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Cliff Gilley, a Product Management instructor at GA Seattle, says, "The importance of the Agile way of thinking cannot be understated in the modern business of software and general product development; its application stretches from development and quality-assurance work up into product design and management, and even into marketing and business strategy. It’s essential for any product manager to understand the fundamentals of Agile methodologies so that they can influence an organization to change for the better or engage more meaningfully with their teams on a day-to-day basis.
"General Assembly teaches Agile methodologies as it relates to software development in our part-time Product Management course, full-time Web Development Immersive (WDI), and in workshops. We focus on the difference between the principles of Agile methods and the real-world application of those methods. Expert instructors, who have used these methodologies to help teams through Agile processes in their own careers, prepare students for the use of Agile through lectures and practical examples from their real-world experiences. In WDI, we reinforce Agile principles through lessons on user stories, pair programming, and more."
A competitor analysis is a way to identify your current and potential competitors and assess their strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge is key in developing a successful product, as it informs you of who you’re up against in the market and helps identify opportunities to set your brand apart from the pack.
The customer development process helps you assess whether there’s a viable market for the problem your product is trying to solve. It involves frequent interactions with potential customers — such as finding users and conducting user interviews — in order to build the best products.
Having a strong customer focus in a product or organization means putting customers’ wants and needs at the top of your business priorities. This builds a better relationship with your brand and drives better business performance.
Influence Without Authority
Being able to influence without authority means learning to lead by influence, by becoming a trusted advisor to various stakeholders. This is particularly useful for product managers, who, while working across many teams, often do not have immediate control over those teams’ workflows or priorities.
Lean Methodology & Lean Startup
Tricia Cervenan, a Product Management instructor at GA Seattle, says, "Lean became part of the software development lexicon thanks to entrepreneur Eric Ries, who in 2008 began teaching his own methodology to software startups. In 2011, he published the book The Lean Startup. The book’s main premise addressed this shift by introducing the “build-measure-learn” process to test a hypothesis. Essentially, you start with a problem that you think exists in the market (your hypothesis), build just enough of something for you to measure its success among customers, and use that learning to build something new, add on, or scale. Then repeat until the product has reached a steady state and proven that the product is valuable enough to users to have a team of people continue to develop it.
"At GA, we teach lean skills and concepts during the Lean Startup section of our part-time Product Management course. We cover hypothesis development, minimum viable products (MVPs) and experiment testing, and the build-measure-learn cycle. We implicitly practice lean concepts in the way we quickly move from idea to testing with users, to planning future iterations. In a 10-week course, there isn’t time to worry about scale, so students get the opportunity to practice lean skills, giving them the most amount of value from the course with the least amount of waste."
Read Tricia's "Beginner's Guide to Lean Methodologies" here.
Minimum Viable Product (or MVP)
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a tactic that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers, with the least amount of effort. Entrepreneurs use MVPs to reduce risk by testing and validating their product ideas early in the development process.
When building a product, your product vision serves as your mission statement. It’s the big-picture goal a team works toward, and sets the direction for the product development process.
A proto-persona is a tool for aligning a product team on a shared conception of the user during the initial ideation phase for an idea; it’s lightweight compared to a marketing persona based on extensive research. A proto-persona allows us to document our inherent assumptions about what our users care about so that we can continuously refine our understanding of the users and their problems.
Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly mocking up early draft versions of a product — building the fastest, cheapest, lowest-fidelity product you can in order to learn what you need to learn. A good prototype minimizes the chances of investing significant time, effort, and/or money to make something you might throw away.
Risks and Assumptions
Identifying and testing assumptions and risks is key in the product development cycle. Assumptions are statements you believe to be true about your product, which you can then test using a hypothesis statement. You’ll often prioritize which assumptions to tackle first by the risk they represent, i.e., what will happen if your assumption is incorrect?
A product roadmap is used to illustrate a product’s primary goals, themes, and features, and keep all stakeholders aligned throughout the development process. It’s typically oriented around time (e.g., weeks, months, quarters), and encompasses both long-term projects, milestones, and small wins.
Stakeholder management is all about handling people — specifically, internal and external stakeholders such as developers, marketing and sales teams, executives, managers, customers, and funders. It’s one of a product manager’s most important functions, involving communication, status updates, tracking feedback, running effective meetings, resolving disagreements, and more.
SWOT analysis — an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — is a key tool in business strategy. This process allows businesses to discover growth opportunities, distinguish from competitors, leverage strengths, and anticipate challenges.
Shebani Saxena, a UX Design Immersive instructor at General Assembly Hong Kong, says, "Usability testing is an integral part of user experience (UX) design that allows us to get feedback directly from users, thereby making a product that’s not only functional and user-friendly, but also provides value. It’s often done at the beginning of a design project, with an intention to check the design structure’s efficiency, the organization of content, and whether the design direction is in line with the users’ 'mental model,' motivations, and satisfaction. When incorporated towards the end of the design process, usability testing helps validate and evaluate whether the product’s design goals are met.
"At GA, usability testing is covered extensively in our User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program, and on a basic level in our part-time User Experience Design course, on campus and online. Students learn the detailed methodology and relevant tools, and have ample opportunity to practice it in class as well as in projects. In class, students learn usability testing methods through practical exercises; in UXDI, for example, they do this by roleplaying as the moderator (test conductor), the participant (user), and the note-taker. Then they practice testing as part of virtually all their projects, including with real-world clients. By the end of the course, students are able to immediately apply their usability testing skills to new projects."
Read Shebani's "Beginner's Guide to Usability Testing" here.
When building a product, user interviews reveal potential users’ habits, why and when they’ll need your product, how they’ll access it, and other key insights. This research is essential in validating or refuting assumptions a product team has about a new product.
A wireframe is a visual guide for a website or app used for planning, communicating, and testing ideas. Wireframes are key for communicating with stakeholders, testing your product with users, focusing on functionality, and more.