As a designer, you may have heard that learning to code can enhance your skills and open up new career opportunities. But where do you start? Here’s a step-by-step guide to learning to code as a designer:
Overall, learning to code as a designer can be a rewarding and challenging experience. By starting with the basics, choosing a language to learn, practicing regularly, collaborating with others, and staying up to date, you can become a proficient coder and take your career to the next level.
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Strong product teams make or break a company in today’s fast-paced digital world. Companies that excel in product are able to have a leg-up on the competition. What makes a product team ‘strong’? I propose five characteristics of a highly-effective product team:
Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving that is often used in the field of design. The process is similar to the scientific method in that it involves making observations, asking questions, formulating hypotheses, and conducting experiments. However, design thinking also includes elements of creative thinking, such as brainstorming and ideation.
The goal of design thinking is to come up with creative solutions to problems. The process is often used to solve problems that are difficult to solve using traditional methods. Design thinking has been used to solve problems in a variety of fields, including business, education, engineering, and health care.
Design thinking is a powerful tool that can be used to solve complex problems. It is important to understand the process and the principles behind it in order to use it effectively.
Here are a few of my favorite resources for design thinking:
User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.
UX design is important because it can help create a better user experience for people using a product. It can make products more easy and more enjoyable to use, which can lead to more people using and liking the product.
A good user experience can also help increase sales of a product, as people are more likely to buy something they enjoy using. Additionally, good UX can help create brand loyalty, as people are more likely to stick with a product they like using.
Overall, UX design is important because it can help improve the user experience of a product, which can lead to more people using and liking the product.
There are a number of ways that you can improve your UX design skills. These include taking courses and attending workshops, reading UX design books and articles, and practicing your skills on personal projects.
Here are some of my favorite resources on UX Design:
What are some common UX design mistakes?
Some common UX design mistakes include making products that are too complex or difficult to use, failing to take user feedback into account, and designing for yourself instead of the user.
Some common UX design challenges include creating products that are accessible to all users, designing for international audiences, and creating products that work well on multiple devices.
In the beginning of his book Inspired, Marty Cagan explains how he fell into Product Management. As a young software developer at HP Cagan and his team were tasked with building an advanced AI system. They worked on this product for months. When they were finally able to launch — the team received accolades for creating such a technically advanced product. However, when they launched to the customer, the product was a flop and made no money for the business. Cagan realized that they missed something major at HP — a company focused on product development.
From then, Cagan decided he wanted to only work for product-centric companies. He decided he wanted to “work on products that customers love — products that customers love.” (Cagan, 2017).
Products customers love are built in a number of different ways. One of these ways is called a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. In simple, MVPs are used to test a product with users before actually spending a lot of time and/or money on said product.
An MVP is a valuable tool to use but as Marty Cagan states in Inspired, “they are not silver bullets” (Cagan, 2017). In fact, there seems to be an ‘old’ way of practicing MVPs that can cause real problems. These problems occur when teams spend months building and developing an MVP that has no real direction. This can lead to products that are built with no validation or customer discovery leading to a failed (expensive) MVP experiment.
Smart modern product teams have recognized this and have developed better ways to build and test products. When it comes to building anything new teams first task themselves with customer discovery. They bring an idea to the customers of a new product or feature and let them explain their needs, wants, and in some cases, customers help to build the idea of the new product. Only then are they willing to begin to build an MVP to quickly be shipped to potential customers for testing.
As modern product teams implement some of these methods there can be a real benefit to the company as a whole. Let me explain.
Product-focused companies have become mainstream in recent years and for good reason. As we have all transitioned to using software more frequently, both in our personal life and our work life, product teams are required to keep those companies alive and constantly focused on the customer.
Modern Product teams offer some real advantages for software and tech companies. Here are five things that product fixes:
1. Innovation: By having teams focused on product development your company can become a powerful innovation machine seeking to bring more and more value to your customer.
2. Customer Understanding: The product team spends a lot of time with customers understanding their pain points and communicating this can be communicated to many other areas of the company and can be of high value.
3. Business Support: There is an alignment of business goals and product features. A good product organization can translate business needs into potential solutions solving for OKRs and increasing customer retention, customer loyalty, and business revenue.
4. Collaboration: Product teams are very fluid and gather a lot of information. The product org touches almost every part of the company and can inspire and invoke collaboration.
5. Validation: A large part of the product team's responsibility is to validate customer experience through digital products. This is a major for any company to have a team dedicated to customer validation. Customer validation leads to happier customers which lead to company success.
Check out the book Inspired by Marty Cagan.
I get it. Product Development is fun.
It’s the excitement of creating a new product, the joy of designing a new way of doing [insert task here], the starting line of limitless possibilities.
You say to yourself, “I am going to develop a whole new way to do the dishes!” or “I know how to make the perfect project management software.” and you take off. You tell your start-up-savvy friends, you might even throw the idea to your significant other.
As fun as it is, the reality is you don’t know if your big, new idea will provide anything of value to anyone. We can come to know an idea’s worth by focusing on the customer. This is where we can learn a very valuable lesson. Before product development you should focus on customer discovery.
Before product development you should focus on customer discovery.
Bring your idea to a potential customer (that’s an idea, not a product ie. a solution). Take the time to sit with them and discover what they need. If you are tactful, the customers you interview can end up creating the product and it’s purpose for you.
If you are tactful, the customers you interview can end up creating the product and it’s purpose for you.
Ask questions to discover what is working and what is not. What are the bottlenecks in their business? Why did they settle on their current solution? Etc.
Take note and seek to find problems and their solutions as you talk to customers.
A lot of products fail, never needing to have been made, because they are not built for a customer. As product people or job is to build useful, beautiful products that people will purchase. Take the time to nail down the needs of the customer it right and it will pay off immensely.
Remember: Customer Discovery before Product Development.
I recently finished The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I will be placing this book in my top 10 list. It was one of those books that teaches you a bit more about how to live life more fully. I am thankful that Pressfield took the time to distill his experience in such an inspiring book.
I will break down my thoughts and learnings from the book into three main points:
1. The Reality of Resistance
2. The Self vs. the Ego
3. Our Potential and Purpose
One of Pressfield’s main points of The War of Art is that we all battle ‘resistance’. He explains resistance as what keeps us from doing what we love, what keeps us from being our true selfs and following our true desires. It is the reason that the poet does not write poetry, why the painter does not paint, why the runner does not run, etc.
I believe strongly in the presence of resistance. I experience resistance every day and I can bet that you do as well. Resistance seeks to attack each one of us. It is the carnal trying its hardest to defeat the spiritual. As you endeavor in anything worth while you will face resistance in some form or another. Do not fear, resistance means you are doing right. Feel the resistance and press forward.
The second lesson that resonated with me was the self vs. the ego. The self is that part of you that is free, that feels, and creates. It is who you really are. The ego seeks to destroy the self — to follow the easy road, to hide from what it fears most: success. This concept is something I have pondered on much in my life. I love the analogy of the two wolves within us. One of these wolves is the self and the other is the ego. They fight each other day after day. Who will win? The wolf that is fed the most.
Are you feeding your ego or your self? Are you doing what you were meant to do? Are you finding joy? Are you giving back to humanity? Blessing us with your talents? If you answered yes, you feed the Self.
The self vs. the ego is a never ending battle and it will continue forever. As you seek to feed your self you will find it becomes stronger and the resistance will lessen.
Overall, this book gave me motivation to move forward with what I love. I think that Pressfield what correct in seeing that we all have some purpose and potential to offer the world. It’s our responsibility to find it.
I know how difficult it can be for some to hear the words potential and purpose. It can feel like a never-ending search of some mystic power. In reality it can be quite simple.
It can help to think back to what brought you joy as a child. What called to you then? What calls to you now?
The Art of War was a great book and well worth the read. If nothing else I hope you realize that you have potential and purpose and the world needs you. Go get the job, write that book, hike that moment, or whatever it is that brings you joy.
Agile is a development mindset used worldwide by thousands of teams to create software. Agile focuses on developing software hyper-focused on user testing and continuous improvement. Agile is often associated with Product Management, which focuses on building and managing teams to produce impactful products. There is, however, a large volume of controversy as to whether or not it is the most effective form of planning for product management.
The purpose of this literature review is to examine what research, study, and writing have been performed on the relationship between product management and Agile development. To this end, thirteen writings will be reviewed to empower the reader in furthering their study of the topic. In a broad sense, the subject of interest can be summarized in the following question: is Agile an effective planning methodology for digital product management?
The impact of Agile on product teams will be considered and further understood. This review will be of importance to those in product management and development. By analyzing contemporary literature, peer-reviewed articles, and academic studies, the reader will be educated on the positive and negative effects of Agile planning as a method of product development success.
This literature review will follow a set course in topical exploration. First, the history and definitions of Agile development and product management will be stated. Secondly, the frameworks of modern Agile in product management will be explained. Thirdly, a critical analysis of the results of Agile will be produced from authorities who disagree on the planning method’s effectiveness and its necessity in product development. To close, the reader will come to understand the meaning of Agile and its relevance to product management. As well, conclusions will be drawn on the reality of Agile planning as the most impactful form of planning for product growth and improvement.
Readers will come to understand the need for further development in the study of product management and the Agile framework. It will be stated that an Agile framework is the most effective form of management for digital products in some circumstances. In other cases, further exploration and innovation are needed to produce the most effective development framework for product management.
In 2001, a group of seventeen software engineers and developers retreated to Snowbird Resort to relax, ski, and learn from one another. After a discussion on how the process of software development could be simplified and made better. They produced the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The Manifesto laid out twelve principles that have guided thousands of developers and engineers worldwide in building today’s most used software applications. These principles explain the mechanics of Agile, the reasons behind its requirements, and how to become a practicing Agile developer (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001).
Prior to this creation of Agile, most software engineer teams used a planning approach entitled “Waterfall.” Waterfall is a development practice where the complete design and development of the new software is created before allowing users to access it. Unfortunately, this linear process caused the software to be built without validation. Late “bugs” in the software could also cause months of setbacks or possibly ruin the entire project (Nice, 2017).
The difficulties that accompanied Waterfall inspired the Snowbird 17 to create that Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Today, Agile has become standard practice for managing and planning all types of software projects around the globe, replacing Waterfall and its outdated practices.
How does Agile development work? An article by Ebert, Abrahamsson, and Oza (2012) clearly explains the customer-centric focus of Agile. Instead of shipping or distributing the software to customers only after the design and development, Agile produces a “lean” product. This lean product means that the software lacks excess features or unnecessary complexity. These lean products, also called MVPs or Minimum Viable Products, are produced quickly by software teams and shipped to their respective customers. The customers then become the software testers, allowing for less waste and a steady accumulation of users. The focus of Agile is creating value for customers and developing software with a solid product-market fit, or in other words, a product needed and wanted by the public.
As software progressed and digital products became more popular and valuable, a dedicated product team became necessary to align the business goals with the development plan. Product Management was created to fill that gap between software engineers and business leaders.
A product manager, or PM, leads the product team; her responsibilities lie in connecting business goals with product development. In his highly-acclaimed book Inspired, Marty Cagan (2018) speaks about the critical roles of a product manager; these are also the critical components of product management. The five fundamental areas in product management are product knowledge, customer understanding, data analysis, market/industry awareness, and knowledge of business goals. By obtaining a deep and clear understanding of these areas, the PM can nurture the product to grow sustainably and profitably. The PM also facilitates the complete product lifecycle, which is how a product moves from ideation to creation to consumer. This product lifecycle is a large part of the marketing strategies of today’s largest companies. Businesses like Apple, Facebook, and Google rely heavily on product managers to create digital products that billions of people will use every day.
Besides being a large part of marketing, product management falls under a more extensive umbrella of project management. In the research journal entitled Project Management in Product Development: Leadership Skills and Management Techniques to Deliver Great Products, author George Ellis (2015) explains how a branch of project management transformed itself into today’s field of product management. Project management was and is used heavily in the business world to run projects big and small. Over its relatively short lifetime, there has been much research on the topic of project management. There are hundreds of books on how to run a team well and best practices for managing a project.
Once software became such a large part of our human existence, project management naturally found its way into the world of product development. As a result, many of the early principles practiced in product management came from project management. Since, product management has developed into a discipline of its own.
In today’s product development ecosystem, many product managers have turned to the practice of Agile in managing their product teams. In their paper Agile Management in Product Development, de Borba et al. explore this newfound relationship. They explain how Agile can be accessed using multiple frameworks: Scrum, Lean, and Kanban. These frameworks will be further explored in the coming sections.
It is also worth mentioning that newer, hybrid models combine Agile with more traditional management forms like Waterfall. These hybrid models have seen success in modern development; however, there is a lack of defined practice. For this reason, these models will not be analyzed in this review. Further research is needed on these models.
To begin the study of Agile as an effective practice for Product Management, one must first understand Scrum, Lean, and Kanban frameworks and their practice.
Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber created Scrum. These two men were a part of the original Snowbird 17, who produced the Agile Manifesto in 2001. Sutherland and Schwaber wanted to produce a framework that could be implemented in day-to-day work to apply Agile principles. The main focus of Scrum is that most of the work done in software development is unpredictable. It takes time, knowledge, and research to uncover a digital product’s necessary features and abilities. Scrum effectively balances business problems/goals with software requirements, making it a solid agile framework candidate for product managers. The practice of Scrum focuses on having a living, breathing product that is ever-changing based on the needs of the users. Within the Scrum framework, Sprints are short bursts of dedicated, focused work to create new features and pieces of software. Case studies show that Scrum Sprints are effective in smaller, shorter projects. However, effectiveness begins to erode when Scrum is applied to products at scale with greater complexity (Vlaanderen et al., 2011).
Another practice of Agile is named Lean. A team inside Toyota created Lean to assist in creating new models of cars. Since, Lean has found its way to digital products and product management. Lean product development solutions focus on increasing the value of the software or product by reducing overall waste. In an article entitled Lean Solutions to Software Product Management, Maglyas et al. (2012) explain the five principles of Lean development: value, value stream, flow, pull, and perfection. In practice, these principles work together to produce digital products for companies large and small. In addition, Lean has proven itself as a viable framework of agile principles.
Kanban is another major player in the world of Agile development. Kanban was created inside of Toyota as a spin-off of Lean. Kanban comes from a Japanese word meaning “visual board” or “sign.” The central part of the Kanban system is the Kanban Board — it is the visualization for the work being done on the project. Toyota’s original boards were mounted on physical boards, whereas today’s boards are most often digital. In a case study by Sjøberg et al. (2012), Kanban was measured compared to Scrum. As a result, Kanban proved highly effective in managing products as a team. Product bugs were even reduced by 10% as compared to Scrum.
As has been noted, the Agile way of creating software and technology has found its way into product management in the form of Scrum, Kanban, Lean and other frameworks. What follows, then, is the answer to the question proposed by this literature review — is Agile an effective planning methodology for effective digital product management? To discover this answer, one must analyze the results of 20+ years of Agile application in product-driven companies.
One of the prominent pieces of literature on product management and Agile development is a book entitled Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Projects by Jim Highsmith (2004). Within Highsmith, explore the power of Agile to develop innovative and highly successful products. Emphasis is placed on Agile as a framework for software and digital products, specifically as software is much more “flexible” than hardware or physical products. This finding is similar to that of de Bora et al. (2019), who found obvious issues in applying Agile to physical product management. All in all, Highsmith (2004) concludes that highly effective Agile products will come from people and businesses with an Agile mindset — those being willing to fail and iterate often. Becoming Agile, according to Highsmith, will produce innovative products that will amass satisfied users and, in return, become highly profitable.
The results, however, are not always positive for Agile and PM. An informative research study was conducted by Fogelström et al. (2009) entitled The Impact of Agile Principles on Market-Driven Software Product Development. This study examined Extreme Programing (XP), Scrum, Lean Software Development, and more to measure their effectiveness amongst top product companies. After studying results from interviews, observations, and empirical studies, Fogelström and associates explained their findings. It became evident that there was a “misalignment” between Market-Driven Product Development (a product development style that focuses on the consumer’s required features) and agile development — especially in the early stages of development. This finding is significant because an essential part of effective product management is satisfying the consumer and their needs. The article’s final claim does not suggest the need to abandon the agile framework but rather to find a way to work in harmony with the customer’s needs.
In contrast, another study by Lévárdy & Browning (2009) in the same year as Fogelström et al. (2009) studies the effects of an “adaptive” approach to Agile product development management. Adaptive processes present a group of next steps in software development based on feedback and testing. These options are then tested to see what path is the most reliable. This model was adequate for larger companies with excess means to test each option. However, this model does not account for smaller software companies without the resources to complete such “options” testing. This issue results in a significant gap in determining Agile as an end-all-be-all effective means for product management.
Further, the previously mentioned Kanban framework does offer extraordinary evidence for its effectiveness in PM. In the aforementioned case study by Sjøberg and associates (2012), Kanban cut the product preproduction time in half compared to the older practice of Scrum. The Kanban framework has a more recent application in Agile development, and many experts are excited about its promising future in the world of product management. However, further research and case studies are required before drawing any conclusions.
Dr. Nicholas G. Hall (2012) from The Ohio State University produces a range of research opportunities in the study of project management. Hall concludes that there are many opportunities to further study product management and the Agile method. Below are suggested paths of study that specifically apply to product management.
Firstly, the real differentiating factor of product management compared to other project management forms is uncertainty. Unfortunately, there has not been significant research in project management of the uncertain. Further research on individual projects’ processes, selection, notification, and Earned Value Analysis is needed to determine best practices.
Secondly, there are many contractual issues in today’s PM landscape. It is difficult to amass complete cooperation on product projects, especially from larger teams. Further research on cooperation options and solutions would prove highly valuable to the study of Agile and PM.
Lastly, the scalability of Agile is called into question. As previously shown by Vlaanderen et al. (2011), the effectiveness of Agile begins to erode as products and software becomes more complicated and teams continue to grow. Therefore, further experimentation and research into how Agile can be better applied to large-scale companies and their products are needed to determine the most effective route.
This literature review has analyzed the relationship between the Agile development framework and the field of product management. Thirteen sources have been examined and synthesized throughout the review. These resources have provided a clear view of the current state of knowledge on this topic.
The purpose of this study has been to determine the effectiveness of the Agile framework as an effective mode of product management. In general, the analysis centered around the question: is Agile an effective planning methodology for digital product management? To uncover the results of this question, we explored the impact of Agile management on product teams and its result. Therefore, we first examined the history and definitions of Agile development and product management to do this. Following, the three main frameworks of today’s Agile management were presented: Scrum, Lean, and Kanban. Lastly, a critical analysis of the results of Agile was presented from scholars who disagree on the planning method’s effectiveness and necessity in product development.
From the contemporary research examined, one can make several conclusions. As a whole Agile performed well in product management teams that were focused on a smaller product. Agile proved to be significantly more effective than in the predecessor, Waterfall, in three main areas. 1. Cutting back on the overall cost of product development by producing less waste and incorporating user testing into the build of the product. 2. By speeding up the product development process by creating MVPs and Lean products that could be shipped to users at a much faster pace. And 3. Increased business revenue from a better Product-Market Fit accomplished by relying heavily on consumer data to transform software into customer-focused products.
These results were promising and proved the effectiveness of Agile management in specific situations. However, as Agile was applied to products at scale, it became more difficult to quantify such positive results. Larger software companies had difficulty applying Agile principles to their product if they were not accustomed to its requirements. As a result, there was a breakdown in Agile performance amongst large companies with multiple product teams. As a result, Agile could not be confidently stated as an effective means of product management. However, it is necessary to mention the effectiveness of Kanban and other ‘hybrid’ forms of Agile management. Kanban, as stated previously, has proven effective in large-scale companies, and independent teams can use the process. Hybrid forms of Agile have been created and tested to counter these negative results in larger companies. Both of these topics deserve further study and made hold answers.
Therefore, in answer to the question: is agile an effective development model for product teams? It can be stated; there is significant room for further research to be conducted in determining the most effective form of development within product management. Agile is practical for some situations, yet the optimal mode of development is yet to be found. No conclusive statement can, nor should, be made on the general effectiveness of Agile to product management.
Cagan, M. (2018). Inspired: How the best companies create technology-powered products and services. Wiley.
de Borba, João Carlos R., Trabasso, L. G., & Pessôa, M.V. P. (2019). Agile management in product development. Research Technology Management, 62(5), 63–67. doi:10.1080/08956308.2019.1638488
Ebert, C., Abrahamsson, P., & Oza, N. (2012). Lean software development. IEEE Software, 29(5), 22–25. doi:10.1109/MS.2012.116
Ellis, G. (2015). Project Management in Product Development: Leadership Skills and Management Techniques to Deliver Great Products. Butterworth-Heinemann.
Fogelström, N. D., Gorschek, T., Svahnberg, M., & Olsson, P. (2010). The impact of agile principles on market-driven software product development. Journal of Software Maintenance & Evolution: Research & Practice, 22(1), 53–80. doi:10.1002/spip.420
Fowler, M., & Highsmith, J. (2001). The agile manifesto. Software Development, 9(8), 28–35. http://users.jyu.fi/~mieijala/kandimateriaali/Agile-Manifesto.pdf
Hall, N. G. (2012). Project management: Recent developments and research opportunities. Journal of Systems Science and Systems Engineering, 21(2), 129–143.
Highsmith, Jim (2004). Agile Project Management: Creating innovative products. O’Reilly.
Lévárdy, V., & Browning, T. R. (2009). An adaptive process model to support product development project management. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 56(4), 600–620. doi:10.1109/TEM.2009.2033144
Maglyas, A., Nikula, U., & Smolander, K. (2012). Lean solutions to software product management problems. IEEE Software, 29(5), 40–46. doi:10.1109/MS.2012.108
Nyce, C. M. (2017). The winter getaway that turned the software world upside down. How a group of programming rebels started a global movement. The Atlantic.
Sjøberg, D. I. K., Johnsen, A., & Solberg, J. (2012). Quantifying the effect of using kanban versus scrum: A case study. IEEE Software, 29(5), 47–53. doi:10.1109/MS.2012.110
Vlaanderen, K., Jansen, S., Brinkkemper, S., & Jaspers, E. (2011). The agile requirements refinery: Applying SCRUM principles to software product management. Information & Software Technology, 53(1), 58–70. doi:10.1016/j.infsof.2010.08.00
Successful brick-and-mortar stores spend a lot of time on designing their in-store layouts. What products should be at eye level? What type of clothing should be in the front of the store? Where should the pop-up display be? These stores spend a lot of time thinking about who is walking into their store and what will get them to purchase.
In the digital world, it works the same. Once you understand the who, what, and why behind your brand you can build a website that will lead customers to what they are looking for.
I have come up with a list of six things that you can think about in order to optimize the layout of your eCommerce store.
The user’s experience on your site is huge. As you develop a great site layout you will see purchases and conversions increase. We can help you optimize your website at madebyzion.com. We know what works and what doesn't and we would love to service you and your specific needs!
Thanks for reading.
You may have heard of it. You may have never heard of it. Why is it important? Is it important? Does it matter to me?
In this context, CRO means Conversion Rate Optimization. To understand what CRO is I break it down by word. Conversion. Rate. Optimization.
What is a conversion? It is ultimately up to you. For a lawn care service, it may be a paycheck for a mow. For a makeup store, it may be a sold eyeliner. Conversion is really the desired action. It is decided by you as a business owner. It usually relates to profit. To discover what your guiding conversion metric is, ask this question: what do I want a visitor on my site to do? Voila: Conversions.
The conversion rate is our next stop. The conversion rate is the measurement of your desired conversion. For the math-minded; here is the conversion rate equation.
An example: your conversion is selling a toothbrush on your ecommerce store. You have 200 visitors in one day and you sell 20 toothbrushes. Your conversion rate is 10% (20/200 X 100). A 10% conversion rate is super high. Here are the averages across ecommerce industries.
So what about the ‘O’. Optimization is defined as “the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource” (From Oxford Languages). As it applies to your website, optimization creates the optimal flow of the first visit to conversion. No matter your website you have a Conversion Rate. The goal of CRO is to increase your rates. There is a lot that goes into CRO. Some ‘triggers’ you can pull are on-site experiences, User Experience Design, offers and PopUps, and many more. I’ll cover more about this in further articles.
At Zion Design Co we focus on building websites that are beautiful, usable, and optimized for conversions. By employing expert design and research we can increase conversions for you!