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By Jeff Wing
September 10, 2018
Andrew Carlson is a Product Manager (PM) at Procore, the construction software giant. From real-time drawing management to photo-assisted observations, Procore throws innovative, labor-saving wonder at your productivity gaps. How is this done? Carlson, an approachable guy with an excitable manner, shares the story.
“The photos on your phone, you cache those from the cloud. That takes up a lot of data, right? So we heard a lot of feedback from customers. ‘Man, Procore is eating up my whole phone! I go to my kid's T-ball game, and I can't even take pictures because I have 10 gigs of Procore on there!’”
Carlson is sympathetic to the customer’s pain, of course. That’s the whole point of Product Management.
“If that user wanted to make room for more photos, he would have to navigate through his phone settings to clear his cache data,” Carlson explains. Here is but one example of the hundreds of user comments that constitute marching orders for Procore’s product management folk—tech creatives who make it their mission to disperse whatever cloud is casting a shadow over the client experience.
“So based off that feedback, we were like, ‘Okay, what would work?’ We ended up building the ability to clear your cache data directly from the app. So now, the superintendent can go into Procore and simply clear work stuff off his phone to make room for those T-ball photos. And on Monday, he can bring all of his work information right back onto his phone.
Carlson smiles. “We're fulfilling on a promise to a customer. We’re continuing to improve that function. Now, how about filtering for photos that are older than 90 days,” he wonders aloud. “How can we do this even better?”
Ideation and Conversation
Carlson is animated. “How does a bill become a law, you know? How do we go from an idea to something that's fully released?” The emergence of a product from a tech company like Procore can include a myriad of routes to the marketplace. Here’s one way it plays out.
“You have a discovery team. In Mobile, there's an engineering lead, the UX lead, and myself. For me, that’s typically the main discovery team. But, many times, we have other engineers come in. There are also customer success folks. We’ll even have construction pros coming into that discovery team. My small team ends up interacting with other cast members as we go.”
There’s a debate in corporate academia about how to regard the role of the Product Manager. Is the PM a sort of autonomous CEO? A team leader? The tribal chief through whom the various product ideas find their form?
“I tend to come down on the side of the PM as CEO,” Carlson says. “As CEO of this product, you must be able to merge your relationships with engineering, with UX, with your customers, and with your other stakeholders within the company. We all need to align to the business goals.“
Many players may be involved in developing the new tool. However, they all have to see progress through the same lens, measure it by the same benchmarks.
“We take in a bunch of information from our customers, from our metrics, from all the resources we use. It all comes into play,” Carlson explains. “And you just have to tinker with it, listen to it, build out all these different models based on what your data shows. That's your discovery phase.” There is usually no shortage of data.
“Ideas come from everywhere. As a PM, you have to be able to listen to all of those sources. You need your own product intuition, so to speak. However, your product intuition is built from your empathy, an understanding of who your customers are and what they're trying to accomplish. That's where a lot of the CSM (Customer Support Manager) conversations come in. The CSMs are out there speaking to our customers daily; they're this broad net of information, and they're a great resource for it.”
Daunting Data-Packed Jungle
Carlson uses an array of resources to guide him through the data jungle of incoming product and feature reporting. Every Procore tool released into the marketplace sends anonymized, real-time data from the field back to Procore’s product managers.
Collectively, are the tool’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) meeting their marks? Is it evident from usage patterns that the superintendent (for instance) is getting what she wants out of the tool? Answers to these questions inform the direction the tool will take going forward. Carlson also checks in with UserVoice, a searchable customer feedback solution that graphically displays the aggregated opinions of a product’s users.
“It comes down to Sense and Steer,” Carlson says. “All this info comes in. You really want to get to those nuggets that are going to be the most high-impact.”
The sense is of there being such a profusion of actionable incoming data. Even a Procore tool released into the marketplace remains a dynamic and ever-changing object, continually sculpted and re-sculpted by the user community itself. “So product usage, direct engagement, conversations with our customers, conversations with internal stakeholders around what they’re hearing from the field, as well—these are our input sources.”
Collaboration and Creation
Finally, the bill becomes a law, as Carlson himself phrased it earlier. He describes the closing conversations that wrap the project. “You come up with your hypothesis from the smaller group and you battle test it—throw it out to bigger, and bigger, and bigger groups. Yeah, you’re doing additional discovery, expanding to test those hypotheses.” Inclusivity is all, apparently.
“Then we’ll do prototyping, we'll do mockups. We'll beta test ideas with users, we’ll conduct an innovation lab with prospective users from outside Procore. We’ll confer with construction pros internally. It's like, ‘Hey, we had this good idea’.
"And then I'll reach out to a number of folks internally that come from the different disciplines or personas that we tend to focus on, people who used to be project managers or superintendents. ‘We have an idea,’ we’ll say. They’ll say ‘Oh yeah, that's an interesting idea. I could see how that can be useful.’
“So, you gather enough of those, work on a mockup, and go back to them. ‘Remember when we talked about that idea? Here's a screenshot of it, or here's a non-programmed prototype, you can click around in. Is this what you had in mind?’” Carlson settles back in his chair.
“When we’re creating, when we’re contributing to Procore, we own those things. We’re putting our names on this software and owning it. So I feel like the product truly lives the Procore values, just the way that we do. That doesn’t sound too hokey, does it?”
If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks you may enjoy:
Construction Software Buyer's Guide
Construction Software's Next Big Thing: The Platform
Project Management Software
Cloud-Based Construction Software
mobile construction technology
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