How small is too small for idea management?

Last week I got a pretty smart question from a ProdPad free trial user that merits a bit more exploration.

We’ve talked in other blog posts about the difference between product and project management tools. In our vision of how product managers and development teams work together seamlessly, everything that could be done lives in a product management tool, and everything that will be done is transformed into project management tickets.

So as our insightful user pointed out, what about the little things? The bug reports and the minor issues? What’s too minor to make it into ProdPad?

The line you draw between ProdPad and project management tools like JIRA will be specific to your team dynamics and processes. But in general, to decide which workflow to begin with, you can ask yourself whether a change is at all up for debate. Bugs can typically considered a development ‘to do’ item. When you’re simply looking at a broken piece of software that needs to be fixed, this should go straight into the development backlog and scheduled accordingly.

However when you get into the realm of ‘little things’, this question gets a little more complicated. A little thing might be a UX fix for something that’s confusing customers, a detail your team realises really should have been included in a previous release.

If something just needs to be done – and is dev-ready – it can bypass ProdPad. But check yourself on the following to help you decide whether that’s really the case:

  • Is there a chance this change will spark a debate as to whether it’s a good idea or not?
  • Are you able to provide JIRA with enough information right away for a developer to pick up this task without any further support?
  • Can this change realistically be delivered in the next few sprints?

These daily decisions ultimately come down to what you feel is appropriate and how you communicate. Guidelines are a good idea especially for larger teams, but training your product managers to ask intelligent questions and approach these workflows with the consequences in mind is the best way to avoid mixups or bottlenecks.

If you have any insight you can share on the ins and outs of how you manage a workflow between ProdPad and your development tools, drop a comment below!


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10
Sep 2014
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Education vs Experience – the future generation of product managers

Today’s product managers come from many different backgrounds. As a profession so deeply rooted into the entire business, experiences from sales and marketing, customer support, engineering and more can all propel people into a product management function. But what about the next generation? Are we looking forward to a troop of product managers by trade?

Although still a young field with much to be defined, the emergence of formal training does point to the better establishment of product management as a discipline in its own right. Arguably, the surge in a product management education market has been able to happen because businesses are keenly looking for answers when defining what product management is and how it should be done.

Courses are being offered by a range of organizations, from startups such as General Assembly to more classic bodies such as the University of Stanford, and even to specific businesses created just for product management training.

Who are the people behind this future generation of product managers? Largely they’re the ones who have taken several years to learn the ropes themselves, and are looking to pass on that knowledge to help optimize and refine the capabilities of the next generation. Of course there are always opportunists to look out for, so pay close attention to the bios of instructors and lecturers, but generally speaking elders (and not so elders) are looking to share.

And what does a product management education cover? From course to course, quite a lot! Here are three key areas in which courses and training are offering a more formal introduction to the skills today’s product managers have had to learn the long way.

Practical product management

Hands-on experience assisting another product manager with the day-to-day work involved around managing a backlog or getting a release out, or being gradually given responsibility for certain features within a release is an invaluable way to learn the trials and tribulations of what can go wrong when delivering new product. But practical aspects of product management courses are focusing on tools to help prepare new product managers navigate these processes too. As models and methods become more established, from roadmapping techniques to delivery checklists, they are working their way into a more formalized approach to how to manage products.

Handling product strategy

It’s undeniable that those who have the most prior experience not only handling product strategy but working with executive teams against KPIs on business strategy are going to be the most comfortable and arguably the best placed to deliver a valuable product vision. But an education based on scientific method and business essentials can well-equip product managers to execute a successful product strategy. Tools and tactics for gathering market data and analyzing it, for example, will help to breed a generation of product managers with a foremost focus on business value and market strategy.

Leadership and diplomacy

Product Managers might not always be official leaders in the same sense as the classic executive team, but leadership skills are a hugely important part of this role. Again, the confidence required to exert these qualities tends to come from experience of success in taking a product to market and working with diverse business functions in order to get there. But we all need to start somewhere to get there. Many product management courses have elements that focus specifically on communications and diplomacy skills, similar to more traditional management training.

Either looking ahead to that future generation, or to the future of many of our own careers, it seems that product management will fall in line with other business functions when it comes to personal development. Rather than an alternative to experience, training and education can be seen as an an additional layer on top for existing product managers, or a grounding foundation for new ones. As training becomes more formalised I imagine that a healthy balance between experience and education will be a killer combination for any product management hopeful. And for those of us already in the industry, we can look ahead to a process of continued debate on our philosophies and optimization of our methods with the support of a more academic approach alongside good old fashioned experience.

What do you think of the product management education currently on offer to current and future product managers alike, and what direction do you see it taking in the future?

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04
Sep 2014
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Aren’t we all just people? Building products for B2B and B2C

User experience is growing as a mode of thinking across B2C and B2B businesses alike. We’re beginning to consider business customers less and less as corporate cogs, and more and more as the same people we sell to over in B2C companies. They’ve just got different clothes on, right? User personas that account for background, motivations and pain points are equally integral to building great products no matter what kind of audience you’re building for. Each of us has personal challenges at work that we’d like to solve to make life easier and more enjoyable.

So if customers are all just people, what are the real differences between B2B and B2C product management?

Marquee customers VS fluid masses

When you’ve got a B2B customer base, it’s much more likely that you’ll have fewer, high-revenue customers and that these are individually more important to your product decisions. B2C customer bases however are much more high-volume and individuals come and go. Finding the average use case is much more important than responding to specific needs.

Sales insight VS customer surveys

B2B and B2C businesses have different access to customers therefore the feedback that comes with it. Product managers with internal sales team can benefit from (and also have to push back on) feedback and suggestions funnelled internally from direct customer interaction. B2C product managers however must go direct to the customer themselves and use different methods to reach that insight, which are often much more large scale and broader in reach – such as customer surveys, or focus groups.

Predictable and fixed VS vague and variable user goals

When we’re at work we’re in a more structured environment than when we’re relaxing at home or out with friends. Whereas B2C user goals can be hugely diverse when using the same product, B2B user goals are based on prescribed tasks and are therefore easier to predict. However, this means that the product capabilities you have to account for might be more complex. This is one area where our behavior as people notably shifts – we are often more prepared to learn a product at work if it means that all of our needs can be met.

Decision makers VS financial freedom

Finally, who the product manager must take into consideration when setting product vision and roadmap direction is usually very different between B2B and B2C companies. Consumers are, generally speaking, free to make their own purchasing decisions. If something saves them time, reduces headaches, or is just plain fun to use they’re often free to make their own calls. In B2B markets however, management sign-off, budget approval and even legal departments are the norm before any product is chosen. But be careful with this one. If you need buy-in from the CMO, make sure your product’s what and why offers them value. But don’t forget that you aren’t necessarily designing for the CMO when it comes to the how.

If you’re trying to apply product management best practice to your role, or you’re looking to make a switch between B2B and B2C products, keep these differences in mind. However never forget that whatever they’re doing, your users are always people. Keep the differences explained here in mind when it comes to product lifecycles or roadmapping, however never stop striving for a great user experience that relieves your customers’ frustrations and adds value to their day.


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02
Sep 2014
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Regenerating ProdPad: working together for a brilliant user experience

A few 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 image files. Then she uploaded it to ProdPad so that we could all wade in with comments.

ProdPad Mockup  - Idea Canvas

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!).

ProdPad Mockup - Mockups

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


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29
Aug 2014
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Regenerating ProdPad: working together for a brilliant user experience

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.

ProdPad Mockup  - Idea Canvas

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!).

ProdPad Mockup - Mockups

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


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29
Aug 2014
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Integrate, integrate, and integrate? Building Products for a Connected World

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.


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26
Aug 2014
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Roadmapping in action – this is how we do it

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:

Time Horizons

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.

Scope

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.

Strategic Initiatives

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.

Product Areas

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.

Shareability

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.


Roadmapping in Action:
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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

The post Roadmapping in action – this is how we do it appeared first on ProdPad :: Product Management Software.

22
Aug 2014
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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How not to screw up customer interviews

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.

Embrace silence

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.


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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

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19
Aug 2014
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What makes a product management superhero?

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.

Superhuman curiosity

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.

Charming communication

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.

Earthly humility

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!

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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

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12
Aug 2014
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Regenerating ProdPad: roadmapping the biggest change we’ve ever made

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

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08
Aug 2014
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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