Leading consumer product orgs

This is the first of a series of posts based on my experience leading product at Vudu, a Walmart subsidiary from 2017–2020. Vudu revenues grew from low xxx to high xxx in this period. So, I believe this post will be most useful for PM leaders of tech/media companies with revenues in the $100M-$1B range. My goal is to provide some insights (and learn from other leaders) for product leadership from a business & employee growth perspective. I grew the product team from 3 to 12 over this period. We had about 75–100 engineers on the team. Other partner teams such as design, program management, analytics, etc also grew as we consistently delivered double-digit growth rates. Vudu was sold to NBC Universal in May 2020 after experiencing triple-digit annualized growth during the early part of the pandemic.

Product strategy

Streaming services are classified into i) Transaction (TVOD) video on demand(Rent/buy) ii) Subscription (SVOD) video on demand (eg: Netflix) iii) Advertising (AVOD) video on demand (eg: Roku channel). In 2017, Vudu was an established player in TVOD and a new entrant in AVOD. Our core user base was movie collectors who build large digital video libraries so that they don’t have to depend on availability of their favorite content on a SVOD or AVOD service. A typical SVOD/AVOD service may have 10K titles at any time while the universe of digital movies & TV is about 300K in the US. With AVOD, in the medium term (12 months), we were looking to extend our user base by attracting price-sensitive customers who could watch free with ads. Longer-term(18–24 months), we aspired to align our brand more tightly with Walmart’s core audience by offering family friendly services, better price & premium AVOD selection while simultaneously offering new video advertising opportunities to brands working with Walmart. With a looming Walmart+ offering, there were other opportunities under consideration.

OKRs

Product OKRs at Vudu were primarily informed by business goals, engineering input on technology trends, device & studio partner considerations, voice of the customer, legal & other factors. At the risk of over-generalization, the north-star for a consumer brand likely involves some combination of growing the core product (eg: improve search & recs, apps on new devices, launch in new countries), extending the core capabilities for existing customer segments (eg: new products such as mobile disc to digital) & 0–1 product innovation(new customer segment, new brand). OKRs must anchor people allocation & activities. In addition, they may inform current gaps in product skills and the types of product skills needed over time.

As of late 2017, some of the product OKRs required growth & optimization on top of existing products working closely with marketing & merchandising. 2 OKRs required significant new product development, content acquisition, partnerships & build/buy/partner decisions over an 18–24 month period.

Prioritization (Categories, Initiatives, Feature Sets)

The typical approach to prioritization in large companies is often bottom-up where each group/team comes up with a list of its own initiatives. There may be a rubric created by a central function such as a PMO org. We then assign LoEs to each initiative & make decisions based on LoE/benefit tradeoffs. The end result is a fragmentation of resources across many small initiatives & lack of synchronization across teams that have dependencies on each other. Even if you were to create standards to determine a P1 vs P2, there is no way to ensure that Group 1’s P1s will turn out to be more important than Group 2’s P2s while considering the overall business context. With this approach, the most important business initiatives take a lot longer to execute than planned. Also, opportunity sizing is an art and leadership has to eventually exercise judgment. So, I wanted to avoid the trap of blindly applying RACI or other frameworks to low level initiatives to create a roadmap.

I had seen an alignment approach used successfully at Prime Video back in 2014 to ensure that resources weren’t spread too thin across many initiatives and that the most important initiatives were fully resourced first across all impacted teams. The approach adds an element of top-down business direction to bottom-up product planning leading to better outcomes from a speed of execution standpoint for the most important business initiatives. At Prime Video there were 10 initiatives in tier 1 and we were required to drop all other initiatives to execute those 10 initiatives first if teams had the skills to work on them. Some initiatives that launched within 12 months of applying this approach included Prime video in UK/DE, SVOD channels, Project Banksy: a user generated content initiative, Prime video on Fire TV & Prime Video on several new devices. This was a furious pace of new product launch activity which was well managed and unlike anything else I’ve seen in my career.

I created a tiered structure for managing allocation. Every initiative was bucketed into 1 of 4 categories. We made every effort possible to align engineering allocation to these tiers helping us launch within planned time-frames. Within each initiative, the assigned PM would then create a set of p1, p2, etc feature sets to manage feature delivery.

I will share some thoughts on organizing consumer product teams in my next post.

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