The Many Ways to Scale a Product: A Guide for Product Managers

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please review the Product Blog contribution guidelines and contact [email protected]

How great it is to work on a growing product, right? Your features backlog is nearly endless. But how do you plan to support it? The product will have more users and more types of users. How do you plan new features? What parts and aspects do you consider along the way? And how does it affect the different parts of your company?

Just like when you go to the grocery store before you invite friends over, you plan ahead. You buy more groceries, such that your friends like (and not necessarily you), you make sure people will know how to get to your place, make sure people will be comfortable and have fun. There are many things to plan and take into consideration. 

Some of such activities are related to your “daily” product activities, such as designing the system’s UI & UX, and some others are related to your product strategy, roadmap, and feature planning. In addition, we have professional and product related tasks, along with operative and supportive activities that should be aligned as well.

There is no “one way” to scale a product. The growth of each product depends on its market, competitors, timing, maturity and so many other aspects. In this article,  I will try to touch on the most relevant aspects that should be considered  as part of our daily product work, as well as suggest a more high-level approach that should be taken as an organization, in order to be able to succeed with your product scaling.

Scaling Products

One of the main things I have learned to do in the past years, when planning new features, is to take into consideration the number of involved processes, entities, data and whatever we are looking to present, provide access to or show to our users. 

Interface and Experience

The day you are beginning to plan a new feature, might be the day where your product supports a considerably low amount of users, data, events or objects. However it will not remain this way forever. Always take into account your product strategy, where you are heading and how the feature you work on will have to support larger amounts of activities and use cases, or become part of some other functionality. In addition, each feature will rarely remain as is, and will evolve over time. Features that evolve – become more complex, and the number of use-cases it will have to support will grow.  

And what about edge cases? Those are also part of scaling. You can’t only design “happy” flows. There are always edge cases that your product should know how to handle, support, and present. If we take as an example a new app we develop to manage shopping lists (we all love shopping!), we will probably design a user interface that eventually shows the list, and when planning that, we will think of the average list – but we will always have that 20% of anomaly in our results – will that same interface look good for such use cases as well? Will my app support it? Will it affect its performance? Will I know how to navigate myself, or maybe such edge cases will cause the list to overlap some other parts of my app’s interface just because we weren’t planning for such a case?

So these are just part of the questions that we should ask and tackle as part of the product design phase, prior to the development. The scale of the data your product presents or uses should be a central motive as part of your planning. It is vital to plan it so it will support any use case. Allowing the users to not only understand how to perform actions in your product but to also find its data is important (next time you will use a system of records you will know why the filtering and search engines are so good…).

macbook pro displaying computer icons

Product Strategy 

In addition to the product experience and interfaces we work on a daily basis, it is essential to combine the market state, the product strategy and roadmap and the customer’s needs. Let’s say, for example, that our shopping lists app will now support a new sector in the Food industry – and our app will now allow its users to select a recipe so that the app will push the groceries that are needed right into their shopping list. Sounds cool right? Just imagine how it will influence the product users’ sectors and trends – we can assume it will influence some demographic and age trends. For example, it might become relevant for elderly population who likes to cook. We would need to make sure that the product is not sophisticated for senior adults, or any other sector that we expect to join our customers’ arsenal. It can even affect the color pallete of the app’s UI. We need to make sure that our product will support this sector’s needs, in all terms and aspects.

Other than that, if your product is heading towards growth, it means you will have more customers. More customers means more needs.

Another great example for things that should be taken into consideration, is the new feature influence of the current features and functionalities we already have. When deep diving into the needs of our users, it is important to notice whether it is an independent need, or it is an addition to an existing functionality. No need to rush and add new screens and functionalities which can potentially increase the complexity level of the system- we don’t want to find ourselves with unneeded architecture that will become an overhead in the future. Always aim to keep your solutions as simple as possible, so when your product will grow it will be possible and easier for you.

If you’re looking for help with building or scaling your product, check out our awesome Product Management Templates.

Bugs vs. New Features

When scaling a product, as a product manager you will be required to walk a fine line between creating and delivering new features, and improving your infrastructure and performance. Your role will require you to find the right balance between the business and customer’s needs and pressures, and your internal needs to support your product scale. For example, improving all the supportive tech tasks such as maintenance infrastructure tasks, fixing bugs (that in some cases will become major blockers if not handled in the right way at the right time). Ideally, in the long-run it is not smart to focus only on one direction. The idea is to find the suitable combination and balance between those two, and such that will fit your product and company. There are several aspects that you should consider when doing so: the product maturity level, market and competitors state, the org’s income and finance state, your resources and manpower, the internal knowledge you possess and all product related functions that are part of supporting these activities.

It is important to finalize this strategy so it will be aligned and delivered both internally and externally, to all relevant stakeholders, as being aligned in the same direction will be beneficial to you. Remember to always be dynamic – what was decided a year back might be true and right to that point of time, but as time changes so does the market, the technology, people and requirements – so adjust accordingly and keep updating this strategy and rebalance as you go.  

Data, Data and More Data…

So, we have new users, a lot of new users. More users will cause more events, and this increase of activities in your system will be hard to manage and understand. The SaaS and cloud world is full of data, and this is why data science and analytics became such an important field. You need to understand what your users do, what they need, what they are doing, what their struggles are when using your product, and what they are looking to achieve. you must track this data, analyze and present it in a convenient way to all relevant stakeholders, so that your decisions will be taken in a more accurate way. When you base your decisions on data and knowledge, it will be easier for you to take them as they will be backed by the actual usability of your product. Make sure you use a good tool to analyze, and make sure to have such a role in your team when the time comes. 

You might also be interested in: The Do’s and Don’ts of Scaling Products

Product Supportive Scaling Activities

As a product manager you are also part of an organization. Each business function is responsible for its aspect, and each such function influences your product. Thus, when scaling you need to make sure that everybody is familiar with your plans, roadmap, current challenges and how they step in and assist and be part of these efforts.

There are many internal teams that support our product activities: Professional Services, Support, Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Security and IT. Remember our shopping lists app? So when penetrating a new market sector with our recipes feature, we need to let this sector know we are coming. Marketing activities are vital – we should sync these teams and let them know what are the new features, and conclude the right way to present and sell it. We should always keep the roadmap aligned with all of the business functions, at any time. We need all functions to deliver their related goods according to that.

When scaling comes up, it influences these teams as well. When the number of customers grows, you need more teams to support them and more engineers to work with them. In order to avoid performance or connectivity issues, you need to also plan ahead how and if your infrastructure will support it. You might also need to support new infrastructure geo locations when a new market emerges, or just when the number of local customers grows. Moreover, when scaling new markets and types of customers, you need to support different geo GRC compliance – there are some countries with unique local compliance needs. Your infrastructure plans should take that into account as well. You will probably need your internal systems to handle it as well and support any new process you plan to execute. The scale of your product influences everything and that is what makes it such a crucial process that should be managed well. 

Last but most certainly not least, in order to scale and grow your product, besides having great plans and features, you need to make sure you have sufficient resources to execute it. But growing your manpower just like that is not enough, don’t forget to have the work methodology to outline the road to achieve your goal as a whole. Work in feature oriented groups, make sure your teams are well aware of the plans in the near future but also in the long term. Working in a certain environment, as much as possible, is vital for your teams and product success.  

If you got this far, it means you didn’t panic. Remember, all the aspects that I brought up in this article are being tackled one way or another, and there is no one way or a “right way” to do it. Being aware of them and planning ahead of time, will allow you to avoid barriers and obstacles, and to better execute your plans without handling unplanned work. However, tackling unplanned tasks is something that we can’t avoid. So expect to have that as well, and remember this is part of the fun and excitement of your product role.

Meet the Author

Oryan Rotem is a Product Manager and leader with extensive technical knowledge in the SaaS business.

She is currently a Product Manager for the DatAdvantage Cloud product at Varonis, which is a cybersecurity leading company and pioneer in data security and analytics. She was previously was a Product Leader at Salesforce. In her previous role, she was the main point of contact for the business and internal customers, managing internal tools. She managed the development and designed new features and end-to-end solutions.

Product Manifesto banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: