When I was tasked with taking over and fixing a failing product a couple years ago, I decided to try a different approach. Rather than spend time building proper analytics to figure out what was going wrong, I wanted to take a big step back and examine the very purpose of said product. A year prior, I’d heard about a book from some Google Ventures (GV) employees (link). Through helping many other companies focus and execute their core vision, they were able to create a format for making intelligent product decisions in a dramatically condensed timeframe. Their pitch is to follow their 5-day process exactly as it is written, and you’ll come out on the other side with a good understanding of your product’s direction. More than that, you’ll have already tested your new idea(s) on real users.
The failing product I took over was a consumer-facing website focused on users who liked getting free stuff and saving money. Let’s call it Freebies.com for the sake of this piece (not its real name). When I looked through Google Analytics, I immediately saw a few alarming signs: hardly anyone spent more than a few seconds on the site, returning visitor numbers were nearly nonexistent, and most traffic came from another of the company’s websites. To make matters worse, sign up rates were dismally low, and those who did sign up didn’t fill out their profiles. Not only was revenue extraordinarily low, but also the mechanisms for making money at all were either nonexistent or poorly implemented. I had 6 months to move the needle, which I knew meant I’d need to pivot dramatically. Drastic changes were in order, so it struck me as the perfect time to test the GV sprint process.
I pulled in a few other key stakeholders and we spent all day in a room with one another for 5 days. No one was allowed to check their emails or communicate with the outside word for eight hours each day. We followed the instructions in the GV book to the letter. First, we identified the problem we were actually attempting to solve. Then we each proposed solutions. Most of the work was done individually, with the team only coming together to judge one another’s work (without knowing who did what). Next, we built a prototype in InVision, before finally testing the prototype with real users we lured to our office with gift cards.
A lot of the individual pieces of the process, like creating storyboards of the product, or mapping out user flows, or prioritizing features, are part of my everyday life as a product manager. I’ve even run intense multi-day workshops myself in the past to launch the development of new products. However, the precision of each step and how one moment flowed to the next was a fresh experience for me.
We came up with a completely novel user experience for Freebies.com, which we proceeded to develop over the next month or so. Revenue increased from around $3,000 per month to over $100,000 per month within four months of launching, and user engagement followed a similar upward trend. There were some really smart people in the room, and through the GV book, we were able to harness everyone’s individual creativity to come up with something that resonated with our audience. The real-life testing before we built anything also played a key role in guiding what we actually wound up building. All-in-all, the process was amazing. It’s one I’ve followed many times since, though it is always a significant time commitment — especially for employees who need to ignore other aspects of their jobs to participate.