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You and your design team

Listen to Alex Cowan discuss the relationship between a product manager and the design team.
In this video we’re going to take a really practical view of the design process that you can use, and we’re going to talk about how do you amplify that, how do you make it better through your interface with the designer resources that you have. If you remember, this dimension of desirability is our independent variable, and that comes from a strong understanding of the customer and an iterative approach to designing solutions for them. That’s how we really initiate action here at the Interdisciplinary Center. Without that, we can’t create this happy place that you want to get to as a product manager. The design resources that you have access to will probably vary a lot, at least across companies.
This idea that we need to be more thoughtful and innovative about our products, and let’s use the tools, the design to do that, is a relatively new idea for a lot of companies, and they’re still working through how to do it. It’s a hot idea, though, so it’s often this big, hot mess, and the best thing you can do is be your own designer, or one of your own designers, to a certain degree at the really foundation level of these tools of design. One of the ways this interface goes wrong, and something you can watch for, is that we love our designers.
If I hear a product manager, a manager said, I just love my designers, a lot of the time, it’s a fake love, because the designer is just saying, okay, I’ll help you make this thing that you just decided to make look nice. But they’re not asking the hard questions about desirability, and that really, that usually is the product manager’s fault. They need to create an environment where those questions are getting asked early on. And why is that not happening? I think, a lot of the time, it’s hard. I mean, you want to just get your job done, get the product out of the door.
But if you’re creating something nobody wants, you can’t feasibility, you can’t viability, you’re way around that. So if your designers are asking you a lot of hard and fundamental questions, and you’re creating an environment where that happens, you’re doing a good job. This is a view of some of the most important tools from the design process, and roughly, in sequence, how to apply them. It’s called venture design, and I think this is a helpful thing for you to understand. As a product manager, I would encourage you to practice using all these design tools.
Personas and problem scenarios are ways to go out and encapsulate your understanding of the customer in a way that’s actionable for really all the disciplines you’re going to interface with. Problem scenarios and alternatives, likewise, are a way to diagnose, we talked about finding the right problem. This is a way to encapsulate those things in a way that, again, is actionable and testable. Value proposition design and doing customer discovery and experiments against that, ideally with product proxy, is like that. Duct tape cell phone on the bicycle is basically Lean Startup. This is another really critical tool of this expanded view of what the design process is.
And then finally, once we’re going to build a solution, the creation of user stories and prototypes is a really great way to collaborate with your design team and your development team to build really good product.
One thing that you may encounter is that your organization, they’ve got this, and they’ve got this, but they don’t really do Lean Startup. And part of that is because back when, from the late ’90s up until around the time Lean Startup came out in 2012, if you did this, if you went out and learn about your customers, and you did this, you did good product design, solution design, you’re doing a good job. And then the Lean Startup came out, there was this recognition that our proposition is entering a hypercompetitive marketplace with lots of alternatives and very low switching costs.
So yeah, we really do need to do this if we’re going to consistently deliver valuable product, because if our competitors do this, they’re going to have iterated on what’s valuable to the customer five times before they release the product to our one. And that’s just not a way that you will consistently be able to lead the market and deliver valuable product. So if you find that’s the case, practice Lean Startup, take an operational view of it. We’ll talk about that in the course, and again, lead that change. Your designers will understand that tool and be able to help you with it, because all the fundamentals are there, but you may need to initiate it.
We’ve talked about an operational view of design, how to make sure that you’re asking those hard questions about desirability with your designers. Good luck, and I think that you’ll find these tools are especially helpful for initiating the kind of environment that you need to succeed as a product manager.

In this video, Alex discusses the processes a product manager can use to make sure their design team is asking the right questions. You want your designers to make your product look nice, but that isn’t enough if it’s a product nobody wants. Think about the Venture Design graphic from the video. How do you encourage designers to think through this process?

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Digital Product Management

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