Career as a Platform

Employer: Stride, Inc.
Role: Director of Product Management
Duration: March to September 2022

When I joined Stride’s Career as a Platform (CaaP) team, they had already been working for eight months without senior product leadership. Their original target was to launch in 3 months with a defined set of features, and 8 months in they had reduced scope significantly, still hadn’t released anything, and had built up several months of technical debt.

Career as a Platform was targeted at high school juniors and seniors who wouldn’t necessarily be attending college, and its aim was to help those students transition to the workforce. When first logging in, a user would have an option of a short or long assessment to help them identify the career fields that best matched their personality and interests. Upon selecting a career field, the user would enroll in a learning path to complete multiple eLearning courses, after which they could take certification exams. CaaP would also connect the user with employers so they could apply for and attain a job paying a living wage.

My first priority was to understand both the work that had been done to date and the relationships between the various teams and their members. Around 80 people were contributing to CaaP and a lot of work was happening on the fly: epics and stories were being written in half an hour with design work happening live on Zoom while the developers coded what they were being shown in the moment. People were working extremely long hours and spending a lot of it on Zoom. There was no time or space for research, thinking, or validating ideas, and when I would ask why a feature was being built, everyone would pause and realize that they often didn’t know. The team was working through a checklist with no rationale or customer input.

One of the first things I did was to develop some documentation and training on the basics of story development and conducting sprints. I then pulled together representatives from product, design, and project management to deliver some training in-person and help us to get on the same path so we could begin making progress.

Portion of a Miro board to teach about Sprints and Stories

Over the course of 5 months, I directed the team through two releases and completing half of the stories for 2 more. Engineering had only been delivering about 50% of the stories each sprint to which they committed, and they were pulling them in somewhat randomly, so I focused them on delivering more value through prioritized development and better release planning, which was paying off well. We also paid down the tech debt during those 5 months by creating unit, functional, and regression tests so that engineering could use a continuous deployment process safely. And I built a 6-month roadmap using a mix of Miro and Aha! integrated with Jira. We used Miro for initial brainstorming, Aha! for writing initiatives, epics, and stories, and Jira for the developers to track and manage their work.

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