Two weeks ago, I filled you in on the inner workings of our roadmapping proccess for our current project: ProdPad Regenerated. We’ve come along way already since then, and today I’d like to talk to you about how we are conceiving these changes to ProdPad collaboratively.
To help demonstrate the process in action, I’m giving you a bit of a sneak preview of what we’re working on. First of all, here’s a mockup for a new Idea Canvas being collaborated on in ProdPad. Our UX wizard, Mojca, created this mockup using OmniGraffle and exported it to pdf. Then she uploaded it to ProdPad so that we could all wade in with comments.
Direct interaction with the file itself means we can highlight the smallest of details and be very specific about what we’re discussing. For the Idea Canvas mockup, Simon and I have been able to raise questions on very specific elements and reconfirm what’s critical and what’s secondary to this regeneration project. For example, in the next version of the Idea Canvas design we’ll try to focus more heavily on team discussion than specs as this is what’s more important for most users.
OmniGraffle is one of our best friends when it comes to collaborative wireframing but it certainly isn’t the only tool we use. The very earliest mockups added to ProdPad used good old-fashioned pen and paper. A simple photo upload and we are able to discuss direction for our new interface in exactly the same way. Keeping track of versions in the design process is hugely important. When changes are tracked rather than overwritten, no shred of innovation is lost. If you make a suggestion that doesn’t work when pen is committed to paper or finger to mouse, you can revisit previous versions and re-evaluate.
And that’s why we’re making some changes to how we do mockups in ProdPad too. What you’re looking at here is in fact a mockup of the new mockups view (how’s that for meta!).
For the new mockups, we’ve been exploring how we can make earlier versions more prominent so that you can follow the evolution of the design process more easily. And as for every redesigned element in the regenerated ProdPad, this process is about striving for a smoother and more intuitive user experience for product managers and secondary users alike. I’m currently working with core ProdPad users who signed up to our beta programme to get their feedback into the next iterations of these mockups.
So that about wraps it up for this instalment on how we design collaboratively. Next, I’ll be sharing with you our steps and experiences of building out final designs from scratch. If you have any questions for me on ProdPad regenerated or our processes, drop them in the comments below or tweet me @simplybastow
And if you’d like to get onto the beta list for the new release, send us a message here
The post Regenerating ProdPad: working together for a brilliant user experience appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.
One of the most hotly discussed topics for the future of products is the increasing connectivity of devices, also known as the ‘Internet of Things’. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2014 report, by 2020 over 30 billion devices are predicted to be connected to the internet. By 2017, more than 50% of analytics implementations will make use of event data streams generated from instrumented machines, applications, and/or individuals. And global IP traffic is expected to nearly double between 2013 and 2016, while broadband is expected to speed up more than twofold.
But what does all of this mean for the products we’re building?
Well again, according to Accenture, “Consumers become better informed and better equipped to influence the ways they experience everything around them. And businesses get real-time connections to the physical world that allow machines as well as employees to act and react faster—and more intelligently”.
When you collect a load of data, fire it back to your users, and allow them to take actions on that data, from anywhere, you can make their lives better.
At least that’s the possibility.
In fact building connected products presents us with much broader product challenges than the technicalities of software integrations. An astute product manager will probably think about integrations, an API or multiple device capability when making decisions about development infrastructures. But what about the people actually using your connected products? Have you considered how they should navigate data across different locations seamlessly? Do you have consistency and continuity in your design and data? What about how you communicate with users when something goes wrong and any one device loses connectivity? Building integrated products requires a 360 degree perspective of the user experience, which becomes much more intricate as you expand interactivity across systems and devices.
And perhaps most importantly, building more connected products should never come at the expense of good user experience. If people don’t have a need or desire to use your products, they just won’t work. In a recent ProductTank talk, focused on the Internet of Things, Alex Jones summarized the risks of the integration and connectivity trend quite succinctly; “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to.”
Whether building products for the workplace, where our focus is on integration between systems and streamlining business processes, or for consumers, where the focus is on connectivity wherever we happen to be, the ultimate goal is the same. Are your integrations and your mobile versions helping your users to make better, faster decisions? Whether you look at a business app like Salesforce, promising a full connected view of the customer; or consumer app like Waze, allowing drivers to share real-time information on traffic disruptions; when it’s done well better connectivity is about enabling users to make use of data to do things they couldn’t do before.
So although we’re facing a very different technical landscape moving forward, the ultimate message for product managers looking to build products in a connected world is not all that different to what we usually say. Yes, you should be conscious of changes in consumer and business relationships with technology to be sure you’re always innovating new solutions, but never build things your users don’t want just because it’s technically possible.
The post Integrate, integrate, and integrate? Building Products for a Connected World appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.
I recently spoke at ProductTank about best practice roadmapping. This is always a controversial topic – being a young discipline, our processes haven’t yet been as neatly tested and defined as in the development world. In my conversations with hundreds of fellow product managers I’ve learnt a lot about the core principles of a successful roadmap, but we’re all still learning every day. So one of the most useful tools I use to discuss roadmapping is to actually share our own.
Here’s a look at what we’ve got coming up in the future, and how we manage that process at ProdPad, with ProdPad:
As you can see, our ProdPad roadmap divides roadmap cards into columns representing current, near term and future time horizons. You’ll also notice there are absolutely no dates on our roadmap. Instead, we internally recognize vague time brackets showing approximately the current quarter, the next quarter and beyond. This way we are able to communicate effectively what our users and stakeholders can expect, without tying ourselves to unrealistic specific deadlines that may only disappoint.
As this post is being written, our current focus for the platform is to improve ProdPad’s existing functionality for a better user experience (you can read more about this in my last post on our ProdPad Regenerated project). And looking into the more distant future, we hope to introduce some new functionality and expand the accessibility of ProdPad.
But with a closer look you’ll see that the scope of these roadmap cards varies significantly depending on its position on the roadmap. Current development “Enhancements to customer feedback” specifies the particular changes we envisage building in order to meet this goal. Yet future development “custom reporting” focuses much more on the what and why than the how. Terms such as “allow users to…” communicate clearly what the goal is, without attempting to define details that we can’t and shouldn’t try to predict today.
A roadmap is not actually as linear as a single road. You have different paths that all lead to the same destination: your product vision. One such kind of path is your strategic initiatives. Perhaps you’re making a product change because your users are asking for it, or perhaps you want to make a splash competitively. Whatever your motivation, it’s important to be able to see this visually on your roadmap so that you can make relative priority calls. At ProdPad, we use color coding for the following initiatives:
- Green: Enhancements made for the entire team, basic engagement/usability improvements.
- Yellow: More advanced usage, intended for Product Managers / Admins, to make their lives easier.
- Purple: Integration enhancements (either into existing tools, or into offline formats like printable versions)
- Brown: Technical enhancements, making sure the code base is clean and robust.
- Blue: Enterprise, super advanced usage improvements.
- Grey: Other. These ones are still pretty high level, blue sky thinking ideas, rather than defined enhancements.
Another type of path that takes you to your product vision is product area. Although some businesses just have a single product stream to focus upon, for those working on many an overview of your master product line is key to understanding how everyone is pulling together towards the same vision. At ProdPad, although we offer a single software solution we break this down into the following products. In this post you’re looking at the live roadmap for our web application, but we also have separate roadmaps for our API, mobile application and ProdPad operations.
The roadmap you see embedded online is our public version. Although at ProdPad we’re pretty open with what we do share, there are some details that just aren’t relevant for a public audience and won’t help us to communicate our direction. Some of our most active customers are more intimately involved in our roadmapping process, and so we use a slightly more detailed version of this as a basis for discussion. And finally, the full works roadmap that we use internally to make final decisions is set to private, giving us complete flexibility to adapt our decisions while we are still learning.
You can read more about roadmapping with ProdPad here
And if you’d like to try it out for yourself, sign up for a 14 day free trial here
Leading interviews is a fine art. You might spend hours brainstorming what you want to know and the questions you plan to ask, but it’s important to watch out for traps that can undo all that good work. If your interview isn’t reliable not only do you waste an opportunity, but you might skew the data.
Here are some tips on conducting a successful customer interview.
Don’t go overboard on your interview squad
Whenever you’re going into a customer interview, you need to be sure you’re well equipped to make the most of it. But you don’t want to intimidate your customers. Two of you is plenty: one to talk, one to take notes. And for one-on-one interviews, consider recording it instead (if you ask nicely, of course).
Don’t start with your demo
When you’ve worked so hard on a prototype of a new product idea it’s very exciting. And so it’s very tempting to show it off straight away to your customers in interview. However, if you want to get to the heart of their real problems, attitudes and opinions – save it for the end. Start instead with an open conversation.
Be careful with prompts
You need to guide the conversation to get your customers sharing the information you want to hear. But tread carefully. Don’t ask leading questions, but equally don’t ask questions that have a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Prompts such as “tell me about” might help you to find a good middle ground.
Perhaps an interviewer’s biggest fear is complete silence. It’s an even higher risk the more customers you have in the room at once. But as long as you’re not the one phased by silence, all will be fine. It might not sound friendly, but let your customers feel the pain of silence until they crack. In fact you can wait an entire minute before you follow up with another prompt
Don’t make it personal
Your products are your babies, but you want to avoid conveying this to your customers. If they feel like your pride is at stake based on their feedback, they likely won’t be honest. Caveat your hypotheses with the opinions of ‘others’, “people have suggested to me that…. Do you agree”. And be very careful to be light and breezy when asking for feedback. Remember that criticism is your best opportunity to learn, and you want to hear it.
For even more tips on what to do – and what not to do – during a customer interview, watch this great video from the LIFFFT Inc guys.
Read more about the role customer feedback in the product management process here
And if you’d like to see how ProdPad can help you to capture user requirements, sign up for a 14 day free trial here
So you’re looking to hire that extra special product manager? Or perhaps you’re looking to be the best at your own game. Here are 5 giveaway powers of a product management superhero that can help you on the road to developing excellent products.
A product manager should have the sort of personality that means they never stop looking for answers. Rather than a simple question of creativity or ingenuity (all great qualities too, but you have a team at your disposal for that), the PM should be constantly asking ‘why’ and ‘how’. He thinks about whether a problem is really being solved in the best possible way. She’s genuinely intrigued by the needs of her users. A superhuman drive to explore the unknown equips a product manager to sniff out hidden solutions.
X-ray product vision
At the intersection of technology, business and customer and the reserve of countless sources of information, product management has to be a heavily organized game. It’s your job to take insight from anything from a sales conversation to a customer support request and translate all of that into workable product specs without missing a bit. But perhaps the biggest challenge in juggling each of these snippets of information is to maintain razor sharp focus. The product management superhero sees through all extraneous data to how to best achieve the product vision.
Product Managers need to be great communicators. And that means great communication of many different forms. You should be an active listener when discussing problems with your customers, but you should be assertive when explaining to your sales manager why a particular feature can’t be promised for Q4. Thoroughly understanding your countless audiences is a great basis for having real conversations with them. But combined with a strong sense of confidence, a noble product manager will go far in getting things done.
Reading this post is a good sign that you’re a good product manager (as long as you’re looking to become a superhero, not just check off the list). A product management god can’t have a God complex. Always trying to learn and improve and never assuming your opinions are more valuable than others’ is hugely important to a grounded product process. A good product manager should assume that the answers lie outside of their own brains and be open to criticism of their ideas. Much like Superman and Batman keep their true identities in the shadows, a product manager hero doesn’t need the glory of being an idea’s brainchild.
Brewed in a science lab?
A product manager doesn’t have to be an engineer. In companies across many different industries product managers are coming forward from many different backgrounds, from customer support to coding. But for anyone managing even mildly technical products a strong understanding of those technologies is a must. And for anyone managing any kind of product at all, a sensibility for a scientific approach to experimentation is equally important. From A/B tests, to impact and effort measures, to simply a record of how many times a feature has been requested, product managers should be sufficiently equipped to make informed decisions.
We already revealed our alter-egos – Prod Man and Epic Girl – for the product management superheros we try to be every day, at last year’s WebSummit. Tell us yours in the comments below!
If you’d like to read more best practice, read our 7 pillars of good product management
And if you’d like to see how ProdPad might help you to bring out your inner superstar, sign up for a 14 day free trial here
I recently shared with you our plans for a regenerated ProdPad. As promised, here’s the first instalment in our story of how we’re product managing a new and improved product management tool.
How did the ProdPad Regenerated project come about?
When we first started building ProdPad, we developed and designed it as an internal tool. As two product managers we wanted something that would streamline our own processes and so we quickly built a basic platform using what we knew. We always knew a code upgrade would be on the horizons if we managed to scale ProdPad’s user base.
Scale it we have, and about a month ago we made a trip out to Slovenia to visit our technical team and discuss the details. It was only when we got talking (and spent time with everyone face to face) that the possibilities for what we could do with a complete rewrite became apparent. Within only a few days we took the decision to go for it and officially expanded the team, bringing the help of a professional UX person.
However, our rapid decision doesn’t mean that our changes are development lead. These conversations simply allowed us to reimagine the possibilities for our roadmap. Long sought goals such as improving the experience for reviewer users could be bumped up from future to current developments thanks to what we learnt from our technical team.
How did we know what would improve our user experience?
We collect customer feedback all the time. This feedback is tagged to ideas in our ProdPad account so that every potential change we discuss has a well-built out case. We go through a triage process every month to make sure we’re reviewing all feedback and staying on top of trends. We’d already notated ideas that were linked to cancellations or abandoned trials, giving us perspective on what was the most important. With an unbroken record of feedback and musings, we could share rich user and product requirements with our new UX designer.
So when it came to establishing the updates to be included in our rewrite we already had a good base to work from. On top of a more user-friendly interface, and speedier back end, we roadmapped the following as a packaged current term development:
- A new Idea list and page that make it easier to develop and search ideas
- New portfolios that are easier to edit and focus more heavily on roadmaps
- Better integrated customer feedback with richer customer data
- A tailored reviewer experience for greater accessibility to non-product managers
We believe that these changes will make ProdPad a much more adaptable tool across the entire team, a hurdle that we’ve identified time and time again in trial and post-trial adoption.
The ProdPad team are working on these updates as we speak – in fact I’m writing from our follow up visit to Slovenia to see the regeneration plan committed to mockups and code. Next time, I’ll fill you in on what we got up to here on our trip and how we took ideas from roadmap to build.
If you have any questions for me on ProdPad regenerated or our processes, drop them in the comments below or tweet me @simplybastow
And if you’d like to get onto the beta list for the new release, send us a message here
The post Regenerating ProdPad: roadmapping the biggest change we’ve ever made appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.
Although no job is free from obstacles, a day in the life of a product manager can often feel like a battle against them at every corner. You work with everyone, you’re involved in everything, and you’re sought out everywhere. Here’s some advice on how to tackle some of the biggest of those challenges, for more productive (and serene) product management.
You’re struggling to manage expectations with your roadmap
Perhaps our number one challenge (at least according to this survey way back in 2009) is roadmapping. In my chats with product managers, what is specifically challenging about a roadmap is not simply deciding what to build when, but how to communicate this out to your team and customers. If you often find yourself backtracking when artificial deadlines come around, you likely need to reconsider many preconceived ideas about roadmaps to better manage expectations.
What can you do?
- Banish dates from your roadmap, and instead be firm on your commitment to current, near-term or long-term developments.
- If you can find a proxy that everyone is comfortable with, you can set vague time brackets for these allocations to help with communications.
- Make your roadmaps as open and visible as possible so that your colleagues and customers feel that they are integrated in the product loop
- Treat your roadmap as a fluid, changeable document. Use a format that is appropriate for demonstrating changes and making updates in light of new decisions. Share these processes visually with your team.
It’s hard to focus on your strategic product direction amidst day-to-day demands
Many product managers see their most important objectives slipping further and further away as the day is taken over by urgent, but less important tasks. Perhaps roadmap features are getting pushed back in favour of quick fixes, or the distraction of endless emails and meetings means you can’t find the time to concentrate on strategy.
What can you do?
- Break down big strategic goals into manageable tasks – whether this be to interview a customer or source intelligence from a colleague – and integrate these into your daily routine.
- Keep your product vision at the fore of your mind by making it physically visible. Print it out and stick it around the office.
- Consider the business case for every decision, no matter how small. Develop a system whereby if you commit resources to a product change, you’ve measured whether the impact will outweigh the effort.
Aligning your company on product direction is threatened by different teams’ biases
A product manager should be 100% focused on the needs of their target customer. But there are many different people in your organisation who are key in how to get there. Sales, Marketing, Customer Support and every other customer-facing role has invaluable insight into what customers want and what is key to success in gaining new ones. Trouble is, every team is biased towards their own objectives and world-view, making it difficult to align each one on product direction.
What can you do?
- Be the link that brings different teams together to collaborate on product discussions. When everyone is able to see the big picture – and the different viewpoints that come with it – part of your mediation work is done for you.
- Make sure that all employee input is securely captured and traced. This way if a particular departmental concern can’t be satisfied by one project or development, you can point to how it is being actioned elsewhere.
Your executive level doesn’t always agree with your product decisions
The role of your executive team in the minutiae of product decisions depends heavily on your business, its size, and the individuals involved. But regardless of how interested your executives are in day-to-day product management, these are the people you ultimately have to convince of your vision and decisions to get there. So when they aren’t behind you, this is a product manager’s most crippling challenge.
What can you do?
- Follow a rigorous and repeatable process to qualify new ideas, whether they come from a customer support rep or the CEO. You must be equipped with reasoned arguments for or against any product decision, and train your executive team to expect the same for their brainwaves too.
- Make sure your product decisions are grounded in business value. If you’re finding yourself battling your senior team to push back on or push through a suggestion, are you sure you’re taking the right approach? Every product change should reflect a real value to the business – be it customer retention or competitive survival – and you should be collecting the evidence to prove it.
- Again, be open and transparent on roadmapping. Once aligned with your executive team at the highest level of product strategy, the smaller decisions should be easier to support against this framework.
If you’d like more best practice, read our 7 pillars of good product management
And if you’d like to see how ProdPad can help to make your life easier, sign up for a 14 day free trial today
We’ve firmly left the era where UX can be underwritten as a meetup buzzword or a mumbo jumbo design specialism. UX – or great user experience – should be a guiding force of product managers no matter what the industry. In fact, the role of the product manager is arguably to be the master thinker and architect of the big picture user experience. Most important to remember is that UX is not the finishing touch for product choices, but a mode of thinking that informs user-focused decisions and business longevity every day.
3 UX principles for better product development
1. Start by eliminating the negative experiences
No matter what your starting data source – from usability testing to customer support feedback – identifying and removing your customers’ stumbling blocks is the first step towards offering them a better user experience. Removing friction to a seamless experience is an essential prerequisite before you can really start to create additional value. Product people have much to learn from the classic psychology principle of negative enforcement: removing adverse stimuli can reinforce behavior for your users to return again and again. And those adverse stimuli should be sought out at every step of the customer journey. Removing friction goes further than high-level problem-solving, and deeply understands user behavior to make sure that a good idea to solve a problem isn’t thwarted by sloppy execution.
2. Stay focused on long-term user goals
To remain experience-focused, product managers must continually seek to balance user and business needs. We could easily argue that this question of balance is misleading as ultimately, these are one and the same thing. Continually meeting their needs puts you in the strongest position to retain your users’ custom. But every product manager knows that day-to-day decisions aren’t immediately that simple. When faced with short-term commercial concerns, technical objectives and even pure asthetics, it’s easy to lose sight of your raison d’être – long-term business success. Paul Brooks has neatly adapted the Steve Covey time management quadrant for this balance, where intelligent design is the sweet spot for meeting long-term goals.
3. Be one step ahead with proactive experiences
Living and breathing your users’ needs means that you can delight customers with proactive user experience design. Going a step further than removing friction, you can actually anticipate where your customers will encounter problems before they come to you with them. Ensure that the products you build guide your users rather than provide them with information to figure it out themselves. And to really meet their long-term goals, dedicate time to imagine features that go beyond the expected. A completely comprehensive approach to user experience considers every possible angle and aims to never leave customers waiting for more.
ProdPad has been an incredibly exciting journey so far, and in many ways it’s only just beginning.
Product Management is my lifeblood. Growing up, I always dabbled in making sites and designing products for my own enjoyment, and in my first job starting as a customer support rep, I was made a Junior Product Manager before even knowing what this really meant. Since those early days my passion for product management has only strengthened, from various London startup roles to founding Mind the Product and ProdPad.
As a very first version, ProdPad was built for nothing more than to solve our own needs. The tool was built in an older version of Symfony and basic HTML as that’s what we knew at the time, and didn’t even have a name. For the first couple of years we used it internally, gradually iterating as our teams grew and we started to work with different businesses and learnt about their product management challenges.
As Product Managers, we do have a great personal investment in our product and are able to empathize with our user base. But it was quickly apparent that this doesn’t mean that our needs are strictly the same as theirs. Through constantly talking to our early customers we were able to rebuild the ‘wrong stuff’ to move towards the comprehensive solution embraced by teams of many different shapes and sizes today. Already the tool has dramatically transformed from its humble beginnings; we have over 200 customers around the world, comprising more than 2900 monthly active users.
But we’re certainly not slowing down now. I’m excited to finally share the upcoming release of ProdPad Regenerated.
An entire team is currently working on an overhaul of the ProdPad system based on the new things we’ve learnt about making product management successful from our ever-growing customer base. ProdPad will see a huge upgrade behind the scenes – to the latest versions of Symfony and Doctrine – and the front end will see a complete makeover for an even more user-friendly interface, powered by Angular.js. Our goal is to build on and enhance the system our customers are already using to make it even easier to integrate product management processes across an entire team.
I’ll be giving you an insight into our own product processes over the coming weeks as we move closer and closer to releasing a brand new ProdPad. So keep posted for updates on how we’re using best practice product management processes to build first-class product management tools – it should be an interesting journey!
The post Our journey to a better product management solution appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.
This UserVoice post on getting product managers to listen to user feedback highlights some of the potential tensions between customer and product management teams from the other side of the coin. “Something I hear over and over from customer service and community teams is that the product management team doesn’t seem to care about customer feedback. As the folks who are trying to make these customers happy, this is quite frustrating,” says community manager Evan Hamilton.
Any good product manager should of course put customer needs at the heart of their daily decisions. But what does that mean when it comes to interacting with customer service and support teams?
A clearly defined and well-documented process can mean the end of wasted back and forth for both parties.
Surface the timeliest feedback
Your customer service team are the first port of call for your users’ frustrations and challenges. Customer feedback of course might come from many different sources, but here your customers’ most pressing pain points (those they are pushed to reach out to you about) can highlight some of the changes you absolutely must make if you are to keep their business. When customer representatives make use of user feedback capture tools in ProdPad, you can be sure that each of these instances are recorded and that no threatening issue is overlooked.
As well as fixing their pain, good customer service is also about delighting users. When customer service teams and product management teams work together effectively, they can identify new opportunities to delight users with quick product wins. At ProdPad, we ourselves use tags such as ‘fun’ on ideas dedicated purely to making customers happy.
Making use of ProdPad’s features and integrations, it’s easy to communicate those changes back to relevant customers too. A complete feedback loop is made simpler by either recording customer contact details directly against feedback and ideas, or by integrating tools such as UserVoice to automate updates to customers when their suggestions have been taken on board.
Build a workable case
When customer service data is shared with product management, problems can be better solved and value more easily created. But how does this work? If you are to avoid the frustration of customer reps who feel their feedback is going ignored, or the stress of product managers who are bombarded by the same enquiries day in and day out, good process is key.
In ProdPad, user feedback is logged separately from fully formed product ideas. This way customer service teams aren’t limited in the number of times they log a piece of feedback, in fact comprehensive coverage of this important information should be encouraged. Yet in linking feedback to a single product idea each time the issue is surfaced, product managers can avoid repetition and keep track on the traction of an idea in a measured way. Service teams can help to build a workable case for a new idea and champion their customers’ needs, keeping everyone happy.
The post How Product Managers can Work with Customer Support appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.