Lean UX: 5 Lessons from the Prussian Army

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Colman Portrait B&W

We would like to introduce Colman Walsh, one of our speakers at Product Management Festival 2015. Colman is the owner and founder of UXTraining.ie and has worked in user experience design for over 16 years. An alumnus of two world-class UX agencies – Sapient and iQ Content – he has worked with blue-chip clients in San Francisco, New York, London, Brussels and Dublin. His expertise runs across the entire UX spectrum: research, strategy, design and testing. A fun and engaging presenter, Colman is an accomplished trainer, facilitator and workshop moderator.

His presentation “Lean UX: 5 Lessons from the Prussian Army” will focus on how the central tenets of Lean UX bear an uncanny resemblance to those of ‘Auftragstaktik’, a military philosophy developed in the 19th Century that transformed the conservative Prussian Army into what would become the Germany Army.

How do you relate to Product Management and what does product management mean to you?
I’m a UX designer by trade. And if you do UX for long enough you acquire skills and experience that are relevant to product management. Classic UX skills like research, design, prototyping and so on. But also soft skills like leading multidisciplinary teams, communicating between tech and business, being able to prioritise, being able to anticipate, being able to present coherently.

I’m sure everybody has seen the Venn diagram with three overlapping circles: customers, business and technology. You need to strike the balance between these three competing priorities/constraints. With perhaps a bias towards the customer.

What product or products do you love?
I could spend a lot of time talking about products I love!

As a business owner, I’m particularly attracted to productivity and e-commerce tools. There are products that don’t just save time, but maximise time. Things like Google Apps for Business, Expensify, Xero, Dropbox and Mailchimp. These tools are the equivalent of one or two employees in my mind.

And then there are products that grease the wheels of commerce in a tremendous way: PayPal, Stripe, Recurly, Eventbrite. I wouldn’t have a business without them.

There are a few tools-of-the-trade that are worthy of special mention: Webflow is an incredible tool that has allowed me to design and develop the front-end of our own website. And I have no graphic design or HTML/CSS skills. It must be the most underestimated software product on the market. It really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Similarly, Pixelmator is like Photoshop for dummies, but at a price that is anything but dumb. Photoshop bamboozles me. Pixelmator is fun.

My entire career revolves around Keynote. When I see people using PowerPoint on a Mac, I question their sanity.

Who do you think is/was one of the best product managers out there?
Anybody who manages products I love – I admire them from afar.

What are 3 tips to create the best user experience for a product?

1. Qualitative customer research is a must. If you’re not talking to your customers directly, you’re not doing UX. Simple as that. And by direct, I mean face-to-face interviews and/or usability testing. This is how you get real insights that can move the dial viz. product quality.

2. Collaboration. The era of the lone UX designer is dead. UX people don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, customer empathy, problem solving. Harnessing the power of the wider team always produces better results in my experience.

3. Attention to detail. Small stuff matters. Keynote and Powerpoint both do the same thing from a macro perspective. But hundreds of small details when added together mean the two products are like night and day from a UX perspective.

What do you think are the major challenges in product management right now?
In my most recent experience as a product manager it was device and platform proliferation: managing web, touch, Android, iOS, handset, tablet and so on.

If you’re operating in a small market like Ireland, trying to maintain a high-quality experience across all these touchpoints on a limited budget can be difficult. Finding and keeping good UX designers and developers is also a big challenge in Ireland.

How is product management viewed in your local business ecosystem? (e.g., Ireland)

The software industry in Ireland isn’t as mature as it is in the US or the UK. Product management is still seen by many as a purely functional role. Like project management.

A lot of people I meet on our training courses are struggling in roles where their managers don’t appreciate the craft required to create great products.

What books or blogs do you recommend?

Inside Intercom is probably my favourite blog at the moment. But I’m also reading a lot of startup/VC blogs because these guys are operating at the nexus of product and business and offer a lot of good advice, such as, A16Z, A VC, Chris Dixon and Derek Sivers.

Finally, I subscribe to a few email newsletters: Benedict Evans, O’Reilly Design and Smashing Magazine are all high-quality.

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