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 Dana Rochman.
Do you have any mentors or experiences that have particularly influenced your approach to product development and user experience?
In my more than 20 years leading R&D and product organizations in different industries, I have learned that what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. The key is to leverage the lessons learned and make the relevant modifications. I find it useful to continuously educate myself on new product development methods along the way.
When I joined Incredibuild, I was faced with the challenge of reinvigorating a product with a 20-year success story. I quickly realized there was no playbook for that and that I needed to create my own steps to succeed. That experience has so far been the most influential in my career.
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? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistakes are indeed great teachers. One of my finest mistakes was made in one of my first management roles. In the process of building two separate products, I realized that it was more sensible to build one product with two different functionalities, followed by additional functionalities. Luckily, I had that realization while my team and I could still consolidate work without throwing much away. It is so important to ask questions and to always remain critical of your own work and the work of your team. Priorities change, and the best path forward yesterday is not necessarily the best path today.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment? We’d love to hear the lead-up, what happened, and the impact it had on your life.
I have two career-defining moments. The first is when I chose to leave a successful career in R&D management to become a product manager. I had no way to guarantee success, but I followed my passion, and it paid off.
The second moment was when I joined Incredibuild, a company primarily led by women. I had grown accustomed to being the only woman in the room, and the experience of being surrounded and supported by other women gave me a new perspective on my career and the responsibilities that come along with it. I now understand the importance of serving as an example for other women who might one day work in technological and management roles. I believe this is imperative for the next generation of young women and girls, including my 9-year-old daughter.
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?
I think we all have an internal drive, but I’m also a competitive person, which has assisted me along the way. I've built my career while raising three amazing kids alongside a career-driven partner. Of course, it has not always been easy, but I’ve learned to ask for help. I am not afraid of problems; on the contrary, I try to embrace each one as an opportunity to find a solution.
How do you stay on top of market trends and developments in the product management space?
I take advantage of my work commute to read articles, review data surveys, and listen to product management podcasts. I also find it very beneficial to interview customers or experts in the industry, a practice I’ve asked my team to adopt as well.
The main challenge is maintaining market fit without losing focus —recent market trends have taught us that it is okay to adjust KPIs for short periods of time as a way to manage expectations in real-time, while preparing for market normalization.
What role does cross-functional collaboration play in accelerating product development cycles, and how do you foster effective collaboration across different teams and departments?
I firmly believe cross-functional collaboration is one of the keys to successful product management. The Product team, in many ways, represents a company’s core. Product must work closely with departments that may have differing immediate agendas despite sharing overall company goals. It is imperative that Product adopts open communication channels, accepts feature requests, maintains roadmap transparency, and conveys challenges openly and effectively.
I find processes and metrics help set expectations and establish a clear line of communication. These can include anything from monthly or quarterly meetings with revenue teams, cross-department tracking dashboards, feature request processes, and continued enablement to product development processes, company demos every sprint, and a clear understanding of the inputs and outputs for every part of the process. Finally, it is crucial to share a summary and list of assigned action items after every meeting. Shared documentation is the only way to ensure nothing is forgotten and that all relevant parties are on the same page.
Based on your experience, what are your “The 5 Habits That Can Accelerate Product Development Cycles”?
1 . Comprehensive processes (that maintain the balance between bureaucracy and processes that push progress forward).
As important as planning and building a clear roadmap based on the company’s vision, it is equally important to remain agile. In addition to tracking yearly progress, keep a quarterly review and planning process to assess priorities more frequently and achieve real-time company and product impact.
2 . Clear goals and metrics for all groups, derived from the company goals.
No elaboration needed.
3. Cross-functional collaboration
Monthly (or quarterly) meetings with Revenue groups and G&A, in addition to continuous meetings with R&D based on relevant agile ceremonies, are essential. Communication and collaboration with all teams (marketing, finance, IT SISO, HR, etc.) is necessary to maintain a shared understanding of the company’s vision.
4. Data-driven decision making
Extract any data from the product that you are able to, and take advantage of embedded user analytics. It’s enormously influential in understanding customer usage and improving product value.
5. Keep the focus
Listen to the market. Keep clear metrics on each feature, and don’t be afraid to eliminate features and products. There are never enough hours in the day, so teams should only develop what brings impact while balancing long-term and immediate needs.
Prioritize and iterate by developing minimum viable products. After the first feedback cycle, continue to the next phase of development. At Incredibuild, due to market changes, we decided to focus on product-led growth by enabling small teams to use the product in those times when their budgets are hard to approve.
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?
The important thing is to be open-minded. An agile approach that works in one area won't necessarily work in another. Evaluate all existing methodologies and build what works for your company.
Can you share an example of a time when you had to make a tough tradeoff between speed and quality during a product development cycle, and what was the outcome of that decision?
This is the kind of decision that must be made daily. Product wants to drive impact, new features to the market, and new revenue opportunities. On the other hand, R&D pushes for quality. There was a time when I chose quality over speed and prioritized development time to work on technical debt to allow faster deliveries in the future. The impact was, as expected, a reduced number of new features launched on the market. In a tough market, companies should invest in protecting their customer base with new innovations and feature requests. In a better market, there is more leeway to invest in new technologies such as automation. Balance is key.
How important is a data-driven approach to product development, and can you share a story where data significantly influenced your decision-making process?
I believe in the phrase “In data, we trust.” Data is a crucial part of development. An executive at a company I worked with would literally kick teams out of his office if the deck they presented wasn’t backed with data. It’s aggressive but understandable.
When the market started ebbing this year, we used customer, market, and product data to refocus our roadmap and respond to customer needs to ensure we’re providing the best value based on their relevant demands in the current climate.
Can you share an instance where user feedback led to a significant pivot in your product development strategy?
Feature requests are constantly considered throughout our roadmap. Direct contact with customers—whether face-to-face, on regular calls, or through analyzing online reviews—drives strategy every day.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with successful women CPOs across industries to collaborate and establish ways to increase the number of women in tech and management roles.
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