Designers: A PM’s Best Friend

When it comes to being successful in a product management role, your interaction designer should be your best friend. You should be constantly sharing requirements, ideas and collaborating regularly with your designer.

Key Considerations for Working with your Designers:

  1. Provide Requirements at the Beginning

As a product manager, you must give all of the information that you have at the start of the project. Share the research, competitive landscape, and goals to be accomplished. Make sure you are constantly feeding information as new features are considered and others are discarded.

If you fail to provide all of the requirements, you’ll prolong the project and your designer may get frustrated with you by not giving the full story. In software, we expect changes and adjustments, but you want to make sure your designer can create a design that will encompass all of the experiences for the user that are needed. You can always scale back and remove a feature or requirement if it’s too much to get out in the first release. However, having the designer look at the full project holistically will benefit your product in the long run.

2. Be Open to their Ideas and Suggestions

Remember that your designers – interaction and visual – are experts in design. They have the “eye” for good design and should be bringing ideas to the table regularly. Designers should be looking at competitors and standardized interactions that can be utilized. Your designer has many more years of experience in design than you do, so make sure you give them the opportunity to bring their best ideas forward.

3. Collaborate and Brainstorm Regularly

You should schedule regular check-ins – either in person or over the phone. Reviewing the designs and the intentions together as a team – with the development team as well – will ensure everyone is on board with the direction and interactions that are planned. Make sure you always keep in mind the user’s perspective and the goals to be accomplished. If you do that, you will succeed as a team.

4. Work within their Domain

There are many tools that designers can use to share their designs and get feedback from their product managers. My team uses InVision but many prototyping tools are available like Axure, Marvel, UXPin, and more. Designers need feedback quickly so they can continue to adjust and get to the final designs. This communication is key to keeping your project moving. If your designer thinks you are slacking on providing feedback, it will put a strain on the relationship.

As product managers, we must always think about the big picture and strategy. Utilizing all of your team members’ skills and experience is the key to succeeding. If everyone has a clear role and together you have goals to accomplish, then you will be able to move forward quickly. Being a product manager is a balancing act because you are making long term strategic decisions as well as short term tactical decisions. You have to rely on your team, especially your designers, so you can continue to move your product forward. Build a solid relationship with your designers, and you’ll see positive results and success for the entire team.

Hosting User Events is Gold

When I moved into a product manager role from over 10 years in marketing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I would be part of a team which built software products for companies looking to hire candidates. I was told that being on a revenue generating team would be a great place to be (especially when the economy was down) versus in marketing which is an expense generating team. When I transitioned to the product role within the same company, I was a little unsure, but wanted to try something new. My new boss wanted to utilize my marketing skills, and I’d also have the opportunity to learn and grow about building software. It sounded like a great match, and I was ready for the challenge.

I started learning about our current B2B product and saw a long list of all of the new features that clients were asking for through their sales representative or customer care. I realized we had a lot of work to do to make the product better.

Why You Need User Feedback

My manager was meeting with clients regularly and bringing us the requests for what more needed to be built. However, as a team of product and technology team members, we didn’t have a good process to decide on prioritization. I started meeting with clients when they came into the office and presenting on our product’s capabilities.  In one calendar year, I presented to over 100 companies either in person or on the phone. I learned about their challenges and what areas of the product we needed to invest in further to make our product better. It was a huge leap in education for me about how and why talking to users of our product was helping accelerate our product’s vision and development.

Because of my marketing background and my knack for planning, I planned our first user event where we’d host a bunch of customers for a few days and learn more.  The goal behind hosting an onsite event with users of our products was multi-pronged. These are the benefits to hosting and why you’ll feel like you won a stack of gold afterwards.

Three Benefits to Hosting User Events:

1. Immediate Feedback from Multiple Voices

When you are considering the features and functionality of a product, it’s best to get feedback on a regular basis. When you have a user event, you have an opportunity to present your plans to many people and get lots of feedback in a short period of time from multiple perspectives. You may learn that a new feature that you had lower on your list is actually super important to your users or vice versa. The immediate feedback can help validate and confirm your roadmap or help you pivot and try a new path that will lead you to success as a product manager.

You must get multiple perspectives from multiple clients when deciding on your plans and roadmap. If you rely too heavy on one voice, you are putting yourself into a corner and it will be difficult to get out.

2. Development Team Hears Directly From Users

When you host these user events, you must have your development team join. They should be meeting with your customers to hear directly about their struggles and challenges. When engineers go back to their desk to develop, they’ll have that much more information as to why and who they are building the product for. It will accelerate their productivity and hopefully make them more excited and passionate about their role in the process.

3. Build Relationships

As humans, we are always looking to find people to connect with and having in-person opportunities for your team to build relationships with customers will drive productivity and fuel their minds. Bringing clients into your office allows you to host them and make them feel welcome. This gives your brand more credibility and you are part of building the trust needed to sustain the relationship long term.

This year, I planned and hosted the sixth annual event for my team. Every year we get smarter with how to prepare and set expectations to make the user event successful. All team members should be invited — product managers, engineers, designers, researchers, analysts, marketing, etc. Everyone who is behind building and launching new products and features should be present and interact with the users who are your target customer.

Go For the Gold

Your users will know that they are part of the development process by contributing their feedback so you can build better products for them. You can then ask them for further feedback as you make progress on the items that they requested or the challenges that your new feature will solve for them.

I view these events as “gold” because all team members and clients walk away with so much knowledge and excitement for the direction that you are headed. You’ll feel like you won a stack of gold.

Become a Product Manager

 

That’s the question I get asked all the time. Recently I was asked what resources I think someone should study to prepare them to get a Product Manager position. Before I share those resources, there are a few things every wannabe PM should first think about:

  1. You’re better off trying to get into Product Management in your current organization rather than just applying to other companies with no prior Product Manager experience. Most every company is looking for a Product Manager with experience, so in the majority of cases your only break is going to be working your butt off at your current company to earn a spot as a Product Manager (unless you have a CS bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Stanford and are applying to Google or Facebook). Ask your VP or Director of Product what you can do to earn a spot. Seek out a Product Manager mentor, ask to help with User Stories during your lunch breaks, do whatever you can earn a spot at your current company. Put in the extra work. Earn it!
  2. You should have a passion for product, and that doesn’t just mean you use products and have a strong opinion about why it sucks. The best Product Managers are the ones who love products to the point that you realize it’s not about your opinion, it’s about what makes a product amazing. It’s about why you love a certain product and then thinking about what the reason is behind why you love it. Researching why a company designed it the way they did and what a team had to go through to create it.
  3. Some of the best Product Managers I know LOVE startups. They read TechCrunch and Venture Beat and would love to be entrepreneurs, but either haven’t been able to break through yet or just don’t have it in them to strike out on their own. Either way, if you love startups, you’ll probably be more passionate about managing a product.

Okay, so here are some of the resources, outside the norm, that I recommend you take advantage of to set you up to be a great Product Manager. The knowledge you gain will help you kill that next interview.

  1. Pragmatic Marketing has a great PPT on the strategic role of a PM:

http://mediafiles.pragmaticmarketing.com/strategic-role-of-product-management/strategic_role_product_management.pdf

2. This is my favorite PM book. If you like product, you’ll love reading this book; Inspired by Marty Cagan:

http://www.amazon.com/Inspired-Create-Products-Customers-Love/dp/0981690408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463017490&sr=8-1&keywords=inspired+marty+cagan

3. Another PM book that is just fantastic, I LOVED reading this book; Inmates Running the Asylum, by Alan Cooper

http://www.amazon.com/Inmates-Are-Running-Asylum-Products/dp/0672326140/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463017553&sr=1-1&keywords=inmates+running+the+asylum

4. Stanford eCorner has videos and podcasts and some of them are phenomenal. Go back through the years and listen to all the famous people; Mark Zuckerberg, Reid Hoffman, Marissa Mayer, Kevin Systrom and many more. The best ones are from the people you’ve heard of but you’ll have to go back and search. Zuckerberg’s was back when it was still called TheFacebook, and even then his insights at that young age about hiring engineers is awesome. These are entrepreneurs but they talk a lot about how they started their products (Marissa Mayer’s is fantastic).

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/eCorner

5. I also love the podcast series The Foundation with Kevin Rose. He interviews Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, Ev Williams, Kevin Systrom, and many other top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (who are mostly product people). I usually just watch his videos on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/user/kevinrose

Some other more mainstream resources to consider:

  1. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis, a boring read but great information
  2. Anything from Steve Blank about Customer Development (the founder of the lean startup movement)
  3. Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug, great insights about usability testing.

If you love product you will love the above resources and want more and more and more. I listen to podcasts everyday on the drive to work and back and never get bored. The knowledge I capture is way more valuable than the music on the radio.

When you love learning more and more about product, that’s when you know you’ll make an awesome Product Manager. Your passion, along with knowledge and hard work, will help you land a job as a Product Manager, and trust me, it will be worth it!

Good luck and please comment with any questions.

Telling Stakeholders “No”

The sexiest part of any company is the product. Because that’s what customers are buying and using.

And everybody in the company has an opinion on the product.

And everybody thinks their opinion is right.

And if they think their opinion is right, then everybody else’s competing opinion MUST be wrong, including the customer’s.

So how do you manage those opinions, especially if they’re from your boss or the CEO?

As Product Managers we work with so many different departments; engineering, quality assurance, design, marketing, support, sales and of course our stakeholders (executives). And most people, including the Product Directors, VP’s of Product, VP’s of UX, and CEO’s have a very strong opinion of what the product should do, and they are all above you in the hierarchy.

The problem with their opinions is that in most cases it’s simply the way they would interact with the product. Most of the time these individuals are not the target customer, yet they feel in their hearts that there is no way anybody could like the product or a feature if they don’t like it.

This is not solely the issue with others, it’s also our problem. As the Product Manager we often have our own ideas of what we like and don’t like. And we also fall into the trap of thinking others must think like us, even if we know the competitors and customers.

As the Product Manager there are many times you need to take yourself out of the equation when it comes to the final decision.

I recently had a feature with two mockups that stirred up quite a debate. We had some target users in the office, and I showed 15 people both mockups…and 80% of the users liked mockup A. The designers felt these users were wrong and that mockup B was better, and spent a day creating an InVision mockup that gave each new design a more of a prototype feel. I showed 5 more users the two options, and this time 100% of the users liked mockup A. At this point you would assume that mockup A, with nearly 90% of the votes, would be a “no brainer” to begin building. The problem was two of my executives felt mockup B was better. It’s hard for us to realize that the experience we want isn’t the exact same experience everybody else wants.

In the end my executives empowered me to make the final decision (I work for an awesome company) and we went with mockup A. Even if we were wrong, no clients were going to stop using our product because of this decision, and it would be fairly easy to change if we received negative feedback. Sometimes speed is more important than getting it perfect (by the way, there’s no such thing as perfect), especially if it’s a small feature.

But what I had done before getting their opinions was to validate my assumptions. When we had the first two mockups I had my assumptions, and at that moment they were only assumptions. Our job as product managers is to validate assumptions whenever possible. Sometimes we know our customers and our competitors so well that we don’t need to validate assumptions, and sometimes our competitors have done that for us. But it’s best to validate as many assumptions as you can as quickly as possible.

So, how do you manage your executives when they give you their opinions, which in most cases are their assumptions? It’s very easy, just say:

Great observation, let me validate that assumption.

I’ve used this numerous times with my executives, and they totally get it. I then run some quick tests, sometimes with just people in the office or pulling data or whatever it takes to get some quick data points to help make an educated decision. The key is to do it quickly. In the previous example, I got 15 pieces of feedback in just 15 minutes. The product I was working on was about job seeker experiences, and we just happen to have 15 new hires in the building waiting to get their pictures taken. I ran over and asked if I could get their feedback on a new feature. That is all it takes sometimes.

Any time somebody higher up shares with you how a feature should be changed, just say ‘let me validate that assumption.’ Works most every time. Then you need to quickly get some data points, with one caveat — don’t be afraid to be wrong. It’s all about the customers unmet needs, not your ego or about being right.