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Building a Product Portfolio is Product Management

Deanna Ballew, VP of Product Development at Widen, shares how she transformed a services company into a software company, adopted an agile product management methodology, and built a portfolio of products.

Deanna’s company, Widen, pre-exists the internet. The 70+ year old company had been a leading business services company until competition from new entrants providing digital solutions created pressure to win and retain business.

We were seeing a very heavy competitive space as far as digital asset management is concerned and we were losing deals for things that I couldn't understand. So wanting to reach the goal of our new customer accounts was the area that I really strived to fill as I moved toward product management."

This motivated Deanna to create a new product development team and ultimately launch a portfolio of digital products. Fortunately, her company's leadership was bought into the idea, too:

As the company has grown, the owners and the leadership were not afraid of change, [they] were not afraid of becoming something new. The company has always been accountable to the employees and to our customers. That has greatly impacted the way that we've been able to transform and to continue to grow as well as the brand that we haver built."

Widen’s brand and stability were an asset to Deanna in getting started. However, she had to overcome the company’s legacy practice of creating custom solutions for clients. This practice prevented her team from developing products for a larger market. “It worked when we only had 12 customers. When we got to about 150 customers, it was still working. At 300 customers, it completely broke down,” she said.

In order to build scalable digital products, and ultimately launch a portfolio of new products, Deanna deployed several strategies. She instilled an agile product management methodology, required product managers to get out of the office and talk to customers, and aligned her cross-functional team’s goals to the desired outcomes of the product.

We decided, in 2016 when we looked at our product portfolio, that what we wanted to do was to lean into our customers and become very intimate with our customers and to learn from them and then make sure we're actually solving that problem, in a very iterative method. Every single time we're on site with a customer, it is so energizing. The first out of the office visit that I did, I spent two and a half days with our customer and saw various teams and it was completely eye-opening on how Ether users use our systems."

Deanna says that transitioning to agile was no easy feat, but that training the team and adapting the processes helped make it a success:

What I realized was that we needed to have foundation and buy in from everybody to adapt it. So this was training that we brought in that was in depth, a three day training for all of the development teams, QA teams, and product teams. And then there was also a half day session with the rest of the customer facing teams, and the marketing teams to let them understand the benefits of agile, so we could speak the same language. We did adopt the Scrum process, but what we had to do over the next few years was to really make the process our own. We made sure that we didn't let the process define us, instead, we defined the process. And we've done this through retrospectives, those are probably the best meetings that we could have ever had, because what we're able to do in retrospectives is to talk through what's working and not working and become very high functioning teams."

You’ll learn a lot from this episode about building a product portfolio, product strategy, digital transformation, and prioritizing new opportunities.

Here are the highlights:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of starting a digital product management practice at a 70 year old company (5:55)
  • How Deanna approaches building scalable products for a larger market (11:15)
  • Deanna’s approach to adopting agile methodologies (14:30)
  • How Deanna approaches developing a product strategy for a product portfolio (18:25)
  • The methodology Deanna uses to prioritize opportunities for growth (23:15)
  • Deanna’s advice for building and managing teams (25:20)

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