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Hello - it's Lauren here from the marketing team. Last week I caught up with Mike Emery, our product manager, and asked him to tell us all about his team and how they shape FLG. Here's what he had to say...
Good morning Mike, how’s it going?
Hey Lauren. I’m okay thanks, all the better for the tea and biscuits – thanks! How did you know custard creams are my favourites?
I must be psychic! What’ve you been up to?
Surviving! My one year old son isn’t sleeping very well at the moment. I’ve been doing some running and watching a bit of Women’s World Cup, following the Lionesses. I haven’t had time for much else really – you know what it’s like with a young family.
I sure do! Well thanks for finding the time to let me interview you. Can you tell me a bit about the product team?
Of course. We’re a small team based in the centre of Manchester, right next to the town hall and central library in a shared office location. It’s about an hour’s drive away from our head office in Padiham.
The team is made up of myself as the product manager, Karen our business analyst, and five software developers – we all work really closely together.
And what is each person responsible for?
My role is to define why, when and what the developers build. My background is in project management, which I did for about 14 years before joining FLG in 2018.
Karen, who previously worked in our support team, mostly focuses on the early part of our product development lifecycle – she takes a problem, researches it and defines solutions.
And although not technically part of the product team, John Jackson, our founder and MD, plays an integral part in our process and is heavily involved in defining the final solution, making sure the user experience works well.
How do you tend to work?
We’re an agile team – our highest priority is to satisfy our customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable and working software. Hopefully our customers can see this in the results – we’re releasing a lot features at the moment and are maintaining a constant pace, but with a focus on simplicity.
We’re a bit different from other dev teams – we split our work into ‘development tracks’, each one focusing on an area of the platform we want to improve. We have three tracks running concurrently and split the developers across them – typically two per track which ensures real ownership, knowledge and collaboration to find the best solutions.
How often do you release new features?
There’s no set interval – we release things once they’re finished and put things into the hands of our customers as soon as possible. We aim to set tasks that take two weeks or less to complete, so that there’s at least a new release on each track every fortnight. It’s not exact and I don’t focus too much on that – we aim for regular releases that work well and give our customers value.
How do you make sure FLG meets the needs of our customers?
I listen to as much feedback as I can. That often starts on our feedback site or from speaking with our knowledgeable support team, which often spawns conversations with customers to clarify what they’re asking for. I also visit customers to hear about how they’re using FLG and get their ideas on how to improve it face-to-face.
We also follow an ‘early release’ process on every track, which means we deliver the minimum to as many customers as possible to give them value and then evolve it from there based on their rich feedback.
What happens after you’ve identified an area to improve?
Everything we do goes through a development lifecycle – we define our goal, research it, talk to our customers, and explore what other products do to take inspiration from things we like and note things we don’t so we can avoid them!
This is where Karen comes into her own – her software roots and product knowledge from her days in support mean she has a clear understanding of what areas of the platform our customers want us to improve.
We then design a solution, give it to the developers to work their magic, and it gets reviewed and released. I keep our customers informed through regular emails and by updating customer posts and the changelog on our feedback site, which is a useful one-stop-shop to see everything we’ve been up to.
What has the team been working on recently?
The tracks we’re focusing on right now are Journeys, Appointments and Voice. We’ve released lots of good stuff and there’s a lot more to come.
Olie and Stefan are working on Journeys. They’ve just made it possible to automate actions once a journey has been completed, and journeys data can now be sent to other systems via webhook. Now, they’re busy creating conditional filters based on journey responses to give even more possibilities around automation.
Daniel is focusing on Appointments – users can now edit or delete appointments directly from FLG rather than the external calendar it’s integrated with. He’s now adding support for groups so that when an appointment is made, calendar availability can be checked for multiple users.
Nick and Andrew have been managing our Voice track, and have just added more features to our first integration with Aircall, including click-to-call, screen-pop and number matching. They’re now creating a call log and exploring our next integration.
How do you decide what tracks to work on next?
Again, it’s feedback. I feel like a broken record, but wherever possible we make decisions based on feedback metrics. That’s why the feedback site is so important to us – based on upvoting on customer ideas, it shows what our customers feel is important by the number of votes something has, or we’ll see a lot of similar posts relating to the same part of the platform.
We also get ideas straight from Sarah, Dan and Reece in our support team, and obviously we have our own ideas too – we all use the platform ourselves for our business, so we have brilliant insight into our own product and our ideas for improvement will often be the same as our customers’.
What future developments you have in the pipeline?
We’re in the early stages of research around emails, templates and new integrations, but this could change depending on what the majority of our customers tell us is important to them, so watch this space.
The one place for our customers to do that above all else is our feedback site. By setting a bit of time aside to read through some posts, vote on the ones they feel are important and add their own suggestions, the more rich and diverse feedback we’ll receive. They truly do influence what we work on next – we’re listening and we want to hear from them. Custard cream bribes are gladly accepted.