“I [worked with Jess Mean of Upfront Work and] was particularly impressed with her ability to provide industry expertise on digital strategy. She helped facilitate several strategy sessions that helped us set the priorities and path forward for the project. Jess was a joy to work with. I’d definitely work with Jess again when leading a similar project.”

Ross Starfeldt, Director of Strategic Development

Developing a cross-platform mobile app to attract a new customer segment

Client: Thrivent Financial

Thrivent Financial is a Fortune 500 company and member-owned fraternal benefit society that’s been offering financial services to its members for more than 100 years. Thrivent Financial knows their key customers really well but they wanted to take a big bet and introduce their services to a new type of customer – but how could they attract a new generation of fraternal members?

The Challenge

An internal innovation team spent more than a year researching and testing concepts for product-market fit. Through their research they identified a potential product-market fit and came up with an app-based service concept. The early app design tested well and with the green light to move forward, they realized an important piece of the puzzle was missing: a seasoned digital product manager.

The Solution

Thrivent Financial brought on Upfront Work co-founder Jess Mean to lead their design and development team to build an MVP in seven months, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Jess kicked off the project with a strategy workshop to quickly onboard the team, develop a roadmap and determine development priorities.

With the initial priorities set and little time to lose, Jess led the cross-platform mobile app team through continuous discovery and delivery agile sprints. Throughout the project, she conducted user research, translated the research to user stories, prioritized the backlog, conducted user acceptance testing, presented to major stakeholders, and assisted with product marketing. 

The mobile app was successfully launched in December 2018 on the Apple App Store and  Google Play Store.


“Jess, thanks for the work you have done for Participate – it's a real pleasure having you be part of this adventure.”

Mark Otter, CEO

Leading with best in class product management practices

Client: Participate
Software, Education

Sometimes an internal digital product does so well that it turns into its own line of business. That’s the situation Participate Learning found themselves in when their online professional development platform, Participate, took off. Not wanting to stifle growth, Participate Learning restructured their business so Participate could be its own company with its own leadership team and customers.

The Challenge

The new Participate leadership team was excited for the challenge but also knew they needed expert advice to turn their company into a product-led organization. They didn’t want an overly expensive management consultant who would tell them what to do then leave them with a big bill, but they also didn’t want an unpredictable freelancer who didn’t have deep expertise.

The Solution

Participate brought on Upfront Work co-founder Jess Mean to help the new leadership team shape their product strategy, identify new product opportunities, develop and implement product management processes, and coach the new product team. Confident in their product strategy, short-term roadmap and new processes, Participate is looking forward to the journey ahead.


“Upfront Work has been instrumental in driving the product development process for our CBD venture. We’ve benefited from their expert-level knowledge of the variables involved in launching a new product, as well as their incredible work ethic, sense of humor and passion for the industry. ”

Emily Tennison, Director

Launching a new cannabis product in 30-days

Client: Well Beings (MNML)

In early-2018, the Well Beings team led by MNML had an idea: If their cannabis partner could introduce CBD (low dose THC cannabis), then more people could experience the homeostasis effects of hemp–without the fear of getting high to do it. But how could they develop a feasible product line with limited resources and time?

The Challenge

In December 2018, the Farm Bill passed making hemp legal in all 50 states–kind of. Different state-to-state regulations cause massive confusion for hemp companies. What laws and regulations need to be followed? Which states can we ship to? What banks support us? Regardless of the complications, investors wanted to see physical samples and financial modeling. With the time-to-market clock ticking, how could we develop this new product line in 30-days?

The Solution

Understanding time and resource constraints, Upfront Work started filling in the gaps. First, we moved the team to a weekly sprint and daily stand-up cadence to keep the team on track and force a much needed decision-making process. Second, we filled the market and user research gaps by completing a competitive analysis for feature prioritization, pricing strategy and user targeting. After identifying our strategic advantage, our product specifications needed to align with the right vendor. To do that, we did a SWOT analysis to determine the target price, chemistry functionality and partner risk. Once we agreed on our method, we developed a financial model for the product line and the company itself with recommended areas to invest for maximum profitability.

With a customized process and clear strategy, Well Beings now has the tools and resources to launch a competitive CBD product line to meet the target customer’s demand.


“Before Upfront Work, we had little idea the risks and necessary steps needed to develop a SaaS product.”

Dr. Matt Feinstein, Co-founder

Bringing product management structure to a new healthcare startup

Client: Healthority
Industry: Healthcare, technology

Six months ago, the Healthority team (part of MATTER, a healthcare incubator) had an idea: If users had a trusted, scientifically-backed source for lifestyle health information then they would be less susceptible to harmful health decisions. But how could they develop a user-centric service that serves both businesses and users?

The Challenge

The cardiologist co-founders of Healthority knew one thing clearly: they had little product development knowledge to build this platform. As doctors, they were inspired to develop this product to help their patients but they didn’t understand how to take a SaaS product from concept to execution. How do you build a product right from the beginning? What risks should be considered?

Moreover, the product’s profitability relied on a B2B model, selling to companies that wanted to support the wellness of their employees. But how do you develop an experience that intuitively communicates a service benefiting employees rather than a tool to help corporations save money?

The solution

Understanding the challenges of the healthcare industry, we provided the team with foundational product development tools and resources to clearly articulate what they were building to their development partner.

First, user personas were created so the development could see the product through the eyes of its future users. Second, we completed a competitive landscape and identified Healthority’s unique advantages to support its go-to-market strategy. Third, we developed a process for translating user feedback into actionable steps to help avoid scope creep.

With a customized process and strong scope strategy, Healthority has the tools and resources to launch a user-centric SaaS product.


“Before Upfront Work, we were not as efficient with our process and user research. Upfront Work provided us with custom strategy to successfully build our product.”

Enes Umur Gokcek, CEO

Bridging the user research gap between digital and physical product users

Client: Niche
Industry: Smart Home, IoT

In 2017, the Niche team led by Enes Umur Gokcek had an idea: If busy grocery shoppers could intuitively keep track of home essentials then more people would avoid running out, overstocking or forgetting to buy necessary home supplies. But how could they identify the right users to test their prototype?

The Challenge

Managing user research for both software and physical products is complicated. But the Niche team needed to understand how users reacted to their product–what worked, what didn’t? The challenge became identifying the optimal research methods and selecting the right users. Identify digital users is fairly straightforward and low-cost, but identify physical development users is expensive, slow, vague, and complicated.

The Solution

We had the team identify their hero user specifically with surveys, observational feedback and 1-on-1 interviews. Then, we recommended products to be tested– the team selected two families with one week to iterate, then testing with 10 families post updates.

Once a clear path was laid out to identify insights, leadership wanted to establish the right tools and roadmap to inspire their team to execute. We provided a roadmap and process tool with step-by-step guidelines to extrapolate into a long-term vision. With a customized user research and roadmap strategy, Niche has the tools and resources to target the right user while consistently motivating their team.


“Upfront Work helped me to see and understand my product through the eyes of the user - guided through tangible short-term goals that fit together to move the idea forward. ”

Quitzé Valenzuela -Stookey, Founder

Leading product development with startup studio


Six months ago, entrepreneur Quitzé Valenzuela-Stookey had an idea: He wanted to protect his expensive glasses without the bulk and ugliness of traditional cases for unencumbered exploring.  But without expertise in product development, how could he approach building his product to sell?

The Challenge

With any new product idea, the difficulty becomes understanding demand, and the necessary resources required to pitch investors. In order to present his idea properly, a tremendous amount of upfront research and clarity was needed. But what are investors looking for when funding early-stage startups?

The solution

Understanding this process is new to Quitzé, we took him through each stage of product discovery.  First, facilitating in the user persona definition and target competition.  Next, we went into industry research learning insights like eyeglass scratching because more common when manufacturers shifted production from glass to hard-resin lenses in the 1970’s.  Learning necessary domain knowledge like this, we utilized different strategy techniques like white space mapping, kano modeling and pricing analysis to determine positioning statement. With relevant research, a product requirements document was initiated to work with manufacturers for quoting. All the while, a professional presentation was created along each phase to finish support with an investor deck ready to pitch.

With the right product development leadership, Quitzé now has the product development tools and resources to scale.


“We didn’t have a clear structure for this project. With Upfront Work’s user research, insights and strategy, we now have the tools and resources needed for year-over-year growth. ”

Steven Jambor, Vice President PDMA Chicago

Delivering digital transformation for university and non-profit partnership

Industry: nonprofit, technology

In 2015, Northwestern University and PDMA had an idea: If we created a competition for researching real-world problems– students of all majors could learn the fundamentals of product development, no matter what university they attended.  But how could they improve on a project without the necessary structure, process and technology?

The Challenge

Many times, universities and non-profits use volunteers to run events. With different people rotating responsibility each year, domain knowledge can get lost or duplicate files are made, wasting time and effort.  The challenge becomes how do you structure a process for new volunteers to intuitively pick up where others left off?

To differentiate this competition, more features are involved–a Northwestern design-thinking workshop, multiple universities, two phases of judging, mentors pairing with final teams, sponsors to donate prizes and a ceremony event.  All of which require the right process and technology tools to facilitate strong communication and transparency.

The solution

Understanding their challenges, we started by identifying the projects success metrics and conducted a user research study on multiple personas. Utilizing key insights learned during the research study, we began implementing a digital transformation in relevant areas. Some of those areas included creating a new website, file management system and instituting a project management software process. After that, we established clear roles and responsibilities, prioritized tasks by phases and instituted agile methods for phase iteration. Throughout the project, we tracked our success metrics for optimal decision making and performance.

With this digital transformation, Northwestern University + PDMA now have the necessary tools and resources for future support to deliver sustainable success.