Difficult Product Decisions - From Episode 5 of the PM Leaders Podcast

2021-08-12 12:34:45
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We are eager to share the fifth episode of The Product Management Leaders Podcast with you! Our aim with this podcast is to connect you with some of the top PM leaders and share their real-world strategies and tactics for building world-class products. In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Larry Furr, the Chief Product Officer at Canopy. He leads Canopy’s PM, engineering, QA, dev ops, and UX teams. Larry previously worked at Ghostery, Nice InContact, and others. It was very exciting to hear about his PM strategies, go ahead and have a listen!

 

 

Listen to the episode here, or continue reading.


Grant Duncan  0:05  

This is the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which you hear from some of the top PM leaders about their real world strategies and tactics for building world class products. It's sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no code drag and drop contact center solution. Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products, such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in app chat and natural language processing. Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant. Now let's jump into the show.


Grant Duncan  0:41  

Hey, this is your host, Grant Duncan. Today, I’m speaking with Larry Furr, the Chief Product Officer at Canopy. He leads Canopy’s PM, engineering, QA, dev ops, and UX teams. Larry previously worked at Ghostery, Nice InContact, and others. So I’m excited to hear about his PM strategies. Let’s jump into it!


Grant Duncan  1:03  

Hi, there. I'm Grant Duncan, VP of Marketing at Voximplant. I'm really excited to have on to the Product Management Leaders Podcast, Larry Furr! Larry, can you start by introducing yourself? What's your role? I know you're the Chief Product Officer at Canopy but maybe you can share a little bit about what that means and what the company does. 


Larry Furr  1:27  

Sure. First of all, thanks for having me on the show Grant. Great to be talking to you. And looking forward to the conversation. Yes, as you mentioned, I'm Chief Product Officer at Canopy. Canopy is a cloud based SaaS solution for running accounting firms. So we sell our software to small businesses that are accounting firms across North America. And it helps them both to manage their staff, as well as manage relationships with their clients. So everything from CRM to task management, to client portals, time tracking, invoicing, payments, and the like. And as far as what I do there, I run both engineering and product management and UX design. So I oversee really all things related to product development. 


Grant Duncan  2:15  

Wow, that's pretty cool. I imagine because you oversee all three of those, you get to really have an integrated approach to how you do this. It's not like, Oh, this team is being slow, cause they all roll into you. 


Larry Furr  2:30  

Yeah, it definitely takes away the ability to point any fingers of blame with regards to product development. I prefer that way. Honestly, even earlier in my career, when I was just focused on the product and UX side of things, it was always important to me to have a really strong relationship with the technology leader in the company, and treat it more like a partnership as opposed to, you know, two separate departments. So, you know, at Canopy, we happen to be one department, I head that department, but it's still very much a partnership that the VP of engineering that works with me, you know, he and I are brothers in arms when it comes to planning out our roadmap, our priorities, and we've got each other's backs all the time. 


Grant Duncan  3:15  

Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. Okay, so you talked about those three areas. Can you talk a little bit more about how you structure your team, I imagine that maybe, it's a little different than some, because you are overseeing all three of those... And how many people are on your team? That sort of information. 


Larry Furr  3:33  

Sure. Yeah. So the entire departments a little over 50 people, that's mostly engineering, you know, roughly 30 odd people in engineering, and then about seven or eight in product, and seven or so in our UX team. And, you know, I think as you move into executive positions, whether you're a CEO, or CRO, or CMO or whatever, you know, you find yourself in a spot where you haven't necessarily done the different job functions that you're responsible for, you may have done some of them, but not all of them. And so you really have to rely upon people who are experts in those fields to help you out. And that's no different in my role as a CPO, that would be for any other CSO position. And so I think, in large part, team structure is based off of your strengths and weaknesses as an executive. So in my case, really strong in product management. That's what I spent my career in. Kind of okay in UX, because I've just worked closely with UX designers, you know, throughout my career and have dabbled a little bit more as a hobby than as a profession. And then on the engineering side, I'm not a software developer by trade. So I definitely can talk the language and understand how code gets made, but I can't write it myself. And so that'd be my weakest of the three, you know, areas that I'm responsible for. And so the way I have it structured right now is I have a really strong VP of engineering that I mentioned earlier, that helps run the engineering side of things. And I largely delegate those responsibilities to him. And then on the product side, a little bit more hands on the org is a little bit, you know, less structured or less hierarchical there. And then on the UX side, I've got a director of UX, who runs the UX team. So that's how we currently have it.


Grant Duncan  5:22  

Got it. Yeah, that's a large team, it's a lot of people to manage even just think about leading and motivating, that's a lot of people. 


Larry Furr  5:30  

It is, it is. And I mean, again, there is a hierarchy there. So it's not like I've got 50, you know, some direct reports. But I have six, and that is a lot. And one thing that I've tried to do, and I've been at Canopy now for a little over a year and a half, and I set myself a goal early on that I've been able to stick to, that I wanted to meet every person in my department and be able to talk to them at least once every quarter. And so I've been able to keep to that. And it's honestly the single most important thing that I've done, because those conversations are where I honestly get a lot of the most important information in my job, because you're talking to every single person, and you get to hear what they like, what they don't like, where they think there's room for improvement, where they might be running into problems. And it's been very enlightening. And so you can have a big organization and still stay in touch with your people. It just takes a little bit of time and effort. 


Grant Duncan  6:24  

Yeah, that's great. So I've heard others call that like skip level meetings. You know, where you're going, not just to your direct reports, but you know, the people under them and such. How do your direct reports feel about you running those meetings? Have they gotten comfortable with it? Or did you have some hesitancy in the beginning? 


Larry Furr  6:44  

That's a great question. Yeah, I see skip level meetings as a little bit different. Because that's usually like just going two levels down. So talking to people who go to your direct reports, and I do have those as well. I do them on about a monthly cadence. And I always do that kind of with the blessing of that, you know, in between manager, you know, just to make sure they understand I'm not trying to do your job for you, I'm not trying to go over your head here. This is  more about the employee, giving them an opportunity, you know, to talk to the to the boss, and kind of humanize me so I'm not just some suit, but I'm someone that actually is normal and you know, goes to his kids baseball games on the Saturdays just like he or she does and we could talk about life or work wherever they really want to. And I think that just humanizes, you know, work relationships.


Larry Furr  7:39  

But for the quarterly one on ones that I do with really everybody, even interns, now there's people that are three or four layers down the org chart for me, but I still make a point of meeting with them once a quarter. That's really something that I just think is important, to have a more cohesive team. And it helps keep me grounded so that you don't turn into this like Emperor with no clothes sort of situation where, you know,  there's problems that you're just not seeing, because you're too far removed from the people that are actually doing the work.


Grant Duncan  8:13  

And do you set the agenda for those meetings? Or let each person talk about whatever they want? 


Larry Furr  8:18  

The latter. So I tell people, this is your time. And it's short, it's a 15 minute meeting once a quarter. So it oftentimes goes more than 15 minutes. And I'm fine with that, you know, sometimes it goes for half an hour and people are like, Hey, you know, I don't really have any questions. Everything's great. I like my job. And then we sort of talk more about like, Hey, what are you doing this weekend, any summer plans? Other people have a lot to talk about. And they have a lot of questions. And you know, some people come with a list like, yeah, I've been waiting for this. And it really is up to the individual. And that's how I like to have it. 


Grant Duncan  8:54  

Hmm. Yeah, that's great. So when you think about planning, how do you determine your quarterly goals, so you can structure the team and the strategy in general? 


Larry Furr  9:06  

Yeah, so we use the OKRs method, which a lot of people know: objectives and key results. So we have company objectives that we... Well, I'll take a step back, we have sort of a larger overall single objective or mission statement, if you will, that the company sets and then departmentally, we kind of tether objectives to those, and sometimes the objectives kind of cross more than one department, sometimes they're departments specific. 


Grant Duncan  9:35  

Are you referring there to like annual planning? 


Larry Furr  9:38  

Quarterly, this is quarterly. And then from there, you know, I work with, you know, my direct reports to come up with Okay, what are the initiatives that we need to do to achieve this objective and what are the key results that are going to show or demonstrate whether or not we, you know, hit the mark. So yeah, we do that as a quarterly exercise. It's all organized in a Google spreadsheet... We use the Google Suite at Canopy and it's where we track all of our progress and we are really good at it. We look at it in our monthly all hands meetings which we refer to as deep dives that we have with the company, as well as at the end of each quarter, we show the results company wide as well as to our board of directors. So there's a lot of transparency around not only the process, but also the results.


Grant Duncan  10:33  

Hmm, that's great. And when you think about, maybe that's quarterly or monthly, like you mentioned, or even on a weekly basis, what are some of the key metrics that you're reporting on and tracking?


Larry Furr  10:46  

Yeah. So on the, you know, product development side of things, they fall into a couple of different categories. One is around security. You know, we're dealing with sensitive information, we've got people's bank statements and tax forms and whatnot in our system. And so security is important, like we have bank level security a Canopy. And we have initiatives to make sure that we keep security top notch at all times. So that's a category because we're a cloud based company and we're hosting what is a system critical product for our accounting customers, as you would imagine reliability uptime is also something that we care a lot about, and we have goals and initiatives around that to make sure that we stay up for our customers. And then from a product development standpoint, we have key results around product performance. So we're tracking certain, you know, KPIs that indicate strong adoption of the product and value that people are getting from the product, and we're interested in how the product is impacting our sales. So we also care a lot about things like average deal size and close ratios, and what the LTV of the product is... Churn is a big one, right? Like these are all things that we care a lot about as a product development team, and that we're reporting on regularly.


Grant Duncan  12:11  

Yeah. And do you have like, custom homegrown tools that you're using to track these metrics? Or are you using out of the box solutions?


Larry Furr  12:23  

We mostly use out of the box solutions. So for example, for tracking all of our kind of sales numbers and whatnot, we're inside of Salesforce, which along with everybody else in the world, you know. For our subscription information and churn and kind of customer information, we use a product called Zorra, which, again, is a pretty common one. We pull a lot of our product usage data, we have an analytics service that we did write ourselves, that dumps into Mixpanel for visualizing, you know, graphs and charts and stuff. And then in many cases, we pull data from all these different places, and then just pull it into good old fashioned Google Spreadsheets and make pretty charts that we put into slides for our, you know, board of directors and our employees.


Grant Duncan  13:13  

Right. Yeah, that makes sense.


Larry Furr  13:15  

Oh, and then on the engineering side, we use Datadog and some other things to monitor performance and uptime.


Grant Duncan  13:22  

Yeah, they've had incredible growth. A lot of adoption there. And from a UX UI side, are there any core metrics there? Or is it just tied to those larger goals and metrics you're talking about?


Larry Furr  13:39  

There are, so one of the things that we do, and I'm gonna slaughter the name of it now. I want to say it's like, I forget, it's like ACPU, but I don't think I got the right acronyms. My UX director will shoot me for this now. But it's a usability test, like an industry standard. And you can send the test to your customers, you get the results, and there's like a benchmark that you can set it against. So we started doing that as one way to test our usability. We've also done some work to make sure that we're following some of the best practices around accessibility. Not saying that we're perfect. We don't have screen readers. I mean, that kind of stuff, you know, working necessarily, but we've been doing some work there to make sure that our colors are good, you know, for people that have visual impairments. And, you know, the font size is right, and there's right crispness and sort of contrast between font colors and background colors. And so we've been doing some work there to help meet some of the accessibility standards that are out there. 


Grant Duncan  14:43  

Alright, cool. So when you think about your product roadmap, how do you balance customer requests, versus maybe new innovations or areas you want ahead that maybe customers aren't asking for yet?


Larry Furr  14:58  

Yeah, um, It's a great question because, you know, customers typically ask about the problems they're dealing with today, but they don't necessarily always anticipate the opportunities for solving problems that they don't even recognize that are problems, or maybe they do recognize they're problems, but they don't necessarily recognize that your product could solve those problems for them, as an example. So yeah, there's danger in just having your roadmap be whatever customers are asking for. That's a recipe for disaster. So as far as figuring out, like, what those other things are, there's a lot of ways to do it. But one of the big ways is just understanding the industry and the market and where things are headed. And, you know, keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities, things that may be adjacent, product categories that you could get into... Or, for example, when COVID hit, we realized really quickly that this was going to be an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that this is really disrupting the way people are doing accounting work. And in our case, we were pretty lucky that we were ahead of the curve, already a cloud company, we do everything in the cloud. So we were well positioned to handle COVID for our customers, who, you know, suddenly were realizing that a room of filing cabinets with all of their clients' forms in it didn't work out so well, when everyone's working from home, because no one has access to these filing cabinets now. And so we were, Hey, you know, how we have that cloud document storage? This is why you got to get all your files into the cloud. And so, you know, for our customers who have already done that, they were ready to go. For our customers who didn't, they're like, Oh, yeah, we got to start making that transition over to being digital. And so that was a big help for us. We also have a client portal, which is a mechanism for our customers, clients to upload documents, get tasks, communicate back and forth, and then ultimately pay their bill when their accountant is done doing work for them. And so again, we were in really great shape there, because we had that portal, and that was able to replace the kind of in-office, you know, face to face meeting that some people were still relying upon to do their business. So, you know, now, would we have been ready for those things if we were just doing what customers asked? Probably not, because a lot of accountants weren't thinking to ask for, you know, cloud storage for files or for a client portal. But thankfully, Canopy was looking ahead and realizing there's a better way to do things, and we were prepared for that. So when COVID hit it, it ended up being an opportunity instead of a disaster for us.


Grant Duncan  17:33  

Yeah, I can imagine the product adoption stats on document storage probably increased quickly there.


Larry Furr  17:41  

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, it's actually pretty... Which we track this, it's one of the KPIs that we look at, is the number of files that are being uploaded into the system. And it is very much a hockey stick around the time of COVID.


Grant Duncan  17:54  

Yeah, yeah, I bet. So let's say, you know, you're thinking about these different factors for your road map, how do you think about prioritization or trade off decisions? When things seem both really valuable? How are you going to choose one versus the other?


Larry Furr  18:12  

Man, it is the hardest thing to do as a product manager, I tell everybody that - the hardest! And coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, the most important thing that you do as a product manager is prioritization. It's like the old joke... In the real estate business, they say the three most important things are location, location, location. And I like to say that in the product world, the three most important things are prioritization, prioritization, prioritization. Although I sometimes replace that with communication, communication, communication, because that's also really important. But yeah, prioritization is super hard. And it's hard because there's not a science to it. I mean, there can be, and there's methodologies. I'm a fan of the Kano methodology, as an example. And there's others that are out there, to try and make it a scientific sort of process. But at the end of the day, there is art to it. And there is instinct, and there's intuition, and there's things that go into it, that help you make the right decisions. And it's just super hard. And I don't have any magic pixie dust, as in what to tell people to do to be able to prioritize stuff, other than, I would just say, check your ego at the door, ask a ton of questions, get data and input from everywhere you possibly can. And then just do what you think is right for the company. That's going to have the most success. There's no shortage of good things that you can do, but trying to figure out the most important things to do in the right order, man, that is what product management is all about, in my opinion.


Grant Duncan  19:40  

Yeah. I like that. The three P's - prioritization, prioritization, prioritization


Larry Furr  19:48  

It's critical. Well, and the other thing I'll say, too, and you know, Product Managers in my team probably get tired of hearing me say this, but prioritization is not a one and done activity. It's an everyday activity. One of the greatest things about Agile development and getting out of the world of Waterfall is that you do have the flexibility to reprioritize and change things, you couldn't really do that when you were shipping box software once a year. But in the world of Agile and cloud development and cloud hosting, you can be a lot more resilient to new data points that come in, not resilient, but responsive, I should say, to new data points that come in and make those changes in prioritization. I think, sometimes, product teams are afraid to do that, they kind of get a plan in place, they've done their research, they've got the requirements written, they're like, man, like, if we change priority, I have to go out and do more research. And we have to make new mock ups, we have to rewrite the requirements, we got to go have conversations with engineers again, and like, let's just stay the course, like, let's just build the thing that we already know what to do. And that's a mistake, you need to be willing to reprioritize if new data has come in, that's told you that you're not working on the most important thing. Now, I'm not saying just blow up your roadmap every day, because there's switching costs that happen if you if you sort of stop something mid tracks, right. But you do need to be willing to make changes, so that you can make sure that the most important stuff is being worked on, and that most important definition can change. And does change, from one day to the next, based on new data that comes in.


Grant Duncan  21:25  

Yeah. Can you share about one of the hardest product decisions you've had to make?


Larry Furr  21:32  

Probably soon after I joined Canopy. So we had a couple of different products that we were building, three in total, we had a tax resolution product, which was very strong and mature and had really good adoption, good product market fit. But it was sort of a small market. So we knew there wasn't a lot of growth opportunity there. We had a practice management product, which is the one I kind of described at the beginning of this call, which helps you manage your firm and your customers. And that's a great product with a huge opportunity. But we hadn't gotten the product market fit yet. And so we had some work to do there. And then we had kind of our green fields sort of like shoot for the stars product, which was a tax preparation tool, we were trying to build tax prep 100% in the cloud, not for consumers, not like a Turbo Tax, but for tax professionals. And that's a really high bar, because you have to basically support every tax form at the federal state, local, municipality level. And there's no 8020 rule, you either support everything or you don't, if you don't support everything, people can't use your tool, right, they're gonna go use the tool that can. And so the whole 8020 you know, crawl, walk, run, you know, stuff that we talked about, you know, iterative development, that's all out the window, when you're trying to build a tax prep tool, right, it's like, your car can either do everything a car can do or it can't, you can't sell someone a car without a steering wheel - just doesn't work. And so we have these three products, it was too much for where we were at as a company currently, from a growth level, from a resourcing and staffing, you know, capability level. And when you're doing too many things, and you're still a small company, you end up failing at all three, and that's kind of part of what Canopy was struggling with. And so I and others had to make the very hard decision to basically kill one of those products. And we decided that it would be the tax prep product. And so we put that on ice, that was a hard decision, because we had put a lot of time into developing it, we'd raised a lot of money on developing it. And  we even were in a beta, we had some customers that were trying it out and loving it and like, Hey, I can't wait until this is like, I can buy this. And so we had to make a very hard decision to say, you know what, we just can't run two races at the same time. We're just not adequately staffed and financed to do that. And so we put tax prep on hold. And we've been focusing on practice management since that time, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. Because we've now reached product market fit with that product. And the numbers show it -retention is through the roof, expansion is through the roof. And we can't wait to get out of tax season, the delay from April 15 to May 17 is kind of slowing us down a little bit, because people don't necessarily want to talk to you when they're trying to file taxes. But once we get past that tax deadline, we expect to see our sales to be through the roof this summer as well. So we're very excited about that. And it would not have happened, had we not made a decision to focus and put that other product on the shelf for the time being.


Grant Duncan  24:39  

Hmm, yeah, that sounds like a difficult decision. But I'm glad it's paying off for you. So that's an interesting point you brought up there at the end with tax season. I imagine, as you said, people just aren't talking to you while they're heads down with their own customers. How has that cycle of the US tax season affected your product development cycle? Do you have to really focus on reliability in a certain time of year? And then you can shift to new product work? Or are you able to just kind of keep everything going all year round?


Larry Furr  25:19  

Yeah, it's tough. I mean, I'll shoot straight with you. It's tough, because we're an agile company, we want to deploy all the time as soon as we can. And we do. And tax season comes, and we have to really clamp down on releases and put some real restrictions into place around change control. So we do, we have, you know, gray out and blackout periods, we refer to them as, that make it much more difficult, if not impossible to make changes to the product. And there's certain hoops that you have to have to jump through, if you do want to make changes and some things, you know, we say yes to and something we say no to. And it does, it slows down our ability to deploy during tax season, but it doesn't slow down our ability to keep working on stuff. And so we continue to build and test. And it just means that once tax season is over, we kind of have a little bit of a log jam that gets cleared up where a bunch of stuff goes to the pipeline and gets released. And we make a big marketing push out of it. You know, we do a webinar, we show all the cool stuff that we built. While you've been busy working, you know, we've been busy working too, right. And it's a big kind of dog and pony show, and people get excited, and it helps kind of kick off what is typically a really strong selling season for us throughout the summertime.


Grant Duncan  26:40  

Yeah, yeah, that's, that's great insight. Have you had similar situations like that, for past companies you've worked for where there's like, certain seasons for them, that you have to really have those gray outs or blackouts.


Larry Furr  26:56  

Um, I haven't had the seasonality sort of factor before. The other companies I've worked at have not been as vertical based they've been kind of more, you know, broad tools for across different verticals. But blackouts and gray outs are something that I'm customed to. Earlier in my career, I worked for a company called NICE inContact, which makes contact center software, we were talking a little bit about it before this started.


Grant Duncan  27:26  

Haha, competitor to us!


Larry Furr  27:28  

Yeah, competitor to you guys. And at any rate, we had to be very careful there with writing code, because you take down someone's call center, and you're going to put yourself out of business. Like you just can't do that. But time was really important to us. And we did, we did have some customer specific blackout periods. Especially around like holidays, you know, if we had retailers, we could not be messing with, you know, their contact center software during the retail season. So we did have some of that. But again, it was very specific to the customers. It wasn't like a general across the board, because other customers maybe who weren't retailers didn't have those same, you know, retail season issues.


Grant Duncan  28:12  

Yeah, yeah, I know our PMs have to think about that as well. Because like you said, you know, if your contact centers down for five minutes, an hour a day, like that is tons of revenue usually just lost.


Larry Furr  28:26  

There is hell to pay, if you're down for even a minute and you're doing content center software, it is very tough.


Grant Duncan  28:31  

Yeah. Yeah, totally. So somewhat on a related note, at Canopy, what technologies are you using for customer engagement and communication in your products?


Larry Furr  28:43  

Yeah, so we use a couple of different things. So we've got... soon as you asked that, my mind blanked on all of them. We have Intercom that we use for our customers. We have an NPS tool, the name is escaping me right now, that we use for sending out NPS surveys to our customers.


Grant Duncan  29:07  

Voice or text NPS surveys?


Larry Furr  29:12  

We actually send it via email. Delighted I think... or Delightly... one of those two. They allow us to use their API to embed it right into the product, which is even better. You get pretty much everybody and then whoever doesn't do it for the product, we send them an email like hey, do the last chance take the NPS survey. So we do that and it's a nice little tool, because it lets you like run some filters and you can do some sentiment analysis and look for keywords and stuff. So that's pretty cool. Intercoms going good. But my favorite tool that we have and it's funny because people don't typically think of it as like a voice of the customer product tool. They think of it more as like a sales and marketing tool. But it's Gong. Gong, if you're not familiar with it, it records your phone calls and creates transcripts, you can search those transcripts. And so, you know, I think it mostly gets used by sales people and customer support people to kind of have a transcript of conversations, learn and train and get better and that kind of thing. We use it as a product research tool. And in addition to all those things, we use it as a product research tool. Because if we want to know, say, what do people think about our task management dashboard? Well, we can go into Gong, we can search task management dashboard and pull up a transcript, if their attempt has been mentioned during a demo, or during a support call or an implementation call. And we can read, it takes you right to the part of the transcript where that thing was being talked about. And you can kind of see what was being said about it, if it looks kind of interesting, you can listen to the recording, you can jump right to that part of the recording. And very quickly, you can get a lot of really good information about how people are interacting with that particular part of your product. So it's a tremendous research tool, and probably the one that we love the most on the product team.


Grant Duncan  31:07  

Nice. Udi is the CMO of Gong and Udi, if you're listening to this, you just got a big shout out from a non sales use case. Pretty good option there.


Larry Furr  31:18  

Yeah, they honestly should have a whole section on the website just for product managers. It's like a whole another you know, persona, they could be selling to.


Grant Duncan  31:26  

Yeah, I mean, I know even in marketing, my myself being in marketing, something like that is super valuable. Because you can change the messaging, whether it's in-app or on your website, you can tailor what you're talking about, as well. But the product, the product part is also pretty fascinating. So one of our listeners asked a question for you, how would you recommend PMs to deal with failure?


Larry Furr  31:54  

Learn from it. I mean, that's all you can really do. Again, I'm a big advocate of not having egos. I don't like working with people with egos. I like people who are humble, and just want to be better. And if you're a humble person, then failure isn't something that  really, you know, bugs you that much because you're just already humble, and you don't think you're perfect, you don't think you walk on water. It's the people with big egos that usually don't deal with failure very well, because they're in denial that they failed, or they're trying to come up with excuses, or blame somebody else. But I think humble people are sort of like, yeah, I realize that I'm not infallible, and I make mistakes, and I'm going to fail. And they see failure as an opportunity to learn and be better. And like a lot of software companies, at Canopy, we do retrospectives on a regular basis. And it's the three questions - what went well, what didn't go well, what can we do better? And we do those quite frequently. And I find the "What didn't go well?" part of the meeting way more valuable than the "What did go well?", because it's the "What didn't go well", where we're basically acknowledging our failures, and here's what we can do next time to do it better and so yeah, learn from it. That's what I would say about failure.


Grant Duncan  33:15  

And who are in those retro meetings?


Larry Furr  33:19  

So we do them with our development teams, which we refer to as squads, kind of referring to them like Spotify model of agile development. If you haven't seen a little video out on YouTube, go search for, it's great. It's really a nice little way to organize your product development teams. But our squads are essentially the units that are all of the different skill sets that it takes to make products. So you've got a PM, you've got a UX designer, you've got some front end and back end developers and QA testers. And they all work together on a squad, on a particular part of your product. And so those squads do retrospectives on about a monthly basis. But we also will do retrospectives, sometimes, if there's a particular challenge that we went through, you know, maybe we had some unexpected downtime, or maybe we were trying to work on kind of a cross squad, like a cross department initiative. And after it's done, lwe want to do a retrospective on it, you know, because yeah, again, you don't ever do anything perfectly, you know, even if it was a success, you can still find opportunities for improvement. And so we'll use retrospectives, ad hoc kind of a mechanism in those areas as well.


Grant Duncan  34:34  

Yeah, that's great. And how hardcore are you and the team on agile?


Larry Furr  34:42  

I mean, like everybody, I think there are really no true agile companies out there. Everyone's sort of doing some version of Scrum or Fall, right, as some people go around calling it. We're certainly not doing Extreme Programming. Something we've done at Canopy, which has been a little unique for me in my career, but I've kind of let it be because you know, you can't just change everything about a culture when you join, you have to kind of pick and choose your battles. And one of the things that Canopy had as part of its DNA before my time there, is having a lot of autonomy on those squads to sort of determine what methodologies they want to use for planning work. And so I have not been prescriptive about it, we have some teams that do combine some that do Scrum, you know, some that, frankly, are a little bit Waterfall-y-ish, you know, more than others. And we kind of let them do that. And like, whatever works for them, as long as they're hitting their objectives and goals, and they're not, you know, slowing the company down. We give those squads the autonomy to do things where they want to do it. So I would say we're, you know, we embrace agile, we think of ourselves as an agile company. But, you know, there's a colleague of mine, that's great, that I've that that probably learned most of what I know about agile from, his name's Nick Raymond. And he likes to always tell me that the whole point of Agile is that is that, you know, you don't have processes, right. It's sort of like, do what works. And so you see these companies that are like, trying to build all this process around agile, they've missed the boat on it, you know, and so...


Grant Duncan  36:16  

The core heart of it, right? 


Larry Furr  36:18  

There's a whole Agile Manifesto of like people over processes, right? And so not only that you start trying to design a bunch of heavy handed processes for agile, you've kind of missed the whole spirit of it. And so, you know, from that standpoint, I think that piece of the canopy DNA where we give teams autonomy to do what works best for them, really is the spirit of agile.


Grant Duncan  36:37  

Hmm, yeah. And for those of you who are newer into PM listening, go check out the Agile Manifesto. It's a good one. For those of you who have been in PMfor a while, you're very familiar with it. For years squads, Larry, do you have a leader in each one? Or are they kind of self managed?


Larry Furr  36:58  

They're self managed. I think there's this tendency for people to think the product manager is sort of like the leader of the squad. And you might think that because I'm like, a product guy at heart that I would champion that, but I actually try to push against it, because I want those squads to be democracies, not dictatorships. And I think, you know, PMs are smart, but they don't know everything. And any PM who thinks he or she owns the squad is sort of, you know, denying themselves opportunities to get really good input from other people on the squad. So I really encourage having the squads be more of a democracy, where everyone sort of has a vote. And there's certain areas in which different people on the squad, maybe have the final say. And that's the whole, like, you know, the what versus the how, right, the PM kind of has the trump card on what we're going to build, but the the engineers have the trump card on how we're going to build it. And likewise, a designer is going to have the trump card on how it's going to look. And so each of those different functions will have their sort of trump cards, but the idea is you want those squads to work in a very democratic way, collaborate on things and hopefully come to an agreement on what has to be done.


Grant Duncan  38:20  

Thanks. Are there any books or online learning resources that you would recommend to up and coming PMs?


Larry Furr  38:30  

Yeah, so the dirty little secret about myself is I'm not a big business book reader. I've read a few here and there. But I typically work so many hours in the day that when I finally get a few hours to myself, I don't want to read more about work, if I'm going to read something, it's going to be fantasy, like, take me away from the real world. But there are a couple of books that I have read that I that I like, in the business world, my favorite is probably "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz. And I like it, because it's all content and no fluff. I think a lot of business books could be like a meia article, and someone turns it into like a 500 page book. And that's really frustrating for me. But "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" is great, because it's like a bunch of media articles, like all brought together in a compendium of a book. And so you can just go to the table of contents and be like, what do I learn about? I want to learn about how to fire somebody, I want to learn about, you know, how to be a better boss, and you can kind of jump in that chapter and read it and it and it's, it's like a concise, encapsulated, little lesson on how to do that thing. And so I really liked it. I think it's a great reference tool. And that would be at the top of my list of business books to read.


Grant Duncan  39:44  

Nice. Yeah, it's also like you said, no BS, it's straight to the point and from the trenches.


Larry Furr  39:52  

From the trenches. I mean, the only part that sort of novelesque is like the first couple of chapters because he kind of talks through his whole story and that reads like, like someone needs to make a movie out of that, because it's a fascinating read. Once you kind of get past that, then yeah, it's really just a it's a guide on how to do certain things that managers have to do.


Grant Duncan  40:13  

Yeah, totally. Alright, so if you had a magic wand, and you could make a wish and solve any one Product management Problem, what would that be?


Larry Furr  40:24  

Oh, it'd be prioritization, that's easy, I would have a little prioritization machine that just, I just feed in all of the ideas, and it comes out with a fully prioritized list and what to do with it.


Grant Duncan  40:35  

It's like a little black box and... 


Larry Furr  40:38  

Yeah, would be amazing!


Grant Duncan  40:40  

That would be pretty awesome. So how do you explain what you do to your family or to non-tech people?


Larry Furr  40:48  

Yeah, haha! I'm thinking of like, the memes of like what I think I do and how other people see me, that whole thing. Um, yeah, to non-tech people, family members, I typically tell people like, look, you know, you use software, you use Facebook or Gmail, or whatever. Somebody has to decide how those products work, right? Like, what features to add, and how to make them more useful. And what I do, is I do that for my particular products. So that involves talking to customers, it involves tracking what competition are doing. And then ultimately, it involves working with the developers who actually write the code, to provide them some direction and oversight on how to build the things that that you believe are going to make that product more useful to your customers.


Grant Duncan  41:43  

I like that take. It's very explanatory. Better than I work with computers.


Larry Furr  41:48  

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, you know, you never want to say that, because then they call you when they can't get the printer connected. I'm not an IT guy.


Grant Duncan  41:58  

Totally. So you know, Canopy is a decent sized company, you've worked at even larger ones in the past. How do you go about managing stakeholder relationships?


Larry Furr  42:09  

Oh, man, it's an important part of the job. I've learned probably the hard way, in a few prior jobs, what happens when you don't manage those relationships really well. And what happens is you lose credibility and trust with your co workers, is really what it comes down to. So you know, there's kind of a little saying that people use in Product Management all the time of like, PMs are like little mini CEOs. And while there's some truth in that, in that you have a lot of responsibility there, right? Which is true. Where it's not at all true, is that you're not the boss of the company, right? You're somewhere in the middle of the ladder. And so even though it's your job to make decisions about the product, it doesn't mean that people aren't going to second guess those decisions and question whether or not you're making good ones. And so I think if you kind of get into this idea of like, I'm the little demigod over the product, you can really put your blinders on and forget the importance of getting people's buy-in to your vision for the product. And I see this happen a lot. And, you know, I've joined a couple of companies where the trust that the business had in the product organization was very low, because you had Product Managers who didn't put time or effort into evangelizing the product roadmap to the rest of the company, and having those stakeholder relationships. And in some cases, they didn't deserve that trust, because they were making bad decisions. In other cases, they were making great decisions, they just were really bad at doing public relations for themselves. And so they didn't have the trust, even though they probably deserved it. And so, I started my career out in public relations. So I care a lot about how I'm perceived, how my team is perceived to others that we work with, and not because I, you know, I have an ego, but because I want to make sure that people have confidence in me and my team, that we know what we're doing. And it's a big responsibility to run product, especially for a software company. I mean, most of the money that's being spent at a software company is on product development. Engineers are expensive. And so to think that you shouldn't have to ever justify the decisions you're making is fallacy on the part of the Product Manager, because that's where that's where most of the money is going. And so I tell Product Managers on my team all the time, a big part of the job is going out and doing PR, it's going out and building consensus with stakeholders and other departments about what you're building and that happens by getting their opinion, by sharing your opinion, and then by coming to a consensus. And then when you do that, people start to be bought-in, because they were part of the ideation, they were part of the prioritization conversation, and then they get behind you. And they're like, Oh, yeah, you actually know what you're doing, I trust you now. And that's important. And that only happens if you manage those stakeholder relationships.


Grant Duncan  45:09  

Yeah, super important. I know, even in marketing we have to do the same thing, right? We can't just be in our own corner, we have to be talking and sharing with the company, what we're doing as well. Definitely really valuable. How do you think about the relationship with product with others in the company such as sales or marketing or finance?


Larry Furr  45:33  

Yeah, I mean, you interface with all of those, some more more than others, depending on your role within the product org. But yes, there is not a department you don't interface with as a Product Manager, really, is what it comes down to. You interface with all of them. You know, on the sales side, you're getting information from sales about what's working and what's not working, from a demo standpoint. And you're hearing about the reasons that they lose deals, the reasons they get deals, and in some cases, you're helping to close the deals. And so that's a big touch point. On the marketing side, mostly you're working with the Product Marketing folks around positioning, packaging, pricing, competitive analysis, market sizing, all those sorts of things. But also, you're on the output side, you're feeding information to marketing so that as things release, they can be doing marketing campaigns around them, press releases, you know, sales materials, and whatnot. On the CS side, it's similar to sales, another area where you're getting a lot of information from customers about what sorts of things they do and don't like about the product, how to make it better, what some of those pain points are. And then, on the finance side, I would say that's probably the one department that gets neglected the most by Product Managers. And I probably didn't appreciate that as much until I kind of got to, you know, more of a management executive role. I think a lot of Product Managers aren't thinking about the financial impact of their products, they don't have a great way to measure it. And so I think if you can forge some relationship with finance, you'll find people who will help you do that,they'll kind of help you figure out like, here's how you can show ROI on the thing that you want to build. And that can be a really powerful thing for a Product Manager, if you can learn how to do that. It's easier to do for like a B2C product than it probably is like a, like a B2B product, but it can still be done. And it's something that I would highly encourage Product Managers to figure out how to do.


Grant Duncan  47:38  

Yeah, yeah, great insights. And you mentioned you started in Public Relations, can you share briefly how you made the transition into Product Management?


Larry Furr  47:47  

It was pure happenstance, as it often is, for a lot of Product Managers. I mean, I went to college in the days where Product Management was not a discipline or a track that you could take as part of your MBA or anything like that. So nobody really went to college to be a PM, like you can today. And so I got into Public Relations, my first job out of school, my Public Relations job turned into a marketing position, because of a company reorg. And so, my options were lose my job or become a marketer. So I decided to become a marketer.


Grant Duncan  48:20  

Income is good, haha!


Larry Furr  48:22  

Yeah! And specifically, I was doing Product Marketing. So Product Marketing kind of got me exposed to product in general. And then just out of sheer luck, starts aligning, I got recruited, or not really, like I got reached out to, to come interview for a Product Manager position. And my title at the time with Product Marketing Manager, I don't know if maybe the the HR recruiter didn't understand that there was a difference between Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager, I really don't know, I'd like to go back and ask her, but I've lost contact with her. I got into this interview to be a Product Manager, and I realized about two minutes in that I had none of the qualifications for the job. But I did my best just to answer questions and everything. And at the end of it, the hiring manager, he's a great guy named Dave Pries, who ended up being a huge mentor for me, and I love them to death, I've learned so much from him. But he pointed to a stack of resumes on his desk, you know, that he had, and he's like, you know, every single person here has more experience than you do. And I'm like, Okay, he's about to tell me that I'm not getting the job. And he's like, I'm gonna offer you the job, because I see potential in you, and I think I can mold you into a good Product Manager. I'm like, whoa! And so I beacme a Product Manager. So... crazy story!


Grant Duncan  49:42  

Man, Dave, what a guy!


Larry Furr  49:44  

He's a great guy. He's a great mentor. I learned so much from him.


Grant Duncan  49:48  

Very cool. So with a team of 50 people, how do you think about creating a team culture?


Larry Furr  49:56  

I mentioned when I joined Canopy a little over a year and a half ago, it was already five years into its infancy. And it very much had a culture already. So I didn't necessarily have to come in and build a culture. But there were things about the culture I wanted to change. And there were some things that weren't working. And so that's challenging. I think, in some ways, changing culture is harder than building culture. Because you have to convince people that there's a better culture to be had. And you don't do it alone. So you have to find allies. And in my case, you know, my main ally, was the VP of engineering, a guy named Gordon, mentioned him a couple times now in this interview, so I figured I should probably put a name for the person. So Gordon, has been a great ally. And we were of like minds with some of the cultural things that we didn't like. And one of the things that we didn't like is there was a little bit of a lack of accountability. Autonomy was a big part of the culture, which is great, it's good to give people autonomy to sort of do what they feel is most important. But autonomy doesn't come without accountability, right? There has to be accountability. And so that was something that we had to kind of help instill into the culture. I would not have been able to do it on my own, but with Gordon, and then kind of getting, you know, other people in leadership roles on the team kind of bought into some of these cultural changes, we were able to make those changes over time. And something that Canopy does really great. And this I credit to our CEO, Davis Bell, is we do a lot of, you know, you have NPS that you do for your for your customers, we do an NPS for our actual employees. So we send out an NPS survey to employees, once every two months, I believe. And we have a net promoter score, you know, would employees promote Canopy or not? And the question is like, would you recommend to a friend to work at Canopy? You know, one to 10 scale, right? And then we use the same, you know, grading system as NPS does. So anything that's an eight or above is a promoter, and so forth. So we do that, and we track it. And there's some other questions in there, right? Like, why, you know, and like, what are three things that you would change about Canopy? What are three things that we should keep doing? What are three things that we should start doing? And it's all anonymous. So it all just kind of dumps into a spreadsheet... The only thing we know, is what department a person's in. So we know what their job function is, we don't know anything else about them. And as an executive team, we read through all of those. And we learned a lot from that. And it's another really great tool that we've had, in being able to assess our culture and identify where we need to make changes.


Grant Duncan  52:44  

Hmm, very cool. You know, being a Chief Product Officer, your relationship with the CEO, as you kind of alluded to there, is a really important relationship for you. How do you think about fostering that collaboration between you and the CEO?


Larry Furr  53:03  

Yeah, it's a big part of the job. And I'm fortunate in that I have a great CEO, we get along really well. We're of like minds on a lot of things. And one of those things is just, you know, again, checking the ego at the door, I've talked about that earlier, and just being open minded about things. So we have a lot of really good conversations. I have found that every CEO that I've worked for has been a little bit different. And a lot of those differences come from their career backgrounds. Because, as I mentioned earlier, when you're in an executive role, you're oftentimes managing job functions that you yourself haven't done before. And so you know, a CEO that comes from an engineering background is different from a CEO come from a sales background. And so understanding those differences is important. And it kind of helps you understand, like, where do I need to be more explanatory about things, where do I not need to be. And I think if you want to have a good relationship with your CEO, ultimately, you're trying to make their job easier, you're not trying to bring them problems, you're trying to bring them solutions, you're trying to make sure that you're feeding them the information they need to do their job successfully, you're helping them to look good to their boss, because CEOs have a boss too. It's just the board of directors, right? But that is their boss. And then you want to make them look good to their boss the same way that you want people to make you look good to your boss. And so those are some of the things that I think are important to have a good relationship with your CEO. Canopy has been a unique situation for me, it's the first time I've joined a company where the CEO I currently have joined after I did, so normally you join and the CEO, at least for me, has been someone who's been there for like ever, and they know everything you know, there is to know. And so it's kind of like - Teach me! And in my case, the founder CEO had stepped down soon after I joined and the new CEO came on. And that was kind of a new experience for me, because while there was a lot to learn from him, as far as how to be an executive, he wasn't going to teach me anything about the industry or the product or company, because he was brand new. And so I had to help bring him up to speed on well, like, let me tell you about the accounting industry. And let me tell you about our competition, let me tell you about some of the challenges that we're having. And so that was a kind of a new experience for me. But one that, you know, it's been a lot of fun. And so, yeah, I think you just have to understand some of those different backgrounds, if you're CEO and then adopt or adapt, rather, your approach to that relationship to bring the things that are going to benefit that relationship.


Grant Duncan  55:43  

Yeah, well, Larry you've had some great insights today, I think it's really going to help our listeners. Last question for you, who's one other person that you think we should bring on the podcast? 


Larry Furr  55:54  

You want to product person, right?


Grant Duncan  55:57  

Yep!


Larry Furr  55:57  

Let's see... I'm gonna throw out a lady named Emmy Southworth that I worked with a couple jobs ago at a company called Ghostery. She currently at at Lendio, running their,  I think it's called sunrise division, which is a cloud bookkeeping tool. And Emmy is phenomenal. She's got a background in creative design and UX and then kind of changed stripes and became a PMand now runs product and UX for Sunrise by Lendio. So she's phenomenal, that's who I'd recommend.


Grant Duncan  56:31  

Nice. Well, Emmy, we hope we can talk with you soon! Larry, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it. Have a good day!


Grant Duncan  56:38  

Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you!


Grant Duncan  56:41  

Thanks for listening to today's podcast, and thanks to our sponsor, Voximplant as well. If you're looking into how to improve your communication and customer engagement, check them out. Lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and tell your friends, so that others can find it more easily. Have a great day. And feel free to reach out to me, Grant Duncan, if you have any questions you want asked in our next episode.

 

 

 

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