InStride and Kingsborough Community College partner to help working adults earn degrees
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October 1, 2021

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5 min read

Fueling product innovation with a user-first approach at InStride

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Today, simply offering a workforce education program and hoping employees will gain value is not enough. Case in point — although 80 percent of employees who know about these programs want to return to school, only 2 percent actually participate. The blockers to adoption include complicated processes, administrative hurdles and more. But now that’s changed…

A consummate product visionary, Daniel Altobello is leading InStride’s product team to deliver our streamlined, user-centric platform that enables transformative business and social impact through workforce education. In this Q&A, Daniel shares how insights from user research and feedback are brought to life in InStride’s innovative product, for the benefit of both companies and their people.

 

How do you define an excellent product?

Consistency is key for an excellent product. It’s easy to solve a need and be better than something else once, but to continue doing it is the real challenge. An exceptional product is one that evolves and continually alleviates pain points along the customer journey to solve users’ needs, while always improving the speed at which users reach their goals. 

I love seeing products that maintain that edge. A great example is the free, web-based Google Docs Editor suite. Google solved a need to improve collaboration on “Docs” in the workplace better than Microsoft and they have never taken their foot off the gas. Google Suite continues to get better and better.

 

InStride takes a user-centric approach to product development. Who are the key audiences and how does InStride’s technology meet their needs?

I’m a big proponent of the Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) framework. The InStride product team uses it to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our corporate partners and their people. 

On the corporate side, we think there are two key JTBD: “help me deploy a workforce education program at scale and attract and develop employees to take on roles that are crucial to the business.” When you start to break down the needs of your customer to achieve their goals, you realize there’s an opportunity to improve the speed and accuracy of how our corporate partners get from point A to point B. 

For example, Carvana sought a way to inform new hires of when they’d be eligible to take part in its workforce education program, Keeping Education in Your Sight (KEYS). Recognizing this need, InStride built an automated email nurture that could keep talent informed and help retain new employees.

On the learner side, we look at the key job to be done as — “help me take advantage of my company’s education program.” This has the same expansive list of needs to satisfy as the corporate partner side. We take these needs and prioritize them, then test them throughout the learner’s journey. This enables us to identify and improve the parts of the education experience that learners are least satisfied with — which is a big competitive differentiator for us. 

Combining these corporate and learner needs, the result is that InStride’s technology platform makes it easy for companies to offer education to their employees. Traditional tuition assistance programs (TAP) require complicated back and forth from employees, company HR managers and academic administrators to complete required paperwork and manage enrollment. In contrast, InStride’s product addresses these administrative hurdles in one easy-to-manage platform.

 

 

User research and feedback play a key role in the product strategy process. How does your team put these learnings into practice?

At InStride, we use research to do the following:

 

  • Validate that the user needs we see really do exist

 

  • Validate the challenges the customer faces when trying to solve their needs

 

  • Test solutions based on these needs and determine how to make meaningful improvements

 

An example of this in action is InStride’s Career Education Paths. Our research showed that there was a growing demand for learning tracks that address immediate skills needs while providing a clear path to a degree or other career-boosting outcome. As a result, Career Education Paths were created and now employees have a clear understanding of the learning needed to advance their careers.

 

How do you build a scalable product without compromising on functionality or vision?

The vision should always be linked to constantly improving on the jobs to be done. Many companies fail because they believe that they solved the JTBD, but then someone else does it faster or more accurately. For instance, consider Netflix versus Blockbuster with the JTBD of “entertain me on Friday night.”

Iteration is also very important. Hypotheses, research and analytics are great, but sometimes they miss things in the real world that you’re able to discover through iteration. Start small, iterate and don’t overbuild.

 

Prioritization is a common challenge among product teams. How do you balance prioritizing user feedback with other needs?

Prioritization is pretty straightforward when looking at impact on solving user needs. In the B2B space, the challenge arises when you sometimes have to make a bet on how big the “segment” will be for that need. You may be under pressure to deliver a feature or capability to close a customer quickly and you don’t always have time for full due diligence and discovery. In that moment, you have to consider user needs and the scope of impact and prioritize accordingly.

 

Unlock the power of product innovation and workforce education

So there you have it — a “behind-the-scenes” look at how InStride puts learnings from research into practice and develops a user-centric solution that’s built to serve the workforce education needs of corporate partners and learners.

Curious to see the power of workforce education in action? Connect with a member of our team today. 

You can address talent development challenges

See how a partnership with InStride can meet the challenges of tomorrow, with action today.

You can address talent development challenges

See how a partnership with InStride can meet the challenges of tomorrow, with action today.

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