Non-Profit Product Management: Silicon valley tech for the Good

Who ?

I got a chance to be a Product Manager Fellow for TFI. TFI helps build products for Non-Profits. Every summer around 4–5 projects are executed with the help of PM Fellows & Engineering Intern. The cause is to solve the problems Non-Profits’ face with latest technology and sustainable execution.

What problem was being solved ?

LBFE was having issues tracking volunteer hours. Volunteers didn’t check-in their visits or LBFE had no way of knowing how many volunteers are active and visiting. LBFE needed these hours for two main reasons:

  1. Measure LBFE’s impact to raise funds to help more elders

Lifecycle of the Product ?

The App was called Rendezvous: A meeting at an agreed time and place, typically between two people.

  1. Volunteers didn’t have one place to check-in and emails were too clunky to “check-in”. #SmellsLikeMobileApp
  2. Some users became close to the elders and forgot who connected them. This made LBFE irrelevant for them. #Moat :) ?
  3. There was no motivation to respond. Why should I ? What do you want to do with that data ? #UserEngagement #Trust
  4. Many users did this “job” because their company gave them some perks. They definitely wanted a tool to pull their hours for easy submission #ComputePower
  5. LBFE wanted one place to monitor the elders. Volunteers would be the ideal feeders to this app. The other benefit would of course be data for fund raising. LBFE loved if there could be engagement and get users back for the visits.
  1. I had 4 interns. One of them quit after the first week of my speech! Another hadn't done any coding. The other two were fairly decent. I was on my own for the designers
  2. I had 3 months. After 3 months, the App should be on zero maintenance mode.
  3. The Bright side: I had a customer!

Building for an existing customer and problem case is bliss!

Vicissitudes of Life

  • Login & Registration was through email, magic link etc.
  • LBFE would pull data from the backend to get reports

With great minds comes great egos!

What I would have done differently ?

  • Ego Management: There is no point having a rockstart programmer on the team if he doesn’t build what you want. I would have taken control of the leading the engineers from the beginning. I had the plan in my mind. I needed engineers to execute it. In a professional project, I could escalate it to the Engineering Manager and wouldn’t have faced this issue.
  • Bare Bones/MVP: I would take several steps back. I should have created a simple online survey/form. I could have leveraged the power users to give feedback. May be made that public. I was biased to build a Web App. The time frame of 3 months created a pressure which played games on my mind.

Learnings

  • Leadership is also about correcting the wrong. You can’t make everyone happy. I let down 3 people on the team and my customers to be nice to one person. The cost of pleasing one person is too heavy.
  • I now have a lot of biases :)

Start from the bare minimum and stay on bare minimum!

  • Be a minimalist. Stay on excel sheets, forms, etc. depending on your budget
  • Be Customer Obsessed. Keep customers in touch with any bare minimum “product” to stay focused.

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Anirudh M

Anirudh M

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Computer “Scientist” at Adobe. Developer Productivity, Philosophy & Thoughts. Views are very personal