Name

Frank Closset

Role:

Director Product Management

Product Suite Responsible for:

SDL Knowledge Center & SDL XPP

Time in role:

7 years

Background & Experience:

I hold two Master’s degrees: one in Applied Economics, one in Business Informatics, both from the University of Leuven, Belgium.

Located:

Mechelen, Belgium

Hobbies & Interests:

Enjoy my friends, travel the globe, tennis, skiing, and playing guitar

What does an average day look like for a Director of Product Management?

As a Product Manager, you need to do a lot of things every day. I start my day off with coffee, and then some more coffee. Next, I will check my emails, and since we are a global company, my inbox is filled up again in the morning. I quickly scan for high priority issues that popped up overnight and that require my immediate attention.

I’m involved in lots of meetings with various stakeholders internal and external to the company: I sync with the different development teams, assist sales and help them to formulate how to solve prospect’s pain points with our software, talk to our Professional Services teams, Cloud Ops, sales operations, and last but not least customers. Although not that pleasant, once in a while, I need to be involved in customer escalations in order to try to find ways to unblock that customer.

 All these interactions deliver me with a lot of useful information, so it’s key to document all the insights I receive and to distil actions from them.

What is the one thing you are most passionate about when it comes to end user experience?

I always liked the psychology behind user experience: How do people think? How do they behave? Why do they behave like that? I like to evaluate complex situations, and then turn them into a pleasing and desirable experience. This is not easy, it requires empathy and curiosity. I continue to learn!

What are you working on right now?

I’m always working on multiple things at the same time. If I have to pick one topic of interest, it would be the Unified Delivery tier we are developing. This will be a new, state-of-the-art, online delivery platform, shared between SDL Web and SDL Knowledge Center. It will help us to mashup marketing content with product content and bringing these two worlds closer together. More to come shortly!

What is your Product Team focused on for the next 3-6 months?

One of the focus areas of our team is to make upgrades easier. Today, upgrading customers is too time-consuming and too error-prone. This needs to become easier. Once there, it will not only help our customers to upgrade faster with fewer mistakes, it will also enable us to deliver new releases and functionality faster to the market.

We are executing on the following themes

  • Automation libraries: our team is developing a PowerShell automation library to help both our Professional Services team, our CloudOps team and our customers to easily bootstrap servers and to apply configuration to them, all automated. Keywords are control, automation, and repeatability.  This initiative will be open sourced. For more information, take a look at http://sdl.github.io (click on DITA)
  • Provide more control to the end user: End users should be able configure their own environment. An example, user will be able to customize list views themselves in the next release.

Tell us about your interaction with customers and end users? How does this impact what you build?

Product Management requires understanding users and marketing processes, discovering problems and opportunities, and creating new product ideas. In order to do this, I like to spend a fair amount of my time talking to customers, whether it is at an event, face-to-face, in online meetings, but even a customer escalation is an opportunity to learn.

Every year, I go on a few road trips and visit a number of customers at their premises. Doing customer interview works best in my opinion in the customer’s own habitat. You can learn a lot simply by looking how their desk is organized. Sometimes I find Post-its hanging on their wall with notes on how to do something in our system, which tells me the things which are counterintuitive to that user.

Furthermore, I’m also happy to see that a number of new user groups are starting to form: one in the Benelux and one in the Nordics. This is a great way to reach a larger number of customers at the same time. A big “thank you” to the ones driving these user groups.

How can customers reach out and share their feedback around the product?

This is still an area for improvement. Customers mostly provide their requirements through either Professional Services, support or direct. The biggest complaint I get is that customers never know when and if something will get on the roadmap and if so, when can it be expected.

To remedy this we are in process of launching a new forum on the community site “SDL Knowledge Center Ideas”.  We will be announcing when this goes live shortly and looking forward to everyone adding their ideas here. 

Which 1 person would you love to invite to a dinner party?

Unfortunately no longer possible, but I would like to invite Steve Jobs to a dinner party. I liked his take on innovation, design, but most and foremost simplicity. My favourite quote: “Focusing is about saying NO.” With so many opportunities, competing for scarce resources, we need to make decisions and we need to say NO to some of them!

Having engaged with customers a lot, where do you see customers having the most challenges when using [choose product]? Why do you think this is?

That we have a number of different user interfaces. Multiple UIs are not necessarily the issue, but the fact that people have to go through a focus shift doing their day-to-day job is the issue. One UI should focus on the needs and requirements for a single persona. Therefore, we are looking at bringing some capabilities which are only available in the web client over to the desktop clients.

If you had a magic wand what one thing would you add as an enhancement to the product suite?

More metrics in general:

  • Metrics for reuse – to help our customers evaluate their ROI
  • Metrics on publication throughput
  • Usage metrics - in order for us to be better able to measure engagement, to see which features are used most
  • Metrics on application health

How do you decide what to build?

I use a mix of approaches, but the two most important ones are.

  • Internal product portfolio meetings:
    People representing every discipline in the organization are participating in these meetings (Professional Services, Support, Sales, Pre-sales, Product Marketing, Marketing and Development). During these meetings, which are held at a regular cadence, we collect market insights, trends, proposals and ideas, requirements, new pain point our customers might have. We discuss and define the relevant themes and decide whether these match our strategy. If a GO, these are added to the roadmap and a more formal plan will be made.
  • “Buy a feature” approach:
    I like to involve customers in the decision making process as well. I use an approach whereby I assign a “price” to each feature (based on a relative cost to develop it). Next, I hand out a set amount of cash and then ask participants to buy features. Some will place all their money on one particular feature they’re passionate about, while others might spread their cash around the room. People stop asking for only those features with a big investment associated to it, but will start asking for those features for which they get the biggest bang for their buck.
  • Feature ranking in general: rank opportunities based on their importance versus customer satisfaction. I do like the KANO model a lot, where you look at potential features through the lens of the delight a feature provides versus the potential investment you make to improve the feature.

If you were about crash onto a desert island with plenty of water, food and shelter what 3 things would you save and take with you?

Well, assuming I would have cell phone reception, I would take my phone with me, so I can call someone to get me an airplane… but assuming that would not be possible, I would take my family, my guitar and my laptop… to develop some features we never have time for, but still want.

Can you share 1 quick tip you have learned that makes your use of SDL Knowledge Center so much easier?

Create a plan on how you will use it, and inspect and adapt the plan regularly.

What 1 question do you always like to ask Customers when speaking with them?

I actually always ask two questions: what makes you happy when using the product, and what makes you frustrated. The first thing people throw out there is mostly what is on the top of their minds. When talking to lots of customers, you will start seeing trends and we can act on it.

How do you see technology in this area progressing in the next 5 years?

Video. Augmented reality. IoT. Predictive experiences.

What do you think have been the milestones in the development of this product over the last 5-10 years?

  • Our first customer, Atlas Copco, with whom we developed the foundation of the current product,
  • Our first US-based customer, NetApp, when we were still a small company and not part of SDL. Thanks for the trust!
  • Getting acquired by SDL, which opened up a world of new opportunities for us,
  • Being recognized as the leader in the space by an independent survey done by the Content Wrangler back in 2013. The same survey was conducted again this year with the same result [:)]

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Anonymous
  • Frank--you sound a lot like our product managers...and you're asking the kinds of questions we try to ask about our customers too. It's all very familiar, though I'm now on the other side of the telescope. Statistics for ROI and predictive experience both sound great to me.

  • Thanks James... but it's about time we meet up again... has been too long!

  • Frank: It was your honesty and well, frankness(!) that engendered that trust! That's how we knew back in 2007 that we could work with your team and grow our DITA environment. Thanks for a great ten years working together, and looking forward to many more to come!

  • Excellent interview and thank you Frank for your leadership over the years. It's worth noting that SDL Knowledge Center has had a very active user community in the US since 2010. It meets monthly to share best practices and discuss emerging trends within their companies, and attend many of the SDL events and conferences as well.

    To Frank's point, our user community provides valuable feedback and insights that has led to useful new features and capabilities within Knowledge Center.