Optometry Product Development Insight with Sam Khan

Have you ever thought about the fact that the equipment and software you use everyday in your practice might have been designed anywhere from last year to 20 years ago?

As all optometrists know, the processes and needs of patient care have changed quite a bit since then. So, how are product designers and engineers adapting healthcare products to meet these needs? We wanted to show you a slice of how eyecare tools and products are designed, updated, and managed by interviewing one of our own.

Sam Khan has worked in the eyecare industry for almost 13 years. He started at OfficeMate/Eyefinity as an analyst, but quickly grew his influence over product development and leadership. He is now the Head of Product at VisionWeb. Let's hear what he has to say.

Interview with Top Eyecare Industry Professional: Sam Khan

1. So, what exactly does the Director of Product do?

I own the overall roadmap for the short and long term of VisionWeb's products. I look at strategy, tactical needs, keep a pulse on the industry and competitive space, and align and help implement processes to streamline engineering. I also act as a mentor, trainer, and leader to guide the future of the company. What should we be challenging? You have to look at the overall landscape from the customer interaction side to partner and business relationships. I kind of have to be a jack of all trades, master of none. 

2. What is your approach to developing solutions via product updates?

The best solutions usually come from our customers. Not that they provide us defined answers, but the solution lies in how they present the problem to the product team. We first outline what the problem is that we're trying to solve in this interaction, then we understand who our customers are and why they're doing what they're doing. For example, we figure out what's most important to the front desk by observing their interactions and frustrations, even for practices who don't use our software. We should develop a tool that doesn't just smoothly integrate with your practice, but one that actually supports your business.

3. What's one of your favorite products (outside of VisionWeb) and what's something you'd change about it?

I love Spotify actually. It's really helped me discover new music. You grow up listening to certain types of music and you're only aware of what's around you. Spotify will make a recommendation based on what you've listened to and automatically start making recommendations after you finish a playlist. They've definitely evolved over the years. The #1 selling point I like is that you can seamlessly change from device to device--from TV to phone to desktop. I'd like to hear more international music, like more Indian or Pakistani music. They've started expanding their catalog, but I want them to keep going with that.

4. How do you communicate your product strategy to your team and beyond?

I like to keep it simple. I love Jira Software and Aha!. Aha! lets you create roadmaps and adjust your view based on your audience. When you're talking to your executive team, you would present the roadmap differently than to your internal development view or customer view. It doesn't even take much effort to make the change.

Jira lets you track how much work your development team is doing and create plans more seamlessly. When I'm communicating with ODs, I just need to tell them about the features or functionalities and get their opinion on design and capabilities. But they don't need to know how the sauce is made.

5. I'm sure you have to deal with conflicting opinions from multiple departments. Any advice on coming to a resolution?

Start off with hearing all the opinions. How can you mesh them? Whether it's internal departments or PDs, you can take the best ideas from each opinion and make the solution that works for the majority. It'll be hard to please everyone fully, but can you find common ground? Get their opinions separately and then figure out the overlap. Don't start off focusing on the negatives, focus on the positives. You get creativity and positivity out of asking for pros, but if you go into roadblocks first, your idea stops right away.

6. Do you have advice for creating or responding to big change?

The eyecare industry itself transitions to newer technology more slowly. When you're running a small business, making dramatic or drastic changes interrupts your daily cash flow and disrupts your customers, too.

How you communicate the change to customers is key, so prepare heavily. You have to know when the change is going to be released so that you can provide awareness and training for customers. Giving customers that longer runway is important to get people onboard and (in the case of ODs) to allow better patient care. Showcase the value of the change.

For example, how practices get paid today has changed from 5 years ago because of MIPS and medicare/medicaid standards. If you rushed through those changes, you might have missed revenue and burdened your patients and staff. So, don't do anything last minute.

7. Since you’ve been in the industry, how have product development strategies changed overall?

Methodologies have changed. It started with waterfall (no customer input until the end) but now with everything evolving quickly, getting answers to problems immediately is important. That's why companies use different forms of agile methodology. Getting something quickly in the hands of customers, whether that's prototype for feedback, is of the highest importance.

Now you can use tools to get customer engagement and rapid response. We try to engage end users, increase transparency, and garner user-generated ideas. Keep in mind, most Apple solutions didn't come from the CEO--it's the employees who work with customers.

8. What do you like most about working at VisionWeb?

I like that it's a small environment where you can interact with everyone and build relationships. It's definitely not a formal and stuffy environment like with a bigger or more corporate office. I love the engagement and immediate feedback.

9. Any last advice you want to share?

Be informed and aware of changes happening around you. If you're last to know, you're last to react and it might be too late!

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