Product People integrated Continuous Discovery into the Development Processes of Smallpdf


The Client: pdftools / Smallpdf

Pdftools is a company specializing in the development of software solutions for PDF and PDF/A documents. The company was founded in 2002. Their product range includes various tools and services for creating, processing, viewing, and archiving PDF documents. The company emphasizes its commitment to building reliable and efficient products for developers and businesses, aiding in the integration of PDF functionalities into various workflows and applications. Pdftools has been acquired by Smallpdf in March 2022.

Smallpdf, founded in Switzerland in 2013, offers a user-friendly platform with over 20 PDF tools. It has helped over a billion users in 195 countries and offers features like file conversion, PDF editing, compression, E-Signatures, and OCR. While basic services are free, premium subscribers can access additional features like batch processing and offline access.

The Mission: Interim Technical Product Manager

We joined pdftools / Smallpdf to strengthen the PDF Web Viewer SDK product and determine the direction for product development by considering internal and external customers, end users, competitors, and market trends.

🧑🏼‍💻The product

PDF Web Viewer provides PDF viewing and annotation functionality for browser-based applications. The product is used by developers. Developers build applications like CRM, and documentation apps by integrating PDF Tools into their applications.

🧑‍🤝‍🧑The team

  • The team consisted of:
  • 3 developers (1 FE + 2 BE)
  • The Engineering Manager started supporting other teams after we joined. We managed scrum events after this change.
  • There was no dedicated UX designer for our team, so we filled the role by creating low-fidelity designs on Figma.
  • There was no dedicated UX researcher for our team, but we got consultancy from the UX research team when we needed it.
  • A Group Product Manager was supporting multiple development teams as a Product Manager before Product People came in as interim support, they needed a dedicated Product Manager for the PDF Web Viewer team.

Launch: We Onboarded Very Fast

In our first month;

  • Firstly, we created user flows for our customers, which are developers, and for end users to understand the product also prepared the user flow for our main competitor’s product to figure out differences and get inspired from their features.
  • Secondly, we prepared a gap analysis by checking our product’s features and our internal customer’s needs and aligned with the internal customer on this analysis.
  • We reviewed customer support tickets to understand our external customer needs. Then, a matrix analysis was prepared based on our internal customer’s needs, and our external customer’s requests to focus on the intersection area.
  • We hosted a workshop with our development team to define Q4’2022 OKRs and created team OKRs with problems, how to validate, strategy contribution, increments, risks, and dependencies.
OKR Planning Workshop

  • In parallel, we agreed on the ways of working, scrum events cadences, and structures with the development team in an internal kick-off workshop.
  • Finally, we prepared a quarterly first draft roadmap for 2023 with user and business problems, solutions, and dependencies and aligned with other product teams on it.
Quarterly Planning Workshop with all Product Teams

Integrating Continuous Discovery into Processes

When we joined Smallpdf, the team wasn’t talking with customers to test their assumptions or validate their ideas.

What we did:

  • To address this, monthly meetings with both prospective and existing clients were initiated. These sessions were instrumental in understanding customer needs, updating them on product developments, and clarifying release scopes.
  • We built the Product Trio with one of the developers from the team, and we got consultancy from the UX Research team.
  • We conducted interviews with our three existing customers. Furthermore, we found two appropriate candidates, who had experience with SDK products, from the User Testing application.
  • The feedback was synthesized into interview snapshots, laying the groundwork for the Opportunity Solution Tree (OST). The OST helped in identifying and focusing on key opportunities by considering the intersection of customer needs, product outcomes, and market trends.
  • A focused opportunity was chosen by evaluating customer, company, and market factors. A workshop was conducted to delve into these opportunities, fostering team collaboration in solution generation and assumption identification.
Ideation Sessin with the Dev Team

Following this, a survey for customers and website visitors was prepared to validate assumptions about our focus opportunity with the Hotjar tool.

Involving the development team in the decision-making process

Before we joined the company, the company started working with the OKR framework. We needed to define quarterly objectives and key results for our team. The team needed to adopt the OKR framework and ensure that team objectives were aligned with company strategy and actionable.

What we did:

  • We organized strategy sessions with the development team and evaluated which problems we wanted to focus on next considering the interview results. We prioritized initiatives considering impact, and effort, aligned on objectives and key results for prioritized initiatives.
  • We regularly updated and tracked OKRs, providing weekly updates, and monthly progress percentages. At the end of the quarters, we evaluated our completion percentages for OKRs and created new quarter’s OKRs by considering them.
OKR Workshop with the Whole Team
  • We analyzed our B2B customer requests, and features that are aligned with the company outcome, conducted competitor analysis, and created a critical feature list. We evaluated these features with the development team in terms of required effort, and dependencies. Then, we created our roadmap with problems from the user perspective on the Product Board tool, presented the roadmap to other teams, and aligned the roadmap with all stakeholders.

Leading the transition from Scrum to Scrumban

Our team faced challenges with the Scrum framework, notably in managing complex, interdependent tasks and addressing urgent B2B client needs, which disrupted our sprint planning and execution.

What we did:

  • We have created an existing scrum flow and conducted a thorough review of our existing Scrum process, identifying bottlenecks and areas for improvement.
  • We have interviewed all developers to gather insights on their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for process enhancement.
  • Based on feedback, we designed a Scrumban flow, blending Scrum's structured approach with Kanban's flexibility.
  • We offered to transition from standard planning meetings to Replenishment meetings, focusing on ticket prioritization on the Kanban board.
  • We implemented column limits for "In Progress" and "In Review" to streamline workflow and reduce bottlenecks.
  • We refined the Scrumban approach with the team collaboratively, ensuring alignment and addressing any concerns.
The process to switch to Scrumban

Delivered Outcomes

💡 There was a cultural shift within the team towards an experimentation mindset. This change facilitated a more rigorous process of testing and validating assumptions, marking a significant stride in product development and customer engagement.
💡 Shifted to an outcome-focused roadmap, enhancing strategic alignment.
💡 Fostered a culture of ownership and accountability within the team, with a stronger focus on achieving key results.
💡 Established a more adaptive and efficient workflow, ready for implementation upon our departure, allowing the team to better manage ongoing tasks and swiftly respond to client needs.
💡 Onboarded the new PM for the team.

Our mission was extended once. It finished after we onboarded the new SPM fully.

In the Client's Own Words

Space Crew of this Mission

Product Management Consultant
Senior Product Management Consultant
VP/Director/Head of Product

For Clients: When to Hire Us

You can hire us as an Interim/Freelance Product Manager or Product Owner

It takes, on average, three to nine months to find the right Product Manager to hire as a full-time employee. In the meantime, someone needs to fill in the void: drive cross-functional initiatives, decide what is worth building, and help the development team deliver the best outcomes.
If you're looking for a great Product Manager / Product Owner to join your team ASAP, Product People is a good plug-and-play solution to bridge the gap.