Notes on “User Experience Is Product Management”

The focus of the User Experience Is Product Management episode is on User Experience and things that impact such work. The guest is Sarah Doody, a user experience designer.

The rest of this blog post contains pretty much raw notes. The notes contain a mixture of direct quotes from the podcast, my own thoughts, and sometimes ideas that came to mind while listening.

Notes

Sarah works 50% on startups and 50% on companies that are in the market already. She helps them figure out where they should optimize the user experience. She does teaching and writing on the side. She even will be launching some curriculum in 2016 hopefully.

Her Background

She has always been interested in the tech scene. When growing up, she was interested in neuroscience. Specifically, biofeedback. However, that requires medical school. She realized she couldn’t make it through medical school. It’s too gory.

She went to Texas and attended a community college. She did internships. She did web design which was good because her left and right sides of the brain were both used. She took business courses. She took Graphic Design. She did some front end work.

Eventually, she got a full time position in Oregon on a web team doing maintenance of sales sites. She didn’t have a degree yet. At some point, she was asked to do banner ads. It was then she realized this career path was not going to suite her well down the road. He dived into learning about user experience.

She did a startup for five years. After that, she “started her own thing” in 2012.

Intersection of UX and Product Management

User experience involves all the touch points with a product or service. Although there’s the online experience, there could be offline too. There was an example of a frame company. They had a photo of the frame. The product was packaged in beautiful paper. There was a hand written note. It was a great experience. The experience doesn’t end when one leaves the website.

Role Confusion

There’s a difference between UX and UI. UI deals with what does the site look like? It deals with icon colors. UX is stuff before that. How did they get there? What tasks do they want to do? The whole customer journey.

Data Informs How?

Don’t sketch until you’ve talked with people. You don’t have to have a complicated setup with a user lab. You can do research without too much time or budget.

Here’s an example. For one project, she started with doing twitter, message boards, and Quora searches. She tried to answer:

  • What are people doing to solve the problem now?
  • What websites are they using?
  • She spoke with x people in Twitter and x people in Quora.

For her current project, she just got done with a two week research trip to Atlanta, GA. They interviewed people personally in their own environments. They will now take hours of interviews and comb through them and find common themes (Personal thought: Is there an AI opportunity here of finding themes?). They spot themes that come up in each interview. Just spot patterns and understand people’s behaviors at the macro level.

Mistakes Teams Make

Classic mistakes deal with testing on their site. They test too many things at once. Control your variables. Choose one or two things. Otherwise, “the data you get is garbage”.

A tool she likes is Optomizely. It’s simple and you don’t know have to know how to code. She used it on her blog for example. She would test and tweak the location of a social image or button.

Another tool is Crazy Egg. Can see people’s scroll or mouse patterns. It’s good to use a variety of tools. She might use both. That way you get diversified data.

There’s a misconception that you need a massive sample size for interviews. (Like one that needs 100s of people.) She just spoke with 16 people. After the 4th person, they are seeing patterns. The patterns are the same patterns over and over. By the 15th person, you are feeling real done.

If you are doing A / B testing, you need a minimum of a couple of 100 people. It all depends.

Microfeedback

Micro-UX? It’s a small touchpoint that adds a delight factor. Delight in the sense of the experience just works. There’s less thinking required by the user.

An example is the user types “c..a..m.. and predictive text fills in the rest. It helps you get to what you want fast. Another example is with a password form field where there is a show link. You click the show link and you can see the password you just typed in.

Grab the Feedback in a Timely Fashion

It’s important to rapidly grab the feedback from the user after they just did an important task.

For example: She rode in an Uber. A little survey popped up which would let me rate them. That’s micro-feedback. She completed an important task with a product. So, get the feedback close to the point of transaction so you have a chance of getting any feedback at all and it will be better data.

Here’s an example of doing it wrong: Delta. They asked for feedback 3+ days later. They sent an email. They asked “How was the flight?” Click here for a survey. It was 15 to 20 questions long. It’s too long. It looks bad on mobile. They should just send a text message. It should be something like: I saw you landed on Boston. How was your flight: 1 – 5. Done.

Story Telling

She wrote in 2011 Why We Need Storytellers at the heart of product development. Based on a rant on her blog.

She noticed teams that she worked with that the team itself would be over budget, over timeline, bloated with features or sometimes too little features, and the users would not adopt the features. Why is this happening over and over?

It’s like this. There’s a beautiful vision in mind and then what comes out is nothing like what you had in mind in the first place. On Pinterest, you see cakes and decorations and then you try to mimic what you see.

The reason is because we don’t spend enough time in storytelling. It’s because we feel progress writing stuff. However, it’s not real progress.

Spend more time working on the story up front. People will start to embrace it.

Idea: How to apply storytelling? Use storyboarding in the Product Management process. Imagine you are crafting a film. Scene by scene. They are in this particular environment. What are they doing and what’s their problem? Another scene, they have this problem. You have the solution. It helps you think about all the other factors. Example: A location based mapping thing. People are using it outside. It might be sunny. It could impact the colors. So, it might need less words. Consider the whole experience and the whole environment and not just the individual screens.

Collaborate 

She wrote an article called 6 mistakes companies make when working with a UX agency or consultant

Be specific with the feedback. Example of bad feedback: I don’t like orange and green because I don’t like peas and carrots.

Be as specific as possible with the requirements as possible. (Personal thought: What about Agile and incremental / iterative development?)

Be actionable. How to draw out the requirements very very soon is important. Do more of the complex screens up front. It’s going to trigger 1000 questions for them and the teammates.

Don’t just say what you don’t like, say why you don’t like it. I don’t like this because (insert some real business reason).

Don’t hold feedback back. 1/2 way through is too late. Don’t say at the end, I haven’t liked everything up to this point. That doesn’t work. Don’t delay the feedback because that will increase cost.

The cost of change. Changes in UX; factor of 1. Changes in design; factor of 5. Changes in coding; factor in much more.

Don’t race towards the launch date. People see the holidays. A commerce site example: We need to launch this big thing by November. Running toward the launch date causes two things to happen:

  1. They end up launching a product with all the features, but all features are 70% quality.
  2. You start having to do feature slashing. However, you slashed so many features it’s worthless.

Don’t isolate your developers. Let the developers be involved as much as possible. They are close to the data. They have a good eye for UX sometimes. Look to them for ideas. Have them involved early on and they can help you figure out your time line. Example: Custom chat messaging vs using something out of the box.

Benchmark Question: How does she eat her own dog food?

Amusement park project example will explain it best. She doesn’t have kids. So, she reached out to a few friends. She asked: Ever lost a kid at the grocery store? She used her personal network. She Googled. She looked for products that existed. She spent an afternoon doing the research. She made a storyboard.

In her storyboard, her first screen box was them at a park. Second screen they discover the kid is missing. Next screen they want to take action. What’s the first thing you would want to do? First thing you want to do is report the kid is missing. Keep in mind they need to conserve battery because they are at a park. There was a total of 16 scenes.

That enabled a user flow document. She sketched out what screens would be needed. Similar to sitemap diagrams. Now it’s user flows or screen flows. From there, that allowed her to do wireframes for each screen.

She would bounce between the following as needed: storyboarding, storytelling, user flow / screen flow, wire framing. The main point is that you don’t want to start with wire framing first.

Benchmark Question: How does she get out of the office?

She did formal user analysis. It was too formal. So they developed a process to get information in a less formal and fruitful way.

They created a screener to identify the exact people to talk to. A recruiting firm was hired to find all those people. The quality of recruits is 100% dependent on the screener. Hours were spent on the screener. More time into the screener the better quality of recruits. A discussion guide was created. This consisted of a list of rapid fire questions. The goal was to make interviews conversational and informal yet the questions are in the back pocket.

She talked with people in their own environment. You get more information from people if it is their home or office. For activities on the computer, that helps. They are with the computer they are familiar with. They are familiar with the environment and devices. So she did research in people’s homes and offices.

Benchmark Question: Reading?

She has two books on the go always. For pleasure, My Paris Dream.

Second book: It’s more business oriented. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. She’s not finished. It’s kind of around the idea that our brains are changing and are not static. What is the influence of the internet on our brains? Multi-tasking is bad. She has learned and confirmed content from there. The internet might not be good for our brains. It’s harder to absorb long form content. Reflecting and focusing on things is a challenge. We’re in distraction mode. We’re bombarded with content. The content may be swishing by our brains. It’s a hard read. However, it ties into her love of studying the brain.

Benchmark Question: Recurring Nightmare

Having projects and clients that lack requirements. There’s a lot of first time founders. People come into product management as UX or from another field. There’s junior product management that is good at the day-to-day. However, there is a product strategy gap. UX is filling that gap. It’s important to identify the requirements and create product roadmaps. As consultant, you want to have those things up front. She may want to figure out how to put the creation of requirements and product roadmaps into her contract.

Summary

The identification of requirements through a process of storytelling is consistent with great advice I have heard from other sources. It sounds like User Experience roles are still being confused with User Interface roles. Finally, the knowledge of how to get valuable insights and feedback from the user are invaluable. Having looked through her website, there are many other gold nuggets to be found at the Sarah Doody website. Also, don’t forget to listen to the User Experience Is Product Management episode made by This is Product Management.

Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes by Gabriel Toro

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