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Mapan App: 5 principles for an efficient product team

Mapan’s mission is to ‘increase access, dignity, and income for low-income communities through technology.’ They recruit local entrepreneurs and leaders, also called Mitra Usaha Mapan (MUM) at Mapan. These MUMs facilitate access to products, their ordering, payment, and delivery that improves the lives of their community. Mapan split the profits with the entrepreneurs to positively impact the local economy.

Today, Mapan has served over 3 million families and 250,000 MUMs. They are empowered by a mobile application that is easy to access, simple to use, robust in application, and sustainable at scale. 

Together, ThoughtWorks and Mapan built the Mapan App and would like to share a few principles from our experience as a product development team.

Principle #1: Unwavering user focus

It is important for a product team to understand who their primary end-user is, even before imagining what the product is going to be. This ensures the team solves the right customer problem.

The Mapan app’s primary user, the MUM (a leader / influencer) is a rural Indonesian woman, from a low-income family, with limited access to internet connectivity. Any product built for a MUM  needed to serve her needs. So, we endeavoured to understand her first. 


Snapshot of a MUM’s personality, age 30, home maker with two young kids, wanting a better lifestyle with a larger disposable income

Snapshot of a MUM persona

 


MUMs in an immersion session

Immersion of a group of MUMs with the Mapan App team

Mapan’s immersion practices, such as a field visit for every new team member, and ThoughtWorks’ discovery workshops helped the distributed and multi-cultural team understand who we were building for. One of our user personas was Murni (the name we gave the MUM persona) — we outlined her needs, tech savviness, limitations and behaviours. She became a regular stand-in during the product development process.

But user-focus is not a one-time activity, it’s an approach that a product team needs to consistently sustain. This is how we developed and nurtured user-focus in our team — 

  • We calibrated our goals around solutions to user’s problems.
  • We leveraged pairing of product managers from ThoughtWorks and Mapan, which helped us move away from the conventional feature-driven approach to planning and prioritizing in a user-driven manner.
  • We prioritized features that supported the user and made her life easier.

Takeaway: Focus on the user throughout your product development lifecycle, not just at the start. Keep the user persona as the reference point around which iteration planning meetings are structured. Encourage product managers and the team to be the voice of the user.
 

Principle #2: Rallying towards the vision

One of the key challenges product teams face is losing sight of the big picture while focussing on the minutiae of execution. Meaningful collaboration necessitates that team members are transparent, open and rallying towards a common vision. To enable this in practice, Mapan worked closely with the ThoughtWorks team to create a ‘product strategy map.’

Vision broken into goals and further broken into features that make up a goal
Before building the product or even outlining features and iterations, we aligned ourselves to business goals and planned how they could be achieved alongside Mapan’s objectives and key results (OKR). With the product strategy map, we were able to deftly move from user problems to the product vision to business goals, down to features, which translated into user stories and success metrics.

Takeaway: Eliminate silos, all the way to the individual level. Bring everyone together in pursuit of business goals.
 

Principle #3: Prioritizing meaningfully

One of the simplest ways to avoid the ‘build trap’ is to prioritize better. However, simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Without a powerful framework and guidance, prioritization can turn into a clash of opinions. 

While building the MVP, prioritize based on cost and value.

The question we used to guide us was:  “what can we build that will cost us the least while producing maximum value?” To answer this, we used the ‘buy a feature’ framework. We assigned gamified pricing to every feature under consideration. And, offered an imaginary fixed budget to business users, which they could spend on shopping for features.


The Buy a Feature Exercise where product team prioritizses their features
This helped product teams build for breadth, instead of depth, spreading investments across the funnel — offering the opportunity to identify features with higher user adoption or market need, that we can add depth to in subsequent iterations. 

While this framework, and the boundaries of budgets, gave us direction for prioritization, it’s not the end in itself. We then aligned the responses of stakeholders from this exercise, with our understanding of the persona as well as the business vision, to devise the product roadmap. 

During iterations and subsequent launches, prioritize based on user feedback.

No feature is right till we receive customer feedback — remember lesson #1? During this phase of product development, teams must take UX feedback from customers over internal stakeholders; or test the value proposition with a sample set of users personas or segments. 

In the case of the Mapan app, feedback-based prioritization gave us enough evidence to apply focus to application stability at scale, rather than on shiny-new features. 

Takeaway:  ‘Shop’ when you know what to build. ‘Invest’ when you don’t. Keep your user in mind, remember your vision / goals, and prioritize accordingly.
 

Principle #4: Measure outcomes, not output

The most common metric among product teams is the ‘acceptance criteria’ for features. By associating ourselves at a feature-level, we run the risk of defining our success by features, which are short-lived and aimed at addressing a specific hypothesis. With the Mapan app, we defined ‘success metrics’ from business goals and customer problems. This enabled us to focus on the outcomes and not just the output.

For instance, a feature-level metric might be the number of invites sent by the Arisan / leader. What this really aims to achieve for the business is to reduce the customer acquisition cost, which is the product outcome. By focussing on the latter, we were able to build a better feature. In the long run, this approach also helps look beyond failed features — which are par for the course — and build towards business gains.

In fact, this approach helped us achieve a significant reduction in customer acquisition cost, with growth in customer base.


Mapping product objective to delivery iteration.

Mapping product objective to delivery iteration

Take away: Focus on the business goals, not just features. As you gain more understanding of the user and the business, refine your success metrics, even as often as once a quarter.
 

Principle #5: Build cross-functional teams for sustainability

Competing priorities and power imbalances resulting from team dynamics is expected in product development, or any project for that matter. Understanding this and building cross-functional teams that are geared towards the vision helps create a better outcome. It reduces the number of feedback loops as team members are empowered to share their viewpoints — this helps identify potential problems earlier in the life cycle. It also brings transparency, opening doors to experimentation and innovation. 

ThoughtWorks and Mapan brought together cross-functional squads, who actively contributed to research, development, and feedback. A thought-through governance framework, ensured individual as well as group accountability, which is especially valuable in a crisis.


Pods or squads are cross functional teams

Sales, marketing and ops are parts of different pods depending on what the pod is working on

As COVID-19 loomed and key business verticals readjusted, the product had to make swift changes to adapt to the evolving situation. They needed to engage with users more actively than before to ensure that business continued despite the disruption of the pandemic. Having a cross-functional team gave us a 360° view of the situation, helped us stay agile and adjust our sails, cutting down a lot of product operations and alignment issues.

Takeaway: Bring cross-functional stakeholders together to take collective responsibility, as early as possible.
 

Looking to the future

Urban legend has it that 90% of new products fail. While this number is being debated, it’s safe to say that product failure is extremely common. The practices, the product culture and lessons we’ve learned while building the Mapan App has shown us why this happens so often, and how to take steps to prevent such challenges. 

To cultivate a successful outcome, you must: focus on the user, drive towards your end-game, prioritise meaningfully, measure the right things and empower your product teams along the way. These are unlikely to happen overnight. The trick is in taking these steps every single day, making incremental progress towards a robust product development process, which is collaborative, flexible and resilient to make the necessary pivots in real-time.

This is a joint article written by ThoughtWorks and Mapan, Gojek.