@brentlarue on Nov 25, 2014
Alright, I’m back with the insider’s track on General Assembly’s Product Management Course with George Favvas. This week, we took a dive into features, user stories, wireframes, and storyboards. The class was chock-full of good learnings. We kicked off the session reviewing findings from our user interviews. A lot of my colleagues (including myself) learned their product idea was actually a solution in search of a problem. What a great time to learn this before having spent significant time and money building the wrong product!
Features & User Stories
Product features are not something that are arbitrarily decided. They are not creative ideas that a design or marketing team invokes, they are not cool technology implementations the development team comes up with, and they are not new and exciting add-ons the product manager dreams up. Product features are derived to address a specific want or need of a user. Each of the roles above fall into the trap of doing what they do best — designing, developing and managing, but this more often than not is the wrong way to approach feature inception.
We went through an exercise of evaluating a familiar product, Gmail, to describe what needs are already being addressed through current features and what needs still exist with the current product. As we listed out the basic needs, one of which was sending emails, it became clear which features were created to solve those specific needs. For example, as a user, I need a way to create a new email message. The feature derived from this need was the “compose” button. This exercise brought about a lot of discussion on current frustrations with the product including both real wants and needs of users. These wants and needs were later translated into very practical features (Google, we should talk!).
The Gmail exercise naturally led into the definition of a user story. For those new to Product Management or Agile Development, a user story is a short, simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person desiring the new functionality.
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.
I like to think of user stories as the building blocks of your product to be used by all parties of the team so they may begin to understand and work on the product. User stories (along with personas) continue to drive home the user-centric thinking on your product, one of the key tenants of a successful product. To make that point clear, George provided an intriguing example using Raid bug spray.
When Raid was first launching its product, it had a formula which was 99.9% effective in terminating bugs. However, despite the effectiveness of the product to terminate bugs, sales were plummeting. It wasn’t until user research was conducted that it was discovered users had the expectation of actually seeing the bug die in front of them. Whether this expectation was created by advertising or not is a moot point because the product was suffering as a result. Upon learning this, Raid adjusted their formula so the bug would die instantly and the product sales surged.
Wireframes & Storyboards
In this session, we learned about the different levels of fidelity in wireframes, the importance of and how to create wireframes, and storyboarding.
Wireframes comes in many forms from napkin sketches to hi-fidelity, fully annotated wireframes. Each level of fidelity serves a specific purpose. Sketches generally serve as an exploration where the designer or PM plays with different ideas and stimulates thought. Lo-fidelity wireframes establish the conceptual design where features are realized, layout and composition defined, flow is established, and hierarchy of information/functionality are displayed. Hi-fidelity wireframes are polished versions of the wireframes which include all the information/functionality in the correct place and size. These wireframes should include annotations describing any interactions, transitions, functionality, etc.
All wireframes are intentionally void of visual design so that feedback is entirely focused on flow, layout, hierarchy, information architecture, composition, usability, etc. It may be tempting to splash some visual design elements in at this stage, especially if the UI designer has got a jump-start, but this will only distract at this stage. It is also worth mentioning there is no wrong time to solicit feedback from users. While soliciting feedback, it is important not to lead the user. Learn to be comfortable with the long pauses so that you don’t guide the user. While conducting the session ask questions like: what do you think is the purpose of this screen, what do you want to do here, what do you expect to happen when you perform that action? Be careful to observe what the user wants to click on even if it wasn’t designed to be a clickable area and remember no to be defensive of your product. This process takes practice and skill that takes lots or repetition to improve so ultimately you will solicit the best and most meaningful feedback.
“Understanding and usability over pretty.”
There are some limitations to wireframes however. It can be difficult for the user to envision the end product. Also without any form of visual design, some elements which can be made obvious via visual treatment may get lost in the wires and alter the way the user would actually interact with the product. Despite these limitations, wireframing is a key step along the process and one in which can provide a lot of valuable information to PMs and their teams.
Finally, storyboarding is the process where sketches or wireframes are outlined in the sequence that a customer will experience while using your product during a specific activity. This provides context and allows the users and your team to explore the complex interactions. It helps identify not only the happy path, but also the unhappy path where error messages, additional screens, or more creative solutions may be required. The unhappy path, if left unattended, can be the root of lots of frustration from your future users.
If you enjoyed the post, share the love! tweet and share below. Thanks for reading.