Recently we spoke with VP of Growth and Strategy Michelle Saunders about how senior living technology can support better experiences for older adults. On the heels of that wide-ranging conversation, we’re excited to catch up with Icon’s new Director of Product, Mark Martinez.
Here, we explore Mark’s journey in product management – and his passion for building better tech that serves everyone in senior living.
Q: Before we dive into our discussion about product management in senior living, can you share a bit about your background?
A: Absolutely. I spent the first decade of my career in banking – working a lot with cobrand credit cards – and then moved into corporate housing. Those experiences gave me a deep appreciation for the importance of user experiences and getting it right the first time. At each step along the way, I’ve focused on client interactions, whether diving deep into key features or taking a more holistic approach and understanding how and why they’re using our products – what they love, what they hate, and everything in between.
That focus has taught me that what I love about product management is how it allows me to create awesome products and experiences that help others and provide real positive impacts on our users. All in one day, I can be a problem solver, product builder, and product evangelist.
It’s incredibly rewarding to put on my builder hat, ideate, and create solutions. It’s no secret that good intentions only get products so far. The important part is building a product that’s usable and customer-centric to ensure it’s well received by our users.
At Icon, our work is all about breaking down barriers to take care of our residents and their families by connecting them with each other, with the community staff, and with vital services – like personalized wellness programs.
Q: What inspired you to join Icon?
A: When I was considering the next step in my career, I wanted to join a smaller, more agile organization where my team’s efforts could have a substantial impact – but without the bureaucracy of a larger company.
Additionally, I knew I wanted a role that offered inherent value beyond any financial benefits. Icon strikes that balance. It’s great to spend my time at work strengthening the relationship between the organization’s mission and the individual impact each team member has.
What I love about Icon is that when we successfully deliver a feature (say, a custom page builder to support resident-led groups), it genuinely improves the lives of our residents and staff and offers a meaningful social impact. We get the opportunity to make our users’ lives better every day.
Q: What’s different about product management in senior living?
A: Senior living is unique. The technology that supports it needs to be, too. We serve a demographic with a wide range of tech-adoption. Ensuring our technology is usable for everyone is an exciting challenge further compounded by the need to tailor solutions within specific constraints, like stringent HIPAA regulations.
Success in our case depends on a deep understanding of our users’ needs and emotions. Residents likely don’t know the ins and outs of regulations, for example. But they still need efficient ways for their communities to communicate with family members, especially in times of medical emergencies.
Good product management in all cases depends on the product team’s close collaboration with stakeholders, from leadership to our customers. But prioritizing clear communication throughout the development process not only helps our internal teams avoid silos – it also ensures our users are never caught off guard by new features.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you face developing senior living technology, given that residents generally aren’t digital natives?
A: The biggest challenge we face is introducing features to a user base that may not be digitally fluent. This technology gap influences our design decisions, as we often need to gradually ease users into new features.
To address this, we prioritize thorough commercialization and socialization. We involve our business teams well in advance, ensuring they have the resources to answer user questions and facilitate knowledge sharing. Additionally, we offer users the flexibility to transition slowly with feature toggles, allowing them to switch between legacy and new views, ensuring a smooth and comfortable transition.
Q: Are staff members ever reluctant to work with new digital solutions?
A: Sometimes. But one thing that helps everyone – I know it definitely helps my stress levels! – is that we apply the same methodology we use for residents to staff. Standardized processes help ensure clarity and consistency regardless of the user group.
Even if the time frames vary, the milestone remains the same. We want to improve the adoption of our tech in order to make all staff and resident lives easier.
Q: How do broader trends in senior living – like ongoing staffing shortages and improving tech aptitude – influence the product management work at Icon? Are there specific trends you’re prioritizing?
A: In our space the competition is fierce. So our number-one goal is to make the Icon experience as user-friendly as possible. To help support this, we’ve adopted specific pillars, such as a “three-click rule,” meant to help all users effortlessly navigate our tech. Simply put: it shouldn’t take more than three clicks to navigate to anything in our app.
Another element that streamlines the user experience is a tile-based design that simplifies visuals. And because communication is vital, we regularly push release notes along with internal updates to keep everyone informed.
Looking ahead, we’re addressing staff attrition by focusing on the 90-day onboarding period, creating experiences that empower staff to feel more integrated and appreciated in their first days within their communities by using our product. We’re building an app feature to support this and plan to release a pilot phase of the feature next quarter.
Q: What’s something about working in senior living that you’ve learned since joining Icon?
A: The most significant lesson I’ve learned is the importance of patience in guiding users along their journey. Of course, patience – and specifically focusing on user experiences rather than any internal expectations or assumptions – is a universal concept. But it holds even more true at Icon.
As I mentioned above, we’re building features that allow users to toggle between experiences so they can become more comfortable over time. Along with our release notes, we’re publishing new product guides. And we’re turning to data to gain a deeper understanding of how our residents are interacting with our products.
Q: What proactive steps can senior living communities take to identify and potentially handle some of the product management work themselves?
A: It’s all about effective collaboration between communities and our team. With this in mind, we have our product managers visit communities quarterly. During these visits, they observe how communities interact with our software, identify gaps, and engage in a dialogue about their challenges.
We ask questions like how do users currently use our software? Do they identify any existing gaps? What specific challenges do our users encounter and how can we solve them?
Just as we want communities to earn good reviews from residents, we want to earn good reviews from the communities that offer excellent senior living experiences.
Ultimately, product development is a forward-looking process; it’s about exploring the realm of possibilities. So even if an idea or concern doesn’t immediately translate into a feature, it remains on our radar for future exploration and potential implementation.
Proactive Product Management Elevated by Data
Ultimately, Mark and the product team aim to elevate user engagement, satisfaction, and the overall Net Promoter Score (NPS) across Icon’s communities.
The key to elevated experiences? It’s in the data. The right approach on the back end helps you see how residents are interacting with each other. This enables you to recommend the most relevant events to residents – and in all cases helps boost engagement.