Shaila Kuchibhotla’s approach to product is clear-eyed.
“My philosophy is as follows: Good products solve real customer problems, while also driving value for the business,” Kuchibhotla said.
It’s an ethos she’s aimed to implement since coming aboard Beyond Finance — which works with users to manage and resolve debt — in late 2019 as vice president of product management. Since joining the 400-plus fintech org’s Chicago hub, Kuchibhotla has helped navigate what she describes as a company-wide adoption of a more product-focused culture.
It’s a shift, she said, born out of a culture where the impact of employees’ efforts, while voluminous, wasn’t always necessarily evident.
“Historically, there was a lot of work being done across the organization, but it wasn’t clearly aligned to company goals,” Kuchibhotla said. “The product team was at full capacity, but wasn’t really able to move the needle.”
In order to champion both product and customer, Kuchibhotla said that more clearly defined business objectives were needed. Additionally, PMs have come to play a more prominent role in the customer experience.
Moreover, getting buy-in from stakeholders, closer collaboration with the tech team and reprioritizing in-flight projects have been foundational to the shift, she said.
“We need to learn from every change we make — even the mistakes — so that over time we can build toward a better product for our customers,” she said.
By more acutely defining and working toward certain KPIs, Kuchibhotla hopes for customers to benefit from improved product strategy. Here’s how the product vet plans to realize that mission.
How would you describe the shift in product that’s underway?
The biggest part of the shift is prioritizing outcomes over output; ensuring that we’re solving customer problems with technology-enabled solutions. We’re measuring success based on how we’ve impacted our customers and our business, not on how many features we’ve shipped.
In practice, it means pushing for a customer-first mindset; not just within the product team, but across the organization. We’ve defined a common framework — a set of key business objectives — to evaluate what’s important. Every change we make is evaluated through the lens of customer experience and how it ties to those business objectives. To help meet these objectives, we’ve restructured the product team to own different phases of the customer journey, rather than owning outputs for a specific business function.
Why was this shift necessary?
I think that, historically, there was a lot of work being done across the organization; however, it wasn’t clearly aligned to company goals. The product team was at full capacity, but wasn’t really able to move the needle. With this change, everyone is aligned on a common set of goals, and product managers are empowered to prioritize and drive changes that will help us reach organizational goals.
How do you define or characterize your role in enacting this organizational shift?
My primary focus is helping the product team become a staunch advocate for the customer; encouraging the team to challenge assumptions of what success looks like; and reshaping the roadmap to better align with our goals.
In order to ensure that the transition is successful, it’s important to partner with our stakeholders: educating them on how to evaluate customer and business impact; leveraging data to drive decision-making and using technology to enable solutions.
Good products solve real customer problems, while also driving value for the business.”
What are some of the challenges that have arisen in enacting this organizational shift? How do you overcome those challenges?
As part of this shift, we’ve had to reassess the priority of work that was already in-flight. We had to take a hard look at all of our ongoing development and discovery efforts and decide whether it made sense to continue with them given our new focus. It’s always a challenge to objectively evaluate sunk cost and pivot in a new direction.
It took several discussions between product, technology and operations to determine which of the in-flight initiatives would add value and align on a new priority. Since we were working from the same set of business goals, we were able to reach a productive conclusion.
As a leader, how do you encourage people to break out of silos and work toward a common goal?
We’re all learning how to be more product-minded as part of this transition. We encourage the team to try different things, whether it’s a new process or a new way to collaborate, in order to see what works best. There’s a sense of discovery and finding the right rhythm that everyone needs to be invested in so that we can effectively work together toward a common goal.
It’s also helpful for people to share knowledge they’ve built up over time in the organization, or over the course of their career, whether it’s about our product, business processes, tools they’ve used or customer needs.
When this undertaking is complete, what will success look like?
To me, a successful outcome of this transition is having a product organization that’s empowered to deliver meaningful experiences for our customers, while making a real impact on KPIs.
On a more granular level, this means building a better understanding of our customer needs; effectively communicating the value of our product to our customers; and better enabling our support teams to help our customers.
I would also expect to see broader alignment across different business areas on priority and roadmap going forward, given the shared framework we’re using to decide what’s important.
A renewed emphasis on product means that we’re committed to prioritizing outcomes over output.”
Tactically, what does this shift look like on a daily basis?
Enabling this shift on a daily basis means pushing back on changes that don’t directly benefit our customer or get us closer to our business goals. It requires having difficult, yet important, conversations with stakeholders about priority and the scope of the changes we’re making. It entails cleaning up items from our product and tech backlogs that were previously determined to be important, but no longer fit with our vision.
It also means partnering with technology earlier in the process, giving them visibility into upcoming items on the roadmap and keeping them informed as the roadmap evolves so that they can own the outcomes as well.
How do customers stand to benefit from this shift?
A renewed emphasis on product means that we’re committed to prioritizing outcomes over output, focusing on changes that address our customers’ needs. We can leverage data to get a deeper understanding of our customers and build experiences that are personalized to their situation. With different groups across the organization working together toward the same goals, we can evolve our product to better serve our customers.