Automating post-management reservation to add freedom and mobility for both guests and super-hosts.
Serving as UX Strategist, Product Manager
In collaboration with Greenstone Media
Air BNB may be a side hustle for some, but for others, it is a full-time enterprise. Booking platforms like AirBNB and VRBO have revolutionized the short-term rental market for receiving reservations, but there is still a large gap for managing properties and guests after booking. Our client owns multiple properties in a town that welcomes millions of tourists a year. With bookings coming in from multiple channels, managing reservations, check-ins, accommodations, frequently asked questions, security deposits, Wi-Fi codes, and more, hosting several people at once becomes a mess of details for one person to handle. Our client envisioned a software solution to improve the experience for both guests and super-hosts to have an easier and more enjoyable stay, from reservation to review.
I was tasked to lead and facilitate a research and discovery phase for this possible software product suite. Questions emerged such as, “What will be needed to make this a minimal viable solution?” “How might we answer 98% of guests’ questions without ever being contacted?” “What are the best tools to communicate with guests?” “What special details do guests love about vacation stays?” “How do guests feel when going to a new place?”
My task was not to know all the answers but to find them. Once armed with the product answers, I would then transform that into a product development roadmap, complete with iterations, estimated requirements, and clear expectations for both the development and design team.
Kick Off – Why build this?
Using the kick-off consultation process that I have refined over the years, I gathered as much information as possible from a perspective of empathy and software with real value. We determined why we are building this product and what is the value it could add to the short-term rental landscape.
Conversations between Hosts and Guests. Images courtesy from Airbnb from Hell.
From the “why” lens, we learned, “What do guests care about on their vacation?” We asked other super-hosts, “What would assist you in growing your business? Why?” This outlined where priorities would line up and where we could find some big wins.
We investigated who the users are and what fundamental tasks they need to accomplish. We identified risks and unknowns of third-party integrations and booking channels. We also imagined a full suite of features and possibilities that could help the user experience. By imagining and brainstorming together, the client and I were able to share many ideas upfront. Later in the discovery phase, we were able to weed out or postpone less important features.
Generating User Stories – What do we build?
As a team, we declared “what” we are building. This ensured that there would be no communication breakdown later on, because we agreed, in advance, on our vision. It was simple and specific:
SuperHost is a post-reservation platform that facilitates the manual tasks and automates the day-to-day operations of short-term rentals and property management.
I facilitated an intensive and interactive user story mapping workshop with the client. We got out the giant whiteboard and post-it notes, we went through each step of the reservation process, annotating the user involved and their experience during that step. We investigated what triggers which event and how to best support the user’s need at that moment.
Defining User Stories to build the right product. As part of a collaborative R&D workshop.
Digitizing the backlog, User stories, system flow, and features listed in order of priority.
We determined conventional and innovative methods of “how might we” meet each user story. We decided that an automated SMS messaging system would be an effective way to help users accomplish a lot of their goals and reduce a tremendous amount of the day-to-day communication for the hosts. We also determined some of the features that will need to be automated in the future but will be manual to start. This gave us the space to set up a roadmap that would ensure we are building a good product that we can learn from. Our team determined what we can build to meet our initial goals and still be lean in the development.
Diagram of system components, a tool for breaking down software cycle iterations
Putting it all together – How do we build it?
An early sketch of a how WordPress may be leveraged to assist the product. Later learned that custom software would better handle the data flow for reservation states.
From the dynamic consultations and research from the past couple sessions, I took all our discovery content and began to break down user stories into development requirements, then matched requirements to a software component, and prioritized which component to iterate first for the most value added. What was discovered was that all the components were critical to a degree, but many components could leverage existing technologies to keep the development output as lean as possible. We briefly investigated other software solutions for integration possibilities, but ultimately decided that we only needed two integrations to start.
Sample documentation of 8 iterations of software User Story focused software requirements
By designing the system to manually accommodate data and automate the flow of reservation states, we would maximize outcome and minimize output. The CTO and I reviewed the requirements in detail and worked together to clarify the requirements that still had some assumptions. With the approval of the client and our development team, we had created a product roadmap, estimating each critical iteration to shore up our development talent for success and clearly communicate Version 1.0 expectations with the client.
“Thank you for the thorough R&D and for your proposal. I am happy to announce that I accept. I am looking very much forward to this partnership with you all at Greenstone Media.“
At the end of the 5-week Research and Discovery process, our team had the pleasure to propose a project proposal for the SuperHost software suite. The SuperHost team enthusiastically accepted the work and the partnership for the road ahead. The proposal outlined the vision and the scope and provided a feasible plan for the SuperHost Post-Reservation Management Suite.
NOTE: The UI designs and some of the details of this project were intentionally omitted or were not fully explained to respect certain non-disclosure agreements with the client.