Building A Unified Product Team In The Midst Of Accelerated Growth


Building A Unified Product Team In The Midst Of Accelerated Growth

Enabling the Team

Building teams is difficult for any leader and even harder when the product experiences high growth in a short time.
In this session, Betina will share tactics she has used to grow her team in tandem with their product for maximum benefit. She will talk strategies to:

  • Empower Teams With A Unified Vision With Targeted Goals;
  • Find The Balance Between Autonomy & Alignment While Keeping Forward Momentum For The Team;
  • The Challenges & Learnings She Has Encountered Throughout This Journey and
  • What The Future For The Peloton Product Team Looks Like

Hi, I'm Betina Evancha, and I'm here to talk about building a unified product team in the midst of accelerated growth. I am so happy to be here with all of you.

Okay, so as a quick intro. I am currently the VP of Product Strategy at Peloton. I manage a team of about 50 amazing product managers, analysts, user researchers, and product documentation folks, and Peloton currently has over 6 million members. Also, the number six is the number of years that I have worked at Peloton so it's been a journey.

A few things from that time, as in any long journey, there have been high highs and there have been a few lows. So I'll go through a couple of both. Some of the highs, on the left there you'll see the Peloton tread which is an industry-changing product that truly makes running on a treadmill fun. On the right, you'll see the Peloton guide that is about bringing connected strength to many, many members. And we'll talk about a story there later on today. On the bottom right, you'll see Peloton Lane Break, which is our first gamified experience actually launched this year. And over that time, we have grown the product management team by about 10 times.

So it's been a lot of change, a lot of organizational change, and a lot of great products that we have launched along the way. And then we've also had some challenges. Here are some of the more public ones in kind of PR and social media. But as you can imagine, in any company, you've also got challenges kind of on the day-to-day level. And I'll talk about some of those as we go forward. So I'm here to talk about making mistakes. Does that make you feel a little bit tense because I can feel that it makes me feel a little bit tense, just saying the word or the phrase-making mistakes?

So it's not just you and it's not just me. There's a whole book about it. This is not the only book of course. But the reason that it's so uncomfortable to think about making mistakes is a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. Basically, holding two ideas that conflict in your head at the same time is painful psychologically. And so you try to resolve it by changing one of the beliefs. In this case, it's something like I am a smart person is one idea, one belief. And the other idea or belief is I did something not so smart, I just made a mistake.

So there are a couple of ways that you naturally try to resolve this cognitive dissonance. The first one is you just try to make the mistake, not conflict with being a smart person. So it wasn't actually a mistake. It looked dumb, but it was actually smart. You could change the subject. So it's not me that it was someone else's fault. Or you could change the verb and say, oh, I didn't do the mistake, I didn't actually have any control over that.

The problem with resolving this way is that you don't fundamentally learn from the mistake and move forward. The other thing you can do is question your first belief there. So maybe because I made a mistake, I'm not actually a smart person. And this might seem like kind of a humble or introspective way to approach this problem. But it also means that you don't fundamentally learn from the mistake.

So I'm going to talk about maybe a different way of thinking about mistakes, which is to think about them more like a girl scout or boy scout badge. So when you are growing up, you might have been in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and you get a badge for learning something. So that might be first aid or hiking. And what that badge commemorates is not only the fact that you are an expert at that thing, but it also commemorates a kind of trial and error along the way.

So I really liked this concept as it applied to the working world. And so my framework for talking to y'all today is going to be talking about these three mistakes that I've made along the way in the context of a learning badge, that I will work on myself. And we'll talk through it that way. Bonus points if you can guess the mistake during the story. Okay, so you can tell I'm a product manager at heart because I will start with what are my goals of building a product team. The first one is to ship products and features that our members love. This is what all of us cross-functionally are focused on. The second two are about my role as a leader of that team.

So in order to enable my entire team to ship products and features our members love, I need to make sure that the team is empowered in the larger organization, they're only as powerful as their ability to ship features. And then third is nurturing and challenging the people on that team. Our team is only as good as the people on it and keeping them means that we need to continue to grow them over time.

Okay, so let's start with a story about shipping products and features our members left. Okay, so this is a picture of the Peloton tread knob. So, the Peloton Tread is a treadmill that is designed to support interval workouts, particularly that's what makes it one of the reasons that it's a fun way to run on a treadmill. So when we talk to people early on, in the product development experience for the tread, we heard that doing interval workouts was extremely frustrating on a traditional tread, because it takes so long to change the speed or the incline, you really can't do a 30 seconds interval, because by the time you get up to that sprint speed, intervals basically over.

So the knobs were the result of our working on that problem. And the way they work is that they're kind of close to where your hands are when you're running. So you can easily turn them to bring the speed up or down and the same thing with the incline. During product development, there was one thing about these knobs that drove me crazy. So on the tread, the speed goes up to 12 and a half miles per hour in intervals of one mile per hour. And the incline goes up to 12 and a half percent grade but in increments of half a percent grade. So math, math, the speed takes much longer to get to the top of the speed than the incline takes to get to the top of the incline.

And when I was testing this product during development, this drove me crazy. And when I talked to members about the controls, specifically an interview with them they would say the same thing. They'd say, oh, it's kind of weird that they don't totally match up. And being a high ownership product person I did. What I usually do when faced with something I believe is not right, is to throw all my resources at it, right? I wrote documents, I set meetings, I made a whole pitch for how it should be different. And I did this for probably six months, everyone on the team was insane. And it became clear that we were pencils down and this was the product we were shipping. And so I got on the bus and we shipped. It turns out that when we shipped this was not even on the radar of the most important kind of user requests and challenges.

Which is why the badge here is sometimes a molehill badge. When you're making a product, there are going to be things that are not ideal that are not exactly what you want, always. And you're going to need to ship anyway. And so in this case, the lesson I learned was, yes, this was a problem that members were experiencing when testing but I was hearing the words they were saying without the tone. So the tone was, this is not that important to me as a user. But because I cared about this problem so much. I only listened to the words and I thought that it was much more important than it actually turned out to be.

Okay, two out of three, here we go. So building a product team that is empowered in the larger organization. For this one, I'm going to tell a story about the Peloton guide. So the Peloton guide actually launched This year, it is our first connected strength product. So you'll see just under the television, there's that pill-shaped product, it's got a camera in it, that allows you to track whether you are following along or not with the instructor and get credit for that, which is very motivating.

So early on in the development process for the guide, we had a lot of conversations about the reason for being for this product. And a big piece of it was that we wanted to bring a connected fitness experience to more members. And partly by enabling it at a more accessible price point, then you could offer for a bike where you need to have an entire you know, frame or a treadmill where you have to have an entire treadmill.

So when we originally made it, that was really one of the biggest focuses. Now over the course of a product's lifetime, especially at a growing rapidly changing company, the team changes several times, just due to growth. And so we saw this for the guide as well. And we didn't really worry about it until, at one point during the product's life, I found myself in a meeting where we were discussing the price point for the product. And there's a whole range of options on the table. And some of them are higher priced, higher margin. And it seems like as a group, we're kind of leaning towards those options. And I felt honestly really confused, I didn't know where we had kind of lost the vision for the product or the purpose for the product. And then thinking about it a bit more, I realized that we didn't know as a group, kind of where that vision was supposed to reside, which is in the product management team.

So we're going to call this while I'm always selling badges. I have since then learned and had to remind myself that every time someone changes in the team, I need to make sure that I spend some time with them explaining what the role of product management is and how we help create the product and move it forward. People are not born knowing what product managers do. And so over and over, we need to make sure that they know.

Okay, the third and final batch nurturing and challenging growing product people. So one of the first things that I tackled in my current role was solving the growth path of product managers and other roles in my organization. This was one of the biggest challenges when I interviewed people early on. And this was in early 2020, I thought we did a pretty good job pulling in a bunch of people from across the team. We researched how other companies did leveling and growth, and then also kind of thought about how Peloton his needs were different and how we should think about that as well. And at the end of this process, we came up with a leveling system that had individual contributor and manager tracks that had a clear kind of skill set for each level. And that also had a clear rubric and schedule for how we were going to bring it into hiring performance reviews and things like that. And so did a really good job feeling really great about this.

So you can imagine that recently, very recently, I was surprised to hear from my team, like, how do I grow at Peloton? I was like, what the heck, you know, I started by kind of pointing people at the levels and saying there are levels, check out the levels, check out the growth plans. And then as I continue to hear this, I use my favorite tool, which is to get a bit more curious about why this was coming up.

So the thing that you might have guessed is that this timeline is extremely incomplete. There are two years between early 2020 and this spring. So a couple of things happened in the meantime, we had a global pandemic. I don't know if any of y'all noticed. We had some team changes. So the makeup of our team in which roles were involved, changed over time. Most notably, the user research team joined my team which got some new roles and some new folks to the team. We also had some growth over that period. At the peak in January, we had a product team of over 70, product managers, analysts, researchers, and documentation books. And then, like many other folks at Peloton, in the early part of this year, we had to say goodbye to some of our colleagues as a result of the reduction in force to right-size the company.

So that's a lot of stuff to happen over these two years. And thinking about why folks were asking this question, it became clear to me that it was because the levels that we made for an almost entirely in-person company that was growing extremely rapidly but was still small, did not totally apply to a company with some remote folks and some in-person folks who were working at a company that was going to be a little more mature for the next year or so. So we'll call this one a journey, not a destination badge. So this is about remembering that when you do a process for your team or any kind of document, it's not done because your team continues to change over time. And so those processes also need to change over time.

So I assure you, we are coming back to this one and we'll be redoing our kind of thinking about leveling and growth in a way that is perfect for the current challenge and the current company.

That's it. Those are all the mistakes I made today. I think that I didn't mention that all of these mistakes happen at or around people. So there are many people who have tolerated mistakes and even better helped me see and correct them. So thank you to all those folks. And also since I probably made a few mistakes during this stuff, thank you for listening to it. And finally, we are hiring. So we are a product team that is growing, who builds really great stuff that our members really love and we are always learning and changing. So check it out. We'd love to see you. Alright, thank you so much for spending a bit of time with me and I appreciate it.

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