HelloExperts – Meet Dragan, Product Owner @ Helloprint

Dragan is 32 Years old and one of two Product Owners at Helloprint! Starting his career about 10 years ago in IT, he went from a Developer to a Project Manager to a Product Owner over the last decade. These days he can mostly be found running between meetings while talking with about the same speed and energy as a speeding bullet. 

Within Helloprint, it is Dragan’s responsibility to make sure all Helloprint technologies, used by the marketing teams, are performing to their best power and to provide the teams with new tools, features and capabilities to ensure more growth. 

With that lofty goal, he has spent a lot of his time both at Helloprint and at previous companies figuring out how to maximize the value of each project and give us the quickest way to get our foot in the door of new markets and our boots firmly planted in existing ones.

What does a Product Owner role entail at Helloprint?

I usually call it the “bucket of wants”! It’s basically a role that combines a mix of Business Knowledge and IT capabilities, where many parts of the company always want new features, new options and new tools to get ahead of the competition.

As Product Owner is my job to balance those diverse needs and give priority to those that will bring us the most value, as fast as possible. While also making sure that what we’re delivering fits with our strategic goals as an organization and of course that what we build stays manageable to maintain, fast to use and secure as can be.

That means telling someone they won’t get their request fulfilled on occasion and it sometimes means focussing on improving our underlying technology so we can move faster in the future.

At the end of the day, it’s a lot of planning and talking with various parts of the organization to get the best possible features built and delivered to our teams while maintaining our long-term goals.

With so many requests coming your way, how do you prioritize what gets worked on?

I think this is the most challenging part of planning for any organization. What do we actually build and how do we know it’s going to bring us any value? I’m sure other organizations do things their own way but we focus on three major measurements.

How much impact will it have? How confident are we that it will have that impact? How Much effort is needed to build it?

These three fairly straightforward questions are answered based on the best empirical data we have available from our wonderful BI Team & DataWarehouse.  

This covers most of the requests that come to my desk, but sometimes something just needs to be done urgently or is an unexpected development we were unable to anticipate. 

This is why we use SCRUM, an Agile methodology that allows us to be very flexible in adapting to changes and delivering those things that bring the most value and being able to adapt to changes in our fast-moving organization. This way, bigger projects are well planned and leave room for flexibility for those unexpected things that show up at the last minute.

Do you miss getting your hands dirty and developing?

Sometimes, when the team is discussing plans very in-depth or when I’m on the couch on Sunday reading up on new developments for technologies close to my heart and my fingers do itch to try it out. I don’t miss working on bits of technology for weeks, but I do miss tinkering around with our latest toys and tools.

It’s always a hard thing to let go of your comfort zone and for me, it’s no different. I can still easily fall into the trap of heated discussion on technical minutiae with the team and I need to be careful to avoid that. Thankfully, my plate is usually full already with various business needs, that I often don’t have the time to be reminiscing on days past and need to focus on the coming future. 

Which is very rewarding in its own ways.

What is our biggest challenge at Helloprint?

I am obviously biased towards our technology, but in a fast-growing, fast-moving organization it’s very challenging to keep innovating while also growing in scale as fast as we do. In a way, it’s being a victim of your own success and more importantly, how to avoid that.

Over the last year, the team has worked very hard to make us able to adapt to this fast-moving market and company even better with our technology and to prevent us from being bogged down fighting the small problems, only to be overtaken by our competition.

Because the last thing you want to happen to you is to have a great idea but be too late to leverage it in the market because you are unable to adapt. So I’m sure my colleagues from other parts of the company have their own “biggest” challenge, but for me, the biggest challenge we have faced over the last year is making sure our technology across our entire organization is ready to keep bringing us the growth that everyone here is fighting for.

What advice would you give to a start-up on where to start with building their own online presence?

Don’t! Or at least – Don’t in the print industry.

Okay, I am kidding – I think the most important advice I can give someone is to just get started. You don’t need to invest millions to get an awesome blog ( like this one! ) running, nor do you need to have a plan worked out into every minutia for the next few years.

You need to start building that presence. Don’t have a big budget for your e-commerce solution? Magento has you covered! Need a blog? WordPress is still the world leader. Want to ship to the world? There are partners and options abound.

“Be willing to just start. Be strict in your vision, be headstrong in your execution and be absolutely unrelenting in putting yourself out into the market you’re trying to break into.” 

The long term sustainability will come. But only when you’ve got yourself a foothold. So if I circle back to the main topic: Find ways to maximize the value of your time. You can skip lunch, but a day still only has 24 hours for you to use to get the most out of.

What’s one thing you should never do in web development?

There is a well known comic by artist xkcd.com, where the characters are discussing various standards in the industry, appalled that there are 14 competing standards and set out to create one that unifies them all. After a ton of hard work, they create a new standard that does exactly that.

… Only to end up with 15 competing standards.

The lesson I always took from that comic is also the advice I tell everyone: If there is a standardised (or even open source), well supported and a “good enough” solution – go with that.

Don’t write something new just to write it new, don’t invent a solution in search of a problem. Don’t worry about “not having control” over every line of code and every tool in your toolbox. Embrace that no matter how good you are, a group of people getting together to solve a single problem are realistically always going to have a better solution already.

“The second bit of advice is to never drink coffee next to your very expensive laptop.“

What’s your favourite product that you use on a daily basis, and why is it a good product?

I’m sure like most people my Smartphone, Laptop, Wireless headphones, and other products are of course the first things that come to mind, but if I exclude the tools of the trade and take a deeper look there is one product that I’ve used on a daily basis since childhood.

Legos.

And I’m not even kidding. Lego’s are amazing in that they’re a simple and durable way to visualize anything. Sure, you can build a house, a car or even the Eiffel tower (or the Death Star if you’re a bit more into Star Wars)  but for other parts of my daily life Lego’s have proven to be the to-go tool.

If I’m going into the complex architecture of a system, just labeling lego blocks with names and arranging and attaching them to visualise a process or a customer journey often leads to amazing insights, and if we need to figure out a particularly complex bit of technology, Lego bricks make the best analogy as you can designate each colour or size for a specific purpose and have even the least technical person in the team (me!) follow along or even contribute.

Of course, if, at the end of the day, that well structured and well-labelled system ends up being a house with wheels…. Well, that just means we’ve got a pretty amazing new product coming soon. Or it might just be time to build a lego car.

Connect with Dragan on Linkedin