Computer with video editing software
Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic

“...truly a transformative experience start to finish.”

Complete product pivot on a short time frame

  • Company
    Monax
  • Location
    New York, Edinburgh
  • Industry
    SaaS, Contract Management
  • Webite

Summary


Monax provides blockchain-enabled contract management and process automation software to enterprise clients. Originally founded as a developer-centric framework for building smart contracts, they were in the process of building their first consumer-focused product when their CEO of American operations contacted me. Their team was at a standstill. With product ideas coming from multiple internal stakeholders and customer feedback from several early partners, their engineering efforts were scattered and bogged down by interdependencies. They were working hard but getting nowhere.

I worked with their CTO and Product Associate to build a coherent engineering roadmap, and a process for continuously delivering on that roadmap.

Ben's work to systematize our routines and processes have tangibly increased engineering velocity. He was able to effectively navigate the needs to have proper process against needs to not be overly prescriptive with that process.

Casey Kuhlman, Co-CEO

Before, it felt like we were always swimming in a circle of unclarity. That simply doesn’t happen any more. We discuss, we settle and we move forward.

Matt Basile, Product Associate

Challenges


Hard Deadline for MVP/Investor Demo

Monax's investors wanted to see an MVP within 4 months. This would not only be an opportunity to demonstrate the product, but to demonstrate the team's ability to deliver on a plan. It would be critical to maintain clear focus on specific deliverables in order to meet that deadline.

We needed to quickly build a collaborative, product-driven approach to our engineering process that focused our team on meeting "investor demo" and production-ready code.

Esther Babb, Co-CEO

Input From Many Product Stakeholders

Product ideas and feedback came from multiple internal stakeholders, plus a half-dozen early-adopting customers. All of this input was dutifully catalogued, but little if any of it was contextualized or prioritized.

We constantly were responding to design partners and stakeholders feedback without a coherent definition of what we were building towards or what our motives were.

Matt Basile, Product Associate

Relatively Junior Team

The engineering team of four was relatively junior, ranging from 2-5 years of professional experience, plus the CTO who had only recently been promoted to that role. The team had very little previous experience working on high-performing teams, and for several of the engineers this was their first full-time engineering role.

You could tell [Ben's] passion for teaching and instilling good routines that can make a long-lasting impact for an engineering team that is early in their career development

Esther Babb, Co-CEO

Insights


Product Team Lacked Clear Objectives

The product, engineering, and customer success teams were dutifully tracking new product ideas and feedback, but no process existed for prioritizing these items and grouping them into larger business objectives. Without those clear objectives, the team was advancing slowly in all directions.

Ambiguous Definition of Responsibilities Created Confusion

Tasks given to the engineering team lacked context and detail, so the engineers had to interpret those tasks through their own ideas of how the product should behave and what the customers desired. This frequently led to rework or costly back-and-forth when defining work items.

Engineering Team was Trying to Solve for Problems That Didn't Yet Exist.

The engineering team was spending too much time trying to build for the 5-year vision of the company, at the cost of delivering useful, valuable features to the present customers.

You provided a more clear plan up front than we had from someone with more big company experience who spent too much time observing and not really making an impact.

Silas Davis, CTO

Solutions


Milestone-based Product Roadmap for Unified Objectives

The product roadmap focuses on larger objectives, rather than disjointed groupings of product ideas. This keeps the the entire organization focused on why certain items are prioritized over others, and helps surface ambiguities and misunderstandings earlier than would otherwise be the case. The roadmap is a living document and is reviewed by the entire team at regular intervals. This ensures that progress on the current milestone can be clearly tracked, and that preparations are being made for the medium and long-term objectives.

Ben helped our team settle into a cohesive, singular team. Before hiring Ben, our team members had been more Balkanized in their efforts, but Ben's expertise helped us to refactor how the team operated into a more cohesive unit. This effort continues to pay dividends both in company cohesion as well as in velocity.

Casey Kuhlman, Co-CEO

Clear, Lightweight Protocols for Defining Product Requirements

I introduced simple, flexible formats for communicating feature ideas and work in progress, as well as clear definitions of responsibility from inception to delivery. With these in place, different teams within the organization could now seamlessly pass work off to each other and track its progress toward production.

The collaboration and communication between the teams is much more effective and decisions are product driven versus opinion based.

Esther Babb, Co-CEO

Unambiguous Near-term Objectives

To keep the engineering team from getting bogged down in too many hypotheticals about long-term plans, I helped them to adopt a mindset of "leaving doors open" rather than "building foundations". Instead of trying to build out entire systems that will likely become irrelevant as priorities shift, we biased engineering conversations toward delivering the specific features required for the current milestone, and how those implementations could be made most flexible to account for future unknowns.

You were able to make adaptations to suit the ambient levels of disorder in the company without being too dogmatic.

Silas Davis, CTO

Key Results


Extremely predictable cadence of feature delivery

Burndown Chart
Steady cadence of feature delivery predicting milestone delivery date.

By far the most valuable result of this engagement is the regular, predictable pace at which features are now delivered to the product. The image above illustrates the rate at which features are delivered over time (the jagged blue line, descending at regular intervals) and the projected date of completion for the scope of the current project (the yellow line)

I would highly recommend Ben's services for teams that are seeking to find the "right level" of ritual and process that will empower their teams to move forward cleanly.

I'd recommend Ben to any company that wants to hone their engineering team into a Navy SEAL like effective and capable team.

Casey Kuhlman, Co-CEO

Clarity and Visibility of Work in Progress at the Micro and Macro Levels

Internal stakeholders can tell at a glance what is in progress on any given day. They can also clearly track progress towards larger milestones, and visualize the effects of scope change on those milestones.

The team is happier as a result of leveraging these new tools and routines which has created transparency and accountability for all of the relevant stakeholders.

Esther Babb, Co-CEO

Team has demonstrated ability to maintain process and self-organize

Through a structured phase-out of my involvement, the team has been able to take ownership of all elements of the new process, maintaining their pace of delivery in my absence. Periodic team retrospectives create productive discussion for improvement and commit routines to institutional memory with little or no documentation overhead.

Ben was very transparent in what he was trying to accomplish, laid it out for us, start instituting that structure, gave us the reins early to own the processes, truly a transformative experience start to finish.

Matt Basile, Product Associate

We're all really proud of this product and you played a tangible role in helping us get there. So thanks!

Casey Kuhlman, Co-CEO

Icon