A week with our Product Manager: Helena
When I first began looking at moving into the Product space, I often heard that being a Product Manager meant working 80-hour weeks. This doesn’t have to be the case. At Geckoboard we do great work in fewer hours, which means that when I leave the office, I can focus on the things that matter to me outside of work. To put that in context, I thought I’d share a week in my life at Geckoboard as a Product Manager.
If you’re not familiar with our product, Geckoboard helps companies all over the world make their most important data visible, understandable, and inspiring for their teams. We create software that turns the complex challenge of building a data dashboard into something simple enough for a busy leader to get done themselves in an afternoon.
Right now, I’m focused on two projects: Data In (making sure that it’s as easy as possible for users to get their data into Geckoboard from wherever it lives) and Product Onboarding. Our team — AKA Team Burrito — is a bit larger than normal as we’ve just brought on some new hires in preparation to spin out another Product team. At the moment, we’re 3 backenders, 3 frontenders, 2 designers and myself as the PM. (We’re hiring for a Product Manager too!)
We work in weekly sprints running Tuesday to Mondays. I love finishing the sprint on a Monday because they’re less hectic and there’s time to wrap up anything that might have… ahem… slipped on the Friday afternoon.
At a glance, this week looks a bit like this:
Let’s get stuck in at the start of the sprint week…
Day 1 — Tuesday
I’m normally one of the first few people in the office and brewing a batch of fresh coffee, but today I start a bit later than my usual as I had an early morning appointment. Having core working hours between 10 and 4 means the team can start earlier or later depending on what works best for them. Like always, I start my day by chatting to any folks hanging in the kitchen and help myself to a fresh mug of coffee before heading to my desk and to standup.
Standup time: My team is the second of three teams to do standup but I’m usually there from the beginning to see what the other teams are working on.
Standup is usually wrapped up in about 15 minutes, so I spend some time getting everything ready for our sprint planning. Burrito are about to start Week 2 of Cycle 6 and this is a good time to assess if we need to re-scope any of our goals for the rest of the cycle. Working in 6-week cycles (inspired by Basecamp) prevents us from getting bogged down in large projects and we do a “cleanup” week in between cycles so we can stay ahead* of tech debt. (*Not always true but nobody’s perfect, ok?!) I also take a look at our ‘Up next’ Kanban column to tidy up and make sure the prioritisation is correct. We use Clubhouse for our project management, which brings all of the functionality of Jira minus the tears. It’s been life-changing!
Sprint planning: As Product Manager, I lead this session in 3 parts. First we review goals from the past sprint, and if any goals weren’t completed we discuss why. Next we review where we are against our cycle goals. Lastly, we set goals for the next sprint and discuss their implementation, which can include design walk-throughs as well.
We finish earlier than usual today, soI use the time before lunch to test a feature we just shipped to our Spreadsheets integration. I love that we do continuous delivery at Geckoboard, it means we can test changes quickly and also get them to users faster. Having played with the feature, I announce it in Slack to celebrate us picking up momentum on Spreadsheets improvements.
I’m not too hungry just yet, so I make a new pot of coffee and chat to other folks at the lunch table. I love our coffee setup and have completely stopped going out to buy coffee since I’ve been at Geckoboard.
One-on-one: From lunch, I have my regular catch up with my manager Ben, our VP of Product.
User testing: Our customers are at the heart of what we do, so we speak to them whenever we can to gain a deeper understanding of their needs. Today we’re doing two user testing sessions with co-workers from other teams. We’re investigating the mental models people have when using spreadsheet tools so that we can improve our own Spreadsheets integration. Between the two testing sessions, Mike (one of our Product Designers) and I briefly meet with an engineer who’s already working on some improvements to walk through use cases and add detail to the spec.
Reviewing: For the rest of the day, I review some concepts for our Spreadsheets improvements, dig into Mixpanel data around usage of our Spreadsheets integration and revisit prioritisation of the areas for improvement. Since I was “in the zone” and happened to be meeting friends nearby, I work a bit later than I would normally too.
Day 2 — Wednesday
The coffee is already made this morning, so I start my day with a fresh mug and catching up, before heading to standup at ten.
We don’t use email much at Geckoboard so I start by checking Slack. Sometimes there are new announcements in our general channels but I tend to focus on the “Product & Customer Success” channel. This is where the Customer Success team in other timezones leave product questions or flag new issues. Triaging these can be a short five minutes or take half an hour if I need to play around with the product to find out the answer. Today, I’m troubleshooting a bug with one of our integrations.
Retro: Each fortnight we have a retrospective facilitated by one of our two scrum masters. I tend to use the time between standup and retro to pre-write my post its. Wednesday also happens to be a favourite day for folks to work from home, so retro tends to be a remote-heavy meeting. But we’re well prepared with Zoom, a superzoom camera and our very own “PrintBot” powered by Slack who prints out “post-its” for the people retrospecting from home.
Lunch + Blockers: Between retro and lunch I’m usually catching up with one of the designers or taking care of other smaller tasks / conversations. Today, a conversation with Nico (one of our Product Designers) made us realise that the onboarding flow experiment we’re working on might be hindered by design changes that another team is planning to make. After lunch, we sit down with their designer and our VP of Product and talk through this. Happily, a satisfying outcome is achieved!
Quant world: The rest of my afternoon is spent looking at quantitative data. I’m modelling the impact that we’d expect our next experiment to have on our onboarding North Star metric. The last two cycles, we’ve taken a more experimental approach to product improvements. Instead of investing time into speccing out and making big changes that might not even pay back the time investment, we’ve scoped two MVP changes to validate the areas of opportunity we identified in our onboarding flow.
Day 3 — Thursday
I’m back to my regular schedule and since no one is in yet I take a few quiet moments to make a pot of coffee. While I wait for the Caffeinator Slackbot to let me know when the coffee is ready, I catch up on Slack and any new issues as usual. We recently upgraded our version of React and I see a few bugs have come in that might be a consequence of the upgrade. Given how pesky they are and that they are affecting customers, I create a new goal in our sprint and prioritise them. (Usually I would sense check this first with our team’s engineering lead but they’re on holiday today.)
We have a homemade tool for tracking sprint goals and progress. It functions as an overlay on top of our Clubhouse — we define the goals we want to achieve in the sprint and then create the Clubhouse cards for the implementation under each goal. We use this tool as the prompt for standup updates as well.
Recruiting user testers: As I mentioned on Tuesday, we make sure to speak to our customers wherever we can to gain a deeper understanding, but we also speak to people who are not users to round out that understanding. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a bit of a pipeline problem trying to recruit people who’ve never used Geckoboard for user testing, but we need feedback on designs which are still in low-fidelity stage. So I focus on finding an alternative way to recruit for next week:
- I put up a couple of ads on LinkedIn.
- I have a quick call with our recruitment agency to discuss some changes to the screener they go through with candidates for testing.
- I also submit a request to another agency that was recommended to me.
Lastly, to recruit people to give feedback on our Spreadsheets improvements, I write a message in Intercom to send out to some of our existing users. I decide not to send it yet as I’m asking them to share screenshots of their spreadsheets, so I want to make sure my wording is tight.
Design Review: After lunch, I meet with one of our Product Designers, Nico, to look over some high fidelity designs for two of our projects. Can’t wait till we can roll them out!
JBTD Interview: I join an interview session with someone who’s been a Geckoboard customer for 6 months. Unlike our other testing sessions, which are question-specific or task-oriented, this a Jobs To Be Done (JBTD) type interview led by Ben, our VP of Product, with our Senior Product Marketing Manager Nick also joining.
Wrapping Up: I finish the day by following up on some questions from our design review earlier and by preparing two funnels in Mixpanel for more data analysis tomorrow.
Day 4 — Friday
Coffee, Slack, catch up and standups: Repeat as above! ☕️
Reviewing experiments: We’ll soon need to take down several experiments running in our onboarding flow. So I update our assessments of them with fresh data and insights from the latest user interviews.
Leads sync: Next up, we have a sprint pre-planning session for Team Burrito. This is a weekly check-in with our team’s engineering lead and designers to assess where we are with our goals, what we need to do next sprint and to introduce any new problems or work.
Friday Lunch: The pre-planning session is usually ended by the lunch bell! Each week, we have a new restaurant deliver lunch to the office all organised by our amazing Office Manager Mimi. This week is Hop Vietnamese (a team favourite!).
After lunch, I do a quick check in to see how my user recruitment LinkedIn ads are doing. Not as well as I hoped, so I pull them. Luckily, the other agency we engaged has already recruited one of the two users we’ll need next week. Our primary user recruitment agency sent through the updated screener and after some back and forth across the afternoon we sign it off. We’re all set!
Friday Wins Prep: Our team is due to update on progress with onboarding improvements so I prep a few slides we can talk through in Friday Wins later this afternoon.
Qualifying assumptions: My last work block today is for updating assumptions about first-time users which we use to prioritise and plan onboarding improvements. Ideally, we want our designers to start coming up with concepts for these improvements this cycle so that they’re ready for us to scope and develop in the next 6-week cycle.
Time for Friday Wins: This is our all-hands where teams share updates on their WIP. People can also share their individual wins, especially if they took an innovation day this week and did something cool.
Day 5 — Monday
Starting the week with coffee: The coffee is already made so I can dive straight into catching up with work. This time I also have to do some calendar admin for the week. As it’s our last standup of the sprint it’s nice to see many green ticks against under our sprint goals!
Planning: Once a week I catch up for Team Tabasco planning. Tabasco is smaller two person sub-team of Data-In who own the integrations that are powered by our legacy codebase, rather than the new data platform that Burrito built. We’re almost done making improvements to our Youtube integration which makes for exciting sprint planning!
Sprint prep: Based on the pre-planning conversation I had with our designers and engineering lead on Friday, I write up a quick agenda for the whole team for Team Burrito’s sprint planning tomorrow and share it in Slack.
The rest of the morning I spend looking through our designer Mike’s concepts for an improvement to our Spreadsheets integration.
Building assumptions: After lunch and chats in the kitchen I continue the work from Friday on updating our assumptions and dig into more data around some of them. Our data is currently split between Mixpanel and a database, which can make things tricky, but we’re about to embark on a project to improve our analytics setup.
By the end of this work block I have a couple of shaped assumptions I think we should pursue further and loads of other assumptions & priorities have been updated. One of them pertains to a design Nico’s currently working on so I chat with her to see what she thinks. I also end up sharing my thoughts in our Burrito leads Slack channel.
So that is a week in my life as a Product Manager at Geckoboard. As you can see lots goes on, but it’s the kind of environment which means we can work effectively, even where there is a blocker (or two!). And if this sounds like the sort of work environment you would thrive in, you should definitely check out our hiring page at www.geckoboard.com/careers.