Hindsight 2021 - A Look Back

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    Almost one year ago I wrote Futurevision 2021, my look at the year ahead. I’m realizing I’m about as talented at predicting the future as I am at breakdancing.

    This past year was not nearly as traumatizing as 2020, yet in some ways it was worse. 2021 required a lot of patience. A lot. I was ready for leaps and bounds while the rest of the world demanded tiny baby steps.

    However, my wishes were somewhat tempered in June when I began learning about product led growth. I realized that while we had a really great product, we had a very lousy new user experience. The goal of product led growth is to get a new prospective user to see and feel value as quickly as possible - to help them achieve those  “Aha!” moments with as little friction as possible.

    I just started writing about Product Led Growth this month in my post Starting on the Product-Led Journey. And I’ll be writing about it a lot more over the next several months. It’s a really big deal.

    We’ve always been focused on user experience. After all, we had to cater to the experience of developers, marketers, and non-technical content editors - all very different user types - and that’s not an easy feat. We did have some onboarding features but very few. It took far too long for a new user to realize the value of Marketpath CMS.

    So, I began planning drastic changes to our product which finally started taking shape this month. I’ll dive into those in a bit.

    The beginning of the year also began our own chapter in The Great Resignation. One-third of our workforce left. For a smaller company, that is truly painful. Each employee who left, did so to accomplish goals we weren’t able to fulfill. We knew where they wanted to go but just couldn’t get them there. Jobs still had to get done.

    So we started the year with new faces, a few redefined roles, and a renewed energy. We had a great group before, but we have an exceptional group now. And they’re all in on our new product led journey.

    Let’s look at some of the product changes we implemented last year. In years past, I put each of these changes in one of the following categories: Completed, Incomplete, and Unplanned. Six months is a very long time in software. Directions change and being able to pivot for new opportunities is important. So, now I’m just going to list our achievements.

    Completed Features

    Continuous Integration & Deployment (CI/CD). This was the biggest release of 2021 and it was a little scary. With this, we automated everything in the build, testing, and deployment process pipeline and revised the architecture of our platform.

    Now, when a developer checks in completed code, it is automatically compiled and tested. It then updates our Staging environment (or rebuilds it completely) where we do further quality assurance testing.

    Moving code into the Release branch does the same thing for a production release, except it doesn’t deploy automatically. But it does get a deployment ready, so all we need to do is push the button to deploy it. Once we are more comfortable with the entire process and get any kinks worked out, we will likely automate the entire release to production as well.

    CI/CD is a huge leap forward. It allows us to release features and bug fixes at any time (even during the day), more frequently, and frees up our developers to do more of the work that counts.

    New User Onboarding. Our next, most important new feature was the revised user onboarding. This is one of those features that is never really complete. We will continuously make changes to our onboarding so users get up-to-speed as quickly as possible.

    We reduced the number of steps a user must take before they realize value by half. What used to take 40 steps now only takes 20.

    Site Instructions. We implemented site instructions to help solve two challenges. First, it’s part of our new user onboarding process. The site instructions contain onboarding tasks for new users - both developers and editors.

    Second, site instructions help us and clients save site-specific instructions and notes for each site. Every site is built differently so editing can be unique. Site instructions provide a place to keep track of those little changes that aren’t completed regularly and easily forgotten.

    Reference Tracking. Now every object in Marketpath CMS is tracked by where it is used. You can reference anywhere a page is linked or an image is used. You can also filter content by whether or not it is referenced by other objects, making site cleanup a snap.

    Bulk Tagging & Authoring. We added the ability to add and remove tags in bulk, as well as add and remove authors.

    QR Codes. Every page now has its own, unique QR code in the Sharing dialog.

    Form Submission Spam Filter. Form submission spam was becoming a big problem, so we created a simple filter to get rid of the biggest offenders. This has dramatically reduced form submission spam.

    Final Thoughts

    I began 2021 in a state of melancholy. Just read my Futurevision 2021 post and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Kind of a grim way to start the year but I’ve never been good at fabricating hype and optimism. 2020 left me down in the dumps and looking forward to more of the same for 2021 wasn’t terribly enlightening.

    Multiple unexpected personnel changes and the fact that I was simply depressed didn’t help things. Hiring and training truly sucks the life out of me. It’s exhausting. But it is a fact of life for any company and something, that if done wrong, can have terrible consequences.

    We didn’t do it wrong. We hired stellar people who have already made huge contributions to our company, our product, and our culture.

    And with our six months of planning and strategy to move to a product led growth model, I am dangerously optimistic.

    Bye bye 2020 + 1! And good riddance.

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    About the Author

    Matt Zentz

    Matt Zentz launched Marketpath from a small Broad Ripple bungalow in February 2001 with a focus on custom web application development. He built the first, basic version of a hosted CMS called Webtools and shortly afterward expanded his team and created the first version of Marketpath CMS.

    Matt has worked for a national consulting firm, taught computer programming to high school juniors and seniors , and led the information technology arm of the auxiliary business units at Indiana University.

    Matt graduated from Indiana University in 1999 with a B.S. in Computer Science and has built custom web applications since 1995. Matt is husband to an amazing & supportive wife, has three beautiful children, supreme master to Archimedes (Archie) the dog, and mostly tolerant victim of 2 flying rats (cockateils).

    He coaches various kid sports, enjoys furniture and home renovation projects, and plays guitar and piano. Matt is also active with his church as a parishioner, technical advisor and board member on the festival committee.

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