All new products start with an idea and then continue through the stages of development. What are the 5 habits that can accelerate product development cycles? In this interview series, we are talking to product managers, founders, and authors who can share stories and insights from their experiences about how to accelerate product development cycles. As part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Aparna Jue.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Luck and instinct went a long way in shaping my career. I have an engineering background, and when I graduated college, there happened to be a glut in hiring for what I went to school for, which put me on the path of business development for engineering products. I believe having the ability to tie a customer to a problem for the product was valuable in understanding the art of creating good products.
Do you have any mentors or experiences that have particularly influenced your approach to product development and user experience?
I take inspiration from a variety of places and people, as usually, it's hard to stick with a certain philosophy in any sphere of product development as experiences are as diverse as the people you are designing them for. Standardizing an experience is really about the level of compromise you are willing to agree to. No matter which product I have led, the key is to start with the customer experience. This philosophy is central to many other visionaries and product leaders in the industry. I am always inspired by how products reach that “sticky” status and the philosophy of designing for the masses.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned as a result?
Oh, mistakes are absolutely a part of my life. When I started my career, especially as a female in product leadership, I was trying to be the smartest person in the room. I learned that doesn’t get you very far. I have learned that having a learner's mindset is my best friend when it comes to understanding the true problem space and what matters. Listen more than you talk. Ask dumb questions. Don’t try too hard to convince people that you are smart. The output of your work will do that for you.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
I do not feel that I’ve yet had my career-defining moment. But, every challenge I face and overcome defines my career, whether it is product-driven, revenue-driven, or people/team-based challenges.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Previously in my career, I faced a question about what I considered ethical, my values, and whether it was up for compromise for upward mobility. I decided it was not, and I stepped away from a corporate role into a highly innovative but high-risk early technology that I believed in.
How do you stay on top of market trends and developments in the product management space?
Part of my job is consistently being educated on what’s happening in the market. The information is out there—it’s a matter of dedicating the time to finding and using it.
What role does cross-functional collaboration play in accelerating product development cycles, and how do you foster effective collaboration across different teams and departments?
Any p roduct leader would tell you that cross-functional collaboration is a top priority. To make the product story come to life, you have commercial and technology teams that play an important role. I see product as a central department that consistently feeds and is fed by the other teams.
Based on your experience, what are your “The 5 Habits That Can Accelerate Product Development Cycles”?
- Be willing to fail at any stage, and be open to solutions around the failure. The budget may get cut, an MVP may not work anymore for the customer, the technology may constrain the design, and anything can happen. Be open-minded and creative when it comes to failure.
- Know your customers and the problems they are facing. Design the journey when creating the product story. For example, shiny new technologies like AI are fun spaces for product development. But if you do not know what problem it is trying to solve in your product, incorporating AI will be more of a gimmick than a value.
- Understand the compromise to carve out the MVP product from the vision. The golden triangle is time, scope, and cost in product development. There is usually a compromise to be had to launch a feature or a product. Understanding the compromise will be necessary for a minimally viable product to survive.
- Organize, document, and evangelize throughout the product development process to gain cross-functional alignment. Know your stakeholders, as an example if you are building a product in the Security space, make sure you have alignment with the group internally to get their feedback.
- Test, test, test. Go-To-Market testing, Usability, Acceptance…test out your story and MVP. Even in a growth hack, you are testing. Testing reveals more than just a bug—testing reveals user sentiment, adoption cues, and areas for improvement.
What are some of the common pitfalls that you see product teams fall into when trying to accelerate their development cycles, and how can these be avoided?
Cutting scope to where the product is not adoption-worthy. Cutting testing. Not doing enough market validation prior to the execution. Focusing too much on the how instead of why.
How important is a data-driven approach to product development, and can you share a story where data significantly influenced your decision-making process?
Data is essential to product development. Intuition can only get you so far. Without metrics and data, you will miss key outliers, trends, and anomalies that are essential to not only creating and justifying a roadmap but also in the product lifecycle management of the line. It's something we should be looking at regularly, as this is a pulse.
Can you share an instance where user feedback led to a significant pivot in your product development strategy?
Mobility is a big ask for most software products. Everyone says, “Let’s get an app for that”. It was user feedback that made my team at a former company realize that we did not need to create a super user-friendly mobile app, but rather a bare-boned entry-level user mobile app in one of the products that I worked on. What we needed was an easy-to-use interface that got the user to the three crucial pieces of information they needed. This drastically scoped down the vision we originally had. In this instance, form became more important than function.
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