(This post originally appeared on the Guardian Developer Blog.)
There are a great many websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels that offer would-be product managers and user experience designers “how-to” tutorials or productivity hacks they can easily and immediately implement. The sheer volume of this stuff shows that people are clamouring for it, but I’d suggest there’s a more fundamental user need that’s going unmet.
What’s really missing from product and UX education is something I’ll call “why-to” material. Why-to material elucidates first principles, teaching you to structure your thinking and improve your problem-solving skills. In the words of Elon Musk, this sort of advice “takes a lot more mental energy to apply”, but tuning your judgment is exponentially more effective at making you a better product manager or UXer than any productivity hack. Think 10x, not 10%.
What really differentiates a more junior practitioner from a senior one is a body of knowledge and experience – thought patterns – that is generally acquired over years. Our PUX Toolkit project aims to condense these thought patterns into easy-to-understand articles that show you why things work, even as they explain howthings work.
The idea of a toolkit was the result of a learn-measure-build cycle we went through with the team. First we conducted a survey of the product managers, asking them to rate their level of ability in some of the most important product areas: team management, prioritisation, understanding of UX principles, technical knowledge, and others. The ratings ran from “just beginning to learn” to “could teach others”.
The survey had a twofold purpose: one, to understand what our team’s weaker areas are; two, to start thinking about who on our team could mentor whom in these areas. Naturally, we would pair people who are just beginning to learn with people who believe they could teach a topic, which would be beneficial to both.
After the survey was complete, we gathered the product managers and user experience team together for an ideation session in which we asked them first what were the issues they encountered with learning on-the-job, and second to imagine the future state of product and UX training at the Guardian. We came away with a much better understanding of the issues at hand and loads of interesting ideas for how to proceed.
With our survey and workshop data in hand, Chris Wilk (group product manager) and I locked ourselves a way for a bit to do some opportunity mapping to define the problem we wanted to solve immediately, and to derive a core assumption that would have to be true in order for our project to be a success.
Our draft problem statement is as follows:
Product managers at the Guardian want to learn and apply discovery and/or analytics techniques in their teams, but a lack of available training/mentoring time with people who know how to do this stuff already is preventing them from doing so.
And here’s our core assumption for this experiment:
By making high-quality information about discovery and analytics techniques freely available to our PMs, they’ll be empowered to learn on their own – thus improving both our products and our team morale.
Assuming we validate our product-market fit, we’ll expand the experimental toolkit to encompass other parts of product and UX.
As you can see, we’ve gone about the project of training our product managers in the same way we hope they’ll go about their own projects. Leading by example is a necessity when it comes to sparking enthusiasm for learning in your team.
What’s in this PUX Toolkit?
Right now? We have the germs of some of our first articles on opportunity mapping and a discovery technique called the Assumptions Buffet that was developed by Paul Lamey and Mario Andrade on our UX team. Core topics for our first version include product discovery, optimising ways of working, analytics and measurement, and design thinking skills for PMs.
Someday soon? Everything our team has collectively learned about how to do product management and user experience well, and everything we can glean from other practitioners about what’s worked for them, and why. There will be words, but also diagrams, canvases, and links to other methodologies to try. Our goal is to make it a one-stop shop for new practitioners, and a handy reference for more experienced PMs.
Think of it as the GDS Service Manual for product and UX, if you like.
Will it be open source?
Yes! Glad you asked. Like everything else we build at the Guardian, this toolkit will evolve iteratively. We’ll test and refine the first versions in-house before releasing the first open-source version, and continue testing and improving for a long time to come.