Evolving A Mature Product
Evolving A Mature Product
How do you make changes to a product that millions of customers are already using?
Product managing a mature product is a very different beast from building one from scratch particularly when your internal stakeholders, like policy and ops, depend on it working a certain way.
In her talk, Parul discusses the unique challenges that evolving a mature product poses and shares a few practical lessons she has learned to get ahead of them.
Hello everyone, it's a pleasure to be here with you guys.
I am going to start by telling you about one of my products and initiatives that's close to my heart so let me start by asking are there any PayPal users here? Alright, any Resolution Center users here on PayPal? Has anybody used resolution Center? Alright, so we have a few people. Well most of you are fortunate you haven't had to use resolution center because you used resolution center only if you have an issue with your transaction.
So I do want to spend two minutes talking about the product and the initiative because I will use it as an example all through my talk so resolution Center that was a product I worked on what is our dispute and chargeback management portal what that means is let's say you are a buyer you bought something online and you did not receive your item you can go to PayPal you can go to your Resolution Center and file a complaint you can say oh I bought this oh and I still haven't received it so PayPal will then intermediate between you and the seller to make sure you get what you want all right so we will let the seller know that or somebody has filed a complaint so seller will go to their Resolution Center and say oh you know I did miss the item here's the tracking information so it will be delivered tomorrow so you get the point right it's it's it's a way for buyers and sellers to manage anything that has gone wrong with the transaction so resolution Center has been a part of PayPal experience from day one but for the first ten years nobody Lee paid any attention to it it so just stayed the way it was built and no investment was made so no one was surprised when for two or three years in a row it was voted as one of the top five most painful experiences at paper and so finally we decided to do something about it make an investment and there was this huge initiative kicked off to rewrite resolution center to address our buyer you know whatever come our customers were complain about and that's where I came I got the role of the product lead on this initiative right I was the product manager for Resolution Center now I spent three years on this initiative I spent three years as the product manager of Resolution Center and the outcome of this initiative is something I'm very proud of we improved NPS we lowered losses we really did do what we had set out to do it so something to be very proud of for me but when I think about the journey what it took to get those results that is the challenging part like it wasn't those three years were not easy three years for me in fact they were quite challenging and I was very frustrated at times I felt like I was running really hard but I wasn't getting anywhere like I was it wasn't really that you know a very blissful time in my career and when I look back in retrospect there was one foundation foundational error I made which was to assume that oh yeah evolving a mature product like Resolution Center is like building a new product same skills same mindset you know those the tools that I have carried me over so far will work here also and that's where I was wrong there are some very significant differences in when you are building something from scratch versus you are evolving something that already exists so I'm going to share with you three challenges that are unique to evolving a mature product and I'm also going to share with you what I wish I had done at the time to either avoid these issues or to address them so my first issue that I ran into pretty quickly was resistance resistance to change now I was new to resolution Center I had no history with it but most of my stakeholders did they had been working on resolution center for a while some of them were even part of the team that had built resolution center ten years ago and so they expected it to work a certain in fact their metrics were based on resolution center working a certain way they were all part of the initiative right we had this huge kickoff everyone agreed that yes something had to change there were there was a lot of room for improvement but there was this assumption that this change will be outside of me right it's not going to change my role it's not really going to touch me and we discovered these assumptions pretty quickly when we got into execution so from the product side we looked at the list of complaints we looked at data and one of the low-hanging fruits we identified was the dispute fighting experience as a buyer how do you let paypal know you have a complaint so we optimized that flow the the the user experience we made it a single flow page from multiple page we cut down all the the irrelevant information we were asking for we upgraded it it used to look like something from mid 90s and we use a tested at five times like five iterations where we would present it to users get their feedback and then incorporate incorporated so you know a month and a half later we were super proud of what we had come up with we being product engineering and UX the team who had built that so I had to get buy-in from our customer service team our ops team before we could launch it when I presented there's our new and improved experience to them I was just shocked by their reaction they were like no you can't go live with that like this this is not what we are looking for and I was like why what's wrong that it's too simple and to me and the product manager didn't make sense like but that's our goal we are trying to simplify the the dispute filing experience and they said no if you simplify it then we will get a lot more buyers filing disputes right those are the disputes that the customer service team then addresses and we are just not resourced for that right this is going to impact our net you cannot go live with us and eventually after a lot of pain we did address these issues but what it really hurt was the team dynamic in the very beginning there was a lack of trust I mean I can imagine from the ops team they were like who are these people they just joined the team and they're acting like they know what they're doing when they don't and from our perspective I can tell you we were like who are these people holding a progress back we could do so much without them and this was just one of the instances we had several of them where we realized oh wait we are not on the same page product policy ops we just had very different ideas of how would we improve resolution Center so that brings to my first lesson if I had to go back this is what I would do differently number one I would go in knowing that I am going to be an agent for change which means there's going to be resistance which means this is not about product it's not about policy this project is going to be about people that's going to be my main focus the second thing I would do is I would educate myself a lot more I was very focused on product I knew how Resolution Center worked inside out but I did not know why did ops care about it right how is it connected to PayPal losses those were the areas I hadn't invested in enough and if I had to do it again I would spend a lot more time understanding the areas which would even outside of product because if had I done it if our customer service organization felt like I understood them I wouldn't have gotten that pushback or less and finally I feel like looking back we skipped a huge step right our overall and our overall KPI was to improve NPS there are hundreds of ways you can improve NPS we don't really decide on which ones are we going to do which ones are we going to address first so instead of going into solutioning I would have spent a lot more time but stakeholders prioritizing what problems are we solving for right how will we define success and what this would have done is brought up some of these conflicts earlier in the process it would have really saved heartbreak all around so this was my one big lesson that when you are evolving a mature product you are really a change agent like working with people bringing them along is your number one focus what you would spend most of your time on number two baggage mature products come with a lot of baggage now let me give you my example when I came to this country 20 years ago I came with two pieces of luggage that's it that's what I what I brought to this country today when I have to move it takes four movers a large truck and an entire day and I don't even know where how this stuff came from same thing happens to our products right we when we start we are solving for a you know a small set of use cases we are solving for a segment but over time these use cases this these segments that we are solving for expand and that's a good thing right we are adding more value but when we are evolving a mature product as a product manager you have to figure out what to do with them what to do with all of these boxes now they are yours so the same thing happened with Resolution Center we realized that it's the default product for any resolution flow at PayPal whenever we launch as PayPal we launched a new product resolution center gets a new flow and when we looked at the data 50% of our flows 50% of our flows accounted for 80% of the traffic which meant the other 50% only had 20% of the traffic we received right so as a product manager I had to decide what do I do what do I do with the bottom 50% so as I saw I had three options number one is shut them down we don't need them there's isn't a business justification to keep it around why have I carry dead weight but I wasn't sure if I could shut it down is it a compliance violation Atwood customers notice it's gone okay second thing was okay you know what let's take it along let's also include it in our rewrite but then I was literally doubling my scope right and knowing that there isn't much of a value from the bottom 15% so I was signing up for a lot lot more resources for asking for a lot more resources and really prolonging my delivery time the third option was okay you know what I won't shut you down I won't take you with me I will just leave you where you are so floor 50% you can stay on the old stack old experience all policies I won't rewrite you but then as a product manager now I had doubled my product right I had the old soul experience to worry about and the new experience my engineers had the old stack and the new stock now policy stakeholders also had old and new policies right and there was no end date to it so which also wasn't very efficient and really what I ran into was I had no framework to how to deal with these issues so if I had to do it again when I work on a mature product I would know that I have to be ready to make some difficult decisions some unpopular decisions which might include breaking up with customers saying goodbye to some customers but to make these decisions easier there are two things that I need number one I need extreme clarity into my business goals like what am I trying to do what is this initiative what is this product supposed to do because that's going to be my guiding star in making these decisions whom do I keep whom do I describe the third thing is I would spend time either developing or borrowing a robust phasing out strategy what do I do with the flows or in this case of the source I don't want to keep are there other PayPal products that I could merge them with right can I merge them with the top 50% do these variances really matter and let's say the decision was our last resort now we can't carry them we can't keep them they are not business viable we have to let them go then what is my sunset strategy how much notice do I give our customers what do I tell our customers who's sending out these emails right this is these are all part of a phasing out strategy so when you are working on evolving a mature product make sure you have a framework to deal with this you will have a lot of baggage how do you make your decisions about what goes in the keep pile what goes in the discard file pile and then what do you do with this discard stuff how do you deal with it that's something that will be your problem something you have to be ready to deal with and finally my third challenge that I ran into was tunnel vision now before any product is built it starts with a problem statement right there is a problem you're trying to solve for you look at all of these well not you look at the the some of some of the approaches some of the solution approaches for that problem and then you pick the one that's best in your context right that's how approve your product is built but once you build it that becomes your default solution to that problem right that's there so where do customers go to file a complaint they go to Resolution Center so the same thing had happened with resolution center but it had happened 10 years before I arrived on the scene right but when I got there our goal became to rewrite resolution center right that's what we became focused on we never really took the time to say are we still is the problem statement still valid has it changed in the last 10 years right what are some of other solutions we can explore other than resolution center right I mean our God really wasn't to rewrite resolution center it was how do we help customers who have issues with their transactions there is so much more that we could have explored right maybe we could have optimized the transaction flow maybe eliminate disputes altogether or reduce them to such a small number we don't need a resolution center we could have launched an insurance policy where customers don't have to complain at all so there are all of these things we could have considered doing but we didn't because we just felt down to how do we optimize the solution ahead of us and looking back this really is my biggest regret about resolution Center and because we are defined our goals so narrowly it was asked wandered opportunity it 10 years later resolution Center had a chance and he has we did good but we could have done great had we really taken a step back so this is what I would do differently if I were doing it today I would define my role a lot broader than I did them and you know for us who are in technology we do have that privilege we do have that luxury where we can define a row nobody told me go the imagine resolution center but nobody asked me not to either like to some extent I made that decision that this is what I'm going to focus on so I would define my role a lot broader secondly I would zoom out forget resolution center that's not what we are trying to do it's a customer problem we are trying to solve right and there are several ways you can use to zoom out the you can ask yourself why five times like why do customers file disputes right because said they don't know what's going on why don't they know what's going on because seller did not send them the tracking information why 10 seller sent them the tagging and tracking information so you get the point right you can ask yourself why a number of times and get to the core of the issue the second thing you can do and this is this has worked really well it's come up with ten ridiculous ideas before you get to serious solution so for example for Resolution Center if a buyer files a complaint you know what we will just give them a refund that's it and if people might not make any money but that's a possibility the second for the second potential solution is we can detect issues before our customers detect issues right so we will make our systems so intelligent that we can discover and address issues even before they happen so if you really start thinking broadly and I'd not really confined confined by a feasibility then you will really start seeing possibilities in a lot of other areas and finally avoid this the incremental innovation trap right and that's what that's where we landed up we just ended up doing a lot of innovative things but in a very very narrow scope so if I had to do it again I would actually just really look at the big picture right take a step back a huge step back and look at the big picture so those were the three problems I wanted to highlight to you in conclusion this is what I want to say I have heard people say that building a product from scratch is like giving birth giving birth to a baby so if that's the case then evolving a mature product is like adopting a teenager they come with their personality they already have a history and you have to honor it you can't ignore it so it does take skill it takes patience partnership some therapy but it's a cause worth championing so there are so many products and experiences out there that are way past their heyday right and they do need evolution they do need attention so if you get the opportunity to manage a mature product take it on right going knowing that you know there will be baggage there will be resistance but also know that it doesn't have to be a rewrite or a revamp or a reap lat forming it truly could be a reimagine you really you have this open field ahead of you and you can decide what you really wanted.