The Right Way to Implement Change

One of the great joys in Product Management is the launch of great new features and platforms that touch millions of users.  Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of watching my team launch one of the biggest and most challenging efforts at LinkedIn to date with the launch of the new LinkedIn Search.

If you haven’t tried it, you should.  It’s fantastic.

Even more exciting to me, of course, is the fact that this new search engine, as great as the features are, is just scratching the surface of what we’ll be able to achieve in 2009 and beyond.  It’s no surprise to me that Search has driven a number of major innovations on the web in the past decade.  Over the years, the baton of technology leadership and innovation has been passed from natural search to paid search to product search, and I firmly believe that technology and customer demand points to people search as an area with the breadth and depth for incredible innovation in the next few years.

Search is a huge piece of the LinkedIn experience for millions of users for obvious reasons – so many of our professional tasks require us to “find the right person” based on expertise, based on geography, based on company, and most of all, based on relationship.  That’s the kicker.  People search, by its nature, must be socially relevant to the searcher.  Completely.  The same query can and should be ordered differently based on your unique profile and relationships, because that’s what matters in this context.

One of the hardest problems in Product Management, however, is how to upgrade and change a product that millions of people are using every day to get their jobs done.  It isn’t easy with consumer software, it isn’t easy with enterprise software, and it’s almost impossible in the 24×7 world of the consumer internet.  Even small incremental changes can be incredibly difficult, so where does that leave you when you have to make large, whole-scale change?

All the Web 1.0 companies have struggled with this, and I don’t think there is a single right answer to this question because every community and product is different to some extent.  But fundamentally, there are approaches that can help produce the best possible outcomes in these tough situations, and they all begin and end with how you communicate, interact and respond to your customers.

That’s why I had to share here this blog post I found tonight about the recent Search launch.

WebProNews: LinkedIn Looks to the Community For Improvement.  The Right Way to Implement Change.

While I am excited about the new search product features, and I am excited about the new technology and platform we’ve built, I’m even more excited in this case about how the team researched, built, tested, and launched this product.

I’m excited that Sarah, our Principal Designer on the new Search, wrote this blog post about the importance of the customer in our thinking and process.  I’m excited that Chris at WebProNews (among other blog posts I’ve seen) noticed that we cared.

It’s a truism on the consumer internet that if you’ve ironed out all the risks and uncertainty in product improvement, you are moving far too slow and with too little tangible feedback from your customers.  Usability testing, competitive research, site metrics, customer service, quality requirements, innovative engineering, and communication will not, by themselves, guarantee success every time.  They can’t because the inherent complexity and pace of change is too great (thankfully) on the consumer internet.

But I believe that, over time, these techniques properly utilized increase your odds of success, where success is defined by the utility and delight that you provide your customers.

I’ve had a number of proud moments at LinkedIn, but I just wanted to say here how proud I am of the user experience team at LinkedIn, and how proud I am of the teams that helped make the new search a reality.

I’m proud of what you’ve built, and more importantly, I’m proud of how you did it.

The Right Way to Implement Change.