Product Management Resources for Designers

By on in Design, Product Management

Product Managers are awesome! They keep goals in mind and priorities at the forefront –
and when designers get to work with them, it’s a real treat. Clearly, there is a lot of overlap in skill sets, but sometimes you’ll find yourself on a team without a dedicated PM. So if you’re a designer in a position where you need to do a little PM’ing – you’ll want to have these skills.

For a primer on what a Product Manager is and does on an Agile team, check out this great resource. The role is a bit tricky – and as a designer, the work can feel uncomfortable at first because PM deliverables can seem much less concrete than design’s. But, if you can master the secret art of Product Management, you will be a much better designer for it.

Ok, let’s get started.

Facilitation

A cornerstone of any great “Product Person” is an effective, engaging, and personalized facilitation style that can get you through any sticky situation. Here are some of the go-to activities that require expert facilitation. We incorporate all of these into each project we do:

Retros

IPM/Sprint Planning

Workshops

Presentations

Product Vision

At most companies, it is the job of the Product Manager to create and communicate the vision for the product. That doesn’t mean they go sit in a room and imagine something, then make other people build it.

The vision is built on a deep understanding of underlying user problems, business needs and (unless the PM is also the founder) the vision of the leadership team. For that vision to get anywhere near implementation, the PM has to get buy-in from all kinds of stakeholders. Once that’s done, they have to communicate the (revised, tweaked, improved) vision to the team that will help them execute.

There are no shortcuts for this work, and the techniques used come from general management rather than product specifically. Some tools that might come in handy if you’re selling a vision include:

Stakeholder Mapping

A Comms Plan

A Good Story

Product Strategy

Helping shape product strategy is a key skill, and also one of those “what the F@$# does that mean?” terms. There’s a lot of confusion about this, and if you want to know more I suggest you read this book. For our purposes, I think it can be broken down into:

Lean Canvas

Competitive and Market Research

Analytics

Launch Strategy

Product Definition

Product Definition is probably what you are most familiar with. As designers, we are usually deeply involved with what sort of features are in the product, and how those features relate to a user need. While Product Managers think about those things too, they also have a few things in the definition process that are not a part of the the typical design process. The list below reflects both of these.

Brainstorming and Iteration

Prioritization

Product Road Maps

Experience Mapping

Story Mapping

User Testing and Research

Feature Definition

Working with Developers

Product Managers are always faced with tough questions from Developers like “Why are we building this?”, “Do we really need this feature now?”, or “Are you sure we need to rebuild Google calendar?”. Being able to communicate product and business needs to the people who are on the ground creating the product is super important. But, if you want to talk the talk you also have to walk the walk. You should be informed about:

Story Writing

Technical Research

Experimentation

Working with Teams

Product Managers are always thinking about how their team is feeling and how effective it is being. Team responsibility and its productivity has fallen on them, and they are often called upon to motivate and support designers, developers and any other disciplines that touch the product. At Carbon Five, we have learned a lot about working with teams. As consultants, we are not only working with new clients every few months, but also different teams inside Carbon Fiv. Here are a few things we have found helpful.

The Product Dartboard

Psychological Safety

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Conclusion

To sum up: when faced with a challenge, designers are used to getting scrappy and solving problems, much like Product Managers. Understanding the tools PMs use to solve problems can not only help you work with Product Managers better, but can also help you find solutions to your own design problems. Every designer has their own tool box – these are simply tools you can add to it.


Minimum Viable Process

By on in Process, Product Management

If I mention the word “agile” to you, a couple of rituals common to agile methodologies probably come to mind. Daily stand-ups and iteration planning probably top the list, and you probably think of other agile concepts like user stories and estimating their complexity with an arbitrary number of points. Continue reading …


A Proposal: Elixir-Style Modules in JavaScript

By on in Development, Elixir, JavaScript

Moving your code towards a more functional style can have a lot of benefits – it can be easier to reason about, easier to test, more declarative, and more. One thing that sometimes comes out worse in the move to FP, though, is organization. By comparison, Object Oriented Programming classes are a pretty useful unit of organization – methods have to be in the same class as the data they work on, so your code is pushed towards being organized in pretty logical ways.

Continue reading …


Lean Canvas as a Prioritization Tool

By on in Product Management

We <3 Prioritizing

In modern software processes, prioritization is at the core of what we do.

We prioritize because we don’t like waste. Waste:

  • Of human effort, which is disrespectful.
  • Of money.
  • Of time.

If you’re wasting one of them, you’re probably wasting all of them.

Prioritizing is variously simple, complicated, demanding, exhausting, and strangely emotional.

In this series, we introduce some tools and strategies that can help you successfully navigate prioritization on your product, at every level and every phase of product definition and development. Continue reading …


Safely Migrating from Paperclip to Active Storage

By on in Development, Rails

Active Storage was introduced into Rails version 5.2. It is a highly anticipated addition to handle integrations with asset management such as AWS S3. For a long time, the field has been dominated by outside gems, including Paperclip, which has been around longer than many people have been Rails developers. Now that Active Storage has been released, Paperclip is being deprecated, creating even more incentive to migrate if you weren’t already considering it.

I recently performed the migration from Paperclip to Active Storage on production. It felt a bit like transferring trains without stopping at a station. You’re setting up Active Storage, replacing the code, and performing a data migration that relies on the code you’re refactoring out from under you. Continue reading …


Using Strategy as a Prioritization Tool

By on in Product Management

We <3 Prioritizing

In modern software processes, prioritization is at the core of what we do.

We prioritize because we don’t like waste. Waste:

  • Of human effort, which is disrespectful.
  • Of money.
  • Of time.

If you’re wasting one of them, you’re probably wasting all of them.

Prioritizing is variously simple, complicated, demanding, exhausting, and strangely emotional.

In this series, we introduce some tools that can help you successfully navigate prioritization on your product, at every level and every phase of product definition and development. Continue reading …


How to Promote Psychological Safety on Your Team

By on in Culture, Everything Else

Psychological Safety is the shared belief that everyone within an organization can take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. Almost as simple as it sounds – it’s the idea that employees feel safe to do their best work.

When an organization prioritizes psychological safety it creates an environment that also promotes inclusivity. It ensures that everyone from different backgrounds, mindsets, and life experiences can share their thoughts or ideas and not be punished for them. Organizations that are struggling to retain employees or attract new and diverse talent should look at their processes for encouraging employees to take calculated risks without punishment. Continue reading …


How to Structure a Learning Group at Work

By on in Culture, Everything Else

With any field, and especially programming, learning is integral. Technology changes. The field of programming is vast. To be a good programmer, you need to continue to learn and develop. In addition to learning outside of work, co-workers are often excited to learn together at work or through work. I know personally, I’m a social learner and enjoy the camaraderie that comes from struggling through a new topic together. Continue reading …


The 2×2 Method

By on in Product Management

In a discussion about prioritization among product managers at C5, we were in consensus that a 2×2 is a powerful tool in many prioritization scenarios from assessing risks to the product or business to working out the path forward when faced with competing priorities for a product.

As a visualization tool, a 2×2 gets the team on the same page to externalize relative risks or priorities and work through next steps. When things seem murky or like everyone isn’t giving the same weight to particular options, try out a 2×2. Continue reading …