March wrap-up – The 5 Skills for UX Mastery Workshop

We product focused people are concerned with the customer experience and of course that includes the usability of the product. For our March session, we asked two UX pros, Fox Woods & Matthew Magain, to help increase our skills & knowledge of UX. – Liz & Jen

A Bit of Back Story 

For the most recent Product Anonymous meetup on the 20th March, Liz Blink and Jen Leibhart invited us to come and talk to product managers about UX.

We are:
– Fox Woods, a UX and web consultant who works with startups and agencies on various types of projects – from analysing product ideas before they’ve even become a MVP, to crafting the information architecture and user experience for iconic Australian websites.
– Matthew Magain, the co-founder of UX Mastery, a website chock-full of resources for UXers and people interested in learning more about UX, including the UX Mastery community forums and a range of ebooks. Matthew also creates whiteboard animations and illustrated videos for companies that have complicated ideas that they need to communicate in a simple (and interesting!) way.

We both attended a Product Anon session before we finalised our plan, so that we could suss out what to talk about. It seemed like many product managers are already heavily involved in User Experience (UX) areas of work – whether from working with their UX teams or UX experts, or because that work sometimes defaults to them, or because they choose to champion good user experience in their teams, as no one else is looking after it.

The 5 Skills for UX Mastery Workshop

We decided to do a workshop (activities are much more interesting than passive listening!) rather than a talk, and we based the workshop on Jared Spool’s theory of The Five Indispensable Skills for UX Mastery.

We handed out a one-pager to everyone, and began by going through some descriptions and examples of the 5 skills.

Download “The 5 Skills for UX Mastery” sheet

1. Sketching

Sketching is a fantastic way to facilitate idea generation and communication. Having a whiteboard nearby – at all times! – for sketching out thoughts, sketching ideas with others, brainstorming… can be invaluable. The brain is able to loosen up and think in different ways when you’re playing with something that’s just “rough work,” unlike when you’re dealing with rigid letters, numbers, diagrams, boxes, lines. We don’t mind making mistakes when we’re in sketch mode, and sometimes great ideas can come from strange mistakes!

From talking with the product managers at Product Anon, it seemed like this is a skill that could be nurtured more in product teams.

2. Critiquing

We all have to critique ideas, designs, products and much more in our work, but we do want to remember that critiquing is a skill that can be improved. Skilled critiquing often goes hand-in-hand with skilled communicating: sandwich a criticism in between two positive comments; always use constructive criticism; be objective in your critiquing; always note down assumptions that people are making, so that you can test them later; and tie reasons for your criticisms back to your UX research: your users, their needs, and their empathy map.

3. Storytelling

We had made a guess that storytelling didn’t play a large part in the product manager’s role, but we were wrong! From listening to our attendees, we learned that most product managers find that they’re often using storytelling techniques – especially to communicate stories about their users to their development teams.

There are many different ways to tell stories to aid communication and understanding, and we had an example activity at the workshop: Communication Comic (details below).

4. Presenting

Like critiquing, we all need to do a lot of presenting in our roles. This is a skill we can always work on – and some of these other skills (like storytelling, and sketching) can lift our game enormously.

Like many of these soft skills, learning how to deliver a killer presentation is a lifelong skill that is useful in all aspects of business, beyond the worlds of Product Management and User Experience.

5. Facilitating

Lastly, facilitating. As we mentioned above, having a whiteboard culture (whiteboard nearby, at all times!) can really help with the facilitation of meetings – to get people on the same page, to increase understanding, to capture different thoughts and perspectives, and to plan quickly. There are many other functions where we perform a facilitating role – workshops, brainstorms, gathering stakeholder or user feedback and surveys, etc. Facilitating is a skill we can always improve, and as with presenting, storytelling and sketching are two skills that can help with this one.

Workshop Activities

Next, we asked for four volunteers to share their experience as a product manager, the type of product they’re working on, and the role that UX plays within the project. (Aside: We specifically asked for two men and two women to volunteer, so that women would be more encouraged to participate – in retrospect, we should have had some affirmative action for introverts to be encouraged more to participate, as well!) Four people kindly shared their experiences, and we then broke off into groups of four for the first activity.

Activity 1: Empathy Map

Taking the real-world scenarios that had been described by our volunteers, our groups-of-four put themselves in the user’s shoes, and on a large sheet of paper, drew the user and  six empathy areas:

  • Thinking
  • Seeing
  • Saying
  • Doing
  • Feeling
  • Hearing

We then encouraged everyone in each group to take a marker and some Post-It notes, and to add notes on behalf of the user. We suggested a minimum of 5 notes per empathy area.

For example, if the product was an app that helps a person find a nearby venue with micro-brewed beer, then a note for “Feeling” might be “Thirsty!”, and a note for “Thinking” might be “I’m not familiar with this area…”

Empathy map workshop

Activity 2: Communication Comic

For the Communication Comic, we gave everyone pens and A4 paper, and asked them to draw three boxes. Then, using the tips from the one-pager – creating box-figures instead of stick figures, and changing the shape of the box to indicate movement and perspective; looking at ways of doing simple facial expressions simply by adjusting the eyebrow and mouth shapes – we asked everyone to pretend that they were communicating the need for a new product feature to their development team, and needed to draw the user’s story in a 3-panel comic.

We weren’t sure how people would take to this activity – so many people are told (or think) that they “can’t draw” and it inhibits them from trying visual communication – but it was fantastic! Everyone had a go, and the comics each told a user story about the product.


To Conclude

The night was a massive success, and we would like to thank Liz and Jen for inviting us to speak, and to everyone attending for being such good sports about sharing their rough work – we had a really good time and hope we can do another workshop one day!

If you’re interested in learning more about these UX topics, you might like:


Fox & Matthew

An evening with Steve Blank

On Tuesday March 11th, I attended a talk by Steve Blank at the Melbourne Accelerator Program at Melbourne University. One of our Product Anonymous community mentioned Steve was talking so I signed up due to this recommendation. But I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t know what I was getting into.

I was nicely surprised as I walked in – due to the beautiful location that is the Melbourne University Law building, the free book (The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company) I was given for the attendance and signs that suggested drinks and food to follow – but I digress…

Steve Blank’s book – The Four Steps to the Epiphany – and his customer development methodology for entrepreneurs launched the lean start-up movement. He was/is a mentor to Eric Ries. Steve teaches customer development and entrepreneurship at Stanford. He is a very intelligent, experienced individual across start-up land and he is also very funny so the hour flew by.

While I didn’t do my research prior to the talk, I quickly realised I needed to sit-up and listen. What pearls of wisdom did I learn? Many! AND I also heard so much that resonated for the product manager.

The session was for founders who presumably are part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program and are getting insight and guidance from that program. Steve took the time to outline what a start up is and isn’t and what makes them different to an existing business.

“Start-ups search for business models. Large corporates already have them and execute on them.”

He talked about why he launched his own start-ups – due to his own frustrations with such questions as what is the “5 year business plan” and the apparent plethora of ideas he had in his head that would mean he always has a something next to try. Steve hates it when companies or people ask for that long term 5-year view, because who has that good of an insight into so many unknowns? He sees that as one of the futile corporate organisational questions which give them a bad name and which start-ups don’t waste time on.

Steve talked about founders being artists. An idea which resonated for me as I had seen this idea previously in some of Seth Godin’s works, Linchpin and the Icarus Deception. He then told everyone in the room:

“if you don’t believe in what you are doing, get out now. Don’t do it. You need to think about this (your idea) when you wake up, when you are in the shower, in other words ALL THE TIME”

Steve believes founders are the type of people who can see a work of art when others see only a blank canvas. They are a set of people who haven’t even been given paintbrushes yet – but they know they need to paint. He talked about incubators and accelerator programs as ways in which you give your artists/founders an art school. In other words, they give you room to learn to wield the paintbrush, room to fail on that first canvas when you use too much red and room to work on your masterpiece. To follow on with this analogy – one cannot learn to paint from books, one must paint.

He went on to say the lean start-up movement writings are not scriptures that one must follow religiously but they are a way in which to encourage and nurture the artist to reach their full potential. The same way an art school may help you understand whether you need acrylics over water based paints, the customer development model and lean start up methodology are there to help you understand whether your art (ie your idea/product/concept) is worthy. It’s a way to find out if you are the only one who loves what you do or whether there is an audience willing to pay for your idea. An concept that is so important for founders, but also for product managers.

How are you going to test these hypotheses (as he would ask his students at Stanford) or guesses (as he would ask those outside Stanford)?

“Get out of the office and test them”.

This statement immediately jumped out as we in the product management and user design communities know it well. It does seem to be a principle that shouldn’t have to be discussed anymore, right? No! Apparently even the guru – Steve – had to be reminded it can be applied everywhere.

Steve had sworn black and blue that the customer development methodology wouldn’t work in life sciences. After quite a bit of chasing, he was finally convinced to step in and work with a group of scientists on bringing a more customer oriented thinking to their work. He set the group a challenge to talk with x patients in 10 weeks. And he found himself proven wrong! Scientists also need to get out of the lab!

One of the audience asked, why would you need to do that if you are curing cancer? Isn’t your need fairly obvious? The answer provided was that you still have to work with many bodies to get your cure to the patient. Any insight, better knowledge and validated assumptions will make that path more likely to succeed if you have tested and validated along the way.

A member of the audience asked about the difference between talking lean rather than doing lean. Steve laughed at this point and said the word pivot has become an excuse for ADHD. In other words, a poor excuse to change direction suddenly off a single data point. Steve’s advice was to apply a 72 hour rule before being allowed to mention any new insight – let alone tie it to a pivot. He suggested having a board or a group of people keeping an eye on the founder to prevent this. I think this also makes sense for a product manager. A lot of the constructs around the discipline of the development cycle are there to help make sure no one is running off a single data point.

Steve had another way of seeing this – a founder cannot be smarter then the collective intelligence of your customers. This is so true for everyone’s product. Anyone can be guilty of continuing to tinker with the product without seeking further input but it’s so much easier for a founder to tell people what to do rather than to get out of the building and hear your baby is ugly! This is a great reminder for product managers working with founders who may be not be used to hearing alternative viewpoints and it also serves as another reminder to get out of the office!

Humility is very important to remember. You or your team or your company may think something is fabulous but you need to test it to know for sure. To that end, the artists metaphor is receiving a standing ovation from the audience as a clear sign of success. Silence in the auditorium might be the moment you know you need to pivot.

Did you attend the talk or have you read Steve’s work?  What are the product management bits that spoke to you?

Feb session wrap up – Your APIs are so product ready, it hurts

Our February session focused on product-tising APIs and our speaker, Jason Cormier from Mashery, has put together the following post in case you missed anything.

You can also check out Chris Chinchilla’s summary of the night.

Take it away Jason…

Product Managers: Start Taking Control of Your API Strategy

Let me take you back some 15 or so years ago. The Internet was in its infancy, and the World Wide Web was something mysterious and scary for most people, let alone businesses to think about. Getting yourself online required getting off your land line telephone first.

There were trailblazers of course, those who saw the potential of a new emerging technology and put the first commercial websites online. It was a technical challenge, but they succeeded. They invented the blink tag, the splash page, the shopping cart. E-commerce was born.

During these early years, almost all websites were built and managed by people who worked in IT departments who answered to the strange and slightly kinky sounding title of Webmaster. Eventually however, the power and influence of the technology was recognized as being too valuable and important to the business. Marketing and Product Managers took control and we haven’t looked back since.

You wouldn’t let your IT department plan and run your website strategy today. Yet in most companies, history seems to be repeating itself when it comes to their APIs.

It’s understandable of course, since you may not even know what an API is, let alone why as a Product Manager you MUST own the strategy for APIs within your business. But rest assured, much like the World Wide Web 15 years ago, APIs today present a wide open playing field for businesses to embrace a new emerging technology trend. Whether you act or not there are already trailblazers leading the way, some of whom are likely to become your future competitors.

First, the basics: What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It’s a technology protocol that enables disparate systems talk to each other, and share information. Think of it like a system of security doors you put in front of your most valuable data, making it accessible only to those who have been given a key.

For example, imagine your business has a proprietary digital storage service that you use to archive important documents. Perhaps you decide to develop a mobile app that requires access to those documents. If your storage service has an API, it makes it easy for the app to access your data. The app is given a unique key, which it uses to request access to documents whenever needed. The API recognizes the key and gives the app access to the documents. Pretty simple, right?

Well, to be fair this analogy is pretty basic. There is a LOT more to APIs of course, it’s a complex piece of technology. And at some point before any API roll out someone has to make decisions about things like data structures, object classes, protocols, authorization tokens, proxies, caching, and more. Given this, you can see why most APIs are currently managed by IT departments. However if you take a step back, if you think like a Product Manager and consider the potential of this technology and what it can do for your business, how it can power your products, how you can better enable external partnerships… you’ll forget about the specs and start to focus on why APIs have the potential to be one of your most valuable commercial drivers.

Value of APIs as a Product

No matter who you work for today your business has digital assets of some kind, from which you are already extracting value. There are 3 main types of assets that are suitable for sharing:

  1. Content: Consumable information, ex. FoxSports live stats feed, Lonely Planet city overviews, etc.
  2. Services: Functionality, ex. Telstra SMS services, Dimmi restaurant booking engine, etc.
  3. Data: Your internal business metrics, ex. units sold over time by location to whom, customer profiles, etc.

I can guarantee you that no matter what you are currently doing with these assets in your business, there are ways to extract even more value from them. And the key to optimizing the value of your assets is to make them easier to access, via APIs.

What kind of value?

When you have easy, fast access to your assets you can do things like:

Build and iterate your own products much faster.  Has your website team built a new search feature? Your mobile apps team can get access to it immediately via the API.   For example, Comcast now roll out new features across their products in just 30 minutes when it used to take months. Check out the Comcast success story & webinar where the Senior Director of Product Development & Technology and a Senior Engineer talk about the change and benefits.

Better business intelligence.  Want to know which products on which platforms are drawing on your assets most frequently? When everything goes through a single API it’s easier to track.  Sensis track all the advertiser impressions generated on their own products AND a range of 3rd party products via their APIs. More on how Mashery helped Sensis.

Facilitate strategic partnerships.  Want to see your brand integrated into 3rd party products?  It’s as easy as giving them their own API key. Fantasy sports platform, SportData was able to syndicate out to channel partners like Google and Facebook quickly and easily by providing access to their APIs. See how it drives results and ROI.

Introduce new revenue streams.  If your assets are valuable to you, maybe they’re valuable to others as well? With APIs you can commercialize your assets by selling access. Choice Hotels are using Mashery technology to assist in generating additional booking revenue via the 6000+ partners they service via their APIs.

There are a myriad of ways you can create and manage your APIs, and that’s definitely something you will need to work with your IT teams to define eventually. But don’t let yourself get lost in those details too early, as can sometimes happen. Focus first on what business goals you as a Product Manager seek to deliver. Hopefully you’re starting to see now, that by treating your API services like a product, you are effectively creating a service platform. A platform that empowers you to make business decisions and take action, without having to engage your IT team to build you something new every single time.

What does a successful API platform look like?

A successful API platform will look like rapid prototyping and faster innovation on the product ideas you have now, preparation and readiness for unknown future opportunities, and a willingness to open yourself up and let others carry some of the burden and risk. It’s not something all companies are necessarily comfortable with –  not even Google.

I’ll leave you with a link to the infamous leaked memo issued by Google employee Steve Yegge, who roundly criticized Google for failing to recognize the importance of APIs as a platform back in 2011:

 “Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.”


Jason Cormier is the Director of Strategy and Business Development for Mashery in Australia. Mashery works with over 200 brands worldwide to help them manage their APIs in order to build new revenue channels, speed time-to-market, and spur innovation. Find out more at

March 20th event: 5 skills for UX Mastery

Our next event on the 20th of March is all about the skills needed to master UX!  Really, you ask?  Yes really!

The fabulous Matt Magain, co-founder of UX Mastery and the fabulous Fox Woods, freelance user experience architect and co-founder of Girls Club Melbourne, will look at the 5 skills required for UX mastery and how to incorporate them whether you have a UX team to work with or if you’re the sole UX representative.

They will talk about what skills UX experts specifically bring to your team and which skills product managers may already have and can hone further.  They will share practical exercises for improving these skills.

Eventbrite - Product Anonymous - March 20 - The 5 skills for mastering UX

Note the new location:  The Governor’s Lounge, Royal Melbourne Hotel is just off the corner of Bourke & Spencer (almost directly across from previous location of the Mail Exchange Hotel).

Time: 6-6:30pm arrival & drinks. Talk starts at 6:30pm. We wrap up about 8pm.