the feedback/feature roadmapping?

A JIRA board has proven the most helpful so you can prioritize bugs, new features, and improvements all in one place so they aren’t scattered across the place. Challenging part about that is getting the CSM team access to JIRA as some organizations want to keep that just in the engineer’s hands.

What are the different approaches or methods to link the commercial expectation (per se, double the revenue) to one or more prioritized user problems?

Great question. This one comes along when you really understand the issues you are trying to solve. I will think through what the main KPI I am attempting to solve and then a bunch of user stories that I think will address this KPI.

It’s through the creation of these user problems, mocks, and prototyping that you begin to realize that some of them aren’t as impactful as you thought – it’s then about shifting to the ones that have a better shot and getting those into production and measuring results.

Do you find yourself cutting the scope for a release? Or not including all bug fixes?

I will oftentimes lead with bug fixes. For the scope of a release, I will hold things back if I’m not one hundred confident. If there are a few issues or stuff that is replicable some of the time, I will hold things back.

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Product Management Skills

How can we improve our skills in Product Management? And what sources do you recommend for it?

A few things that I do to improve my skills is honestly reading job descriptions – even if you aren’t looking for a job, look to see what new skills those roles are hiring for. And then look for ways to attain those skills in your current job. Or it could be that your role doesn’t require SQL, for instance, but you can take an online course to learn how to become proficient (I’m doing this one now!).

I also like to improve the efficiency of everything I do. Is my PRD too long – what parts could I have removed? Does the spec need to include all these different components or perhaps be more simplified? I ask myself these questions all the time.

How do you estimate products? Are story points enough or do you need hour estimates? Do you relate sizes to estimates? Any smart practices?

In one of my companies, it constantly had to be hammered into the engineers what 1 point equaled… not a big fan of that method honestly.

This one starts with relationship building. I heard that you should know some engineering so you know when engineers are bullshitting you. That is true in a way – but I think it goes to having a team around you that also will be honest about the work required for something. So when I’m developing a new feature/platform etc, I will review with my engineer leads the concept and get their thoughts. They will let me know the roadblocks or things that will be challenging.

When I write the spec after this review with the engineer leads it is shared (along with mocks) with the entire engineering team for them to ask questions. We will use Google Docs so the comments can be documented and tracked. It will not be until everyone has signed off on reading it that we will do a kickoff.

I want to review this with them before the other engineers because I want to make sure what I bring to the kickoff and related meetings can be accomplished. I will lean on the engineer leads confirming the amount of work required for each component of the thing I am having the team build. So Johnny engineer will estimate 2 days and the eng lead will tell Johnny “it looks more like 3”. I always tell them to add extra time cause that is the best practice.

What tool do you use to capture customer feedback and insights?

I take very rigorous notes during feedback/training sessions with customers in Google Docs for the most part. I will then synthesize my notes after the sessions are done to compile the biggest learnings. I am big on note-taking.

What tools do you recommend for rapid prototyping?

The best rapid prototyping app is pen and paper. It’ll be hard to beat that one. I often times start with doing wireframes that way and then moving into Sketch.

Once you have some solid visuals for an onboarding flow, for instance, InvisionApp is wonderful. It has a whole bunch of features and allows you to create prototypes with hot spots so the user can click these to navigate through your “mocks”. It is a very convincing and sexy application. It also has the ability to be used to demonstrate mobile prototypes too. Check it out.

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How do you motivate your team to pull up the deadlines with quality results without been a dictator? How you recognize strong team members of benchwarmers?

Don’t be afraid that sometimes you will need to be a dictator. And as I was writing that last sentence I was kinda cringing cause it is sometimes necessary. Like I had said in an earlier answer, sometimes you won’t always be liked or agreed with 100% of the time.

I like to remember that the team would rather have me giving someone a hard time about underestimating the development of something than the CEO. Remember that.

I have a great relationship with the engineers that it just takes time. I bring them in cookies and doughnuts to celebrate a release or sometimes just cause its Friday! I never stop being appreciative of them cause we need each other.

I always check in to see how things are going, get their buy-in when designing a product/feature and being available to answer questions. This is huge.

When Banjo launched a new product, did they A/B test during, after, or at both of the development stages? Which tool do you use? 

At Banjo, our A/B testing is done during both development stages. And sometimes it adjusts depending on the feature and show it is intended for.

I try to do more of the A/B testing using mocks and invision for instance – and show those to customers because they do not require any engineering work. So check out InvisionApp as I adore them. It is very complex and you can quickly create prototypes.

Since the InvisionApp provides prototype only, do you use volunteers to test it out?

Either I or someone on the customer success team will test different versions of the prototype out on customers. At Banjo (and I’m sure at most startups) I’m always pushing for more A/B testing once it is in production, but the way we have created the backend, we can have different customers on different versions of the platform and then will watch for behavior before pushing to all customers.

How do you keep a record of the lessons learned when you are building a large product increment so that you can improve the next iteration? Can you recommend a format or method? 

I keep a lot of notes – usually in either Trello or Google Docs so I can organize my thoughts after the debrief and when I am working on testing the feature. I don’t tend to forget the mess ups I had in the previous sprint. I would recommend a few things and you can try them out and see what sticks.

I would create a document that you write notes about your accomplishments and learnings. Put a calendar invite on Fridays at 3 pm or something as a reminder to update this doc. This helps two-fold because you will be able to document all the things you did during that week (things that work and things that didn’t). Also, it will help you write a great resume when the time comes for you to move on. So try doing that and let me know what you think!

How do you deal with internal team conflicts for product development?

I do not like conflict and when I hear about something… I like to get all those people in a meeting ASAP. It sometimes will need to be done right before scrum or often times right after. I don’t think things lingering with speculation is great.

Are there any resources which you would recommend for converting projects into a portfolio, especially for systems design and experience? 

I would raise this one to the group cause I’m sure there are better ways than how I am currently doing this. Being that I also do all the designs I have saved these into a Google folder with a main Google Doc page with an explanation about the projects with the necessary links. Then, if I am speaking to someone who wants to see a mobile app, I design a template or document that I will share with them.

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Breaking Into Product Management

How do you approach a design question in an interview?

I would review the study guide for the Facebook product interview called Product Sense. It really is a formula and if it is followed, you really can’t go wrong.

First, you want to confirm that you understand the problem, think through the users who experience that problem and what is their few pain points around that. Then focus on the biggest problem to really deep dive into that problem coming away with some concepts to solve for those users.

Practice, practice, practice is the best for this. Work on problems like a) Create an app for users to find the best coffee b) an app for recreational sports c) app for artists to sell their work. By just working through problems like this you’ll get into a pattern of how to answer any type of design challenge you are given!

What entry-level resources (tools, books, projects) would you suggest so that I can acquire UX skills?

The way I really learned how to do product was by shadowing and learning from the product team. How to write user stories, creating personas, doing user testing etc. It is really through this that helped me out the most. Product School has a great series of podcasts on their lectures that is very helpful.

A few products that will help you out big time are: Sketch, InvisionApp, Trello. Those three are great things to have in your arsenal whether it be doing wireframes or creating a prototype. Trello is helpful when organizing your thoughts in a more visual way.

What is your recommendation on training for a new Product Manager? What would you read, what online or in person training would you recommend?

I think a good first step is just immersing yourself into new technology whether that be listening to podcasts or reading the various books about Product Management.

I learned by honestly just attending scrums, shadowing the product team and asking a lot of questions. Recode/Decode is also an amazing podcast to check out!

What traits do you look for in potential product manager candidate?

What a wonderful question. Some of the traits that I think are essential are: a passion for the company/product, curiosity, grit, even temperament and patience.

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