OVO Tech Blog

Platform Product Management

Introduction

Kat Heath


Platform Product Management

Posted by Kat Heath on .
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Platform Product Management

Posted by Kat Heath on .

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Platform Product Manager. Is it fundamentally different from having a customer facing product or am I just imagining it? I product manage a Payment Platform we’re responsible for integrating with 3rd parties to support various payment mechanisms for retailers customers - cards, Direct Debits, phone payments, sending monies to customers etc

At this stage you might be asking what is a developer platform? My developers will tell you one thing, leadership another and the business yet another. My take is that we’re an integration into the world that other development teams will leverage to serve the retailers customers.

And there’s the key difference:  the retailers' customers are not my customers, not directly, yet it’s the technology my team builds which they’ll use without even noticing. Or, in other words, imagine yourself as the customer: you won’t think about our systems when it’s working, but you’ll notice when it fails.

You might wince at a bad UI, complain to your friends how we’re hounding you for even more money, but if my systems fail to take your direct debit, or worse yet take the wrong amount you’ll be angry, you will contact us to complain and you might even cancel your contract. Yet the rest of the time you won’t even notice that we’re taking the right amount, every month, on the date that you set up. You’ll never know the hours that went into monitoring and alerting on 5xx errors, the thought that went into our API architecture, or how we obsessed about race conditions so any changes you make occur in the right order so that the outcome you were expecting is what we deliver.

When I ask the team to develop a new payment mechanism it’s normally months of development work, not to mention going out to tender, selecting a new supplier, contracts and a large investment from the business financially plus hours of coordination across multiple touch points in the business. I don’t have the option of an A/B test of copy or button placement to guide my decision, it’s difficult to create a small prototype and even an MVP takes months! We’ve recently started trialing manual, ‘wizard of Oz’ tests to validate new workstreams, and I’ll write in the coming months how close to reality that is for us. But I have to be really confident that I’m making the right decision for what the team should focus on, and then how do I know I’ve made the right one?

Our metrics tell me how well the platform is performing - latency, EPM, 5xx errors etc this tells me my team are brilliant, it doesn’t tell me as a Product Manager if I made the right choice. I can’t look at numbers of customers using the mechanism once I’ve enabled the option for downstream teams, it’s the journeys those teams create and the numbers of customers available that determine that. We’re starting to look at the reduction in time it takes other teams to integrate, the reduction in time to resolve a breach in SLAs and as we mature as a platform I think these will become increasingly valuable, but whether I chose the right payment mechanism for the retailers' end users is still done mainly through data gathering.

My role is to preempt technical choices downstream teams will need months before they’ve even started thinking about the problem. To understand the market space well enough to say with confidence which mechanisms we should be supporting and those we shouldn’t.

I sometimes feel like we’re early explorers sent out to terraform a planet, we need to anticipate the settlers' needs, and their grandchildren's needs, while they’re still selecting who will travel, or what their spaceship will need to do. We need to anticipate and create air for them to breath, fields to plant crops in, waterways for them to drink so it’s all ready for them when they arrive.

By the time a Product Manager for the FE comes to debate whether a button saying ‘Pay Now’ or ‘Pay’ will increase conversion rates I’ve picked the supplier, worked on the contracts, spent hours debating with my developers about architecture, data models all so that those teams can have those conversations and never need to worry about what happens after their customer clicks that button.

And I think that for me is the biggest difference as a Product Manager on a Platform - I don’t get an easy feedback loop to validate choices before I make them and we’re on very different time frames from many of our colleagues. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but for now I think it’s really exciting that we get to make such a profound impact on the worlds we’re reaching out to.

Kat Heath

Platform Product Manager (& Explorer)

Kat Heath

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