Speaker 1: Hey there, Product Lovers. Welcome to the Product Love podcast, hosted by Eric Bodak, co- founder and chief evangelist of Pendo and super fan of all things product. Product Love is the place for real insights into the world of crafting products. As Eric interviews, founders, product leaders, venture capitalists, authors, and more. So let's dive in now with today's Product Love podcast.
Eric Boduch: Well, welcome lovers of product. Today, I'm here with Anabela. She's the director of Product Operations at OutSystems. Anabela, why don't you kick this off by giving us a little overview of your background?
Anabela Cesário: Okay. But first, let me thank you for having me here, Eric. It's really, really a pleasure to be here, sharing my experience and insights with you and with the community. I must say that I love your podcast and that I'm also a huge fan of Pendos. Probably you don't know it, but Pendo's e- book was one of my first influences when I started Product Operations one year ago.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it. Thanks.
Anabela Cesário: Yeah, I love it. Okay. So what can I tell about myself and my background? I think that for me, everything started when I was a kid. I was fascinated by the computer since the first time that I saw a personal computer. That was in a pre- internet era. Yes, quite a long time ago. Anyway, that led me to pursue studies in IT management during college and university. I started my career in big consultancy companies and for almost 18 years, in my life, I led big projects and teams in different areas, but always with a strong focus on customers, their problems and their needs. And suddenly six years ago, my life changed a lot when I started a wonderful journey through the world of product. When I was invited to bootstrap the Product Operations practice at OutSystems. And now I may say that I'm living the Product Operations team. And I got to say that I'm really, really happy now, I'm in this place where technology and people meet right in the middle. And that is truly my sweet spot, I just love it, people and technology. And yeah, that's me in a nutshell.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. So talk to me a little bit about, I mean, starting from IT, getting involved in products and now doing product ops, how did you get sucked into product ops specifically as part of the product management group?
Anabela Cesário: For me, everything started in 2020 last year. The new VP of Product challenged me to bootstrap the Product Operations area. Before that, I was in product management, promoting product adoption and doing that stuff that product managers do as all the community may know, and product ops come very naturally due to my product management knowledge, but also due to my experience in starting new teams and improving their efficiency. Back then, we were trying to solve a problem that some of you might have experienced as well. OutSystems was and it still is the hyper growth stage. And to keep up with the necessary growth, we needed to improve our efficiency. The PM team was growing and we needed to onboard new PMs, we needed to give back time to PMs so they can be focused on the core competencies, being more close to the customers and their problems. And also really important, we needed to have data and processes in place to support product strategic decisions. And I feel that I'm exactly where I need to be. It's really so rewarding to be directly impacting my customer's life, the PM team and the product stakeholders. We are always solving their problems. And because of the operating model that we use, we can work on what actually moves the needle. And because of that, the teams and the stakeholders value our work.
Eric Boduch: You know, you talked about your product leader saying, Hey, Anabela, let's get product ops started, let's bootstrap it, let's put it together. What made him decide to do that? Why did he fill the need?
Anabela Cesário: I think it's a little bit, like I said, we are in the hyper growth phase and we needed to improve the inefficiencies of the system, because it was not managed. And when you don't manage the system and by system, I'm talking about the product ops context inside of the product development life cycle, it is like an unchartered territory. And like any other company in this stage, we needed to grow very fast and improving the team's efficiency and product data, it was really a mess for him.
Eric Boduch: So it was a big thing he was looking at is like in order to keep hyper growth going, in order to keep this level of scale, things were starting to break without having a product ops group. Is that a good way to put it?
Anabela Cesário: Yeah, it is. For instance, I can give you an example, prior to Product Operations, each PM had his own Excel spreadsheets to prioritize his own backlog, to collect feedback from customers. So even our roadmap and the launches, we did it in a huge Excel spreadsheet. So it was really error prone process and very time consuming. So he understood that he need to improve the efficiency of the team and the product ops was starting to rise back then, at least in Portugal, was a good opportunity for him to do that.
Eric Boduch: Got it. So now what are you solving at OutSystems? What's the big challenges today?
Anabela Cesário: Okay. We have several trends working on, but I think that I can highlight two. The first one is promoting alignment across the company at all levels. You see, as a product life company, aligning all stakeholders from product to sales throughout the development life cycle is always a challenge, especially in the last year in this remote era due to COVID, where asynchronous communication is really, really critical. So what we are working now is on improving the strategy deployment and monitoring. So we are assisting the VP of Product on defining the strategy, deploying it and monitoring it. And what we did first, it was we start by mapping the company strategic intents in our product strategy and roadmap. After that, we work with him to collect the buy- in of all the stakeholders. And mainly I'm talking about engineering, sales, success, marking, the ones that are really involved in the development life cycle. And now we are working more in the details and bring them to work with us on the launches, definition and also the release.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, I'm going to dig into that a little bit more, but first I want to talk about the rest of your time at OutSystems. You've been there five years, you've launched three different teams, you trained the gamut of the whole development cycle. Talk to me about those three teams you built.
Anabela Cesário: Okay. So the first one was in 2016 when I entered OutSystems. Back then I was reporting to the VP of engineering, to give some context and working in collaboration with the product management team. And back then also product ops was a recent practice in Portugal and so I had to start from scratch. And what I did is that I started reading a lot of product management to understand the practice. I remember that I got some inspiration from Roman Pichler from the book Strategize. It really helped me, the way he explains in a very simple way, what is product vision, a strategy, and how you move from them to roadmap and to the execution. After that, I worked with the head of product to define the jobs to be done by each area. And I think something that really helps in our case, we create a north star. Nowadays, it's really a trend, a north star. We started working on it back then. And we defined one that I can share with you, work to deliver product customers love, bringing the customer to the center of the work. And for me, it was really cool because I really like to be close to the customers. The tricky part of the Product Operations back then was to hire because we had to hire seven POs in just two months in a market where the talent was really scarce. But I can say that I remember with nostalgia this phase as one of the best periods of my professional life. For me, it was a brand new start, a new challenge in a product led company and the first time working inside engineering, with all the goods and best things that come with it, working with engineering for the first time was quite a challenge. And-
Eric Boduch: I can imagine. It can be at times, definitely.
Anabela Cesário: Yeah, it was cool, but don't worry. Okay, the second one was to the technical product management in 2019, we assumed that the ownership of the product roadmap and all the inbound and outbound communication, as well as working with product marketing on the go to market space. I can say that he was curious to see the team moving from an engineering focused mindset to a broader scope, having to manage all the company stakeholders to a really cool to have a more active role on customary interviews and conversations. But the part that I really liked the most was to be involved in the go- to market process. Up until then, I heard about it, but I never had been involved in it. And I loved the part of looking at the company, moving all the pieces around the go- to market strategy, working with product marketing on the launching plans and the enablement and so on, this really enriched my full view of the product development life cycle. And finally, I'm leading the Product Operations area where the focus is more on the improving the efficient of the product management team. And the main goal in here is not the product, it's much more about helping the PM team scale and give time to PMs so they can be focused on their core competencies as I said before, without spending so much time in the office, concerned with the tools and processes. And I can say that I'm using all the learnings from my previous four years, I had been engineering and product management and curiously, I continue thinking as a product manager and I'm kind of leading my area with the product management mindset. I'm always thinking about my customer adoption and satisfaction, and also I can easily relate with their pains and I can help find their solution for them because I relate to them, I felt some in the past. I think in my case, this full view of the product development life cycle, and being there, done that, helps me a lot.
Eric Boduch: So talk to me about how, when putting together these three new initiatives, these teams, how did that impact your product life cycle? How did it change what Outsystems looked like and how to produce product?
Anabela Cesário: I think I can start by the product ownership. At that moment we were changing the way engineering was working and product ops came to fill a gap inside the engineering team. And luckily soon enough, we were the best friends of the engineerings. We came to help them to define the priorities, writing user stories, manage stakeholders, deal with escalations, so they could be focused on writing code and everything that engineerings hate. Right? So we were kind of helping them to do the jobs that they don't like. What I saw was that the productivity of the teams increased because engineers were focused on coding. Also, the engineering teams were much more open to customer feedback and to align the backlogs with the product roadmap, because they had the POs, the product owners making the bridge between product management and the customers. And finally, I think the CSAT, the customer satisfaction of the stakeholders increased because for the first time POs took the time to listen to them and involve them in the backlog prioritization. So these were the main changes that we felt back then. Regarding the technical product managers, we came to extend the product management capacity. And with more capacity, we were able to manage better the stakeholders and really improve the field enablement of the company. Better go to market alignment across the company. And the part that I remember the most is that engineering teams were more empowered to the triad model, to discover a product that is available, usable and feasible. A little bit like the Marty Cagan model, where you have a PM focus on defining the product that is available and someone from experience ensuring that the product is usable and also the engineering that is feasible. I can say that it works for us, but in the beginning we struggle a lot, not because of the model, but because of the lack of seniority in the teams. For this model to work, you need to have senior people ensuring that they are able to make decisions and they are autonomous to do it. And finally, product ops, as I said, is more about improving the efficiency of the PM team. And we are more focused on taking care of processes and tools. We are really focused on monitoring the development life cycle, looking for bottlenecks and removing them. And also really important and that worked with us is, improving the communication and alignment across the organization.
Eric Boduch: So, when do you think a company's ready for a product ops function? Do you have any guidance for companies out there that are trying to decide when they should implement product ops?
Anabela Cesário: I would say that considering that product ops is a fairly new function, it's really difficult to say when the company is ready, because it's difficult to be ready for something that you don't know. Right? I see this more, when is Product Operations relevant for an organization. I would say that it's really, really important to have someone dedicated from day one, looking at all the data, listening to the team and to all their struggles and just thinking how we can help them, building what I call a strong foundation for product excellence. In our case, the reality is that it's much easier to justify the investment on a Product Operations area if you are in a big product life company. And especially if you are in hyper growth stage, like OutSystems is at the moment. But I do believe that even small companies should also have some sort of Product Operations team, but it could be only a person instead of having a team of 10 product ops like we have now. It's important to have at least one person thinking about these things so that you can start with the right foundation from the beginning.
Eric Boduch: Any advice on setting up that product ops team when it's new to a company?
Anabela Cesário: Start by researching the market to learn more about what other companies are doing and tailor it to your own reality. The good news is that nowadays there is a bunch of materials available that I can recommend, for instance, Melissa Perri, Product Operations training session, Pendos, a book on the rise of product ops. I really recommend it. And it's not because I'm talking with you, it's really because I like it. We have plenty of communities like, Product- Led Alliance. And by the way, you can also follow my team's Product Operations and rep talk series, where we share the learnings for this first year journey at OutSystems. At the same time, look inside your company to understand your internal customers and their needs. Tailor the product operation practice to clear focus on impacts rather than focus your energy on outcomes. Trust me that it works with your stakeholders. If you are focused on impacting, solving the main problems, it's natural, your stakeholders will recognize your impact. And last, make it fun while you are tailoring it at your own product operation areas and adjust to your company. It's not every day that we have the opportunity to start something from scratch so enjoy it.
Eric Boduch: Where do you think companies are going to find the biggest impact as far as improving efficiencies of their product teams?
Anabela Cesário: I can share my experience where was more visible the impact. The first was the improving in one year, we improved the efficiency of the product management team by 60%. Why? Because we addressed the typical five to six main use cases where PMs spend time and we simplified the tools and the processes so they can work in a much more efficient way so that was one. The other one in our case was the communication across the company. For instance, we started the year with a fragile relationship with the field teams and through a proper set of communication guidance, and the mechanisms that we put in place, we ended the year with 80% CSAT from them. So in our case, these were the two more visible ways of perceived inaudible.
Eric Boduch: It's interesting you just mentioned CSAT, you're measuring the effectiveness of product ops, right? Talk to me a little bit about how you guys do that.
Anabela Cesário: Okay. So we use CSAT, we do surveys throughout the quarter, for instance, with specific questions, I can give you an example, is the product strategy and vision clear and actionable for you? And based on that, for instance, because that was a problem that we had, so we make the survey, and then during a quarter, we act on working on improving it. And in the end of the quarter, we return again and measure the CSAT for instance, this is one example. We use it a lot because it's easy for the stakeholders to answer to it and to see progress.
Eric Boduch: And who are you surveying?
Anabela Cesário: It was engineering and product marketing. Back then we really want to ensure that they understand what is the direction that you want to give to the product. As you might know, sometimes engineerings are really focused on their scope and they forget the customers, the market, everything. So we were really focused to ensure that they really understand the product vision and strategy.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. I think that's great. So, I mean, you're spending a lot of time just grading yourself based upon your internal constituents, the people that work at OutSystems and how well product ops is functioning in their view?
Anabela Cesário: Yep.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. So talk to me a little bit about scaling because product ops has grown in your company, for companies that are just starting in product ops and maybe have a person or two bootstrapping it like you originally were, what advice can you give people on scaling product ops, how to scale it, how quickly to scale it? Any best practices you could share there would be awesome.
Anabela Cesário: Okay. So once again, what I would recommend is aim for impact. For us, the secret that I used to scale product operation was that always be focused on aiming for impact. As I told you, we use a prioritization model that allow us to have a clear picture of the key problems across the company. Having that picture so clear, it helped me to get the buy- in of the stakeholders and all the arguments to get investments on my area. And after that, it was easy, I started to allocate resources and hire more product ops managers with the right skills to solve the problem. Also, something that really helped me a lot was that from this operating model, I used it because it was clear the main problems and the prioritization, like we do in a roadmap initiatives. It was easy to negotiate with stakeholders and say, no, okay, so you want this a lot, but okay, on the top five of the priorities that have more impact on the company, we need to do this. So do you prefer solving your problem or solving this big problem that affects all the company? And it was easy to bring them to the solution and they really understood that we were working on the most important thing that moved the needle.
Eric Boduch: Cool.
Anabela Cesário: I don't know if I answer to the question, but.
Eric Boduch: No, I think that was great. So, way back when, when we were in the beginning of this interview, we talked a little bit about the challenges with remote work. And I wanted to dig into that a little bit more too. How has COVID impacted and continuing to impact since it's still going around, unfortunately, how has it impacted and continuing to impact the product ops function, because just dealing with the magnitude of the remote work we have today has to put some stress and strain on product ops, yes?
Anabela Cesário: Yeah, it did. But also it gave us a lot of problems to solve. So what we did back then, we had to invest in simplifying the tools and much more on asynchronous communication. So what happened in the beginning at OutSystems and probably happened in a lot of other different companies is that people were struggling with COVID, with having kids at home. And so what they started to do is that, okay, I need to compensate my working hours during the night. So we started to realize that they were spending a lot of time listening to recordings so they could keep up with work. And what we did is we really invested in asynchronous communication. We summarized the information, we create a Confluence page where they have all the main information available, so that was one. Also, the company, not specifically product ops, the company assumed a position, or you are in the first place, so take your time, we are going throughout difficult times, so take your time to be with your family, to be okay, and then work. And this second part, helps with motivation and the health of the colleagues.
Eric Boduch: What was the most unexpected thing, with the transition to a lot of remote work with work from home, what most surprised you about that?
Anabela Cesário: For me, it was having to start this new team from scratch while I was remote. I never have done it. And it's really difficult to... I'm a people person, I need to understand what motivates my team. I'm not inaudible, I'm completely goals oriented person, I like to challenge and I like to achieve my challenges and I like to have my team and to promote my team. But for that, I need to understand them, I need to understand what are their key special skills that I can use as a leader to promote a better team. And for me, it was really difficult to read them through a Zoom meeting. And what I did was every day, I schedule a half an hour session with them where we talk mainly about everything, but especially their personal problems, the challenge they were facing and it was really good because we create some team connection, we are going through this COVID phase together. So it was really cool, the challenge of starting a team without knowing 90% of the people, it was a challenge for me.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, no, absolutely. It's been a challenge for everybody when you think, especially if you've scaled a company a lot during this period, there's a lot of people that have been hired in the last 18 months that we've never met in person. Right? It's crazy when you think about that.
Anabela Cesário: Yeah. And for that is also the onboarding, we had to improve very, very much our onboarding process because you are in a hyper growth phase, you need to onboard new people remote, so the onboarding tools needs to be efficient.
Eric Boduch: Cool. This has been a blast. I'd have to ask a couple questions about you, what's your favorite product?
Anabela Cesário: Okay. I'm looking at it. It's the Apple Watch. Why I like it? Because I think it's such a small device with such a simple user experience that in my case, allows me to track my outdoor sports activity while I'm listening to my audio books, my music or podcasts. And sometimes it's so good that I can do it disconnected from the real world. For instance, previously, when I went for a jog or for a walk, I always had to bring my cell phone and if someone called me, I was available. Now, I like probably to spend 30 minutes if I want, disconnected. But when I return to my real world, I really love to, for instance, when my mom calls me, I like to answer the phone call from my wrist and keep doing what I do and it's special because the sound has a very good quality, so I think that's why I like Apple Watch so much.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, one final question for you today, three words to describe yourself?
Anabela Cesário: Oh, that's tough. Let me think a little bit. Okay. So I would say that I'm an explorer. I love discovering and creating new things, especially where nobody has gone before. For instance, I admire the traditional people who are bold enough to go to the North Pole for instance. If I could go back in time, I would love to participate in the first North Pole expedition, so I can be in the team that did it first and surpass all the challenges. The second one, I think that it would be a learner. I also describe myself as a learner because I have a lot of different interests and I'm not an expert in only one thing, but I have a lot of experiences in doing a lot of different stuff and I like it. I like to always be learning new stuff, exploring. So I love it. And the third one, I think that I'm empathetic, especially towards people with a growth mindset, people that are interested in growing and learning like I am. And because I'm a people person, I love giving advices and just helping out people when they need. And with my teams, I really like to see my team members grow. I like to see us grow as a team, being every day, a little bit better than in the day before.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Well, thanks. I had a lot of fun.
Anabela Cesário: Yeah, me too. It was really a pleasure to be here with you today.