Product management for the web: the book

It’s official: I’m writing another book! And, happily, I submitted the introduction and chapter one to my editor today. Here’s an excerpt to let you know what it’s all about:

Whether you are new to web or app design and development, or have been doing it for years, you probably know the drill pretty well already. You know what I mean— the established, and very well-intentioned best practices that we list and make sure they are checked off successfully as we are designing, developing, and launching a new site or app:

  • Is it accessible?
  • Does it comply with the client’s branding and design guidelines?
  • Does it look great, and provide a simple and delightful user experience?
  • Was it written with good web or mobile content strategy guiding it?
  • Is the CSS, HTML, Javascript, or other code modern and standards-compliant?
  • If a web site, is it an adaptive design for supporting multiple screen sizes?
  • Has the site or app passed a usability evaluation?
  • Is analytic code in the right places for tracking user behavior?
  • Is there social media integration and a strategy to ensure that people will easily find and engage with the site or app?
  • Are there launch and maintenance plans so that the site or app goes live on time and does not quickly “go stale” after it is released?

These ten points and more should be pretty familiar to designers and developers. They’re the subjects of many outstanding books and conference sessions and, for goodness sakes, we can always get better at doing them, right?

Yet there’s a problem: this isn’t enough. A significant gap can remain between creative and technical success and true organizational success. This gap is filled by product management.

In today’s new landscape of increasingly rapid web and app development cycles, it’s not enough to focus on project-level attributes alone for determining success.

Furthermore, it never really was enough. Success metrics for projects do not completely translate into success metrics for organizations and businesses. For one simple reason:

Most organizations are not in the business of operating web sites and apps.

So what do most organizations and businesses do? What are they good at? What do they care about?

That’s pretty simple, too:

Organizations are in the business of selling products.

Now you might pause for a moment and argue that all organizations are not in the business of selling products, and I’ll cover that in more detail later. But in short, I’ll disagree with you here and briefly state that you’re incorrect if you think that all organizations and businesses don’t sell things. Actually, the entire purpose of running any organization or business is selling a product. You just need to have a broader definition of what selling means, and also what products really are. Once you have that understanding, it all begins to make sense.

So what does this mean for designers and developers? What it means is that we need to broaden our measures of success. We need to add more criteria to our list that go beyond user experience design, best practices in coding, content strategy, social media strategy, and everything else that we love to think about, talk about, and implement.

Our web sites and mobile apps need product management criteria, too.

These additional criteria end up being much more specific to individual organizations and products, but should look something like this:

  • What is your web site or mobile app designed to enable customers to accomplish? In other words, what are the goals?
  • Do those goals involve delivering content, or do they also involve enabling transactions?
  • How will you verify that delivery and transactions are happening successfully?
  • Who in the organization is interested in knowing the data about delivery and transactions?
  • How will you communicate the data to them, and how often?
  • How do you know that they are the right people to care about customer behavior? Do others in the organization need to know, too?
  • What are the measures of success for the delivery or transactions?
  • Do the project’s designers and developers understand these measures of success?
  • Does the organization’s leadership understand the creative and technical options for achieving that success?
  • Who’s managing all of this when everyone is already really busy with their design, development, and management work?
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