01
03.07.2020   /   duration: 37 min
The Experience Lab
The Point Solution Conundrum

The Point Solution Conundrum

In the first episode of The Experience Lab, Product Director Rob Hall and Senior Product Manager Jay Cosgrove take a dive into the world of Product Management tools, surveying the tools we use at Digital Scientists as well as some best practices around dealing with the problem of point solutions.



Hosted By

Rob Hall
senior director of product
Jay Cosgrove
senior product manager


Episode Transcript

Rob Hall: Welcome to the experience lab, the official podcast of Digital Scientists, Digital Scientists is an experience lab located in Atlanta, Georgia. We build digital products for companies that need a fast paced and disciplined product team. My name is Rob Hall:, and I’m the Product Director at DS. I want to welcome you all to our first episode, the Experience Lab Podcast is our chance to share our team’s insights and wisdom about building software products. With me in the studio today is our senior product manager, Jay Cosgrove. Say hi, Jay.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Hello interwebs.

 

Rob Hall: On our inaugural episode, we’re going to talk about a topic that we feel might resonate loudly with many of you who design and build software. We’re going to talk about tools, more specifically tool churn. We’re also going to talk a little about current events and how we’re dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic here at DS. So, Jay, what’s tool churn?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Tool churn? I don’t know if it’s an actual coined term but we’ve  

 

Rob Hall: Like not an official industry term.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, I don’t know if you could find it on Google, maybe. But for us, it is the desire to stop using one tool and start using another tool. 

 

Rob Hall: Right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: When it all comes down to it, you just want new things.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, so like I’m tired of this thing and I want to move on to something else.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, the grass is always greener. Huh.

 

Rob Hall: Is it?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Nope, not – 

 

Rob Hall: Huh. Well, I mean, how many tools do we currently use? Like a million?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well, it depends. If we’re gonna hone that question down just to the PM team. Is that what we’re gonna do? 

 

Rob Hall: I mean, yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay. 

 

Rob Hall: For product managers. What do we know about design or development or?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Not much.

 

Rob Hall: No.

 

Jay Cosgrove: We forward emails. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s pretty much it. Right? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: All right. Well, let’s let’s add them up, I would say so we’ve got on the first one that comes to mind, I would say is our actual project management tool, which is JIRA.

 

Rob Hall: JIRA. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Everyone’s favorite. The necessary evil of our industry. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: All right. What else? What’s the next most used tool? Would you say after that?

 

Rob Hall: Slack.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Slack. 

 

Rob Hall: Which, honestly, I mean, slack is just everywhere. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: It’s everywhere. It’s one of the better ones. I never mind. Never mind it really.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Like, have we ever been limited by it? I don’t feel like it.

 

Rob Hall: Uh, I think we can be distracted by slack.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Distracted. That’s a good point. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove:  Does it get in the way of productivity? Possibly.

 

Rob Hall: Possibly. Yes. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, I mean, I mainly use it for sending really smart and funny gifs. So

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well, you’re a smart man.

 

Rob Hall: Is it gif or is it gif? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Jake, depends who you ask. I think we have some team members that would side with you. 

 

Rob Hall: Mm, as they should.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. Okay. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Depends who’s in the room.

 

Rob Hall: All right, well so –

 

Jay Cosgrove: Slack is next. What else we got?

 

Rob Hall: That’s slack? Gosh, there’s email. So we use Gmail. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay.

 

Rob Hall: There’s there’s Google Drive. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay.

 

Rob Hall: There’s, you know, all the stuff that goes with the Google suite Docs and Sheets and Slides and all that.

 

Jay Cosgrove: I feel like general communication goes in a different bucket. A little bit like for PMs, I think of very distinct PM tools. So we have project management and then we have like resourcing.

 

Rob Hall: Right. So so we use a product called harvest and forecast for both resourcing and kind of tracking our time. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: What about like project planning per se? Like, yeah, we track the work in JIRA, we define the work in JIRA, but – 

 

Jay Cosgrove: I think that’s where most of our turn has been. If we’re honest. 

 

Rob Hall: Around JIRA? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well around project planning. 

 

Rob Hall: Oh, yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Wouldn’t you say?

 

Rob Hall: Well, yeah. Right. So we, I mean, we’re like stuck between several different tools right now. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: We have team Gantt. Which you know

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, that’s probably the forefront one

 

Rob Hall: Gantt chart. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: On that, yeah.

 

Rob Hall: Mm hmm. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: Yep. And then forecast like gives us this, this whole team view – 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Into, you know, what everyone is assigned to

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: At a given point. I mean, from your experience, what seemed to be the challenges of bouncing between all these different products?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well, I think when we get down to it, the Problem is, is consistency, really, because you’re just going to be faster as a PM over time to run your reports if you know what you’re doing with the tool. And so I think every once in a while we come up with new edge cases or like use cases, probably a better, better word for it now, and then we adapt it if we like it, and can convince people to do it. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And if we do, then the whole team has to learn something new, and it might not be quite as nice. 

 

Rob Hall: Mm hmm. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: So I think it’s really important that you ever each team is conscious of just the amount of time that is going to be put into switching tools. And I don’t know that I think we do a pretty good job. We’re right in the middle because I’ve worked for small agencies where literally, I was the guy that found the tool and five minutes later, we’re all using it. I’ve also been on the other side, where it’s a much bigger org and it takes like months to actually get anything pushed.

 

Rob Hall: That’s right. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And with DS being kind of in the pocket of like that 20 to 50 employee range. 

 

Rob Hall: Mm hmm. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: We have enough process in place to prevent us doing crazy things.

 

Rob Hall: Do we? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: That’s a good question. It depends if manage how cranky management is about it, because something might change drastically.

 

Rob Hall: I don’t know what you mean.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: I’m part of it. I know, I guess the thing for me when I as a, as a product director, I’m looking for tools to help me get an overall grasp on what the whole team is doing at any given time. So what what’s the design team on a given project doing? What are the developers doing? What’s the health of the team? What’s the health of the account? What are what’s the status of a portfolio of projects? Because, you know, part of my responsibility is, is the health and the efficiency of the team, but also being able to take that information back to an executive at one of our clients and say, Well, here’s where your investment is going. And so that seems to be very hard because it’s easy to get all the way down in the weeds and and Have tactical information. So great. I can see how many story points we’ve planned for the next sprint. But the CFO at our biggest client isn’t doesn’t really care about that information. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: That’s right.

 

Rob Hall: They want to know like, what value have they earned? Well, you have what kind of return if they got on their investment with us?

 

Jay Cosgrove: In a high level picture of the project?

 

Rob Hall: Exactly.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: What is it that we’re doing for, you know, however, many dollars they’re spending on this something

 

Jay Cosgrove: So what are you Tell, tell our listeners, what are you using to do that currently?

 

Rob Hall: Well, it’s kind of tricky, because I don’t have a tool that does that. Not effectively. Right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Maybe we need people to write in and make suggestions because I think we this has been a subject of conversation for a very long time here. 

 

Rob Hall: Absolutely. Yes. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. So if you’re out there and you have and you’re hearing this and you’ve built a magic tool that does all these things in a way that’s really good. So why don’t we Yeah, I mean, on that point, I think we should talk for a second about just what are the issues that we run into with some of these tools, because it seems to me there’s this there’s this interesting paradigm where, where you have a tool that that might be at a certain level of cost. And, and at a certain level of functionality. They may focus on a narrow set of use cases. And do that one or two things very well. I look at harvest forecasts for zero point solutions. Yes. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep.

 

Rob Hall: So I look at harvest and forecast. For example, harvest does a fine job tracking time. 

 

Jay Cosgrove:  Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: I hear it sends out invoices, but we don’t use it for that. We only really use it to track

 

Jay Cosgrove: It does expensing well, too, but we don’t use that either.

 

Rob Hall: That’s a separate issue. But so it tracks time fine. forecast, its companion product does a fine job illustrating who is assigned to a project or an account.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep, that’s right.   

 

Rob Hall: And that’s about it. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And they’re I think their sweet spot is their integration. And I think that’s the reason we’ve held on to them for so long and resisted the churn. On on that front, because when you’re trying to when you’re trying to estimate a project, then it’s really handy because you can actually, over time drag that resource for a certain amount of allocation percentage of use. And then that’s going to track back in harvest. So when you refresh that same project in harvest, if they’re paired, at least, you’re going to be able to see, okay, at what point under this allocation am I going to hit the max budget of the project or not, in former lives of DS where we did a lot more TNM? That was –

 

Rob Hall: Right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Really, we couldn’t do away with it. I mean, we had to have that.

 

Rob Hall: We started getting into the issue of just point solutions. And Jay, I want to talk about point solutions in general, what are they and what’s wrong with a point solution? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: I don’t know if there’s something wrong with it, I would define it as a – 

 

Rob Hall: Such a corporate thing to say, right. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah it is very corporate. 

 

Rob Hall: What is it?

 

Jay Cosgrove: It’s a it’s a solution, like a probably specifically a SaaS product that you use for one specific use case, you know, or does one single thing pretty well? 

 

Rob Hall: Right. So like earlier, we mentioned harvest 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: That we use for time tracking, it does more than one thing to be fair.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: But – 

 

Jay Cosgrove: But it’s not an all in one. And so on the other side, you probably have these all in one tools, like Maven Link, or some other big ones that do everything. I mean, I think a lot of the point solutions are trending in that direction of gobbling up other other products, other point solutions so they can be more of an old one. But that seems to be the trend is someone did something really well as a point solution. And let me just go and add some more points solution. So I’m an all in one, call myself an all in one, and then more people will use me.

 

Rob Hall: So like we were talking about JIRA earlier, I don’t think JIRA necessarily is considered a point solution, because it has such a broad reach in the development and software software development community. But one of its competitors Pivotal Tracker, some people might argue. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Is it a competitor?

 

Rob Hall: Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Of anyone? 

 

Rob Hall: Shhh be quiet. I would argue that it is more of a point solution because it to me it does. It does a great job doing what it does, but its scope is fairly narrow.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, it probably depends on the ecosystem, and really would probably come down to the payment structure too. So with JIRA, I think a lot of people use it as a as a point solution. So they’re, they’re just using it for task management. That’s what we do 

 

Rob Hall: Right. You know, we don’t really use it for much more than we have in the past. And I think the problem ends up being to answer your second question: that you collect a whole toolbelt of these point solutions. And depending on how you select them, they may not all talk together. And you hit on this point a little bit earlier. But just as a director, someone that’s going to interface a lot more with clients and deal with contracts a lot more, you need kind of this consolidated view, which right now you’re pulling from a bunch of different sources. Yeah. And it’s I mean, to me, that’s, that’s the big difficulty with all these point solutions. So if I’ve got communications, like, let’s just talk about project communication alone.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay.

 

Rob Hall: Right, so we were talking about slack earlier, and all of the the documents and deliverables that we create using Google Drive, and there was Miro that we didn’t even mention.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep.

 

Rob Hall: Miros is the new name of real time board. And, and so a lot of collaboration and design work, kind of culminates inside Miro. And then there’s draw.io, which is kind of integrated with Google Apps. So I’ve got all this communication over there. And then there’s additional project communication And that takes place in slack. Maybe the clients in there, maybe they’re not. But then I’ve got all these other tools over here that I’m trying to manage more at a higher level. So team Gantt and forecast and air table and JIRA. And if I’m trying to, like, roll all this information up and get some insight out of it. It just doesn’t work. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: I’ve got 12 different things that need to be integrated.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: Now yeah. You could argue they all have an API, most of them do anyway. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: Why don’t you just build your own thing? Well – 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Which we have.

 

Rob Hall: Which we have so, well let’s talk about that. Project Delta was this internal thing that we built that tried to accomplish that?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, so I mentioned earlier that in a past life of DS, we did a lot more T&M work. And so how we would structure engagements – 

 

Rob Hall: T&M meaning time and materials. Time and materials, if you’re just joining us, and pretty much how we would do it is we would what do they call it Scrum Fall or something? Water Agile I don’t know. We would Scrum fall into development. And so for the most part 

 

Rob Hall: It was kind of a stumble over a waterfall.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Stumble over down a waterfall – 

 

Rob Hall: Yes. Yes.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, and see where you land. 

 

Rob Hall: Right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: So contractually, it followed that way pretty much we would do a contract for research a contract for design and a contract for development. And if we’re honest, probably the only one that truly used consistently Sprint’s or the concept of Sprint’s was development. And so which is the most agilely kind of form. So I said all that to say that our contracts were quoted, at the end of each contract. One of the deliverables was to quote for the next contract […] and to do that, we would literally build out a task list for the entire next phase of the project. It was a ton of work. I mean, as a PM as you were rolling into design, like dark times in design, you were writing user stories like a madman.

 

Rob Hall: And honestly, that was the It was one of the points where we used to go over budget a lot was just trying to estimate.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Just estimating one of our big projects, just to tip our hand a little bit. We spent four full days of an entire dev team and two PMs, and a director estimating the next phase of the project. So let’s add that up. That’s like easily, what, a couple hundred hours? 

 

Rob Hall: That’s a lot.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Lot of hours. 

 

Rob Hall: Hundreds. Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. Just to assign story points. And that’s not even the time that the PM spent beforehand, writing the stories. 

 

Rob Hall: And keep in mind, we weren’t assigning story points. We were trying to estimate hours.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Oh, that’s right. Yeah, we had done it an hour we weren’t even doing story points.

 

Rob Hall: That’s right. Because we would take the hours and then directly convert it. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: We had this weird multiplier that we would use. Try to add some margin. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, don’t do that.

 

Rob Hall: A little buffer and –

 

Jay Cosgrove: If you’re listening, this is all a bad idea. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. Yeah, don’t do this, please.

 

Jay Cosgrove: So getting back on task here is we built this platform that allowed our estimates to be shown at a high level. Actually, it did go down to the story level, you can drill down to it. And so we would track time also through harvest, but it was integrated with JIRA using like a plugin. 

 

Rob Hall: Yep. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And the team would track time on a story. So we can compare actuals versus estimates. And then we could see as the project was going in real time, pretty much where we were going over budget from what we had originally estimated. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, and we tried to visually kind of predict where we were trending. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep.

 

Rob Hall: Which was helpful.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: But it was kind of like too little too late, sometimes.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Too little too late. And also because it didn’t fully integrate with harvest, which had the forecasted numbers in there. You still did a lot of back of the napkin math to get there as a PM. But you had a couple more tools and in a really nice visual clarity of what specific task is going over. And because it was real time, and it was a client interface. The client had no, no excuse on not knowing when things were going over because they could log in and refresh the page. Every You know, few seconds if they wanted to. And as PMs, we would actually use that to show our project updates, which we did once a week. 

 

Rob Hall: You talked about the client logging in, right? So so many of these these tools, which we can label point solutions. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: Rightly. It often offers a client view. So you assign a username and password to a client, give them some sort of a view only ability. How many of our clients really take advantage of that?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well, now, none. 

 

Rob Hall: None. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: We’ve also kind of discontinued delta. So that’s not really a thing anymore, but JIRA is something that we still give access to if they request it. 

 

Rob Hall: Sure. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And I think the most people that clients that are going to log in are going to be our counterparts. So for the actual functional team, –

 

Rob Hall: Right. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: So we have a couple clients where we work hand in hand with maybe a designer or developer on a product that we’re supporting through our product, if that makes sense like a companion product, and so they might be Tracking stories, like if they had a specific request for us. 

 

Rob Hall: So where we have essentially parallel roles.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: Another product manager, another designer developer, on the client side, as well as our side.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, though, I think in my experience, I haven’t had a lot of product managers on my, on my level that you know, that actually used it was mostly designers and developers. So getting back to kind of the point solution thing here, one point I want to make is just, there’s a plus to them because usually these point solutions do a better job at their individual thing that you’re using them for then the big all in one.

 

Rob Hall: That seems to be the thing that we’ve experienced, because we recently went through this whole process here at DS, trying to find an integrated solution that could eliminate three or four of these point solution tools, and we realized that you know, by by these tools, essentially trying to be all things to all people. They really like, kind of half assed everything.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: And I mean, you didn’t find a tool that did time tracking as well as harvest, you couldn’t find a tool that handled dev tasking as well –

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: As JIRA, you couldn’t find another tool that could handle communication as well as what we already have.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Wasn’t even necessarily cost efficient, either. 

 

Rob Hall: No. Expensive. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: A lot of these all in ones, they’re gonna charge a big ticket. 

 

Rob Hall: Oh, yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Well, why do you think that is? Why do you think they they struggled to do do things in an integrated fashion well?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Well, because of the nature of being an all in one, they, they’re relying on you using it as an all in one I think, depends on the platform. But that’s like the value when we considered mavenlink for example, that was the value like if you use the PM everything from soup to nuts on it, if you use their their project management tool, if you use their time tracking and their estimation, you started your estimates in the platform, it worked cohesively. But the minute you started saying like, hey, I’ve got a JIRA integration. We explored it. The integration didn’t talk that well to it, and it’s a different data structure underneath. And that’s ultimately where you get in trouble is the sync and the data structure and how you’re using those separate things you’re trying to integrate. And, you know, for the few companies that I’ve worked for that used year, they’ve all used them differently. And that’s one single tool that’s being used differently. Think about the four others that you’re trying to integrate to. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: So I think that’s the problem. And we would have to be okay with it sucking at something.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: If we’re honest.

 

Rob Hall: But that was that was I think the hard part is it is it wasn’t just sucking at something it was usually sucking at the thing we needed to do most. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: So like, honestly, project, planning, and reporting –  

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right. 

 

Rob Hall: That that one huge use case that we have from a management perspective, –

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: That we’re looking for these tools to help us provide. They just all fell short.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. Which leads nicely to the next thing that I wanted to call out, which is what do you think as a PM needs to be in your PM tool belt? As far as tools go? 

 

Rob Hall: Oh, yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Wanna take a swing at it?

 

Rob Hall: Sure absolutely.

 

Jay Cosgrove: I know it’s been awhile since you been behind the PM – 

 

Rob Hall: I know.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Actual PM keyboard

 

Rob Hall: I operate at a higher level these days. Yes, yes. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Oh, Lord.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, I know, for me, a really, really good solid issue tracker. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay.

 

Rob Hall: So if that’s JIRA for you, and you like JIRA, and you can and it doesn’t nauseate in the morning, then more power to you. If it’s Pivotal Tracker, if it’s Clubhouse, if it’s whatever. Great. To me, just knowing the intricacies of that tool. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: I mean, all the way down to keyboard shortcuts. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Being able to make very quick, efficient use of that whenever writing stories, the most you can avoid using your mouse –

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right. 

 

Rob Hall: to get through just authoring a story and saving it and moving on to the next one. To me that just is such an efficiency gain. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: In the life of a product manager.

 

Jay Cosgrove: I think that is the most important I would 100% agree with you. It’s like everything stems from that because that’s where all your work really is going to be saved and stored. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: And it’s going to be the source of truth. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, yeah, for sure. To me, and this is this is less of an issue. I think for for day to day product managers, it’s very much a project management issue. And, and we’re not going to get into the the differences between product and project right now. But for me, just just having a very clear customer agreement, whether that is in and this is not really necessarily a tool, but having having both the documentation and a system to help manage that budget, and the resourcing. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: So the budget side would be a tool though. 

 

Rob Hall: Oh, for sure. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. Without a doubt. So for us, that’s harvest right. If If you are tracking if your business model is oriented around tracking progress towards a given budget, having the tool for you to be able to see at a glance at any point where you are against that budget, that’s just critical. To me that’s like table stakes. You have to have it.

 

Jay Cosgrove: And potentially contractually obligated – 

 

Rob Hall: Oh for sure

 

Jay Cosgrove: as for a lot of our contracts, we could be audited. And if we are, we have to be able to respond with some sort of level if –

 

Rob Hall: That’s right. And it’s not even so much an issue of well, we’re not timing material. So why do we care about tracking hours? It’s more about just transparency and accountability for us to be able to say we’re paying attention, and we’re trying to be good stewards of your investment. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: So here’s the paper trail.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. And if we’re honest, there’s a level of team accountability that comes with it, too. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Even if it’s not said, you know.

 

Rob Hall: Right.

 

Jay Cosgrove: When you’re entering your hours each week, you got that thing in the back of your mind like did I actually work 8 hours this day?

 

Rob Hall: Did I really work 8 hours yesterday?

 

Jay Cosgrove: I’m not sure.

 

Rob Hall: And then lastly, I would just say for me, Google Drive has been huge. There’s there’s part of me that does have that grass is greener attitude, because there are so many things about Google apps that can be very clunky at times. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: And so like we’ve investigated alternatives like Quip and Coda. And some of those tools are really pretty cool.

 

Jay Cosgrove: They’re awesome, yeah really cool.

 

Rob Hall: And they do some really nice things very well. The problem is like the lack of ubiquity. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: And whereas I, everybody these days seems to have a Gmail account.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right.

 

Rob Hall: Even if my client at an enterprise level is not and you know, they’re not embedded in Google services. I’m still able to share documents to them. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Where if I, if we were to move away from Google Apps towards you know, some other third party service, it would it would create a barrier. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And I think you you mentioned Coda and Quip, I think the decision point where we moved away from them, we can dive in more in a later one, but was just what we were talking about. Could we justify another point solution? And I think the decision we came to with those was no we couldn’t, they’re really cool. And we could use them for specific things that would be powerful.

 

Rob Hall: Right. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: But at the same time, it was like, Can we get away with Google Docs? Yes. Okay. Let’s just stick with it.

 

Rob Hall: Well, and more and more of our clients, at an enterprise level are using Google Drive. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right?

 

Rob Hall: And so, I mean, it just, it’s like the old days of while everybody’s on Microsoft Word. So it’s the double, you know? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. 

 

Rob Hall: Thankfully, we’re not, you know, entirely stuck in that world anymore.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah. So I think the only thing I would add to your list, I was gonna say if you’re an agency, and this probably applies more to agencies than internal product companies, is having a good resourcing tool, and also going to apply if you have a bigger team. So if you’ve got five guys, you’re not too worried about this. Probably. 

 

Rob Hall: No. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: If you’ve got 10 projects and 20. Guys, you’re worried about it. 

 

Rob Hall: It’s it’s a big difference. Yeah, well, and I’ll just shamelessly say this, if you’re out there and you have a million dollars, and you’d like to pay us to build a really great resourcing tool, please give us a call. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: We’d love to do it.

 

Jay Cosgrove: And we’ll use it ourselves.

 

Rob Hall: And we would use it ourselves. Yes. I want to take a moment and and wrap up our conversation about tool churn. And a couple of lessons that we’ve learned as an organization. Having gone through the process multiple times of evaluating the toolset that we have and looking out in the marketplace to see if there are there new tools out there that might do the job, that we need a tool to do better than what we already have, are there tools that can help us consolidate some of the point solutions that we’re paying for etc. So a couple of things that that we feel are valuable. When you’re evaluating a new tool for your organization. Consider the switching costs. So it’s it’s not a trivial exercise, to jettison JIRA and transition your entire product team to Pivotal Tracker or to go from Pivotal Tracker to Quip or to go from Quip back to JIRA. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of energy and effort. And that’s above and beyond the work that you’re already doing. Trying to run and manage a living product.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, we can speak from experience here. We have switched PM tools in two years, three times. And each time the PM team has regretted it a little bit.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. But the good news is we love JIRA. Most of us. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: As much as you can love JIRA. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s right. But it it works, and we’re there, and we’ve we’ve made a commitment. Another consideration, do you have an obligation to your client that you need to consider while you’re evaluating a tool? So is there a type of reporting or tracking or cost measurement obligation that might be built into your your your contract with a given client that you need to make sure that a given tool can accommodate I would say on top of that to data protection? So especially with GDPR concerns and other things like that? is the tool that you’re investigating? Do Do they have a good security policy? Do they handle claims data with a high degree of safety. And then further, can the tool be integrated? If you’re looking at a point solution, a new point solution to replace something else? Can it be integrated with other tools that you already have in a meaningful way?

 

Jay Cosgrove: And vice versa, If you are considering an all in one tool, can it really do all the things that you need your point solutions to do well? You don’t want to shortchange yourself if there’s something that you really actually have to get done just for the sake of saying I have one tool that does everything.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. And in that said, If it ain’t broke, please don’t fix it. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Don’t fix it. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: For the love of God. 

 

Rob Hall: So on that note, let’s take a moment and talk about the Coronavirus. So, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of months, and increasingly so in the United States or the last few weeks. It’s kind of been a game changer for a lot of people.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, I think we’ve seen a lot more companies embrace remote work, rightfully so, though you and I have Started off this Coronavirus series by locking ourselves in a very tight booth together to record this. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s a good point. I did wash my hands before we began this process, sir.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Okay. I did too, I think. 

 

Rob Hall: I hope. Okay. Well, we may be stuck in here together, Jay.

 

Jay Cosgrove: At least we’re quarantined. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s true. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. Self quarantined. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah, that’s great. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, I think in general, we even we have kind of like a work-from-home as necessary type view on it. Just because we find a lot of value in people being at work. So together collaborating.

 

Rob Hall: It kind of forced us to embrace it more. I think over the years, we’ve kind of had this natural built intention against remote working.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right. 

 

Rob Hall: And we’ve always made do we have the tools, the processes and the people that we need to manage our team in a distributed way. There’s lots of other organizations out there that are already doing it and doing it quite well. For us, we value collaboration so much and there’s there’s power and just being an to sit next to somebody and see the expressions written on their face, and their reactions to things, and it’s really it’s affected our ability to work closely with our clients as well.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep that’s true.

 

Rob Hall: I mean, we we got an email just the other day from from our main client and saying that they’re, they’re effectively canceling all meetings without outside and third parties. And as of Monday, they are going to be working fully remote as well. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. Canceling in person meetings.

 

Rob Hall: All in person meetings are canceled. Yep, that’s right. So how, how, Jay, how does this affect your ability to manage product to manage your team?

 

Jay Cosgrove: So if I’m honest, the few products that I manage currently, my team is already kind of remote. For those that don’t know DS has a few offices across the US. And we’ve got some employees out in Denver, Greenville. I’m here in Alpharetta, we have a Midtown office as well. So I’m pretty used to the remote work I think where it creeps up and becomes the hardest is when you’re interacting with UX and research. So as a PM you really like to be with them, see the expressions, and whiteboard a lot more than you would probably with a developer. And so as you’re considering remote work, I think that’s the sticking point for me is how much communication am I going to have in ultimately collaboration with my design team?

 

Rob Hall: Yeah. Well, there’s a relational aspect to it, right? 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep. 

 

Rob Hall: So how, how well have you been able to to overcome kind of that relational barrier with the folks who are in Denver, the folks who are in Greenville, and and trying to, to continue building those relationships and have a high functioning team?

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, so one thing that I haven’t done super well, but I’m doing more of in 2020 is retrospectives. So me as a PM and we can go into this more later, I’m pretty lacks on process. I started off very process heavy. I’m a big fan of Scrum. And since then, I’ve just realized that each project is very unique and has unique and each team is very unique that you have on that. So you can have a project that works super well. And if your resources switch and then process might need to change on that project, just because of the people that you’re working with. And so in this case, my current teams, I’ve actually been pretty lacks on process. And therefore my retrospectives have been pretty casual, maybe once a quarter, we’ll reevaluate, see where things are, because the team is really good at just about being vocal and stand ups. And I’m pretty good about being attentive to that, and responding the next day or that day with changes that need to be made to the process. So since we’ve kind of gone full on I’ve full on remote more so in the last week or so, I’ve stepped up my retros and they’re becoming a little bit more mandatory and a little bit more. You know, we’re gonna try it out once a month cadence, our spring cert or every other week, two week sprints, so I think that should be fun without killing us with too much process. But that’s one big piece for my developers. The design team I’m not interacting with as much currently, but I think Miro has been our Savior all the way around on the design team as far as collaboration goes.

 

Rob Hall: Yeah so how has Miro helped enable collaboration with the design team?

 

Jay Cosgrove: I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s just when they present –

 

Rob Hall: Oh, but I think you do. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, maybe. So I think when they’re presenting work it’s just much more interactive in your you know, them being able to sync their sketch files directly to the Miro board and us look at it the way they are and comment on it leave feedback draw pictures on things if we need to.

 

Rob Hall: Without being destructive.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Destructive to their sketch file. 

 

Rob Hall: Yeah.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: Right. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: That’s that’s been helpful and it’s just a source online even for our clients to get to collaborate on and again, I don’t know if we have a project or a client super in Miro right now but we have in the past and it’s been very helpful.

 

Rob Hall: But we actually we just finished up a big research project and all the final deliverables are being stuck in the Miro and the client. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah.

 

Rob Hall: Like specifically requested that they be able to ingest them using Miro.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep.

 

Rob Hall: That’s pretty cool. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: It’s a good example of a one point solution that was 100% worth it. 

 

Rob Hall: Absolutely.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Does something that no one else does. Of course, Envision, a few others are trying to reproduce it but just has not been that good. And our actual research deliverables are being handed over in a Miro board based on requests from our biggest client.

 

Rob Hall: Yep. You know, just thinking about the spread of the coronavirus. Generally for us at Digital Scientists, we’ve imposed a non obligatory work from home policy. So basically what that means is, if you want to work from home as a precaution, particularly if you’re, if your commute to the office is substantial, or or whatever, or if you just want to play it safe, you’re more than welcome to do so. Our office spaces are not generally very dense. Whereas I know some of our clients have 1000 people jammed into a relatively small space where the proximity of people is a huge concern. So there’s a couple of us that are still coming into the office. I suspect we may not be doing that very soon.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yes.

 

Rob Hall: But for now, we’re really just trying to emphasize good, good sanitation practices in the office. I mean, generally our offices, we keep them pretty clean as it is, but I think we’re, we’re, our CEO was running around with Lysol wipes earlier this morning, wiping off desks and, and doorknobs and things of that nature, which is just right now is a responsible thing to do. And of course, encouraging everybody to not put their hands on each other, and wash your hands and just use common sense as it pertains to stopping the spread of the virus. I would also say that, another important thing that we’re trying to consider is the need to remain productive. I think it’s very clear that in our country, at least in the United States, that there is a lack of preparation economically for the fallout that the spread of this virus could have. And we don’t really know when it’s going to subside. I think the best estimates right now show that it’s, it’s just getting started. So we may be looking at really a longer term change than just a few weeks of being out of the office. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: And I think that is kind of interesting, because, obviously, we hope it ends as quickly as possible. But I think one of the side effects is just going to be what we’re experiencing, is the shift to more remote work being a more lasting thing, where we see hey, we can actually do this pretty well. That’s the hope, right? That we can do it well, and we’re doing everything we can as PMs to to maintain culture and productivity along the way. If we can prove it out of this, then that adds just yet another benefit to the team coming to work for us.

 

Rob Hall: I think as product managers is why it’s so important for us to remain positive. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Right? 

 

Rob Hall: And be sources of motivation and encouragement for our teams. Because I mean, you turn on the news, it’s very gloom and doom right now.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Oh absolutely.

 

Rob Hall: And that’s not to minimize the reality of the virus. Because there is a reality there that is very serious and needs to be taken seriously. But at the same time, we need our teams to remain as productive as possible. 

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yep.

 

Rob Hall: We all need to continue contributing to our work. And I don’t know about you, Jay, but I’d like to keep getting paid.

 

Jay Cosgrove: Yeah, that would be a good idea. So productivity is obviously key to that if we’re not delivering and not able to keep up that level that affects our clients ability to deliver themselves. 

 

Rob Hall: That’s right.