Perhaps I just have to get over not being as hands on as when I was a graduate student. In my last several one-on-one’s with Sift’s CTO the biggest feedback has consistently been:
"I want you to think big, and look forward. You can bring 10x the value to Sift by setting the design vision for where we need to go."
The other side of the message is to not get caught up in the weeds. Trust the rest of my team to work out the execution/implementation kinks.
"Just be available when they need clarification. We’ll iterate as we go along."
This all makes sense. I am definitely not adding as much value when I am jumping in trying to write markup or UI code. My team (bless them) is far faster than I am at it. Yet I often find myself drawn into the weeds, helping push pixels and smith words. Why?
The struggle I haven’t been able to articulate until now is this: I think with my hands. Or, better put, I think through making. Working through the exercise of drawing rough sketches again and again is how I learn about the solution space.
In my role at Sift, however, I need to recalibrate which level of abstraction I am thinking/making at. Figuring out implementation level details is not a judicious use of my time. The team needs me to synthesize strategy, customer needs, product opportunities into project proposals, and then to communicate a high level outline. My deliverables are no longer detailed designs or functional code, but documents and sketches that provide my team with clarity to move forward.
So I suppose I have to strike a balance, where I am just hands-on enough to work through ideas, but not so much that I duplicate work the rest of my team can handle.
Not quite sure how to reconcile that yet.
This is some new height in user hostile design. In Paypal checkout forms, you can no longer checkout without logging in if your email OR your credit card is associated with a Paypal account.
Problem: My paypal account is Canadian, and uses a Canadian credit card that no longer exists. American credit cards cannot be added to a Canadian account.
For posterity, and anyone who wants to figure out how to change the country your Paypal account is associated with. Short answer is, you cannot. You have to close your account and reopen it. I found out in a very unpleasant way today.
Here’s what I wrote to them in their “feedback form”:
Do your customers never move from one country to another? Or do customers not ever have credit cards from two different countries? I just want to be a Canadian who pays with an American credit card!
For that matter. Why can’t I checkout without logging in? You require email on your checkout form, and then when I provide the email, you don’t let me checkout because I have an account. My account is in Canada, and linked to a Canadian credit card that no longer exists, to which I cannot add an American credit card.
So now I’m closing this account in order to reopen it, and I am losing $10 in the process.
Your checkout form is user hostile.
When you’re a payment gateway, giving users no way around you is one way to increase your conversion rate. It is also a way of making your users very angry. I am now motivated to actively root for Stripe, Square, and the like.
On second thought, I am not going to reopen my Paypal account.
At least they donate the $10 I’m abandoning in my account to an unspecified charity. Ugh.
Update: I’ve closed my account, and I even tried reopening an account in the US. Still can’t checkout. First it said that my email is still associated with an existing account. Now it says my credit card is linked to another account. Paypal is a nightmare. I just want to buy some pillow cases!
So it turns out that product management is hard. I know, it’s a silly and obvious thing to say, but I’m learning.
One of the coolest perks of being the first designer at a start-up is that you get to take the first crack at hard problems. At Sift, I get to look at all this amazing data gleaned from machine-learning and figure out how to represent it. I get to go to customer meetings and directly ask our early adopter customers what it is they want. I get to take part in company strategy discussions and imagine new features to achieve them.
There is never a shortage of interesting features to build and problems to solve. I even have a hypothesis now on where feature ideas come from. (1. The Adjacent Possible, 2. The Support Tickets, 3. The Company Strategy. It’s always been one of the three so far.) If you’re even half-way paying attention, you’ll soon be drowning in sticky notes with feature ideas.
Coming up with ideas is easy. Executing doesn’t seem terribly hard as long as I have a good process and put my head down to iterate. The hardest part of my role so far is deciding where to put my time. i.e. prioritizing.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of being reactive. Respond to every request for input on hipchat and suddenly it’s 5:30pm in the afternoon. I might even have shipped code and solved a problem for a customer, but was it the right thing to ship? Right for the customer? Right for the company? It’s hard to know!
On the flip side, it is also easy to drift off into big picture space. Spend an afternoon re-deriving customer goals from first principles, validate it against incoming support tickets, and you may have just tricked yourself into believing you had a productive afternoon if all you have to show for it tomorrow is a diagram that no one else on the team understands. Or worse, a diagram that everyone understands, but no one knows how to act on.
While we are still looking for a product manager, everyone at Sift have been asked to share the burden of prioritizing. This week my goal is to come up with a set of goals for the customer facing parts of the product, and a list of potential features to work towards those goals. At the end of the week we’ll have a stakeholders meeting where we’ll prune that list and decide what we’ll work on this quarter.
Keeping both the big picture and the intricacies of the current sprint in mind at the same time is much harder than I’ve anticipated. I’m looking inward for my inner product manager. I hope he shows up.
In the mean time, I cannot wait until we find a proper product manager.
p.s. you’re a product manager interested in data and machine learning? We should talk.
- It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.