Product Management Process
Originally written in 2016
- Assess the business value.
To start with I identify my problem statement and determine whether the product will solve a problem. I assess the value proposition, assess risk and look at the total cost of ownership and return on investment. If I still have a compelling product after this initial discovery I move on to the next step
- Focus on the user.
My main focus has been on human-centered design: I try to understand the problems the user is facing and the outcomes they would like to achieve. Using either existing systems or prototypes, I observe my customers as they interact with the product in order to discover their actual, not assumed needs.I start with no assumptions, and question everything. The most important questions to me are “what are you trying to accomplish” and “why?”. I define the goals my stakeholders are trying to achieve, the assumptions I will later test, and the minimum viable product.At this time I also develop personas, identifying my key internal and external stakeholders and what I could do to make their workflow easier or their experience more seamless.
- Workshop and research to uncover unspoken requirements.
One of my favorite ways to find out what’s important to my customers is drawing three concentric circles and asking my customers to put what’s most important to them in the smallest circle right in the middle. Since the circle is so small they have to be very picky with what’s most important to them — for example, when they have to choose between feature A and feature B. I also love hearing stories. I find that my stakeholders often get so engrossed in their everyday workflow that they don’t realize I might want to hear about something that may be so obvious to them. (I really liked the book “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever on this topic).I also try to come up with different ways to discover the real problems my stakeholders are facing. For example, for a CMS project, I searched JIRA for old tickets that contained negative keywords like “can’t” or “tried”. This instantly gave me a historical record of the outcomes my stakeholders wanted, but couldn’t achieve. The tickets’ comment history also showed me how they eventually resolved the problem and/or the workarounds they attempted. NBCUniversal allowed JIRA access across brands so I could in turn see if these problems were widespread enough to prioritize and pursue.
- Leverage data and metrics to further insights.
While interviews and observations have been very helping in discovering real customer needs, I also look to hard data — because in some cases what people say and what they do could be wildly different. For example, using analytics we discovered that users preferred Google to internal search, and prioritized our user stories accordingly, deferring search functionality to a much later sprint.
- Rapid iterative prototyping to test assumptions.
I spend a lot of time in the prototype stage where I can rapidly test a lot of different ideas at low fidelity, without wasting engineering cycles. There are a lot of ways to do things but prototyping and seeing how my stakeholders interact with different prototypes helps me find the best way. At this stage I separate the good ideas from the bad and iterate to a strong and effective solution. At each stage of ideation, the entire team and all the stakeholders see and test the concept. Each one of my prototypes tests an assumption, and I measure how the expected customer behavior lines up with their actual behavior. Continued conversation over several rounds of prototype iterations helps me test multiple solutions to the same problem in order to find the best one and build a great user experience.
- Draft persona driven storyboards to iron-out the user experience flow.
I first studied storyboarding in design school; one of things I learnt about storyboarding for animation is continuity. I took the continuity storyboarding process and applied it to my product design process. Just as directors make sure there is visual continuity when changing shots, I use storyboards and create prototypes for a seamless user journey, making sure my customer does not get lost when clicking from one screen to another. I focus on how to make my customers’ workflow or experience easier, simpler and more intuitive.
- Authoring user stories.
Based on the findings from the product discovery and rapid prototyping process, I authored user stories in a format that highlighted the personas I developed. For example, “as a (child/parent/admin), I would like to (do something) so that I can (achieve this outcome)”.
- Sprint planning and development.
To prioritize user stories for the upcoming sprint, I put all the asks on a matrix and make a weighted scorecard based on the business goals of network, the individual departments and their leads. Examples of business goals included revenue, increasing unique views and driving linear broadcast. The prioritization also took risk, launch dates and levels of effort into account. I could then sort the user stories and plan the sprint according to the weighted scorecard.
- Senior management suggested we develop a Facebook and Twitter publishing feature so that our social media staff could publish posts directly from our CMS. Through product discovery, we tested and proved our assumptions that the social media staff preferred to use their existing workflow and their own publishing tools (e.g. Hootsuite). This feature was therefore not put on the roadmap, and it didn’t matter where that idea came from.
- Historical lack of product management had resulted in a laundry list of features in the CMS that sounded good in theory but were never used in practice. One particular feature cropped images based on the focal point set by the producer. However, once again we found that producers would rather use tools that were already part of their workflow, i.e. Photoshop.
- I studied child behavior by watching Youtube videos that parents took of their children using tablets and computers, as well as through focus groups. We found that children prefer scrolling sideways instead of up and down, as adults would. We integrated our findings into the website design.
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