He Said, She Said: Part 3- How PM and UX can work together

By Saeed Khan and Heather Searl

pmuxParts 1 and 2 of this series covered a number of topics including working with other teams, organizational structures, personas and common documents. This part delves into:

Agile and Documentation

Heather: Agile presents a lot of problems when working with development. I worked for a company that moved to an agile development methodology, but sold into a very regulated market. As part of the move to agile a lot of formal documentation was reduced and omitted.

That didn’t work for the customers who needed to see a clear process and documentation on changes from release to release for their own regulations.

So we ended up developing the product using an agile methodology but on the side  we’d sit through long meetings creating requirements and arguing over whether the wording for each requirement was “should,” “shall,” “must” or “may” on things that were half built already

Saeed: That’s just bizarre. You mentioned Agile. I’ve had a lot of trouble with Agile and Product Management, but we don’t need to get into all of that here.

There is definitely good in the Agile process but people don’t pay attention to the basics. One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto is “working software over comprehensive documentation”.

People think “Hey, I don’t have to create documentation. I can just build stuff.”,  and they run with that idea because it is what they want to do.

If they just read and understood the basics, they’d realize the principles are structured as X over Y not X instead of Y. i.e. focus on the first, but don’t ignore the second.

Heather: I then went to a start-up environment where I asked to see specs and documentation on an existing product so I could understand everything it did to start working on the next iteration. There was no documentation.

I was told to just try using the product and figure it out that way.  As you can imagine that created a ton of issues for next generation products. Developers would agree to something and then discover the existing code didn’t work the way they thought and timelines would have to change.

I was told that I should create the spec documentation based on trying to use the released product. We actually tried to do that a few times and we tried to create a site map for a complex web app but gave up because there were so many different paths that we kept missing things.

All projects at that company had to have multiple long term employees on the team or all hell would break loose. New developers, a new product manager and new UX person on a team and a project would be defined, scoped and agreed upon that was totally impossible because of legacy code, designs etc.

Saeed:  Any process where people think a written record of the product can be done away with to save time and money, is doomed to fail. It’s truly penny-wise and pound-foolish.

As you said, new teams couldn’t succeed because all the required knowledge. How well could a mechanic repair an engine of a new car without any manuals or diagnostics?

I always find that documents helps. I write a lot of documents. I will write a Word document instead of using PowerPoint because sometimes the detail is really necessary. It also helps me get my thoughts organized and can be a reference document later as our collective memories eventually fail.

Also, it is easy to distill a Word doc down to PowerPoint, but not the other way around.

But unfortunately, many people don’t know how to create good reusable documents, so it creates a huge gap very early in the design and development process.

Ownership and Decision-Making

Saeed: One interview question that I ask product managers is how would you describe product management in one word. There is no right answer but there are bad and good answers. One of the answers I would give if asked is “balance”.

In the end product management is about balance. Sometimes I need to focus on the technical, other times  on the financial but over time this has to balance.

Heather: The word that was coming to mind is compromise. Thinking along the lines of what you said for balance. But balance is a better word. Compromise has too many negative connotations of giving in or creating mediocrity.

I like to think of myself as a product management’s right hand person – or one of them. There are a lot of other groups providing product management with key input.  I want to be listened to, but I get to dump the hard decisions on the product management who has to decide between the best user experience the scheduled the budget, competitive pressures etc.

I don’t have to be balanced. I get to stay focused on a single idea – what is best for the user. I get to argue for that and someone else makes the hard calls.

I like that I get to dump that on you. In the end I can argue my position and someone else has to balance it all.

Saeed: I don’t like the word compromise because of the negative connotations. Compromise sounds weak.

It is very clear when you see a failed product that there was no balance. There may have been a lot of compromise but no balance.

For example, the marketing may be great, the visuals fantastic but the technology platform is weak and makes the product weak overall. Or vice versa.

I prefer to get a good product out there and worry about the marketing later. But other people come at it from the opposite point of view. Go out with a bang.

Heather and Saeed

Tweet this:  He Said, She Said: Part 3 – How can Product Management and UX work together http://wp.me/pXBON-4di #prodmgmt #ux

The UX responsibilities of a Product Manager – Part 2

by Gary Schroeder

In part 1, we discussed the importance of Product/Market Fit and concepts of Problem Validation and Solution Validation. This part covers 5 key UX responsibilities of Product Managers.

To architect great solutions to market problems, always start with the user and work backwards. Work backwards from their problems and how you want them to feel when those problems are solved.

#1 Responsibility: Prioritize Along User Needs

This is the end game and responsibilities #2 and #3 explain how you will be equipped to do this, but it is important to keep the end in mind.

Users have a hierarchy of needs that must be met in order to elicit delight.  I encourage using Dan Olson’s hierarchy of user needs as your framework to follow:

olsen-hierarchy

Much of the framework speaks for itself, but I will add two comments:

  • You haven’t yet earned the right to work on the “Increasing Satisfaction” areas (Feature Set and Usability/Design) until you have satisfactorily delivered on Uptime, Page Load Time, and Absence of bugs
  • The entire hierarchy (not just the top category labeled Usability and Design) adds up to the user’s experience with your product.

To effectively deliver a great solution to your users, you need to effectively prioritize work that aligns with the above user hierarchy.

#2 Responsibility: Know Your Users

You are your customers advocate and in order to do that you need to know your users. You need to be able to answer questions like:

  • What market are they in?
  • What are the trends in that market?
  • What are your user’s business goals?
  • What does a day in their life look like?
  • What problems do they encounter throughout their day and why do they need your product to solve those problems?
  • How often do they encounter these problems?
  • Do they work mainly from an office, or are they travelling 40 weeks a year?

Knowing the answers to these questions and more is the only way you can grade your product according to the user hierarchy of needs. What do I mean?

  • Does your product need to have a 99.999% uptime all year long? Or will your target user base only be using it during the first 3-4 months of the calendar year?
  • Do your users use the product 8 hours a day and need it to be lightning fast? Or do they use it only sporadically throughout the week and thus are not that concerned about page load times?
  • Is there really demand for the seven new features your executive team says your product needs? Or will that simply clutter the product with unnecessary and thus unused features?
  • If 87% of your users work at an office all day on three monitors, do you really need to invest in a mobile application or take great pains to incorporate responsive design?

Knowing your users makes these questions easy to answer. Getting the right answers to these questions helps facilitate a better user experience.

#3 Responsibility: Feel Your Users

The above questions require a certain level of understanding. But this kind of understanding only requires us to know. Truly great products however are not born from the brain, they find their source 18 inches south–the heart.  This type of understanding requires us to feel.  Building great products not only require us to know what our customers know, it requires us to feel what our customers feel. This means that customers are no longer customers; users are no longer users, prospects are no longer prospects; they are human beings–people just like you and me.

Making the human connection is step one. Developing deep empathy is step two. Empathy comes from answering–with the head and the heart–questions such as:

  • What do your users fear?
  • What are the frustrations in their lives?
  • What do your users want to gain from his job?
  • Less work and more money you say?
  • Why does a user want more money? Knowing that it is not to get a nicer car and rather it is because his son has a rare health condition and the medical bills are piling up changes your perspective entirely. He wants to take care of his son. This means this user needs to do well at his job so he can get a promotion, but this also means he can’t work 70+ hours a week to achieve that because he wants to spend every moment possible at his son’s side.  He needs a tool that will work with and for him.

Questions to gauge empathy?

  • Have you ever not been able to sleep because you were concerned about one of your users not spending enough time with her kids and how your product can help, even if in a small way, steal back some of that precious time?
  • Have you ever obsessed over two clicks vs. three?

#4 Responsibility: Interest Does Not Equal Aptitude – So Master the Basic Skills

Your goal is not to become a UI/UX Designer but you have to master the fundamentals of User Experience so that you can ensure your solution is compelling. Fortunately it’s fairly painless to pick up the necessary UX skills you’ll need as a product manager*.

Skill #1: User Research and Usability Testing

While you will likely partner with a UX Designer for these activities, you need to be involved and, if necessary, lead these initiatives.

To validate desirability–which is validating problems and solutions–you need to be in front of real users.

  • Learn how to conduct discovery interviews to help (in)validate your problem hypotheses.
  • Use design reviews and usability testing with actual or prospective users to (in)validate your solutions.

Skill #2: Prototyping – To the user, the interface is the product.

That doesn’t mean you need to know Photoshop, Illustrator, or Fireworks. But you do need to learn how to take a screens first, quick and dirty prototyping, approach to designing your product.  Again, start with the user–what do they actually see? How will they interact with the product? Get comfortable using tools like:

  • Pencil (or a pen if you’re daring) & Paper
  • Balsamiq

Skill #3: Reviewing Designs

You own the use cases and so you need to vet every single design against your market and user understanding.

Designs can be innovative and elegant, but if they don’t meet your user’s needs, they fail. And while your UI/UX designers should be taking great pains to understand your users as well as you do, don’t count on it.  It’s your responsibility to review their work and vet them against your user knowledge.

Responsibility #5:  Own Your Own UX Education

There is no shortage of UX resources for free online which means you don’ have any excuses to be ignorant.  Below are my recommendations on where to start:

  1. Documentary – Objectified
  2. Book – Design for Hackers
  3. Course (free) – Human Computer Interaction
  4. Bonus (free) – Hack Design

Summary

As a Product Manager, your job is to achieve product/market fit. A key component of product/market fit is validating if there is a prevailing problem in the market and that you have a compelling solution to that problem (e.g. Desirable).

To ensure your solution is compelling, you need to prioritize work according to your user’s hierarchy of needs which requires you to have deep knowledge and empathy of and for your users. Beyond knowledge and empathy, however, you need to be actively involved in creating solutions yourself via prototyping, testing the solutions in design and usability studies, and finally reviewing all designs that go into your product.

Gary

Tweet this:  The UX responsibilities of a Product Manager – Part 2 by @gjschroeder http://wp.me/pXBON-4ds #prodmgmt #ux #innovation

About the Author

gary-schroeder-bwGary Schroeder (@gjschroeder) has been helping companies deliver world-class products for over 8 years.  Currently he is Associate Product Manager at Accruent and writes about Growth Hacking, Product Management, Innovation, and Design at GarySchroeder.me.

The UX Responsibilities of a Product Manager – Part 1

by Gary Schroeder

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

When defining new products, one of key objectives for a Product Manager is achieving product/market fit; without it, nothing else matters.

But what exactly is product/market fit (PMF)?

To help us understand more clearly, let’s consider the following framework–adopted from the premiere product design firm IDEO. For IDEO, this framework helped codify innovation; for us, it will codify product/market fit.

To achieve PMF, our products need to find the intersection of three meta-themes:innovation-desirable-viable-possible

  • Desirability – this theme is fundamentally answering the question: “Do people want it?”
  • Feasibility – this theme is fundamentally answering the question: “Can we build it?”
  • Viability – this theme is fundamentally answering the question: “Will it be financially worthwhile for us to build it?”

Achieving this intersection is a pass/fail test.

If you build something that nobody wants, you fail. If you build something that people want but you lose money doing so, you fail.  If you identify a potentially profitable product that people really want but you can’t build, you fail.  To pass, you need all three.

It All Starts with Desirability

For this article today however, we will be focusing exclusively on Desirability which can be broken down into two questions that need validating:

“The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing. Two or three times better will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter. – Ben Horowitz

  1. Problem Validation – Is There a Prevailing Problem?

Product as built to solve problems;  and when attempting to answer the question, “Do people want it?” we are fundamentally answering the question, “Do people have the problem my product solves?”

Effectively answering this question requires knowing:

  • Who these people are (e.g. age, gender, internet habits, buying patterns, etc)?
  • How many of them are there (e.g. Total Available Market, Serviceable Market, Target Market)?

If no one has the problem you’re solving, or too few people have the problem your product solves, your product doesn’t pass the desirable test and there is no reason to build a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

  1. Solution Validation– Not just a Solution, “Your” Solution.

With problem validation, you’re simply proving that there is a problem in the market. With solution validation, you’re proving that the market doesn’t just want any solution to that problem; they want your solution to that problem. This is where user experience comes in full force.

Validating whether your product is a compelling solution to users’ needs is where Product Management and User Experience converge. Product Managers are not UX Designers and UX Designers are not Product Managers. But there is significant overlap and critical UX responsibilities that Product Managers have.

In part 2, we’ll cover the 5 specific UX responsibilities a Product Manager has when creating new products.

Gary

Tweet this:  The UX responsibilities of a Product Manager – Part 1 by @gjschroeder http://wp.me/pXBON-4dn #prodmgmt #ux #innovation

About the Author

gary-schroeder-bwGary Schroeder (@gjschroeder) has been helping companies deliver world-class products for over 8 years.  Currently he is Associate Product Manager at Accruent and writes about Growth Hacking, Product Management, Innovation, and Design at GarySchroeder.me.

He Said, She Said: Part 2 – How can PM and UX work together

By Saeed Khan and Heather Searl

pmuxIn the first part of this discussion, Heather and Saeed covered a number of  topics related to both Product Management and User Experience, including working across teams, working with customer and organizational structures. In this part we will cover ….

Personas

Heather: Personas are critical tools when defining user interfaces, but they are not well understood and often poorly defined. Personas often become an exercise in creative writing for UX teams. Writing a persona can be fun, but you can get carried away. This kills them as a useful tool.

If the personas don’t accurately reflect the group of people being designed for, and if they don’t answer project related questions about the target customer’s goals, work, work-related challenges that could be influenced by the current project and so on, they aren’t useful.

Some UX personas are too general or they just create a character. A good persona has to be project specific and relate to features being worked on.

Saeed: I once worked on a new UI for IT administrators. The UX team had created personas for a “generic” administrator. It contained a lot of, “Fred gets up in the morning, goes for a jog, has his latte and goes to work,” info.

The engineering team wasn’t very receptive. When you present that type of persona to an engineering group, they just roll their eyes and walk away.

So we did a bunch of user research with the engineers alongside. In our findings, one big change I made was to remove the word “persona” and start using the word “role”.

We identified multiple different administrator roles such system administrator, infrastructure administrator, network administrator, database administrator et cetera.  Then we agreed that our focus was the infrastructure administrator. This made things very clear and tangible for the engineers.

We used one particular customer — Chris — who became, for us, the prototypical infrastructure administrator.

From that point forward, if there were any questions that needed decisions, we would ask ourselves, “What would Chris do?”

That worked very well for everyone. We had effectively created a persona, but it was really focused on relevant activities we needed to understand. It had a lot of credibility.

Heather: There are also buyer personas that cover how Joe makes buying decisions, what his income level is, how he does research before he buys et cetera.

I’ve been told to use them and we couldn’t create design personas because too many personas would be confusing.

But the marketing personas don’t help me do my job. They don’t answer my questions.  All a project team can do is put them in a drawer and move on.

Saeed: I think buyer personas are important, particularly in B2C scenarios where the Buyer and User are the same or very closely related.

In that scenario, why someone buys, how they evaluate and how they use can be intertwined and need to be understood.  e.g. a parent might buy a digital camera for their child, but clearly the two personas are quite different but interrelated. The parent (buyer) may also be an occasional user as well.

In B2B, buyers and users are often quite different, though in many SaaS/Cloud applications they can be the same or closely related. e.g. the marketing team will purchase and use Marketing Automation tools.

Also there are influencers, who are related to buyers, and may have product needs of their own.

e.g. for an audit compliance product, the users (and buyers) are the legal/finance teams, but IT would need to manage the software, so they are heavy influencers.

If, for example, software administration is part of IT’s qualification process, and your product is not easy to administer, that would be a strike against you, even though, technically, IT is neither the buyer nor user.

Documentation and Deliverables

Heather: What about other project documentation? I find that sometimes there is conflict between UX and Product Management about who owns what deliverable.

Saeed:  Project documentation can be a problem when there is overlap in the acquired knowledge or even authorship of documents.

Requirements is one area. Although it is generally agreed that Product Management owns requirements, there can be requirements that come out of the UX side. The solution in those cases is to work together and discuss areas of possible overlap. In theory, PM and UX are part of a TEAM. :-)

But there is a bigger problem. You go from company to company to company, or even across teams i the same company, and there isn’t a standard definition of those deliverables except at the highest level.  Artifacts are different, formats are different, information is different…it’s a mess.

I worked at a company where we had a product management offsite where we had to present the current state and future plans of each of our products.

You’d think that since we all worked in the same company there would be consistency in the presentations. There wasn’t.

Some people had a lot of technical information. Others had a lot of financials. We didn’t look at our own products the same way. Even the financials were presented in very different ways for different products. When you bring in other groups like UX it gets more confusing.

Heather: I’ve seen great differences in what a product concept document (PCD) coming from different product managers contains, but they give me direction I need.  I’ve also worked with other Product Managers who refuse to put a meaningful PCD together.

Then you get into something that is more of a combined ownership, like requirements where you have user requirements, technical requirement, marketing requirements that all  have to come together at some level.

It falls apart when there isn’t collaboration. I’ve had product managers dictate all of the user requirements and others expect me to do it all.  I’ve also seen requirements put together in isolation that don’t make any sense as a whole.

People are trying to define the product their way by what they put in the market requirements, user requirements and technical requirements. And then there are conflicts between requirements that cause problems and create delays.

I like to work collaboratively. You start the document, I’ll add some stuff, and we’ll talk and edit and revise and see where it ends up. I struggle with almost anything that is just put together and thrown over the fence.

Saeed: I think that as soon as you start the discussion about standardizing processes you get a lot of pushback. People see added bureaucracy and more work. If you think about it in the long run, good processes should reduce work.

A friend of mine told me this story. At a startup, there was value to ambiguity from management’s perspective because it was easier to hide behind. It was an accountability issue with the board of directors.

So some senior people worked to ensure process and deliverables weren’t defined. Obviously that startup failed miserably.

In other places people are fearful of change or what the impact on them will be.

The discussion has to be what works for all of us. How can we make it better for all of us? I think that is the important question, but a lot of people don’t want to think or act on that? And in most cases, that leads to failure.

Saeed & Heather

Tweet this:  He Said, She Said: How can Product Management and UX work together – Part 2 http://wp.me/pXBON-4ci #prodmgmt #ux

 

 

 

Rules for customer visits #3 – Observation is critical

by Saeed Khan

Most often, a customer visit means having a discussion in a meeting room at your customer’s site, with a small group of users or interested parties.

They usually expect you to present something and get their feedback. e.g. a new or upcoming product release. or product roadmap or whatever.

Once the meeting is over, a lot of good intentions are shared for future such meetings and you leave the premises.

While those meetings have definite value, you should really try to spend some time with one or more users in THEIR environment — i.e. not in a meeting room, but at their desk or in their work areas to see what they do in their jobs, and how they ACTUALLY use your product.

You’ll be surprised how much you will learn.

customer_visit_rule_3_observing

How much time do you spend actually observing your users?

Tweet this: Rules for customer visits #3 – Observation is critical http://wp.me/pXBON-4d6 #prodmgmt #ux

Also see: Rule #2 – Moderation is key

Image source: Kylephoto.com