Zalando Case Study: Data Products and How Our Interim Product Managers Helped

The Client

The European Star of E-Commerce

Zalando SE is a German multi-national E-commerce company based in Berlin, Germany. The headquarters are located in Berlin. Zalando has offices (tech hubs) in Dublin, Dortmund, and  Helsinki. The company follows a platform approach, offering fashion and lifestyle products to customers in 23 European markets. Zalando was founded in Germany in 2008.

Zalando has raised $615.9M in funding over 8 rounds. Their latest funding was raised on Nov 11, 2013, from a Private Equity round. Zalando is registered under the ticker ETR:ZAL. Their stock opened at €21.50 in its Oct 1, 2014 IPO.

The Mission: Interim Product Manager

Our mission, part of a new Internal Data Product, consisted of developing add-ons for 2 different apps, one of which is used by Zalando Internal Buyers to pre-order inventory and the other by Zalando Planners to re-order certain articles. The overall initiative’s impact was estimated to bring 1.8 million EUR in efficiency improvements.

The initial setup was very challenging in the beginning. We worked with 3 development teams on a large initiative, which brought meeting overload (3 daily StandUps, 3 refinement sessions, 3 sprint plannings, etc.). We completed the first initiative within our first month, then worked with the remaining two throughout the mission.

When buying articles, Zalando employees need to respect a set of rules that suppliers have developed to better store and deliver articles in full boxes. Those are standard supply-chain practices (e.g., the company cannot reorder just one pair of sneakers size 38, they need to re-order one lot which contains sizes from 36 to 40, some of them with one pair, while popular sizes like 38 may have 2+ pairs).

The process ran on complex excel files for a long time, being labor intensive and with a high risk of manual errors. Employees had to calculate the number of articles manually, which was time-consuming. Now it’s done automatically, reducing the time for an order from a day to less than 1 hour. The mission lasted for 7 Months, from September 2021 to March 2022.

How We Helped

Reframed Problem Statements, Built a Validated Product Backlog

All tickets were very technical, and often the problem was not easily or correctly defined.

We focused on the core structure and existing leveraged team processes (Scrum ceremonies) to get the development teams to estimate their tickets and refine them better. After unpacking tickets, we went back to basics, thinking from first principles, looking if what we’re aiming to build has been validated and it’s still a priority. Rinsed and repeated this several times with 3 development teams and key stakeholders.

Then we could change from reactionary solving of the queue to even more discovery and proactivity and how to communicate with the business stakeholders team.

Successful Internal Facing Rollout

After implementing each specific user story, our Product Manager went individually into each new feature to ensure it was implemented correctly and according to the set acceptance criteria. Then our Client Facing Product Manager checked and, for high-impact features, asked the Internal users also to test and give feedback.

This is normal for an Internal product as there’s a lot of business logic and processes to account for. Also, the number of users is very small, so the type of automated UI test automation that works well in high-traffic B2C cases is less relevant here.

Left a Great Offboarding Documentation

When the Russia-Ukraine war started at the beginning of 2021, there was significant pressure on budgets for external contracting companies like ours. At the end of our 7 months of this initiative, we left great offboarding documentation for the soon-to-be-hired Product Manager and a well-documented training manual for the internal users of this system.

Delivered Outcomes

Notable outcomes we've delivered in our three months:

💡 Launched key capabilities for an Internal Data Product to save 1.8m EUR.
💡 Coordinated complex initiatives across 3 internal software development teams.
💡 Discovered and implemented first in-app touchpoints even with an insufficient engineering workforce (while hiring was still ongoing).
💡 Successfully onboarded a new PM.

In the Client's Own Words

Space Crew of this Mission

Mirela Mus
Mirela Mus
Founder, Managing Partner
Product Manager
Product Manager
Associate Product Manager
Associate Product Manager

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.