5 Minutes With Brett Jackson, Director of Product (Atlassian)

Brett, tell us a little bit about Atlassian – the company goals and your role.

Atlassian is a global software company that provides innovative enterprise software solutions to the world’s leading organisations. All our products are about helping teams to collaborate better. Our most successful products to date are JIRA, one of the most widely used issue trackers globally and Confluence, the world’s most popular commercial Wiki.

Our products are primarily used by technical teams however there is a broad range of use in other areas of business in many industries. This highlights a very common scenario for us which is that we tend to grow in a company from the ground up. People experience our products through seeing other people using and advocating our software. We are very proud that this is the case as we recognise it requires our products be easy and flexible in use while offering enough features and power to provide real solutions to real business problems.

Our mission is to build a different kind of software company – one that listens to client needs, values innovation in development and solves customer problems with brilliant simplicity. We have over 9,000 customers in more than 96 countries, including organisations like HSBC, Dow Jones, NASA, Adobe, Yahoo!, Kurzweil, BMW, News Ltd, Nikon, Sony, CERN, Stanford, MIT, Electronic Arts, the Apache Project and the Gates Foundation.

For more information, see: http://www.atlassian.com/about/

In your words, how would you describe Product Management?

It’s like working in a top flight kitchen creating great meals. We are collecting and then mixing all the ingredients in just the right way: Our ingredients are:

Information, on every aspect of the customers needs, wants and likes, the product and it’s uses, the market, any potential trends or new technologies in any of these or related areas. We add in the pricing model and the User Experience and UI.

You need to be careful to get the best of everything and through experience you learn the right balance of ingredients, how much to favour one source of information over another, which feature to hold out for and which to pass on for the short term.

Then the team’s personality is infused into the meal with the invariable gut feel calls you make along the way.

And when it’s complete you plate it up to show off it’s best attributes. For us that means fantastic pre-sales information, release notes, documentation, as few bugs (which are fixed as soon as possible after they are found) and legendary service.

You are then finding ways to enhance things over time so that when your patrons return they are pleasantly surprised by new features but still have their old favourites to rely on. This is a big challenges for us as people generally spend all their work life in many of our products so they are “at the table” all the time.

Just like the chefs in great restaurants, we then circulate around with the customers to find out how the meal was received and what we can do to make it better.

What are Product Managers responsible for at Atlassian?

Product Managers are the communication hub for information from customers, partners and all the departments within Atlassian. We are entrepreneurs that personify and evangelise our product internally and externally.

We are also the air traffic controllers who chose which feature lands when, which ones have enough gas to circle for a while and which ones will not be landing on your runway at all.

What issues/ challenges do you or your organisation face as Product Managers?

We use one of our own products (JIRA) as a communication tool which allows customers to ask for features in a public forum, other customers vote for which of these features they would like to see in the product and can add comments on why it important etc. This is very unique for a software company – managing this system with hundreds of features requested and keeping customers engaged while telling them what they asked for will not be coming out in any time soon can be very challenging. You need to be absolutely honest, grow a thick skin and stay enthusiastic to stay on top of the new comments coming every day.

Most of our challenges are to do with having thousands of customers where most enterprise software companies have 300 to 500 customers.

The big one is to saying no to people. ­čÖé

My personal aspiration is to build a world class Product Management team so we are always on the look out for great PM candidates, I want to see people that are have great intellectual horsepower and can context switch quickly. I tend to find the best people for this role do not have years of experience, instead they are highly aspirational and passionate about products and their management. We can help them through the processes etc but they have to have the passion.