Implementing Aha! to help grow and scale Zego
Zego is an innovative tech company that serves property management firms and their residents through a suite of digital products. Property managers can white-label the Zego platform, which allows residents to pay rent and utility bills, receive alerts about utility usage, interface with their apartment managers, and more. Zego also enables residents in “smart” apartments to grant keyless entry to others via temporary codes, adjust their thermostats from afar, and perform many other tasks directly from the app.
After a large private equity firm purchased Zego, leadership chose to focus on massive growth and scaling by developing their product management and product operations functions. Aaron Gries, Zego’s newly hired Senior Director of Product Operations & PMO, took charge of the initiative.
Aaron’s first step was to find a roadmapping software that would help him align product development workflows with the larger goal of growth and scaling. Several of Zego’s sister companies experienced success with Aha!, so Aaron and his colleagues saw this popular roadmapping software as a viable option.
There was, however, one major concern. Aaron’s predecessor had attempted to use Aha! at Zego in the past, and the implementation was an unqualified failure.
Would Aha! work with Zego’s approach to software development?
The biggest challenge in implementing Aha! at Zego had to do with Zego’s software development methodology. Zego used a system called Flow, which is essentially an extreme, highly flexible take on the Agile approach to software development.
It wasn’t obvious how Aha!’s out-of-the-box solutions would work with a system like Flow. Without the help of a seasoned consultant during the first attempt, Aaron’s predecessors gained minimal traction. Those departments that did attempt to use Aha! did so on a granular level, more like a release management tool than a roadmapping tool. In addition, unlike issue/task management tools such as Jira, Aha! is a system for clarifying big picture visions, aligning teams and defining their projects according to the larger mission.
To avoid this mistake, Aaron explored Aha!’s concierge service, where an in-house Aha! expert oversees implementation. He soon realized, however, that he needed a more hands-on approach with an independent consultant who had experience configuring Aha! in a more bespoke manner and with less common methodologies like Flow.
That’s when a Google search led him to Justin Woods at Roadmap Heroes. Justin understood Aaron’s challenges from the beginning and immediately began exploring solutions.
Using Aha! to help transform and scale Zego
The leadership at Zego hoped to scale the business by:
- Implementing more predictable project tracking
- Creating more predictable release tracking
- Identifying better benchmarks to identify (and ultimately recreate) the most impactful changes
“We had some great plans and roadmap visions,” says Aaron, “But once we tried to deliver, we’d struggle on the timing and had trouble keeping a consistent set of reporting.”
One major goal with Aha! was to set up a gating process for product development. By tracking workflows, they hoped to improve their predictions for delivery time—developing real-time updates as they progressively elaborated their vision.
With this in mind, Justin worked with Aaron to identify three major goals for the first phase of their Aha! Implementation:
- Aligning development workflows with the larger vision of scaling the company
- Integrating Aha! with JIRA
- Improved reporting to provide full transparency throughout the organization
These major goals broke down as follows.
Aligning development workflows with the larger vision of scaling Zego
At its core, Aha! is all about defining why a product (and company) exists through its strategy, goals and initiatives, what work they will deliver to meet those objectives/outcomes, and when they plan to deliver it in terms of customer-centric releases of value. Unlike a task management tool like JIRA, however, Aha! is largely used by Product teams to understand market demand, prioritize initiatives, and communicate the value of planned project/releases changes to everyone from executive management to software developers.
With this in mind, Aaron and Justin worked to configure Aha! such that the system:
- Identified a flexible and scalable product hierarchy
- Worked with Zego’s gated product processes
- Leveraged tasks management and approvals to support all peripheral work surrounding product processes
- Employed custom tables to facilitate processes, documentation, decisions, and audits
- Defined scorecards for use across the portfolio, aiding prioritisation
- Supported two different record hierarchies
Integration with JIRA
Uniquely designed for software project management, JIRA is a favourite among software developers, and Aha! makes no attempt to replace it. Instead, Aha! is designed to integrate with JIRA, allowing seamless communication between Product Managers and Development teams.
Based on Zego’s specific demands as Flow developers, Justin worked with Zego to ensure a solid integration. This involved testing the configuration with small groups and customising it based on feedback, which Justin did himself.
The JIRA integration involved:
- Integrating all relevant product information in Aha! and development team information into JIRA
- Ensuring that workflows from Aha! fed into JIRA and enabled reporting back to Aha with synchronization of shared data fields, where relevant, between the systems
- Providing spend categorization insights to compare the allocation of planned work vs what was delivered, balance new features against enhancements, and to address and eliminate tech debt
Given the parent company’s goals to quickly scale Zego, a huge benefit of Aha! was its reporting features. A goal of the first rollout phase was to produce reports so leadership could easily access and quickly understand how current initiatives fed into their larger goals.
While Zego left more extensive reporting features for the next phase, the first phase of the Aha! rollout involved:
- Training users to create their own reports and retrieve standardized reports that were defined as part of the first phase
- Using reporting features to convey outcomes and value rather than endless feature lists, which is key to effective roadmapping
- Enabling audits for full transparency and accuracy of data as well as internal auditing purposes
- Identifying a line of sight between tactical work (in JIRA) and strategic initiatives, highlighting any gaps between the vision and the reality of new feature development
Customizing the Aha! rollout timeline
Justin tailors each rollout to the unique demands of each company he serves, and that involves delving into an organization’s goals, workflows, and past experience with roadmapping (when applicable). The following is a big-picture view of the first phase of Zego’s Aha! rollout.
Detailed discovery phase
During the discovery phase, Justin worked to understand the current state of affairs, identify the company’s roadmapping goals, and building and testing strawman models to work out any issues before training began.
Zego’s discovery phase took the following form:
- October 2020: Initial analysis and developing a theoretical model, which involved:
- Learning about Zego and the company’s current processes
- Vetting Aha! out-of-the-box functionality and identifying what needs customization
- Analysing the current state of affairs
- Working with stakeholders and leaders to build a newer, better model
- December 2020: Building a strawman model, which involved:
- Constructing and testing a working prototype in Aha!
- Conducting stakeholder reviews that refine each iteration
- Defining UX workflows in harmony with the product management process
- Investigating capacity planning
- January – February, 2021: Building and testing a more fleshed-out system, which involved:
- JIRA integration and testing, factoring cross-project movement of records and importing of spikes and defects for reporting
- Further development of custom fields, layouts, and workflows
- Establishing the automation of gated approvals and assigning tasks at each stage
- Training preparation for the end-users
Training & rollout phase
Rather than rolling out Aha! to an entire organization, it typically makes sense to begin with one or two teams to figure out what works and what needs further revising. The training and rollout phase took the following form.
In March of 2021, Justin trained the first set of Product and Development teams, implementing the new model, sanitizing and archiving existing data, and carefully monitoring the implementation to ensure Zego employees were using Aha! properly.
In April of 2021, Zego expanded training to other teams for company-wide adoption. Initial adoption varied from team to team, so Justin led deep-dive workshops to properly train any teams that needed more guidance until everyone was comfortable with the platform.
Initial success and future plans
At the time of publication, Zego had just finished the first phase of its Aha! Implementation, which enabled the company to meet its aggressive goals to grow and scale.
The JIRA integration was nearly flawless, with Justin actively available to work out any kinks. Aha! also enabled better reporting, which helped create greater transparency for executives and greater alignment throughout the organization.
The Zego team plans to continue their work with Justin in the next phase of the rollout, which will involve in-depth work on comprehensive reporting features. These features will allow leadership to keep a finger on the pulse of product development. They also plan to use Aha! to improve their workflows around collecting, and acting upon, Voice-of-the-Customer feedback to improve their products.
Justin will continue to advise Aaron and his team into the foreseeable future, adding value through strategic planning and hands-on work. One of the many things Aaron values about Justin is that he stays on top of the latest Aha! developments, integrating new features and refining the implementation to support Zego’s aggressive growth goals.
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Zego’s parent company hoped to grow and scale the organization by developing its product management and product operations functions. The Product and Development teams had a history of coming up with innovative ideas, but they struggled to:
- Deliver that vision according to the timelines they set
- Provide comprehensive reporting to executives
- Offer the company-wide transparency necessary to align the organization in their mission to deliver a powerful user experience
Several of Zego’s sister organizations found success using Aha!, but Zego struggled with its first attempt at implementation. Given their use of Flow as a software development methodology, Zego had specific demands that required the help of a seasoned consultant.
Justin Woods, from Roadmap Heroes, worked with the Zego team to:
- Understand Zego’s unique challenges
- Design and test strawman configurations, refining them based on testing and feedback
- Conduct initial training sessions with Product and Development teams to further refine configurations
- Lead full training and rollout
- Provide deep-dive training for teams struggling with adoption and proper use
At the time of publication, Zego has finished the first phase of its Aha! implementation, which enabled them to meet their aggressive growth and scaling goals.
The rollout resulted in:
- Stronger alignment on goals and visions across the organization
- Successful JIRA integration, with clear communication between Product and Development teams
- Greater transparency through improved reporting
Zego leadership will continue their work with Justin as they expand their use of Aha!’s robust features. The next phase will focus on developing even stronger reporting capabilities and superior processes for collecting and implementing customer feedback.