If you’re a leader who is guiding your organization to be more product-led, this case study gives you the example of how one company – accesso® Technology Group – managed this transformation successfully.
accesso – the leading global provider of ticketing, virtual queuing, distribution and guest experience technologies for leisure & entertainment – had originated as a services company but, over the years, was transforming to more of a product-based company having acquired and built out a portfolio of innovative new products. To transform successfully, the company needed team members across the organization to shift from a mindset of selling services/projects to a mindset of building and selling products. I was brought in to train teams on product management and help the organization transform to a product-mindset.
Change is always hard and requires buy-in across the organization, so the Radical Product Thinking approach starts with a diagnosis.
Services would always be an important part of accesso’s offering and the company had always excelled at servicing customers. But finding balance between being service-led to deliver on customer requests versus being product-led to deliver on the long-term product vision was increasingly difficult, particularly as relationships with customers were exceptionally strong and years in the making.
This focus on customer requests meant that product managers would plan sprints, but the team would often be pulled away to work on a different feature to deliver what a customer asked for. The belief was that if teams were Agile, they should have the flexibility to change priorities and work on whatever is most important at that moment. This meant that the product roadmap would change frequently because teams worked on a list of priorities that were constantly shifting.
In some ways, accesso’s focus on being customer-driven was getting in the way of giving customers what they wanted from a product company: predictability in product and feature release dates.
accesso’s professional services and product offerings were competing for resources. It’s tempting to think that by being Agile, the same product teams can deliver both services and products by seamlessly switching priorities between these. In reality, if you sell more services than you had expected, you’d have to divert resources from working on the product to deliver on the services promised.
To avoid this competition for resources, accesso (like many companies) also tried adding more engineers to the team but this didn’t always make the work go faster; in fact, bigger teams are often slower. Plus, every team composition change results in a re-acclimatization period before you return to seeing optimal performance. Team composition was also changing because of attrition – employees genuinely cared about customers and were feeling frustrated that they were falling short of their own expectations of being customer-driven.
Now that we had defined the problem, we could work towards a vision-driven approach to scaling.
Visioning and strategy workshops
To solve the problem of how the company could deliver both products and services, we first needed alignment across the leadership team on the vision. accesso needed a clear vision and strategy (and alignment on these across the organization) to drive decisions including what product teams should build, how the company should position itself, and what the sales team should sell. accesso also needed clarity on where the company should be on the spectrum of being a product-first company (e.g. Spotify) to a services-only company (e.g. Deloitte). This diagram below helps you visualize this spectrum and gives examples of companies such as Avid Technology and Salesforce that lie in the middle of this spectrum.
Most companies’ offerings fall in this spectrum of product-only to a services-only
Once the team was aligned on where the company wanted to be on this spectrum, we could look at companies at different points on this spectrum to see how they have organized themselves to deliver both products and services.
Through a facilitated session, the leadership team crafted a Radical Vision Statement to align on the company vision by defining the problem the company was setting out to solve, why the status quo needed changing, and what the end-state would look like. The leadership team also decided that to achieve this vision, accesso needed to be primarily a product company that sells services around installation, training, and customer support. This meant that to give customers reliability and innovative products on a predictable schedule, the company would minimize selling of customized features as a source of revenue.
This clarity offered a path forward in terms of next steps and defined how the company could scale as a product-first organization. Through leadership coaching, we forged a closer partnership between Sales and Product Management. As a result, when customers asked for a new feature or a customization, the product team had a seat at the table to determine if the request should be incorporated into the product roadmap and the core offering.
Taking this approach added more stability to the product roadmap – it allowed product management to become more proactive in driving innovation and less reactive in being driven by custom requests. “We have really been able to optimize alignment between our Sales and Product teams, which has empowered us to better deliver against the needs of our valued clients,” said Edil Hernandez, accesso SVP of Product.
“Our work with Radical Product Training has also allowed us to more strategically determine which types of venues can most benefit from our current product offerings, as well as our future vision for the solutions.”
Edil Hernandez, accesso SVP of Product.
Keynote talk to align the different functions
To create alignment across the organization, the leadership team asked me to give a keynote talk. I introduced the concept of “product diseases” and why the company needed to focus on being vision-driven, and how every person (regardless of their role or place in the hierarchy) could think about translating the company vision into their vision for their work.
An open and honest discussion about product challenges and how the company was working to be more vision-driven resonated across the company and created momentum for the transformation efforts. “We were so pleased to have such excellent support and guidance as our teams managed this difficult transition,” said accesso SVP of People Maura Schiefelbein.
“Our ability to deliver on our promise of providing transformative technology for our clients is paramount, and this coaching process has helped us refocus and regain momentum to ensure a successful future for our clients, our team, and our products.”
Maura Schiefelbein, accesso SVP of People.
Product Management coaching
Product managers had been doing their best to deliver both product and services and were feeling frustrated by challenges faced at accesso.
Product management resources often offer formulas and recipes based on what worked at a product company such as Spotify or Google. This is the equivalent of physicists publishing a paper saying you can get infinite milk from your cows if you follow this recipe, but they leave out the fine print that this only works for spherical cows in vacuum. accesso isn’t a product-only company and its business model is fundamentally different from a company like Spotify. So applying popular formulas was unlikely to work.
Applying ill-fitting formulas also made PMs seem rigid, and other teams such as sales viewed product management as getting in the way of being customer-driven – in reality, PMs were applying formulas with good intentions of making the product roadmap more predictable.
Coaching helped product managers well-publicized that work for product-only companies like Spotify apply product thinking in a more flexible manner that worked for accesso’s unique mix of products and services. It helped them level up to develop a clear, detailed vision and strategy for their product and communicate this to the leadership and stakeholders. Taking ownership of the vision and strategy helped PMs reshape their roles – it allowed PMs to be proactive in leading innovation rather than being reactive because their role was primarily focused on tactics and execution.
accesso used the RPT process to take a holistic and methodical approach to product-led transformation. We started with identifying issues that were getting in the way of scaling, creating alignment at a leadership level on the vision for change, coaching leaders and training product managers. This methodical approach led to even greater relationships with and higher satisfaction amongst customers as accesso was empowered to deliver its roadmap more predictably. It also led to a lower attrition rate and better alignment across the organization, given a renewed sense of shared purpose.