Product Management for Nonprofit Software

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Anna has managed a number of products (see links below) at Benetech, and will share her experiences as well as best practices for managing successful software products designed for social good.

Current Projects: (adaptive management software for environmental conservation projects) and (secure documentation tool for human rights groups)

Contact info:

Session Notes

Anna spoke on how Product Management is a lot like Project management only with more people to satisfy. We did a round of introductions where people identified themselves and their project or hopes for what they want to get out of the session. many people have projects they want to productize products so they described their tools a little.

Anna spoke about working on both projects and products and finds the product more satisfying because she see's more people benefit from the work. She talked about how productization require more standardization and more documentation. Getting user feedback is harder so you have to solicit that. Marketing or outreach is tougher and getting non-profit funding for technology projects. They use Agile development, breaking things down into smaller chunks and doing more iterative releases. Starting small and testing a lot along the line.

Arthur asks how do you communicate with your users to get feedback? Anna says mostly email and on the website, plus personal contacts with higher security items.

Melinda asks if there are any ways that you had to really ...

Anna mentions that because their products are free so not alot of people seem to not use it because it doesn't have a feature. Having things in multiple languages really seems to attract international users, the "it's in my language" item is really important.

Tanya asks how do you go about asking for feedback from users. Anna says that sitting down with folks and really just working with them on how it works and what features they use.

Rebecca asks if Benetech's software is opensource. Anna talks about how their code is mostly opensource and is published on the sourceforge. Rebecca asks if they work with or get input from other opensource developers. Anna speaks about the challenges of working with opensource developers, how they don't get a lot interest and usually when interest is shown they don't have the skill set they need. Outside translation has been helpful.

Matthew asks about how Benetech responds to user feedback and prioritize implementation. Anna talks about how the decision are tied to funding and how often something is requested.

Rebecca asks if they ever turn down money to build a feature you don't want. Anna says yes but talk about helping to shape contributions and feature requests.

Karen asks about the nature of Benetech's funding sources. Anna doesn't know the exact amounts but she overviews the basic sources of funding -- service contracts with foundations, occasional small grants where an org got funding to get a training or a feature, some small fee for service stuff for setup and install. The goal would be to ease of foundation funding and get more user earned funding.

Katie asks if the product is modular enough to add features to only one item. Anna says no we haven't added that kinda modularization, mostly she thinks that is because they aren't interested in doing add-on features for more money because they are trying to keep the cost for their users down.

Anna talks about things they don't call products, they sometimes provide tools that help with statistical data that isn't products but more the working with the data.

Karen asks if you are interested in re-purposing your software for other clients? Anna says yes you could do it, it is branded to look like environmental or human rights but it could be use for anything really.

Anna talks about the limits of working with many for-profits and how they respond to the political challenges that benetech.

Margot asks for insight about differences in Marketing for-profit vs free. Anna says that marketing become lower priority because of the costs involved but that so far word of mouth has really worked just fine.

Matthew talks about how interesting things is to see that Benetech is a non-profit. Anna talks about the fact that the realistic thing is that to serve your users you have to accept that they don't have any money. Anna stresses that you can do things that aren't profitable and go looking for other ways to fund it. She talked about how sometimes a project just can't be funded or completed.

Anna stresses how much you have to get into the heads of your users to really understand what they need.

Anna talks about how documentation is super essential to avoid the ongoing support of the product since you don't want to charge for every single little question. Keeping in mind the funding limitations.

Anna says testing, building in testing is really key. Tanya asks what format their user testing takes. Anna talks about making sure that there is a new feature test list to tell people what has changed to make sure they check out. She also says that in-house testing is super important, getting users who have never used it to use it is also good.

Anna says that QA has a test plan, something that lists what each feature is and must do.

Anna also suggests saying "no" a lot or pushing back -- or more like "Well we could do that but the release will be late". Tanya asks about tactics for dealing with people who basically want to know why you can't give the the features they want. Rebecca mentions the delay tactic, saying you will have to look into something then saying no. Others mention the "Sure we could, let me go get a quote for you."