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From Feature teams to Impact teams : a new era for Malt Product Team in 2021

2020 was a messy year. But for us it was the opportunity to build a business centric, outcomes oriented & discovery first organization.

Build Products you love

When I joined Malt five years ago, we were a 8 people startup with a huge ambition to change the Future of Work. The core team was composed of many former freelancers, few consultants (including me) and amazing Sales people. The mission was, and still is, to create a world where everyone is free to choose the best people to work with. About freelancing and outsourcing, we were addressing an almost unlimited market (350 billion euros in Europe) that is totally shifting (and even more now in a post-Covid world).

What was amazing is that we, the first product people at Malt, were our first personas and most active users :

All the ingredients where present to build a great experience and a strong Product.

Malt Homepage when I joined the team in 2015 (named Hopwork at this time)

And so we did (or I hope so) for some exciting years. I’ve seen the revenue multiplied by 50 and the number of freelancers reach more than 220 000. It was kind of magic, people seemed to love our Product and the experience we offered, and the company was growing insanely.

And our strength became our weakness

In 2019, we doubled the size of the Product team and we counted up to 65+ people and 6 Product squads. We were in a very fast pace of Delivery, launching new products and features every month, running after a top down roadmap. Meanwhile, our Product was become mature and complex, with many (sometimes broken) user journeys and personas : web vs mobile, active and experienced freelancers vs new ones, numerous personas between SMBs & Corporate in 3 countries, etc.. And we realized our strength, being the first user of our Product, became our weakness, defining solutions with our own biases.

Fire and forget approach

Our roadmap started to look like a list of nice ideas, where the most experienced people had the strongest voice. We created ad-hoc squads to address the best ideas and let them work for weeks or months on a dedicated topic. Regarding execution, our team was amazing and our Delivery process were very efficient. But we became a “Project” oriented organization with several blocking points :

Towards a business centric organization

Then came 2020. And well… you know. Besides personal matters, the professional environment was also stressful. What will be the impact of this crisis on the company ? How will our market and business evolve ? Some of these questions are still not answered but for us, it was clear that we were facing a wall with our organization.

We didn’t invent anything. Impact teams are more and more commons in Tech companies. In the French ecosystem, many ambitious scaleups are now Impact oriented. You can find useful insights like this article written by Pierre Fournier (Ex Manomano), or in Axel Sooriah’s podcast Product Squad with some guests like Romaïssa Cherbal (Le Bon Coin) or Rémi Guyot (BlaBlaCar).

Back to Malt, our first challenge was to better connect Product with Business. We divided the Product team into 4 big teams :

Every Tribe has its own territory, ownership from A to Z (business KPIs, discovery phase, user feedback, technical debt, tracking, small business needs, etc.). Tribes will be subdivided into squads as the team will grow and we will set a governance to maintain a consistency.

The tribes also have some dedicated business partners from all teams at Malt (Sales, Marketing, Community, Sourcing, etc.) to ensure that we work closely and share results with some key stakeholders. These people are our “Champions”.

Outcomes > Outputs

Once organization framework was done, we focused on another challenge : get rid of outputs-oriented roadmaps (“Let’s launch this product in Q2 and rework this experience in Q3"). The very beginning of this approach was to set objectives on outcomes. We have been working with the OKR methodology for company objectives since 2019, the next step was to link some of these OKRs with new Tribes and objectives.

We defined a very simple framework :

For the rest, the teams may also work on other initiatives, not related to current focus, like a technical topic or a very specific business improvement. The efforts involved and the ROI are monitored carefully to avoid the “quick win that becomes a big project” effect ;-).

Move the cursor from Delivery to Discovery

As the Head of Product, a part of my job is to feed the PMs with strategic insights and challenge the team to help them making better choices. I’m not the one who should decide the roadmaps or the priorities within the Tribes. To make this “bottom up” organization a success, the key point was to make the Tribes more business & user centric and that’s the goal of Discovery.

Delivery first organization

Let’s be honest : everyone says Discovery is important but many product teams, and Product Managers, are still focusing on Delivery. There are many reasons to explain that : the “Feed the engineers” effect, the lack of resources in User Research or Data Analyse, the lack of understanding of Complexity, etc. It’s hard to address all of these points, so we started with a very pragmatic approach :

Step 1: Plant the Discovery seed. We wrote and shared a handbook, we hired few Freelancers that are specialized in User Research or Conversion (AB tests, experimentations, etc.) to kickstart the new org. Everyone is encouraged to read and share inspiring and meaningful content to each other, we also organize AMA sessions with product leaders from other Impact oriented organizations.

Step 2 : Give time to Product Manager, Product Designer and Product Data Analyst to do Discovery. This one is directly linked to the “Feed the Engineers” effect : we moved the Delivery ownership from PM to the Tech team and especially the Tech lead. The PM, PD and PDA feel more comfortable to spend the necessary time to frame the problem and design the right solution (double diamond approach). And it is ok if they have few contacts with their tech team for some days or even 2 weeks. They are not expected to lead the sprint planning for example. One positive effect is Tech leads are closer to business needs and can take ownership on quick wins.

Step 3 : Monitor the number of experimentations and user research. Exploring a focus means to conduct user interviews and launch as much as possible experimentations (ab tests, small features, etc.) until the hypothesis is confirmed. The objective is to avoid tunnel effect : if your hypothesis is wrong, you have to fail fast. We displayed all the experimentations in progress in a (internal) public dashboard to kickstart this “growth” mindset and the tribes are objectified on the pace of new experimentations started.

All focus, experimentations & user research actions are monitored and displayed in Notion

We are at the beginning of this new phase and exciting journey. I will share some updates within the next months. Also, if you want to share some best practices with us, I would be glad to organize a Zoom with some Product folks from Malt (contact me on Twitter).

Flore & Yasmina are happy as Product Managers at Malt. Be like Flore & Yasmina.

And if you love to have an impact and want to join the next unicorn that will shape the Future of Work, we have many open positions : https://careers.malt.com/