Developing New Educational Products at GA: The Research Phase

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As the Product Lead for Consumer Products at GA,  I lead the team that researches, designs, and builds all of the educational programs that you teach (or may teach one day) at General Assembly. I am one of many product managers at GA (also known as miracle makers) who build out and iterate on our education products. This includes everything from our full-time Web Development Immersive, to our part-time Digital Marketing course, and online Web Design Circuit. Here I’ll discuss how we build new products, starting with the first stage in our product development process. In a future edition, we’ll share more about how we keep our products fresh years after we’ve first built them.

Step 1: Research Phase.

Whether online or offline, we build our products the same way, starting first with the employer. Employers help us understand what fields (such as business or design) or skills (such as ux or product management) are most relevant in the market today. As such, employers are our best way to gauge emerging trends in the workforce.

Once we’ve narrowed down what skills we want to focus on, we spend time with our hiring network to better understand what specific expectations they have for that particular skillset. Recently, to guide our new Product Management Immersive through the research stage, we spoke with over 30 hiring partners from around the globe looking for Associate Product Managers. We cover questions like – describe your ideal PM candidate, or walk us through your interview process. Our goal, to get a concrete sense of what these PMs would be doing on the job. We ask about everything from hard skills (technical competency and business analysis) to soft skills (communication and leadership). These conversations are then translated into a higher-level framework for the program; eventually defining the standards that our students, and the program, would need to meet.

But we don’t stop there. Our mission is to enable students to do work they love. As such, once we have a map for what our students will need to learn, we reach out to our consumer market to assess what they want to learn. This is an irreplaceable step as students’ needs and goals don’t always align with those of employers. For example, employers may have a high demand for Oil & Gas engineers but the number of people who are willing to live that often dangerous and nomadic lifestyle are limited. We use several techniques to measure student demand, including using Classes & Workshops as a testing ground, using landing pages to gauge interest, and crowd-sourcing new product recommendations from our local markets.

GA Education Product

When we do find enough overlap between the employers’ and students’ needs, then we know we’ve got a product worth developing. We’ll also test some of these product options against a handful of internal checks including the strategic value of such a program in our product arsenal.

Research is just the first phase of how we build products. We’ll be walking through other stages of our product development process in upcoming instructor newsletters. Stay tuned!