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How does product development work in a SaaS company?

Published by Jeni Peacock on 2nd September 2021

Russell Cooper joined AccountsIQ as our first ever Chief Product Officer (CPO) in May 2021. We decided to put him in the hot seat and ask him to explain more about what software product development involves. In particular, we wanted to know how he’s changing the way we build SaaS products here at AccountsIQ and how this will affect you, our customers.

Q: Can you tell us more about what software product management involves?

Put simply, product management is about making sure we build the right product. Only it’s not as simple as it sounds. At AccountsIQ, our primary objective is to have the most compelling accounting software on the market; one that meets the needs of customers in mid-market, multi-entity businesses.

To achieve this, I’m developing a four-step Product Process that involves:

  1. Identifying the problems facing our target market – what keeps customers like you awake at night
  2. Prioritising those problems
  3. Designing solutions that solve the most important problems
  4. Delivering those solutions in incremental improvements.

The Product team drives the first three steps with our Engineering team of software developers delivering on #4. In practice, all four will usually be happening in parallel on different problems or initiatives. Our job is to balance being responsive to our customers’ needs with ensuring product security, stability, scalability and performance.

Q. How will this new product development process impact our customers?

Our customers are an essential part of our product development process. From now on, you can expect to see:

  • More requests to talk to us and give feedback. We can only identify the most compelling problems to fix by deeply understanding your business.
  • A more considered approach to solving your problems. When we’re designing new or improved product features we’ll use tools, such as slides with mock-ups of the solutions, to solicit your feedback. You’ll also have opportunities to participate in beta testing.
  • Incremental roll outs of features. Instead of spending months building a major new product feature, we will release a small piece of the feature as soon as possible – possibly in just a few weeks – and use the learnings from this to adapt any future iterations.

Customer feedback impacts everything we build and, as a result, the solution may take more (or less) time than originally anticipated. Incremental rollout of a feature means you have the option to use the first iteration, or wait for further iterations, depending on the capability you need.

An example is the Payment Run Automation feature we’re currently rebuilding. If you don’t need the approval workflow, you’ll be able to use it sooner. Once approval workflow has been built, customers that need this can start to use it.

As a result of this customer feedback and iterative roll out process, we won’t usually give expected delivery dates for new features. However, we will always be clear about which problems we are working on (either investigating the problem or actively building a solution) and which we are not. We always strive to set realistic expectations.

How do you prioritise which problems to solve?

This is the most controversial area of Product Management. We resolve it by looking at supporting data, including past conversations with customers. We then prioritise those problems that have the most impact and align with our strategy to develop the most compelling product on the market.

For example, if all our customers are experiencing a significant problem it takes priority over a small problem that only a few customers experience. Sometimes we can solve the problem with a simple workaround. But if it doesn’t deliver value to mid-market, multi-entity companies, it drops down the priority list.

Ultimately, the Product function exists to make sure we are delivering value to our customers. Sometimes it may feel slow but, by doing our research and listening to customer feedback, we deliver features of more value to you. Customers would always rather have two new features that take their business to the next level than lots of features they can’t use or have little impact.

What’s the most important aspect of product development for you?

I thrive on customer conversations. I love finding out about your business and the challenges you face. Please do get in touch with any thoughts on how we can develop our product to help your business.

Would you like to be involved in our beta testing?

We’re currently looking for customers who can help us beta test in the following areas:

  • AP invoice automation (AP Inbox) – our own AP automation solution
  • Upgraded Batch Payments/payment run automation
  • AP AR Journals - providing outcome-based solutions, such as customer and supplier refunds, to replace this screen
  • Upgraded Bank Feeds - automating the import of bank transactions.

Customers are asked to email us if they would like to start testing these services. Thank you.

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