How Tonal streamlined its product operations with Coda

Zach Lebovics, Staff Product Manager at Tonal, shares how his Coda team hub helped Tonal’s product team work better together and provide more transparency to executives.

Zach Lebovics

Staff Product Manager at Tonal

How Tonal streamlined its product operations with Coda

By Zach Lebovics

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Case studies > Tonal
When Staff Product Manager Zach Lebovics first started working with Tonal, an at-home smart gym system, he was going to the gym five times a week. Lebovics thought Tonal would be a cool supplement to his established routine at the gym. Instead, it completely changed the way he works out. Lebovics was converted to a digital weight room almost immediately, thanks to the immediate, data-driven feedback Tonal was able to provide about his workouts, as well as an engaged online community using the same tools. Tonal collects an incredible amount of real-time data about your workouts. It can tell when you need a spot on bench presses and can automatically step in. It records when you’re lifting asymmetrically, so you can work out more efficiently, with a lower chance of injury. But on the product side at Tonal, Lebovics and his team were struggling to efficiently share company data both within and between teams.

The problem: Doc-splosion.

Any gym nerd knows that consistency and holistic planning are vital to effective workouts. Lifting weight sporadically without a plan may be fun, but it may not land you where you want to go. Similarly, a siloed, randomly organized documentation system won’t give your team the foundation it needs to function well. During his first days on the product team, Lebovics found scattered and ineffective documentation that he described as a “doc-splosion.”

Complex wayfinding.

Strategy briefs and PRDs lived in dozens of Google Docs, roadmaps were disconnected across stale spreadsheets, and teams were working off of outdated information. This complex, disconnected infrastructure made it hard for employees to find what they needed, even when their leads were spending too much time organizing that information. To see the progress you want, you have to build systems you can stick to. “When I first joined Tonal, we were relying on Google Docs, Confluence, spreadsheets, Looker, and decks for different purposes,” he says. “There was a lack of centralization and a struggle to elicit feedback and have productive conversations.” Systems were so fragile that people could be unsure of how to move forward if a team member was out. Changes to plans and narratives were often at risk of not reaching the next person in line.

Time-consuming updates.

And that was just within the product team. When Lebovics’ team collaborated with other teams, things got even more chaotic. “Even if we managed to keep our team’s information organized, it was impossible to navigate between departments and teams,” he says. “Product didn’t have full visibility into what engineering was seeing, and vice versa,” Lebovics says. “You are making the best decision with the information that you have today. The issue is that there’s a non-zero chance that this information is already outdated. So, you begin to expect hiccups in the process due to information gaps or you pray that everything magically lines up.” This was a vertical problem as well as a lateral one. Product managers were spending hours compiling and re-writing slide decks to update executives on the progress of any given project—copying, pasting, and re-telling the same story again and again. “We didn’t have the process and mechanisms to effectively deliver updates and give feedback.”

Misalignment.

Of course, this all meant lost time and delayed deliverables, but Lebovics saw a cultural effect too. Consistent misalignment meant teams were frustrated, confused, and ultimately overworked. “The more points of collaboration you have, the higher the risk of misalignment. And the cost of misalignment doesn’t just affect the business. It affects the team—leading to a loss in morale, productivity, and peace of mind,” Lebovics says.

The solution: A consolidated team hub.

In Lebovics’ first days at Tonal, Coda was one of many doc systems his team used. The product teams had just begun using it for roadmaps and PRDs, but they weren’t centralizing all the information they needed within Coda yet. Lebovics tried to build a spreadsheet to help everyone understand the content roadmap, but it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up their whole team. “When reflecting on a process breakdown, I noticed that a change that I had made in a spreadsheet wasn’t updated in another co-worker’s document that many others were using as a source of truth,” Lebovics says. He decided to turn his product management skills onto his team’s processes. “When something goes wrong, we get frustrated and reflect on the product but don’t always reflect on the process that got us there,” Lebovics says. Coda, with its emphasis on interconnectedness, quickly stood out as a way to solve their problems. There’s no other tool that could do this as seamlessly as Coda.

Simplified wayfinding.

The team hub Lebovics built in Coda finally brought everything together. That one doc allows the Tonal product team to draft new PRDs, brainstorm for the upcoming quarter, keep track of bugs in Jira, and even embed Figma files into a single place. With endless pages and subpages, everything stays intuitively organized without having to create separate docs. That hub is the single source of truth for the product team, meaning they have one single link for the entire product planning and execution process. Everyone knows what the plan is, and they know where to find anything they need. This allows Tonal to reduce their meeting load and ultimately ship faster. Tonal saved 4 meetings per team per week on average and shipped 25% faster than before with Coda.

Instant updates.

Once he had his team working together in Coda, Lebovics wanted to share their solutions with other teams, but he faced some pushback. Engineering was used to doing consults in Jira, and they weren’t willing to give it up. But thanks to Coda’s two-way sync with Jira, product was able to communicate everything they needed to from inside Coda. Now, product and engineering consistently stay on the same page across apps. “Syncing Jira and Coda in this way has been a huge unlock for us and freed engineers to stay focused in Jira, where they can trust data to be the most updated,” Lebovics says. Coda also helped solve communication issues with executives. Lebovics created a dashboard for executives that has both their actual work and the latest updates from the product team. This keeps Lebovics and his team from having to build slides with updates to deliver to the executive team each week. Now, product can communicate everything from the most specific engineering requirements to the most high-level updates without ever leaving Coda.

Solid alignment.

“If it’s used right, it’s an alignment enforcer,” he says. After a supervisor pointed out that a meeting only got through Lebovics’ agenda items, not the whole team’s, Lebovics built a system for prioritizing conversation topics during team meetings. “[Coda is] really for the health and the productivity of the employees,” he says. Now, the product team shares its most pressing concerns and their overall mood toward work (measured in one to five smiley faces) within Coda. Lebovics acknowledges that this might feel small, but he says it leads their team to holistic alignment—much like a seemingly minor adjustment to your position when lifting weights can change how entire systems of muscles work together. On misalignment, Lebovics says, “Coda won’t solve it on day one, but it will give you new practices that will add up,” like any good new workout routine. Tonal is still iterating its perfect processes, but Lebovics is glad it’s solidly housed in Coda. “In two months’ time, the Team Hub will probably look a little bit different. That’s because we’re always adapting to newly discovered pain points and opportunities in our workflow. That’s the beauty of Coda—it’s the only tool flexible enough to keep up with an ever-evolving team.” he says.

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