This week Product School hosted Dalyn Ward, Vice President of Product at Pop Pays for an #AskMeAnything session. Dalyn discussed how and when to manage tech debt in order to scale your product. He also explained how at Pop Pays they operate using the dual-track agile methodology and count with a constant customer feedback loop through Pendo.io
Meet Dalyn Ward
Dalyn Ward is the VP of Product at Popular Pays. He began his career as a media buyer and planner working at an agency in NYC. Then moved into technology-focused roles at digital consultancies like Huge and MCD Partners developing digital experiences for clients like Barneys, Under Armour and Discover Financial Services. At Pop Pays, he leads the product team and strategy.
What methods do you use to let go deadline fears?
In terms of prioritizing the hard work, I actually block time off on my calendar to make sure I have time dedicated to tasks that might otherwise get my attention. Often times the things that you are afraid to do require the most attention. So making that time is important.
How would you go about balancing a HUGE product backlog by client feedback, whilst having very limited development resources?
This is something we face every day. It comes down to prioritization for us. Ensuring that our roadmap is tied to concrete business goals – and our backlog follows that. We have a small engineering team and many customers. Making sure you are building for the right user and use case is important as well.
We actually score initiatives based on a variety of tactics to try and have data to back up how our backlog is prioritized.
You might also be interested in: How to use OKRs for roadmap prioritization and planning
As a recent grad with no PM experience, what can I do to land a PM job and what sort of roles should I apply to?
I came to product late in my career, and for me, I was able to get into it because of subject matter expertise in marketing. I think applying for junior roles or product analyst roles are places to start. We just hired our newest PM, and she joined coming from a Product Analyst role.
Did you use OKRs for your product strategy? How did you align teams from product vision to product strategy to product roadmap?
We do use OKRs, and our OKRs start from the top. So we define company goals, and then align our product OKRs to the company objectives, and take that down to an individual level.
You might also be interested in: The difference: OKRs vs KPIs
What is the best approach to contact a current PM and ask some questions about their role?
I have talked to a few people who have reached out to me on Linkedin. I have also sought advice from others through networking. I am constantly trying to learn more from other folks in the product space.
How do you handle tech debt in roadmap? Do you have to worry about it?
We do have a small engineering team, and tech debt always comes up. We tackle it in two ways:
- We bring tech debt into sprints. The tech debt is prioritized by product and engineering.
- We also have a tech debt backlog, and engineers often pick up smaller pieces between code review and other times when they have bandwidth available.
In the past, we tried to allocate 20% capacity in sprints for tech debt but it turned out to be an arbitrary rule and didn’t give us the results we hoped for.
I agree. We have, on occasion, dedicated an entire sprint to tech debt when there have been things we know need to be addressed. Often for us, the tech debt was slowing us down, so in order to scale, we needed to make the investment in it.
How do you know when product development starts moving in the wrong direction?
I think data is your best friend here. What leading indicators can you identify that something is going the wrong direction? Have you tested with users? What research was done prior to development? We operate dual-track agile(ish), so we constantly have design and discovery activities going on in addition to sprints.
I’m curious about how you ensure the customer/user voice is incorporated into product development. Could you expand more on what you meant with:”We operate dual-track agile(ish), so we constantly have design and discovery activities going on in addition to sprints”?
A few things here: we have a constant customer feedback loop. We have product feedback (through Pendo.io), customer success managers provide feedback from the field, we set targets for customer interviews each quarter, and we do ad hoc project-based customer research.
These all are inputs into our roadmap. We manage a feedback board on product that we theme out and score based on the amount of incoming feedback and that helps us make prioritization decisions and feeds into our backlog. On the dual-track agile—we basically have a PM leading discovery (problem definition, research, etc) and correlating design activities with a tech lead.
This work then feeds our sprints. The design and discovery activities are often 1-2 sprints ahead. So we are thinking 4-6 weeks ahead of implementation.
You can learn more about dual-track agile here.
Which are the most important skills that are not often in the job description?
Soft skills. The best PMs in my experience can work with and collaborate with a variety of different people. You are often the glue holding everything together and the person moving things forward. Being persuasive, collaborative, and calm are key.
What made you transition into this field and did you do certification courses around Product?
I did transition to product. I did not do any certification courses, but in retrospect, I wish that I had.
You can check Product School’s Product Management certificates here.
What tasks take up the most time in your day?
I am not as much of an individual contributor these days, so my days are often split across meeting with customers (we are B2B SaaS), working on overarching strategy and roadmap, and people management.
How do you as a PM help your dev/tech team feel listened to?
Great question! This is something we talk about a lot actually. It is important for us to build context across teams, so that means engineering is often involved in or digesting research activities. We also collaborate on problem definition, so that when we get to the solution, the idea is that context has been built and engineering is not just implementing a solution.
For example, engineering listens in and participates in customer interviews (we love this at Pop Pays!), or we review research results with the team after they are complete.
What’s the best way for connecting with SaaS users on the phone for product feedback?
Our customer success team helps a lot here, and to be honest (and this may be controversial) we offer incentives for customer conversations—gift cards are our go-to!
What are some new trends on getting product feedback?
When it comes to getting user feedback, we have been experimenting with event-based feedback in Pendo.io, so if we are testing something or trying to learn more about a new feature, we launch a feedback form at or near the feature. TBD on the success here… This is something we are just trying.
How do you recognize a good product manager? What are the red flags to look out for?
I think part of this is data-driven results and part of it is about being able to motivate a team to do the work. This also means knowing the customer, the problem space, having data to back up every decision, being clear in your asks, etc.
What’s the one skill someone working in product should improve on for highest impact?
Data proficiency. It is a learned skill and can take anyone to the next level IMO.
Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!