This is potentially my favourite 'A day in the life' yet.
Sharon Ann Kean gives us an eloquent insight into the her role as Head of Product at Bloom & Wild, a startup that's innovating in ecommerce and delivery.
Please describe your job! What does a Head of Product do?
No two product jobs are the same.
At Bloom & Wild we have both physical and digital elements to our product (flower delivery through the letterbox, ordered online) - I’m responsible for our digital product roadmap, tech team and UX.
I’m not a florist, but I’ve learned a lot about flowers since I joined!
The product roadmap bit is about figuring out what gets built, when and why, and ensuring it ultimately delights our customers.
The tech team part is about managing our in-house team of developers, processes and technology that enable us to deliver the product roadmap.
Finally, the UX part is currently me scribbling designs on the back of envelopes, speaking to our customers to find out what works and what doesn’t, and generally being an advocate of the user in most discussions.
I’ve always thought of product people as being like a glue that helps bind many moving parts together, and while I’m very hands on (sketching ideas and manually testing new features) this holds true and means you’re only as good as the team you’re part of.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I report into the CEO, who’s one of the co-founders and was also doing my job before I joined Bloom & Wild. So, no pressure!
I sit with the developers but we’re small enough that it feels like everyone’s part of the same team (we’re 25 in total).
Whether it’s having a cup of tea or a brainstorm about how to evolve a new feature, I spend time with everyone, including customers.
I think it’s really important to get to know people’s interests and strengths, it’s the key to a strong team.
It’s also good to keep perspective of others in mind - marketeers naturally think quite differently to developers, and as the product person in the middle I need to balance both.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Empathy, patience and experience.
Empathy because appreciating how other people think helps you manage the many voices and areas of expertise you need to blend to build a great product. This includes the voice of the customer, which we try to bring into every product discussion.
Patience because product management is like herding cats sometimes.
Experience because you need to understand to a decent level the areas you’re working with, most notably technology, user-centred design, data analytics and commercial.
I’d say you also need to be proficient in at least two of them to be useful in a start-up / small team.
Tell us about a typical working day…
There’s no such thing! It can involve anything from picking up the office phone and talking to customers to getting to the bottom of some obscure technical bug that needs to be fixed. That said, we do have a few routines that help frame things.
Everyday there’s a midday stand-up for the tech team, where we update each other on what we’re doing, what we plan to do next and discuss any blockers (we use the best bits of Agile).
We also have a start-the-week meeting that follows a similar format, but is for the whole company.
It’s a friendly, informal way of ensuring we’re all focusing on the right things and a chance to pick up on things that overlap.
Outside of that I try to spend at least a couple of hours a week sketching out UI ideas and working through UX problems - it’s a good break from the screen and makes it easier to add real value when developers or designers need feedback on something they’re working on.
I’m trying to channel genuine customer needs into every decision we make, so I also spend at least an hour either speaking to customers or reading the feedback they leave on our social media channels.
I also spend a lot of time in Pivotal, our project management and issue tracking tool.
We’ve got some remote workers who rely on this, and we’re at the point where we’re just about big enough to need to join up the digital dots and keep track of what’s happening across the tech stack.
The rest of the time is a mix of ad hoc conversations, analytics and rapid decision making to ensure things keep moving at the startling pace that we’ve set ourselves!
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love the focus on delighting our customers and the care and pride we all take in the product.
The whole ethos of Bloom & Wild is to make the experience of sending and receiving flowers the joy that it should be, using digital to innovate at every stage of the customer journey.
That’s why we’ve simplified the range of bouquets we offer people and don’t have a standard shopping cart like more traditional ecommerce businesses. The result is that you can order from a carefully designed and curated gift range in well under a minute.
I also love that I get to work with a bunch of very talented and dedicated people, who are committed to creating a best-in-class experience for Bloom & Wild customers.
We’re in the business of flowers, which is perhaps not an obvious choice for a techie, but the focus on the human angle of the digital things we build is really impressive.
It’s rewarded by some of the most positive customer feedback I’ve ever heard!
If I had to pick one thing that sucked, it would be having to be really strict about which things we build - there are so many things we could do, want to do, but for many reasons, don’t do.
It’s tough telling passionate people that you’re not going to go with their great idea, but ironically it’s one of the most valuable roles of the product person.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
All roads lead to the number of happy customers we have.
This means the number of Bloom & Wild bouquets posted through letterboxes, the relative volumes across the range and the effort spent on spreading the word.
Working out what’s going to help optimise these numbers leads us to more granular metrics that relate to specific projects.
We’re currently really focused on making our app more useful for customers, so things like number of sessions per user, average time from download to buying flowers and rate of uninstall are really interesting.
For the website, we’re constantly trying to remove friction from the ordering process - we’ve set up some detailed event tracking to monitor every click or user interaction, which is helping us pinpoint the places that people are having difficulty.
Watching those numbers will also tell us if the changes we make are effective.
Ensuring we gather regular feedback from our customers and continually verify the things we’re building are also front of mind, as is measuring the impact of the things we build.
Then there’s the future and thinking about how we’ll scale. I’ve set some longer term goals around how we grow the team, explore and test new verticals and generally take Bloom & Wild to the moon.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
In a start-up environment it’s hard to beat pens, paper and of course Post Its.
I’m shamelessly cliche but it works. We don’t have the time (or the budget) to invest in complex documentation and hi-fidelity tools, so there’s no Axure, very little PhotoShop and I can’t remember the last time I saw or signed off a ‘spec’.
That said, we make good use of Pivotal Tracker and Slack, which offers just the right amount of structure to keep us above the chaos threshold.
We’re also increasingly using Sketch and InVision to test out interactions and user journeys - they’re great tools for engaging others with your concepts and designs.
Personally, I rely on Evernote to be my second brain - it contains the inner chaos and makes it easily searchable.
I use Keynote for everything from plans, to prototypes to presentations, IA Writer for drafting copy and Google Apps for the rest.
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
I sneaked into it by taking responsibility for digital elements of my day job and dabbling with code in my spare time.
Back in 2007 I was working in the Home Office press office as a media advisor to ministers.
At that time the focus was on the printed front pages of newspapers, TV spots and Radio 4’s Today programme. BBC Online News was described as ‘specialist media’, blogs were nice-to-have and no one took Twitter seriously.
For me it was a great opportunity to get some digital experience and looking back was the first step in what turned out to be a complete career change.
When I realised that I’d be much happier doing a digital job full-time, I took a break, thought long and hard (via a beach or two) and went for it.
I got inspired by user-centred design, technology and data science and did whatever I could to upskill.
Getting involved in the London startup scene accelerated things and since leaving bigger organisations behind, it’s hard to imagine myself ever wearing a suit or spending my days in meetings about meetings.
I’ve only been at Bloom & Wild for three months so the immediate future is focused on growing the letterbox flower product and seeing where that goes.
I love the excitement of being part of something that’s scaling fast and doing incredibly well, along with the uncertainty of not knowing quite where we’ll be in a year’s time.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t harbour some longer term desire to set-up something of my own. I’m sure it will happen, one day when the stars align - right idea, right people and right spark.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
I love how the concept of digital has evolved to the point where doing it well is non-negotiable. There are so many good examples, led by the explosion of startups who have never known anything other than digital.
For example, Bloom & Wild started out as an app and wouldn’t have got very far without doing digital well.
Fintech startups like Transferwise and Mondo are going to redefine how we manage money, Tinder is a fascinating digital user experience case study and Deliveroo is using digital to shake-up one of the most universal of services - getting your dinner.
On a bigger scale I think doing digital well is more about how you handle organisational transformation, as you can’t build products and services without people.
UK Government has come a long way since my Home Office days and the excellent Government Digital Service has done some truly awesome work to digitalise services that for years were made up of things like leaflets, call centres and misleading news stories (thanks Daily Mail).
Dealing with your driving licence and the DVLA is a very different experience to what it was five years ago - that’s a digital transformation success story as much as anything.
Another good example is Cancer Research UK which, despite coming from an overwhelmingly offline model for raising money, has had some great digital success stories.
Citizen Science using computer games to analyse genes, #nomakeupselfie and Race for Life plugging in the power of JustGiving to build a first class fundraising app for it’s participants, are all examples of digital done well.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
Dabble with the technology or tools that you’re interested in, shadow (or stalk) people doing the job already and have a long hard think about what type of company you want to end up working for.
I’m a big advocate of mentors, and always happy to share tips - there’s also an increasing number of Meetup groups and organisations out there that can help with this.
Digital jobs are diverse - you could as easily find yourself managing organisational change that enables great digital projects, writing website code or getting stuck into analytics.
A rule of thumb - if you want to be hands-on and upskill fast, go for startups and small, fast moving companies.
You’ll get to try stuff out, make mistakes and generally gain experience rapidly. Go early stage if you like learning by doing things yourself and aren’t scared of going it alone, later stage if you want to learn from someone more experienced in your field.
If managing people is more your thing (or where your previous experience fits), a bigger place good be a better bet.
Above all of that, pick a company or cause you believe in. Digital is an enabler, and the truly exciting bit is the effect it has on people.
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