Welcome to our podcast episode where we’re delighted to feature Falko Buttler, the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Accolade Inc.
Falko illuminates his unconventional and diverse background, revealing how it has sculpted his unique approach to product development.
We delve into his early entrepreneurial ventures, his encounters with both failure and success, and his proficiency in managing health tech products with aplomb. In addition, we discuss the vital aspect of employee management and the best ways teams can implement Scrum.
A Journey of Entrepreneurship From Freelance Agency to App Development
Mr. Falko Buttler begins by discussing how he started an agency in the early 2000s to connect tech talent with companies. He recognized the need for such a service while working for a company himself. Mr. Butler acknowledges the abundance of great talent available but highlights the challenges companies face in finding the right individuals, and freelancers struggle to find suitable projects.
He describes his agency as his first venture into building his own business, which he initially pursued as a side gig. While he managed to place a few professionals, the venture ultimately did not succeed. Nevertheless, he considers the experience valuable, as it taught him a great deal about running a company and adopting the mindset of a business owner rather than an employee. Despite the failure, he views this chapter as an exciting one.
Mr. Buttler then discusses the period around 2008, when Apple released the iPhone. At that time, he was contemplating his next entrepreneurial endeavor. Recognizing the potential of mobile platforms and wanting to explore new technologies and programming languages, he began tinkering with flip phones. However, he soon shifted his focus to the iPhone, seeing it as an excellent platform for building something innovative.
During this time, his wife was pregnant and monitoring her diet diligently by manually recording everything she ate. This inspired the idea of creating a mobile app to simplify the process. They named the app Calorie God, which became one of the earliest health and fitness apps in the App Store. Mr. Butler clarifies that his motivation for developing the app was not solely driven by monetary gain but rather by the desire to bring a product to the market, gain user feedback, and create a positive user experience.
To his surprise, Calorie God received a warm reception from early iPhone adopters, leading to viral growth without any marketing efforts. Users enthusiastically shared the app with their friends, doctors, and patients. Mr. Butler found the feedback from users particularly valuable and discovered that many were utilizing the app not just for weight loss but also for maintaining specific diets, including athletes, marathon runners, and bodybuilders. The users’ suggestions and input helped shape the app, leading to the development of new features.
One noteworthy feature was the app’s cloud-sourced food database, allowing users to submit new food items that were initially absent from the database. Mr. Butler’s wife oversaw the quality control process, and approved items were distributed to all users, effectively expanding the database and enhancing the app’s value. As the user base grew, Calorie God gained attention from the media, including press coverage in newspapers and even television appearances.
The success of Calorie God marked a significant turning point for Mr. Butler and his wife as small business owners. They experienced rapid growth and acclaim, which ultimately paved the way for their current endeavors. Mr. Butler emphasizes that without the success of Calorie God, he wouldn’t be where he is today. The app’s journey from a passion project to a viral sensation allowed them to achieve substantial success in a short period.
Bridging Experience through User-Centricity and Product Management in Health Tech
“Realize that not everything you do is going to be a success. Sometimes you’re rolling out a feature, and either your users don’t understand it, value it, or don’t need it.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
In Mr. Falko Buttler’s opinion, providing a great user experience is crucial for the success of any product or software. Whether it’s the user downloading an app or the buyer interacting with the software, ensuring a pleasant experience is paramount. Design plays a significant role in this, as Mr. Butler has learned from his experiences in venture-backed startups and mentoring early-stage companies.
Having a dedicated product designer and focusing on user feedback and research goes a long way in creating an intuitive and impactful experience, regardless of whether the product is consumer-oriented or targeted towards enterprises, particularly in the healthcare industry.
When it comes to driving a product forward and ensuring its success, Mr. Butler emphasizes the importance of having a clear strategy and effectively communicating it across various functions like product, engineering, and marketing. Defining success metrics, such as customer acquisition or net promoter score (NPS), helps measure the impact of the product and the features being developed.
Understanding user expectations and making adjustments based on feedback is crucial. Mr. Butler also recognizes that not every feature or initiative will be successful, and it is important to be open to trying new approaches and being willing to adapt and iterate based on results.
The Power of Diverse Roles and Its Impact on Product Interactions
“These different stages require different ways of communicating, interacting, and working together, and being able to have gone through all these changes is like learning.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
Mr. Falko Buttler shares his extensive experience in various stages of company growth, from the early stages with only a few team members to scaling up to accommodate a large workforce. He emphasizes the importance of adapting communication and collaboration methods based on each stage. Through these experiences, he has gained valuable insights and knowledge.
In terms of software development, Mr. Butler recognizes the significance of creating a pleasant user experience. He believes that design plays a crucial role in achieving this goal. Designing intuitive and user-friendly interfaces is essential for success.
Additionally, it is crucial to have a clear strategy and effectively communicate it across different departments, such as product, engineering, and marketing. Mr. Butler emphasizes the importance of alignment and establishing shared expectations to drive the company toward its goals.
Acknowledging that not every endeavor will be successful, Mr. Buttler encourages embracing failures as learning opportunities. It is important to be adaptable and responsive to user feedback and needs. This flexibility allows for iteration and improvement.
Lastly, Mr. Buttler acknowledges that each stage of company growth requires different approaches to communication, interaction, and teamwork. Navigating and learning from these changes is invaluable for personal and professional growth.
Optimizing Frameworks, Enhancing Structure, and Validating Technical Estimations
Mr. Falko Buttler expresses his perspective on the flexibility of the Scrum framework and its adaptability to different organizations and teams. He highlights that each organization has its own unique characteristics and requirements, necessitating adjustments to fit the specific context. For example, in a medical device company, regulatory processes and external approvals may impose constraints on the frequency of software releases.
Moreover, Mr. Buttler emphasizes that individual teams within an organization may have varying preferences and needs. Some teams may find in-person daily stand-up meetings effective, while others, especially those working remotely, may benefit from virtual meetings. The frequency of stand-ups and grooming sessions may also differ based on factors such as the product manager’s technical expertise and the team’s seniority.
As teams gain experience and become more familiar with the Scrum process, certain aspects of the framework can be streamlined or modified. Mr. Butler shares his own experience of initially guiding the team through Scrum and gradually transferring ownership of the process to the team members as they become proficient. Retrospectives and feedback sessions were conducted regularly to continually improve the process.
Furthermore, Mr. Buttler underscores the importance of having a technically inclined person on the team, such as a product manager with a deep understanding of the technology involved. This person plays a crucial role in effectively communicating and explaining technical aspects to ensure smooth collaboration within the team. He also emphasizes that cohesive teamwork and communication are paramount to achieving success.
Achieving Every PM’s Dream by Empowering Teams to Own the Process
“The PM and the Scrum Master actually need to be in close touch, so they actually need to communicate a lot.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
Mr. Falko Buttler emphasizes the importance of close communication between the product manager (PM) and the Scrum Master. He believes that when this communication is lacking, it can lead to misunderstandings and misalignment within the team. To address this, he advocates for frequent meetings and discussions, particularly during the retrospective process after each sprint.
During these retrospectives, Mr. Buttler actively encourages team members to share ideas for improvement. When engineers or team members propose alternative approaches or solutions, he supports their initiatives and suggests piloting those ideas to see their effectiveness. If successful, he suggests sharing these insights with other teams during team meetings, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and knowledge sharing.
In situations where the team is experiencing significant growth, Mr. Butler believes it can be beneficial to bring in external expertise. In his own experience, he recounts how his team, after doubling in size, invited a Scrum trainer from an external company. This training session included not only engineers but also product managers and designers, providing a diverse perspective on the Scrum process. He acknowledges the value of learning from someone who trains numerous companies and gaining insights into new ideas and practices.
Mr. Buttler concludes by highlighting the importance of periodically seeking external perspectives. While this may not be a regular practice, he believes inviting external experts to provide fresh insights and challenge existing norms is valuable. This allows the team to avoid becoming insular and encourages them to explore different approaches and methodologies.
Navigating Team Scaling: Insights from the Remote Work Era
According to Mr. Falko Buttler, prior to 2020, he had experience working with distributed teams, although they were co-located in different locations. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his company was in the process of expanding to Vancouver, Canada. Due to the circumstances, they fully embraced remote work and hired team members from various locations, including Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the US, and Ukraine.
“What we’ve learned very quickly is that it’s actually easier when everyone is remote than if you have teams that are co-located.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
Surprisingly, Mr. Buttler found that working with fully remote teams was actually easier than working with co-located teams. While physical proximity facilitates communication, remote collaboration tools such as Zoom, online collaboration platforms, and specialized tools like GitHub and Jira enable effective communication and productivity. Mr. Butler even observed increased productivity compared to pre-COVID times, as remote work eliminated commuting and provided greater flexibility in reaching team members.
The nature of engineering work, which involves knowledge-based tasks and extensive written communication, lends itself well to remote collaboration. Mr. Butler admits that he previously held the belief that people needed to be physically together in a room for effective teamwork. However, his experience during the pandemic completely changed his perspective, as he witnessed the success of fully distributed teams and their ability to adapt to the challenges of remote work.
Defining and Exploring the Remarkable Aspects of the Wow Factor
According to Mr. Falko Buttler, their company aims to provide a “wow experience” for users, focusing on delivering the best possible experience throughout their healthcare journey. This customer-centric approach has been ingrained in the company’s culture since its inception. Their goal is not just to offer healthcare services but to ensure that users have an exceptional and phenomenal experience.
“We don’t just want to provide you with health care. We want you to really have an absolute phenomenal experience while you’re going through your healthcare journey.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
The company strives to change that perception in the healthcare industry, where people typically associate negative experiences with being sick or unwell. They aim to eliminate unfair treatment, reduce waiting times, and simplify the process for users. They want to provide a wide range of services, akin to having a personal concierge for all healthcare needs, without the exorbitant costs associated with such personalized attention.
“We want to provide a wow experience for users as well as all the employees at the organization.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
This commitment to the “wow experience” extends beyond primary care and mental health services. It encompasses aspects such as advocacy, where they assist users in finding the right care and providing expert medical opinions for severe diagnoses. Their focus on delivering exceptional experiences is not limited to patients or consumers alone. They also measure employee Net Promoter Score (NPS) to ensure a positive experience for everyone within the organization. Additionally, they aim to provide a “wow experience” for buyers, as Accolade operates in the enterprise business, where health plans or employers purchase their services for their employees.
Preparation for Smooth Transitions and Navigating the Acquisition Process
“Given that I’ve gone through multiple of these transitions and seen things that work and don’t work, I feel what’s important is that before you try to integrate products, fully understand both your existing product as well as the product and the company that was acquired, and see how they actually fit together.”Falko Buttler – Senior Vice President Of Engineering, at Accolade Inc.
According to Mr. Falko Buttler, based on his experience with company acquisitions and product integrations, he believes it is crucial to thoroughly understand both the existing product and the acquired product, as well as the company behind it. Building trust between the teams is essential, allowing time for them to familiarize themselves with each other’s products, functionalities, and potential overlaps. It is important to deeply comprehend the use cases and explore how the integration can be optimized.
Mr. Butler cautions against rushing the integration process, which often leads to negative outcomes. Acquisitions should not be hurriedly pushed into the product to satisfy shareholders or customers. Instead, a thoughtful approach should be taken, allowing for an extended integration timeline. Trying to expedite the process without proper understanding and alignment between teams results in difficulties in maintenance, longer-than-expected timelines, and overall dissatisfaction among stakeholders.
In his company’s case, they followed a strategic approach during the first 12 months after the acquisition. They continued with their independent roadmap while fostering regular check-ins and interactions between the different teams. This enabled a deeper understanding of each other’s capabilities and products. Eventually, they successfully launched their first integrated solution in January, which was well-received. Despite the challenges and stress involved, the integration was deemed a success due to the trust, careful thought, and planning invested in the process.
Mr. Butler acknowledges that full integration is a long-term endeavor, but he emphasizes that a thoughtful and patient approach significantly increases the chances of success. Allowing teams the necessary time to understand each other, build trust, and plan integration steps carefully makes the overall outcome more likely to be positive.
The Power of Autonomy: Balancing Product Development Processes in Bigger and Smaller Companies
Mr. Falko Buttler believes that when integrating teams from different companies, it is important to recognize and appreciate their slightly different processes. Each team has developed its own processes independently, and understanding the reasons behind these variations can be enlightening. Mr. Butler suggests that there may be benefits in maintaining some of these differences, at least for a period of time, rather than forcefully imposing a single set of processes.
The acquiring company may even learn valuable lessons from the company it acquired and choose to adopt certain practices from them. The acquiring company may have more technical depth due to its longer market presence, but the acquired company’s processes may have unique insights from its history. Mr. Butler emphasizes the importance of learning from each other and creating a combined set of processes that works well for the newly merged company.
In terms of product development, Mr. Buttler highlights the different approaches between his company, Plus, as a consumer brand, and Accolade, a more traditional enterprise company. He suggests that finding a balance between these two approaches is crucial. It’s not about favoring one over the other but rather selecting the most effective elements from each to create a process that suits the combined company’s needs.
This process of marrying different approaches is an ongoing endeavor for their company, and Mr. Butler believes that this principle applies not only to healthcare but to any company merging with another.
Analyzing the Pace of Health Care and Factors Affecting Tech Adoption
According to Mr. Falko Buttler, who has been working in the industry since 2005, health care is generally slower to adopt new technology compared to other industries. This is partly due to the highly regulated nature of the field. Patient safety and privacy are paramount concerns that often come into conflict with the implementation of new technologies.
However, there has been a significant shift in the healthcare industry in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has played a crucial role in accelerating the adoption of certain technologies. For instance, video conferencing, which was not widely used before, has now become widely adopted for remote healthcare consultations.
Sometimes, a significant event like a pandemic acts as a forcing function to drive legislative changes and change people’s perceptions. In the case of healthcare, COVID-19 has helped people recognize the value and convenience of virtual care. Virtual care provides a solution for individuals living in rural areas with limited access to quality healthcare. It allows them to connect with experts in the field, regardless of their geographical location, in a short amount of time.
Spotting the Recipe for Success: Common Denominators of Thriving Companies
According to Mr. Falko Buttler’s opinion, he considers several key aspects when evaluating startups. Firstly, he looks at the leadership team and whether they possess deep knowledge and understanding of the specific field, including its challenges and opportunities. Additionally, having connections and knowledge of how to effectively sell the product or service to potential customers is crucial.
Moreover, he emphasizes the importance of great execution skills, especially in managing limited funds. It used to be relatively easy to raise a large amount of money based on a promising idea, but the real challenge lies in utilizing that capital to launch a product, achieve adoption, and avoid constantly relying on raising more funds.
He also stresses the significance of staying laser-focused on the customer and the product. Rather than attempting to build a full solution from the start, finding the minimum viable product (MVP) and iterating on it with clear goals in mind is crucial. This iterative approach allows for incremental improvements while conserving resources.
During our captivating podcast featuring Mr. Falko Buttler’s entrepreneurial journey and insights, we acquired invaluable wisdom specifically tailored to aspiring entrepreneurs, engineers, and product managers. Below are five valuable takeaways from our enlightening conversation:
- Recognizing market needs: Understand the challenges companies and freelancers face in the tech industry.
- Embracing failure and learning: Embrace failures as valuable learning opportunities and experiences about running a business and adopting a business owner mindset.
- User-centric product development: A product’s success depends on its positive user experience, viral expansion, and user feedback-inspiring new features.
- Importance of effective communication and strategy: Mr. Butler emphasizes the significance of clear communication, alignment, and a well-defined strategy across product, engineering, and marketing teams for driving product success
- Adapting to change and continuous improvement: Be responsive to user feedback and adaptable to iterate and improve products and processes.
The APP Solutions launched a podcast, CareMinds, where you can hear from respected experts in healthcare and Health Tech.
Who is a successful product manager in the healthcare domain? Which skills and qualities are crucial? How important is this role in moving a successful business to new achievements? Responsibilities and KPIs?
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