Listen to the Interview
The role of product management is encompassing more design and the need to integrate design capabilities into the product team. It is a topic that Latif Nanji is passionate about, along with designing products customers love. Latif is the CEO of Roadmunk, which creates road mapping software for the enterprise. Roadmunk was built out of Latif’s frustration to create well-designed roadmaps quickly for stakeholders.
Latif shares that product managers’ ever changing roles now involve understanding and leveraging UX and UI. The challenge is how product managers properly align design principles into their work and what values product management needs to champion.
In this interview you will learn a 5 element framework for communicating design in product management:
- empathy in product management and design,
- language of design,
- data around design,
- executive buy-in, and
- designing the MSP.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- Why did you take your team to Costa Rica for a month? Our team works remotely. Working together for a month provided shared experiences and time to build our organizational culture.
- What do you mean by “communicating design in product management?” Traditionally, product management has sat in between sales and customer success, engineering, marketing, and to a large extent, executives. The change is that design has become its own major element. There is a new spoke on the wheel that needs to be captured. So the idea is that product management ultimately is language translation between these different functions that often struggle to get information across. The concept of design is the new function that product managers need to learn. They need to learn the language of design and they need to be able to translate it across all the other functions so everybody understands its value.
- What is your framework for communicating design? It involves 5 elements: empathy in product management and design, language of design, data around design, executive buy-in, and designing the MSP.
- Empathy in product management: This is a crucial component because it gets everyone to understand how to think about design. Empathy is your ability to put yourself in one’s shoes and view things from their perspective. One actionable way that really enables product managers and others in the organization to understand why design is important is to get them involved in customer support. In our organization, everyone works for two weeks, or a minimum of a hundred cases in our customer support team as part of their onboarding. This means that they have to learn the product inside-out. They have to understand the issues and the challenges that customers have with an issue. In the process they understand that design actually has a huge impact on the emotional ease of someone’s journey an application. So that’s the number one way that I think both product managers or new employees can really make their mark and to understand where to start with respect to design.
- Language of design: We have a whole handful of design terms. I’ll address two that have the greatest impression on product teams. First is telling the user how to think. The design concept is that the user shouldn’t have to think. It really requires you understanding their north star action. Their north star action is what is the one core action you want someone to do that’s a set of successful steps to create the desired action. Don’t make it ambiguous, don’t have too many options, just get them there. Another term is cognitive load. Effectively, this is your brain being overwhelmed by looking at the screen. Some designers are really good at being able to explain why certain things have a lot of cognitive load. Cognitive load addresses what is the maximum information I can show on a screen without the user being overwhelmed.
- Data around design: Fifty percent of all design companies that have been sold in the last 10 years happened in the last 12 months. All types of companies are buying design firms, not just Facebook, the Apple or Google but Capital One and Fidelity Investments. It’s clear from that design a huge part of all products and services of the future. Much of what is driving design is data. Many solutions now exist to help you see users using your product, being able to track their engagement over time, asking yourself the questions of why or why not users do something, and gaining insights about the correct design of features.
- Executive buy-in: This is the one that seems to give product managers the most trouble. I will say that there’s no real great answer. This is a process and it’s a tough one. If you have this problem the first thing is that competence around design is a prerequisite. One thing that is helpful is finding out applications that the executive that you need to convince is interested in. If they love a particular app, found out why. Ask them to tell you what about the app they like. In my previous company when we tried to change the design of an app the an executive wanted us to do an ROI calculation. Just that being a starting point is a deal breaker for me. So I went through this exercise trying to find the applications they use and like. Two days later I came back with my findings, having analyzed what “worked” about the applications he liked. Then all of a sudden his eyebrows started raising. I’d came back a week later and shared that we were going to use some of the same design choices that make you love your applications. It’s a little bit of psychology game that you’re playing there, but I think it’s a worthwhile tactic to try if you really need to get support.
- Designing the MSP: This is the minimum saleable product. Traditionally MVP is obviously something that is viable that gets out to customers. The challenge with the word viable, especially as a product manager communicating to multiple functions, is that people have different definitions. For an engineer it’s the functionality. For a designer it could be just the emotional look. For the end user it could be something to do with reliability. You have this challenge of what really is a much more specific word? So, we came up with saleable. That just means to say I could demo a MSP confidently and that creates value for the customer. The MVP has been thought of as taking a functional slice of a potential product and doing a subset of that. With the MSP, you’re actually doing a little bit of each of the four prior elements. To me, when we look at certain features, we look at them from the saleability.
- Create beautiful roadmaps quickly with Roadmunk.
- Why Latif took his startup team to Costa Rica for a month.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.