C. Tapen - Product Joiner, Faktor
PM101 has provided many interesting findings and a plethora of opportunities to learn by doing. During my first formal introduction to product management, I’ve learned to better approach user interviews, lo-fi testing, wireframing, and hiring tech talent. The class had a lineup of amazing guests, leaders in their fields, who shared their learnings and helped move our products to the next level.
Learnings from Product Evolution
The evolution of our product over the semester highlighted learnings from customer interviews, user testing, and course discussion. In the first case, we learned to bifurcate our personas into two camps (users who have engineering and design backgrounds, and those that do not), finding that our sourcing-channel for customer interviews could heavily dictate the persona-type we interviewed.
Secondly, from testing we learned how crucial prioritizing ease of use is and how important separating out first-time user experience can be. This drove us to alter our product’s registration and the amount of data collected, to streamline the experience as much as possible, removing friction points and daunting screens. Along the same lines, we wrestled with the tension of quick signup versus robust data collection to serve our members best; this is a key area we’re still grappling with, but have invented ways to still collecting data in ad hoc later stages to accomplish both goals.
Thirdly, from course discussion and prototyping we learned that we needed to assiduously prioritize key features for our MVP. We narrowed our focus considerably, to one key pain point in the hardware entrepreneurs’ journey. The essential nature of focus at different stages was hammered home by a workshop we did in class led by Sam Clemens, during which we came to further appreciate that we need to prioritize initial features and iterate from there based on incremental user testing. Over-planning and over-engineering up front will not serve you or your customers better, a counter-intuitive but real learning.
We made these changes in the name of helping users solve their problem, buying into iterative learning & testing cycles, and streamlining user experience. We are still aspiring to learn from great products, adopting product qualities we’ve discussed since our first class: intuitive nature, exemplary execution, anticipation of customer needs, compelling aesthetics, consistency, and proactive roadblock-removal.
The Discovery Process Through PM101
The course’s many opportunities to learn by doing led to many successes and a few things I would do differently next time:
Team: We had a great team! Some elements that sowed the seeds of success were level-setting on expectations and potential conflicts honestly at the outset. We also shared what we wanted to get out of the course, so that we could defer to our teammate who wanted to flex a particular muscle. We also were efficient, dividing and conquering where appropriate, and at other times whiteboarding for collaborative idea generation.
Two-Sided Marketplace Understanding: Having a deep understanding of each side of the platform (personas, needs, potential pitfalls, etc.) has proven very valuable; executing on a two-sided marketplace has and will be difficult, but rewarding, in easing hardware entrepreneurs’ existing challenges.
Diverging and Converging: “Diverging and converging” was a very helpful tactic illuminated multiple times during the class. It was eye-opening to see what my teammates dreamt up, and invaluable in being able to create solutions that were valuable beyond the sum of our individual talent.
Wireframing: Our group worked extensively on the wireframing for our product. Proto.io has proven to be a useful tool to create high fidelity prototypes that feel real and enable insightful testing. Our product’s maturity grew significantly through in-class feedback, user tests, expert advice, and team collaborative sessions.
Do More of Next Time: I would do as much lo-fi testing early-on (and throughout) as possible! Even before creating a wireframe, test features and flow using paper or whiteboard or other simple-to-iterate-on media. As we read in one of our assignments “thou shalt not skimp on testing”! I would also try to engage more in ethnography, empathy mapping, and customer journey mapping. These seem like helpful ways to get a great picture of what the customer feels during their experiences with existing workflows and then ultimately what our product aims to ameliorate.
Lastly, I wanted to touch upon PM-role & personal reflections. Many elements of the PM role suit and excite me, from contributing organization and execution skills, to building wireframes and prioritizing features. Three surprising aspects I did not know I would like were customer interviews/tests, UX, and building wireframes. For UX, for example, I found fascinating the various ways to make a product as intuitive and unobtrusive as possible, and I hope to observe this more in my product-use going forward.
This course also inconspicuously reinforced that product management is not an island; I thought I was going to learn about product management (which I did) but I also learned about monetization and business model considerations that were intertwined with the development of our product.
The course also emphasized the helpfulness of a PM having technical conversance and some technical abilities (be it SQL querying, programming, understanding of MVC). We went through different languages for front-end, back-end, and mobile. This course, along with CS50, excited me to deepen my technical skills for the increasingly tech-enabled industries we’ll work in and world we live in.
I have no doubt the learnings from PM101 will serve me well as I continue to conduct interviews, work with tech-folks, and build products… in fact, they already have in other courses!