Walk into First Opinion and the first thing you notice is a bright blue board that spans two walls where our engineering team, including myself, work. Labels such as “30,000 Feet”, “Creation”, and “Layers” organize the board into distinct columns filled with dozens of carefully placed sticky notes.
While this board may come off as superfluous – who really needs this level of organization? Can’t we just build new features as they come up? – this board is a representation of a product development methodology that has allowed our company extreme confidence in our product at every stage of development. I sat down with our Product Manager, Rachel Steed, to talk more about this process and how it drives our team.
So to get a little bit of background, how did you first get involved with Product Management and First Opinion?
RS: When we first started First Opinion, we launched a beta program and I reached out to each user after their conversations to get their feedback. I really got a strong sense for what our users liked and didn’t like. I started creating training for our doctors based on my observations of how our users wanted to be interacted with. The overwhelming response was that people were not comfortable asking all of their questions to their doctors when they went into the office, and I was convinced we were building an extremely useful product. I developed a strong opinion based on feedback from our users on what we should be building for them. So, this passion for building a product that people actually like and want to use is ultimately what got me involved with Product Management.
Why is First Opinion special to you? What do you see as the biggest impact of the product?
RS: I’ve seen how our doctors touch so many lives on our platform. Users always reach out letting us know how our product has helped them when they didn’t have any other resources providing that help. As a company, we have an incredible team with a culture where no idea is a bad idea. We’re touching so many lives in a unique way that no one has done before, and we are saving our customers’ tons of money and time by answering their health questions or validating their need for a visit to the doctor when necessary.
So, First Opinion has a product development process that I think is special. Tell me a little more about it.
RS: There are three general parts to our process. The first takes into account what our customers are showing interest in, and the second is something that I have worked hard to implement that I mentioned before and that is no idea is a bad idea. Finally, the last step is our process around validating ideas.
It’s very important to me that every team member feels encouraged to share their ideas in solving our problems. The benefit of involving each team member in our process allows me to tap into the skills of each member. By allowing anybody to bring ideas to the table, we can come up with better solutions. There’s always a better solution you may not have thought of. Having our engineers and designers involved in the why of what we are developing has been invaluable in building better products. It also really gets them excited and motivated about what they are building.
There are a lot of visuals — boards, notes, charts — around the office that seem to outline what we are doing at any point.
RS: I try to keep our process visual so that people really understand the steps that the product team is going through to validate ideas, and so they can see where in the process their idea is.
Nobody wants to just be building the highest paid person’s idea. If you don’t have a process outlined for how you validate ideas or how you are going to follow through on them, you develop a process that is based solely on who is the “smartest” person on the team. Truly, this doesn’t bring a lot of innovation to our product. The more people you have thinking about how to improve our product and solve our problems, the better.
The visual board also helps with another aspect of our development. When we thinking about what we’re building next, we always try to build an experience end to end for our user, so that we’re not just focusing on one tiny area of the app. Making our process visual shows us if we are putting too many resources into one area of our app and neglecting others. For example, if I had everything centered around logging in for the next 3 months, I would want to spread out a little more and push some of these tasks for later. This allows us to not just focus on building for the new user as there are also current users we need to take care of.
There’s also a big emphasis on user research at this company. A lot of companies especially smaller ones may not see the value in this. How does user research really impact and drive product development here?
RS: User research is hugely important to us here, we even have a person dedicated to that role, just so that we can gain better insights into what people want. We are doing something totally new and in order to come up with a product better than the current system, we have to understand what’s working for people and what’s not working for people and what their pain points are, and we just have to overall understand everything we can about the user.
What benefits are companies not doing this missing out on?
RS: We put a big emphasis on usability. We can sit here for 10 hours staring at our product, but eventually we are so familiar with it that we don’t notice problems that are there. Talking to someone with a fresh perspective is invaluable. I’d rather test tons of our ideas than spending 2 or 3 months building something and realizing that it’s not what our users wanted or there’s concerns that we didn’t see before.
So to summarize, what do you feel you do differently in terms of your user research and product development that you have seen the most positive impact with?
RS: Having a process that includes everybody, especially our users. We like to know as much as we can before we develop something. It’s a short term additional cost, but the long term benefits have been more than worth it.