How 2 Boston Product Teams Stay True to Their Vision

February 19, 2021
product vision
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For the following Boston-based product teams, staying true to the overarching vision involves more than just following a strategic plan and keeping stakeholder requests in mind. 

It also means embracing the responsibility of the service their product provides to users.

At Notarize, VP of Product Kate Brigham said that the types of transactions the company completes often happens in conjunction with some of life’s most important moments — therefore making it all the more crucial to embrace a sense of responsibility. 

For edtech company Curriculum Associates, its stakeholders are made up of a large portion of the U.S.’s students and teachers. As such, VP of Digital Nadia Pierce said that she and her team have found ways to make their products more efficient, thereby increasing growth and proficiency for the nation’s learners. 

Built In Boston sat down with Brigham and Pierce to find out how their product vision informs their strategy, how they communicate their vision and how they consider stakeholder wants and needs. 

 

Kate Brigham
VP of Product

On-demand notary platform Notarize saw its business grow 400 percent in 90 days in 2020. For VP of Product Kate Brigham and her team, having a product vision to look toward throughout the high-volume time ensured they were able to stay on track. 

 

What’s your team’s overarching product vision and how do you communicate it across the business? 

Notarize is transforming what has historically been a time-consuming, in-person experience required to buy a home, grant medical power of attorney, adopt a child or enter into critical agreements by making it available online, 24/7, in a secure, easy-to-use and legally-compliant manner. These transactions often happen in conjunction with some of life’s most important moments so we embrace the responsibility of the service we provide. 

One of the ways we stay true to the Notarize vision is to reiterate our values at the start of each company meeting. They actually get read aloud. Hearing them regularly is a nice reminder of what we’re all focused on trying to achieve. Our leadership team also works hard to help connect the vision to each team and individual’s day-to-day work, so contributions feel more concrete. That’s one area where our product strategy comes into play.

 

More on NotarizeNotarize Raises $35M, Reports 400 Percent Growth Since March

 

How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

COVID-19 increased the need, across multiple industries, for a virtual solution that would allow people to safely and compliantly notarize their documents. Our business grew 400 percent in 90 days and our operations needed to meet that jump in demand, essentially overnight. 

Many of our customers had their own notaries on staff that they wanted to use on our platform, so we developed a new product capability, “Bring Your Own Notary.” Supporting external notaries who’d never used our platform before, and in some cases have never done a remote notarization before, was an awesome challenge. This meant building a new onboarding experience, setting up new compliance check processes, adding a sandbox training environment, adding new tools for companies to manage their teams with role-based permissions and making sure we could offer overflow support when needed. We helped our customers scale quickly to meet the increases in demand they were experiencing. That, in turn, accelerated the growth of our own business significantly. Our Trustpilot scores never dropped below 4.7 despite transaction volume increasing exponentially.

 

Our leadership team also works hard to help connect the vision to each team and individual’s day-to-day work, so contributions feel more concrete.”

 

How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

Balancing strategic plans with stakeholder requests is a constant challenge for every product team. For me, it all starts with shared goals:

  1. Align on clear, long-term goals in partnership with key stakeholders.
  2. Write those goals down and repeat them early, often and broadly so everyone knows what they are.
  3. Connect those goals to the work teams are doing with a focus on outcomes over outputs. 


Once you have a realistic plan that articulates roughly how to accomplish your goals, without being too prescriptive, it’s a lot easier to help stakeholders understand how their wants, needs and ideas fit into the overall plan. That also makes it a lot easier to consider tradeoffs more holistically when they come up since new ideas and asks are a constant. I’ve found that visibility and insight into the team’s plans go a long way to helping stakeholders feel heard. It also helps when it comes to making thoughtful decisions about where to focus the team’s energy and resources without being too reactionary.

 

Nadia Pierce
Vice President, Digital ELA

For edtech company Curriculum Associates, their product vision ultimately serves students and teachers. One aspect of the company’s product vision is to use data to inform product decisions, VP of Digital ELA Naida Pierce said, which has led to enhancements that ultimately make learning more efficient. 

 

What is Curriculum Associates’ overarching product vision, and how do you communicate this vision across the business?

Curriculum Associates’ mission is to make classrooms better places for teachers and students by providing high-quality, engaging, culturally relevant and anti-racist content to the schools we serve. Our cohesive system of products, including i-Ready and Ready, provides data to inform teacher-led and personalized instruction, helping teachers better identify and meet students’ specific learning needs. Along with assessment tools for setting high expectations, we believe that we can help schools create a learning environment where every student succeeds. We strive to ensure that our products enable every student to:

  • See their personal and cultural experiences reflected in our content.
  • Engage with grade-level content and rigorous standards.
  • Believe in themselves and see themselves as learners.
  • Learn in classrooms guided by an unshakable belief in every student and by anti-racist, culturally responsive teaching strategies.


Our product vision is frequently communicated in all-team meetings and manifested through setting team-level and company goals. Product teams own a robust product roadmap that is accessible to all employees and is frequently updated as progress on established goals is made. Transparency and a shared vision ensure that all teams involved in the creation of our product are working cohesively. Departments that aren’t directly tied to product creation are also kept aware of our shared vision via executive-led quarterly company-wide updates covering the roadmap and goals.
 

Our product strategy, which is driven by the product vision, serves as a continual guidepost against which we evaluate new opportunities and requests.”


How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

Over the last several years, Curriculum Associates has committed to an extensive review of our materials, strengthening the ways in which our programs reflect and engage with a variety of cultural backgrounds and ultimately deliver equitable learning experiences for all students. As we move this critical work forward, we commit to putting a more deliberate focus on ensuring our programs uphold anti-racist values. 

An important element of our vision is to use data to inform improvements to our product for students and teachers. This plays out in large and small ways in our product development decisions. For example, we recently launched a new set of online phonics lessons that offered a more efficient path through for students, allowing some to receive deeper support if needed or move more quickly if they were performing well. After looking at the data, we noticed that there were ways to further enhance the path through the lesson, allowing for more efficiency for students who often have limited time using our product each week.

Though no feedback came in from customers requesting this change, we moved forward with the improvement because it tied back to our vision around how to increase growth and proficiency for all students. 

 

How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

One of our greatest strengths is our ability to respond to educators and make small improvements that make their jobs easier. We make sure to reserve capacity alongside our larger initiatives (without distracting from them) to ensure we are continuously responding to our educator partners’ needs. Our product strategy, which is driven by the product vision, serves as a continual guidepost against which we evaluate new opportunities and requests coming from internal stakeholders and our educators. Each year, we aim to select a few major areas of focus to improve our products to meet our vision. 

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