Inbox Revealed - How We Make Product a Company Effort
by Nick Austin on

My previous post described our product pipeline at a high level. In this post i’ll focus on the first stage of the pipeline - the Inbox - and how we use Asana to initiate company-wide conversations about improvements to our products.

As stated previously, the Inbox is where features / enhancements / ideas for the product are born. Anyone at AppNeta can propose, comment on, and support these items. The Inbox is an open discussion forum that is moderated by our product  team.

The goal of the Inbox is to create a space where anyone can quickly and easily get their ideas on the table, and promote some conversation. Not everything added to the Inbox will necessarily progress to the Backlog; some ideas may overlap other planned work, some may not be aligned with our strategic direction, and some may not even be feasible. But everything is considered and discussed, and anything we plan to work on is moved to the Backlog or incorporated into an existing Backlog item.

Full Stack Application Insight

How we use Asana to realize the Inbox

As a starting point, we have a single Organization in Asana (with a single Workspace), which contains separate Teams - e.g. Engineering, Sales, Marketing, etc.

From there we created a “Product Pipeline” Team, and made it public to everyone in the Organization (note: a Premium Organization, i.e. paid account, is required to set these public permissions). Within the “Product Pipeline” Team we created a separate Project for each stage of the pipeline. Tasks are then added to the “Inbox” project for each idea:

Full Stack Application Insight

Anyone in the company is able to add their ideas to the Inbox, show their support for existing ideas (by ‘heart-ing’ them), and join the conversation for a particular idea. Here is an example that demonstrates each of these:

Full Stack Application Insight

This particular idea was ultimately rolled into the requirements for an upcoming feature, but is a good example of how the Inbox can be used to promote effective cross-team collaboration: our Customer Care team had a need that was addressed by a short-term workaround proposed by Engineering, and more holistically when Product Management amended upcoming feature requirements to incorporated the idea.

All without emails, meetings, or disruptive conversations.

How it’s working for us so far

At the time of writing, we have been using this system for a little over 9 months. There have been varying rates of adoption across the company, but we are starting to see active engagement with most areas of the business. Some examples of ideas we have seen to date:

  • Product enhancements and feature requests from customers during demonstrations and trials, via Sales Engineers.
  • Improvements to reliability and supportability championed by Technical Support and Operations.
  • Better integration between our products and CRM tools/services we use, proposed by Marketing.
  • Technical debt reduction and scalability initiatives driven from Engineering.

More and more often we are capturing great ideas which likely would have slipped through the cracks previously. There are many examples where timely cross-team feedback has helped us deliver more value to our customers.

What we still need to do to get more value

In short, we need more people to join the conversation in the Inbox (and Backlog). We can achieve this by:

  • Resisting the temptation to email someone with a product idea or question. Instead we should add it to the Inbox, tagging the appropriate people as followers.
  • Ensure our conversations regarding product ideas take place (or at least, are reflected in) the Inbox, rather than only in meetings and one on one discussions.
  • More people adding themselves as followers of the Inbox project, so they will receive notifications for everything created/updated there.

By doing these things our ideas and conversations regarding the product will be richer, transparent to all, and directly fed into the product pipeline.

Filed Under: Performance Monitoring

Tags: APM , apps , best practices , technology