4 Ways to Manage Product Design in Times of Change
In a complex environment that’s constantly in flux, how can companies create a road map for the future of a highly technical product?
At ARC, this question is at the forefront of our minds. Our organization enables airlines and travel agencies to transact nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in commerce every day. Yet the air travel industry is becoming increasingly personalized and complex — and in order to effectively manage that complexity, the travel industry needs more sophisticated tools, including ARC’s distribution platform. We’re in the midst of designing the future state of our settlement, payment and data products, which are critical to the daily operations of thousands of businesses around the world.
To build new solutions, ARC is undergoing a transformation of its technology infrastructure — as well as its processes, policies and teams across the enterprise. This transformation is already underway, but we have many months until all our data, products and processes are fully transferred to the new technology stack. By the time our infrastructure work is completed, our business environment may look different than it does today.
With all this transformative change in mind, the question remains: How can you build a reliable, comprehensive blueprint for a future you can’t fully see? Here are a few keys to managing product design in a changing environment.
1. Remain deeply connected with your customers.
Customer conversations are essential. Of course, they’re important in times of predictability, but in times of change, they’re critical to success.
ARC settlement is woven into the processes and workflows of airlines, travel agencies, global distribution systems (GDSs) and other industry organizations — and has been for many years. When creating our future product design and capabilities for ARC settlement, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of our customers’ current needs, as well as their vision and expectations for the future.
To create an informed design for our future products, we connected with our customers in a variety of venues to discuss settlement and distribution strategy, including NDC and ONE Order. We have held in-depth customer meetings (ranging from three hours to a full day); initiated one-on-one conversations; connected with cross-functional teams; and hosted workshops, with dozens of customers in one room, to foster collaboration and bring new ideas to the surface.
These have not been one-time, isolated conversations. They are ongoing. We created a feedback loop, where we would take in information and requirements, propose a solution, and validate with customers. Continuous conversations enable us to stay aligned with our customers’ strategies, so if they change, we can adapt accordingly.
I can’t overstate the powerful impact these conversations and partnerships have had on our product design. Strong partnerships and consistent communication are critical. To create a future-proof product design, sit down with your customers regularly. Ask thoughtful questions, not just about their current needs, but also about their vision for the future. Think big in these discussions — you may uncover opportunities you hadn’t considered before.
Continuous conversations enable us to stay aligned with our customers’ strategies, so if they change, we can adapt accordingly.
2. Strive for maximum flexibility and scalability.
While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds, it is possible to create a smart product road map, and flexibility is key. Change is a certainty in business, so flexible solutions will not only benefit our customers, but also ARC’s own teams down the road as they make inevitable adjustments.
For ARC settlement, we started with high-level conceptual strategy, and aligned this with our customers’ strategies. While not every customer has a clear, detailed vision for distribution strategy, ARC has a good idea of what success ultimately looks like for our customers: a richer, more personalized retailing environment to enhance the traveler experience. To get there, businesses across the air travel industry are applying a wide range of strategies — from customized, one-to-one partnerships to large-scale, many-to-many business rules. We’re seeing organizations take on new roles — GDSs are now acting as aggregators, and many travel management companies have become technology providers.
This is a great thing: We’re collectively rethinking the way business gets done, and we’re re-imagining the entire traveler experience. At ARC, we want to enable all of these possibilities, so we’re equipping our systems and future-state products with the flexibility to accommodate myriad use cases.
By equipping your product design with flexibility, you’ll be able to meet a wide array of customer needs, freeing them up to pursue the path they want, at the pace they desire, without limitations. It’s kind of like planning a road trip. You have your ultimate destination in mind, but there’s plenty of flexibility in how you can get there. You can adjust your pace, your route and your key milestones along the way, but barring any major shakeups, your final destination stays pretty solid.
To deliver a flexible product, scalability is also important. By migrating to cloud technologies and updating the tools used to build and manage our systems, ARC is able to better manage investment costs. This provides us with faster time-to-market, and enables us to quickly increase capacity whenever needed.
Scalability allows you to make the most of your resources and equips you to tackle unforeseen challenges. By prioritizing scalability, your organization will be able to expand and condense solutions and capacity as needed, in tandem with your customers, to maximize efficiency.
By equipping your product design with flexibility, you’ll be able to meet a wide array of customer needs, freeing them up to pursue the path they want, at the pace they desire, without limitations.
3. Establish priorities that deliver both present and future value.
With a multiyear plan to enhance a product, it’s important to continually deliver high-quality current-state capabilities until the new version of the product is released. At ARC, although we are focusing heavily on future state, we know our customers still live and work in the present — and that their business success depends on our continuous, uninterrupted delivery of the solutions they trust.
This year, ARC executed a major milestone to enhance our current-state settlement platform — we implemented the flexibility for airlines and travel agencies to create custom partnerships and business rules that leverage New Distribution Capability (NDC). Our conversations with customers illuminated the fact that this functionality couldn’t wait until future state: We needed to deliver this value to the industry as quickly as possible.
Those customer conversations can make a big impact on your product strategy. Based on feedback from airline and travel agency partners, we’ve been able to prioritize current-state product updates that will mitigate existing pain points, enhance value and deliver immediate benefits to our customers.
As you prioritize the highest-impact enhancements to your future product, make sure you continue delivering enhancements to support your customers where they are today. By providing iterative advancements, you will continue learning what your customers need and how to better support them with your future-state solution. Most importantly, you’ll be creating a more positive experience for your customers.
At ARC, although we are focusing heavily on future state, we know our customers still live and work in the present — and that their business success depends on our continuous, uninterrupted delivery of the solutions they trust.
4. Encourage collaboration.
ARC hosts a variety of workshops and working groups to foster collaboration and relationship-building among our industry partners. We’ve found that bringing airlines, travel agencies and technology providers into one room helps all of us see the big picture — and maybe even change it along the way. Hearing different perspectives and a cross-section of customer needs ensures we gather the necessary context and details to design a solution that’s not only a “win” for the global air travel community, but also for the traveler.
These collaborative environments illuminate opportunities to streamline workflows and processes. When we come together as a group, we get a more detailed look at complexities, ambiguities and pain points from our customers’ perspectives. This helps our customers share ideas with each other, and it helps ARC become a better technology partner.
Consider the benefits of bringing your customers together to discuss ideas and participate in the creation of your future-state product design. You may be surprised by the opportunities the group uncovers, and the aspects of your product that are most critical to the community you serve.
While none of us knows exactly what the future holds, there are things we can all do to be better prepared for the future (and all the changes it will certainly bring). Product design is a challenge in times of rapid change, but with consistent customer alignment and planned flexibility, organizations can thrive in a dynamic environment.