Why Do You Need a Product Manager?

By on in Product Management

Carbon Five began as a development shop almost nineteen years ago and added the Product Management discipline fourteen years into our journey. We have realized the importance of involving a Product Manager, who is dedicated to gathering requirements and can easily handle the business and technical aspects required to build successful products. There are many reasons why our clients see greater business success and adopt more efficient software development process when they have a dedicated Carbon Five Product Manager on their team. Here are a few of them:

Solve Problems & Save Time

Our developers are sharp — that goes without saying — however when solving problems and building software for the user, there needs to be someone who can optimize communication between developers, designers, customers, and stakeholders. Product Managers not only gather requirements, they provide the strategic glue to ensure the right work is done in the right priority order. Carbon Five developers and designers are fantastic when it comes to problem-solving by way of building tangible and working solutions. These disciplines are most satisfied and successful when we can use our years of honed skills to design and build impactful working software. Sure, developers and designers can chip in on Product Management, but for the most part, their heart is in designing and coding. So we have our PMs focus on user research, requirements-gathering, tracking KPIs and analytics, or following up with stakeholders in order to prioritize features. This is especially valuable because PMs are dedicated to just one project at a time, allowing them to be efficient and effective.

When one of our Product Managers is on the team, development can continue while simultaneously having a dedicated resource gathering user feedback and market insights, prioritizing features: all which allow the client to realize product vision as quickly as possible. When working with beauty services startup, Beauty Noted, our PM led a team in researching and understanding the experience that best-achieved product-market fit, which in turn led to faster software delivery. This was critical for Beauty Noted; as a small startup, with limited resources, they got the most out of their engagement with us because we only built features that mattered to the users. The end result was a platform that allowed stylists to directly connect with their clients real-time and async, make product recommendations, and generate uniquely tailored makeup charts.

Beauty Noted is an example of a start-up company with limited resources; the Product Manager’s primary role was to rapidly determine product-market fit before investing in software. Growth and enterprise companies that are not constrained by resources still benefit from having a Carbon Five Product Manager on their project. For instance, a recent client of ours, a real estate tech company currently experiencing high growth, benefited from having our PM on a project that worked on an existing internal tool. While the internal team deliberated on what the product should do, they weren’t so clear on why their real estate agents were not using the existing product correctly in the first place. The PM’s focus was to ensure the right product was built to solve the right problem for the right users. So our PM and designer were able to lead the team in approaching the problem from a different perspective. They conducted in-depth user interviews and facilitated other activities. This, in turn, led to the team building software that was specifically designed for the agents’ needs.

Enable the Client to Focus on the Big Picture

The market is always changing! It’s one of the reasons why we love and practice Agile XP. You want to get your product to market as quickly as possible and we are passionate about helping you do so. Many clients have their own Product team and that’s great! So you’re probably wondering “why then should I also have an external PM if I already have my own product expertise?” Our PMs unlock the delivery team’s potential. First, they are able to be a force multiplier for our developers during the course of a sprint. PMs enable developers to focus on building software by unblocking issues, finding crucial details for stories they are working on, or addressing concerns that involve multiple teams. While we love it when our clients can come into our offices and work with our teams, they are not always available to do so due to other priorities. At Carbon Five, each person is fully dedicated to only one project, so a PM is easily accessible to design and dev teams working on the same project and can immediately find the necessary information to ensure the developers have an actionable backlog of work at all times. Second, they work closely with client PMs and stakeholders to help define the product roadmap. The PM answers developer’s day-to-day questions and ruthlessly prioritizes the backlog, allowing the client PM to focus on long term vision. This also frees up the client PM to rapidly make the decisions that only they can decide on, getting the product to market as soon as possible.

For example, we worked with a Fortune 200 clothing retail company, to build internal products that helped with the company’s broad challenge to “get the right product to the right store at the right time for the right price to maximize profit.” Our PMs problem solved and helped the company PMs realize where there were inefficiencies in the process that significantly slowed down not just our developers but also other internal teams. Our PMs were able to make recommendations to leadership, which led to a more efficient team structure and ultimately enabled teams to go from feature definition to delivery three times faster.

Improve Team Processes through Coaching

We have found that many growth and enterprise companies are moving towards cloud-based, continuous software delivery and their Product Managers are required to learn an entirely new set of processes and procedures. In those cases, our PMs are able to coach the client PM in modern Agile XP, continuous delivery best practices. Our goal here is not just to give our clients the solution and walk away, it is to work collaboratively with our clients to improve the team’s process, so they can consistently build and sustain great products. During the engagement, our PMs facilitate a myriad of activities, such as experience maps, the lean business canvas, stakeholder charts, customer lifecycle maps and much more. These types of activities not only help improve design and development processes, but they also give the client insight on how to deliver small, incremental improvements based on user needs and product goals. We do this to help our clients understand how decisions are made for both the product and the team, and this way client teams are able to learn from our process and implement them after we roll off. With this kind of coaching, our PMs serve as both catalysts and mentors.

Continuous Learning

The best way to have learnings that stick around is to learn by doing. During our time with all clients, in addition to making recommendations for the product, we coach teams on how to use the Agile XP methodology to build faster, better products by building side by side with their teams. We support this via collaborative actions creating real working software. Many teams are so tied up in keeping up with the market that sometimes they are not able to step back and refine their processes and ultimately the continual improvement of the product suffers. Working with our PMs provide an opportunity for product teams to optimize what is working well, adjust what is not, and learn techniques that have accelerated the release of software for companies that are leaders in leveraging technology for better business results.

Want to learn more about product managers and agile methodologies? Visit the Product Management section on our blog!

In Support of the “Snacklog”

By on in Development

Recently we’ve noticed a number of our clients maintain a backlog of small tasks that are handled separately from their main backlog. These are tasks that should be finished at some point, but will rarely take priority over business-critical features and bugfixes. Often they are bite-sized pieces of work that can be finished in a couple of hours or less: addressing engineering chores, paying off tech debt, and addressing minor bugs. Internally, this separate backlog has earned a catchy name: the snacklog.

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Starting Up With Diversity

By on in Culture, Startups

Why care about diversity early?

You’re not even sure if you’ll be around in a year. You need to figure out your market, your financing, your OKRs, etc; why should you even care about diversity and equity in hiring? It is not in your MVP and those issues can be solved later, amiright?

When companies put off focusing on diversity and accidentally perpetuate the same mistakes the rest of the industry makes when hiring, they’re creating a problem and then trying to fix it at a later date. Unfortunately, by creating the problem in the first place, it’s now that much harder to fix.

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Building Design Systems for Scaling Companies – SF Talk Night Recap

By on in Design, Events, San Francisco

How can scaling companies maintain design consistency and quality as internal and engineering teams exponentially grow?

Last week, Carbon Five San Francisco hosted Talk Night to answer this question and to discuss the secret benefits of building design systems for growing companies. Our guest speakers included:

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Idea: GenServers with Map-based state

By on in Development, Elixir

I recently gave a talk at Empex LA in which I talked about my desire to see simplifications and enhancements to using some of the OTP behaviors offered in Elixir. In this post I’m going to explore a simple improvement to the GenServer API that would make it a little easier to work with.

GenServers are processes that have state that can be transformed when the GenServer receives a message. This state is represented in a single value that is passed into the handle_call or handle_cast function.

This is easy to manage if your GenServer only needs to manage a single piece of information. But as soon as you find that your GenServer needs multiple pieces of information in state, you need to substantially refactor it.

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Pairing Retro

By on in Development, Process

Back at my first job in tech, we paired 95% of the time. Many people were new to pairing. As it was my first job, I was relatively one of the more junior people on the team, which is an especially difficult position to be in for pairing. It was an incredibly intense experience for the whole team with many growing pains. There was a lot to navigate and no set-aside time or structure to do that, so I started having “pairing retros” with my teammates. It made pairing a lot more manageable and I started having better experiences with my pairs. It’s now something I’ve continued to do throughout my career.

The concept is fairly simple. Set aside a time when you’re not pairing, to talk about pairing.

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We Belong Together

By on in Design

Five Ways Junior and Senior Designers Can Work Together Effectively

Disclaimer – I am a designer so this is written for /designer pairs but it’s also relevant for any other Junior/Senior duos.

Hello, wonderful Junior/Senior design duos! Odds are you are fairly new to working together. Perhaps the junior designer is fresh out of school or the senior designer just got a promotion. Whatever the circumstances are, you are now buddies and will keep working together. So, let’s make sure that it is awesome!

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Sketched, not Stirred: Attempts to Host a Drink + Draw

By on in Design, Everything Else

This is the journal of two LA designers attempting to host a drink and draw series. But to start – why a drink and draw? As designers in an office of 20-ish developers, we felt lonely (or insane) cooing over our own grid paper. Some days felt like far too much screen time and an outright neglect of the peaceful ritual between pen and paper. We also like to drink. So in the spirit of team-bonding, an hour dedicated to both seemed like a much-needed refresher.

Enter our experiment: The Drink and Draw

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How to Present a Design Review

By on in Design

Arguably the most difficult skill you’ll learn in your design career is how to communicate that you did what you set out to do in a way that gets people to support and continue the work you did.

Presenting design successfully is about knowing what you want out of the meeting and structuring it to meet those needs. There’s a cliche of design reviews as interpersonally fraught spaces where stakeholders alternate between going on tangents and ripping your work apart. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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Happy Teams Build Great Products. Here’s How.

By on in Process, Product Management

Ever feel like your product team is not working to its full potential? Here at Carbon Five, we’ve worked with hundreds of product teams, and we wondered what differentiated strong teams from struggling teams.

Our curiosity drove us to create the Product Dartboard, a digital tool that helps teams identify their strengths, challenges, and blind spots, and provides teams with actionable steps to continuously improve.

Speaking of continuous improvement — we just released a few updates to the Dartboard. Now you can see a more detailed Dartboard report, facilitate a productive team discussion with our downloadable guide, and create your own follow-up assessments — which is critical to team success! Continue reading …